The principal seaport of Macedonia where Paul established a Christian congregation about the year 50 C.E.; now the city is called Salonika (or, Thessaloniki). (PICTURE, Vol. 2, p. 749) Originally, a nearby town named Therme, meaning “Hot Spring,” was one of the some 26 towns destroyed by Cassander, who then built Thessalonica in 316 or 315 B.C.E. He named it after his wife, the sister of Alexander the Great. This new city was situated on the W side of the Chalcidice Peninsula, on the Thermaicus Sinus (now called the Gulf of Salonika), at the junction between the road running N to the Danube and the main road (the paved Via Egnatia built by the Romans) that extended for hundreds of miles across Macedonia to the Adriatic Sea.
Macedonia was divided into four districts before the middle of the second century B.C.E., with Thessalonica the capital of the second. A few years later when Macedonia became a Roman province, Thessalonica was made the administrative seat of its provincial government. So, when the apostle Paul and Silas arrived there, about 120 km (75 mi) W of Philippi, they found it to be a thriving metropolis of quite some importance.
For three Sabbaths, Paul preached in Thessalonica’s synagogue. As a result, some Jews and a great multitude of Greek proselytes became believers and associated themselves with Paul and Silas; among them were “not a few of the principal women.” (Ac 17:1-4) How long Paul remained there is not disclosed, though it was long enough for him and his companion to obtain work so they could support themselves. Although as an apostle Paul had the authority to receive material help from those to whom he ministered spiritual things, he set the example that ‘a person should eat food he himself earns.’ (1Co 9:4-18; 1Th 2:9; 2Th 3:7-12) This was probably done partly because of the tendency toward idleness that some there had. During his stay there Paul received from the brothers in Philippi two different gifts supplying things he needed.—Php 4:16.
In time those Thessalonian Jews that rejected Paul’s message rounded up a mob of idlers from the marketplace and assaulted the house of Jason where Paul was staying. But when they learned that the object of their search was not there, they dragged Jason and other believers off to the city rulers, that is, “the politarchs,” according to the literal Greek. (Ac 17:5-9; Int) It is of special interest that inscriptions from that period have been found in and about Thessalonica that refer to certain of their local officials as politarchs.
For safety’s sake, Paul and Silas were sent away at night to Beroea by the Thessalonian brothers. There Paul found the Beroeans ‘more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they not only received the word with great eagerness but also carefully examined the Scriptures daily as to whether what the apostle said was so.’ Soon, however, trouble developed when opposing Jews arrived from Thessalonica and stirred up a mob, making it again necessary for Paul to slip away secretly.—Ac 17:10-15.
In less than a year after leaving Thessalonica, Paul, by now down in Corinth, wrote his first letter to the Thessalonians. He had sent Timothy to comfort and encourage them and had received Timothy’s good report. In the letter he commended them for their fine example “to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” and urged them not to be discouraged because of the persecution. (1Th 1:1-8; 3:1-13; 4:1) This letter may well have been the first of Paul’s canonical writings and, with the probable exception of Matthew’s Gospel, the first book of the Christian Greek Scriptures to be put into writing. Shortly thereafter Paul wrote a second letter to the Thessalonians, that they might not be turned aside by false teachers.—2Th 1:1; 2:1-3.
Over the years Paul no doubt revisited Thessalonica on occasions when passing through Macedonia in the course of his travels. (Ac 20:1-3; 1Ti 1:3) And certain Thessalonians who are mentioned by name, Aristarchus and Secundus, were traveling companions of Paul. (Ac 20:4; 27:2) Demas, who forsook Paul in Rome, went to Thessalonica, possibly his hometown.—2Ti 4:10.