Thessalonica was located on the Macedonian coast with a large natural harbor, which would explain its founding there in 315 B.C. by Casander, a general of Alexander the Great. In 146 B.C. the Romans made it the capital of Macedonia and when the Egyptian Way was constructed along the length of Macedonia, Thessalonica was a main point along the highway that connected Rome with the East. Having both a great harbor, and being a key point on the main highway, Thessalonica was a main transportation hub. It was also situated beside a large fertile plain which could not only supply the needs of a large city, but the surrounding region as well.
The city was a major center of pagan worship with major influence from the cults of Dionysus and Cabirus, and it also included a Jewish community that was large enough for at least one synagogue according to Acts 17. Being large, vibrant and prosperous, Thessalonica was ideally situated for the Gospel to take hold there… and for the Gospel to be strongly opposed, both of which were clearly the case at the time 1 Thessalonians was written.
Acts 17:1-9 tells the story of Paul’s arrival there, and both the fertile ground that it was for the Gospel, and the violent reaction of some of the Jewish leaders that resulted in a riot. An interesting point from the Acts account is found in 17:4 where “God-fearing Gentiles” are found accepting the gospel. There apparently were a large number of these God-fearing Gentiles there, who were Gentiles that accepted the God of Israel, but who never became Jews; it would seem that they became Christians instead.
From the tumult of Thessalonica, Paul went onto Berea (Acts 17:10-15) and the opponents from Thessalonica followed him there with the result being that after initial success, the crowds were again agitated into violence and Paul left there and travelled to Athens, leaving instructions for Silas and Timothy to meet him there. By the time they were reunited, Paul was in Corinth, and their report is discussed in 1 Thessalonians, as we have already seen in chapter 2.
One final note about Paul’s travels is that he appears to have been following the main highway, stopping in the towns along the way to preach and establish churches that are connected to the transportation systems so they would be situated to make it easy for the Gospel to spread throughout the region; clearly Paul had a strategic plan for his missionary activities.