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Acts 17:1-7 New International Version

In Thessalonica

When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”

In the synagogue, Paul engaged in debates with the Jews, defending two main ideas: 1) that the Christ should suffer and rise from the dead, and 2) that the Christ whose suffering he explained to the Jews was Jesus. Those Jews who did not believe in the message misunderstood that Paul was going against Caesar's decrees, accusing him of proclaiming another king, Jesus.

This moment recalls John 18:33, where Pilate, the Roman governor, returns to the palace and summons Jesus before him. In this pivotal moment, Pilate poses the direct question to Jesus: "Are you the king of the Jews?" This interaction establishes a crucial point in the events leading to Jesus' crucifixion, as it delves into the claims of Jesus being a king and the potential implications for Roman authority in the region.

John 18:33 New International Version

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Why did some Jews who didn't believe in Jesus easily perceive his message as an attempt to forcefully declare himself a king and compete with Caesar?

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  • Why not? In your view was Jesus King of the Jews, King of Israel, King of Heaven and Lord of All, or not? Jan 20 at 20:14

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The prevailing belief at the time was that the Messiah would overthrow Roman rule. If Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, it wouldn't be hard to connect the dots. However, Jesus made it quite clear that He did not intend to overthrow Rome (John 18:36).

However, for those who sought to destroy Christianity, this provided a convenient argument to try get Rome to do the dirty-work in fighting Christianity.

Notice the bait-and-switch the Sanhedrin pulled during Jesus' trials:

  • When He was on trial before the Jewish authorities He was accused of blasphemy (Matt 26:65-66), but the Romans wouldn't care about this.
  • When Jesus was taken before Pilate the charges of blasphemy mysteriously vanish, to be replaced by charges of sedition, about which the Romans cared very much (Luke 23:2, John 19:12)

The same appears to be happening in Acts 17 in Thessalonica -- those who are bitter, jealous, or feel threatened by Paul are trying to make Paul out to be a threat to Rome so that Rome will get rid of him (also note the similar events when Paul is in Ephesus in Acts 19). In Acts 18:13 the Jews in Corinth try to claim that Paul is practicing an illegal religion, and seek to use this to get Roman might to squash Christian ministry.

The common thread here is not that the ringleaders actually believed Jesus or His apostles were leading an insurrection against Rome (maybe some of the mobs they stirred up believed this, but the masterminds behind the mobs did not); rather, they are trying to shoehorn through an argument that these preachers are a danger to Rome so that Rome will make them go away. (Spoiler alert: this plan didn't work).

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  • "(Spoiler alert: this plan didn't work)." Well, it sort of did, eventually. Christians were getting fed to lions for a reason, after all.
    – nick012000
    Jan 17 at 12:31
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    Rome fell more than 1500 years ago. The testimony of the apostles is still here. Jan 17 at 13:27
  • Rome is definitely still here.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 18 at 5:33
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    Not the empire...today nobody kneels before Caesar; millions still kneel before Christ Jan 18 at 13:40
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    I'd be willing to bet you've never met Caesar either. The point several comments seem to miss is that the Roman Empire as an institution is long gone. Christianity as an institution is not. The fact that the cities of Rome & Jerusalem exist today is entirely beside the point. Jan 18 at 17:43
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Christianity is a threat to Judaism because it is taking believers away from them. The Jews did not have the jurisdiction to oppress Christianity, and they knew that the Romans authorities would not involve themselves in local religious matters. Therefore they found a convenience excuse to accuse Paul of preaching another king, in order to get the Romans involved.

The Jews did not misunderstand Paul, they simply resisted believing and wanted Christianity to disappear from their territory. As for Pontius Pilate, neither did he care about the identity of Jesus. He just wanted to get out of the trouble from the argument between the Jews. The Synoptic Gospels have a vivid description about his fidgetiness in the trial of Jesus.

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