Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. – Acts 17:1-9
It is disturbing to learn that many of the people at Black Lives Matter, Antifa, or Altright demonstrations are outside agitators, brought in by some group or consortium to cause trouble. But in light of what the Jews in Thessalonica did on this occasion, outside agitation is nothing new. Inciting others to cause trouble for one’s opponents is apparently at least as old as the first century Roman Empire.
What moved them to go so strongly toward this path? It was their perception that the followers of Jesus had turned the world upside down by their teaching and preaching and evangelizing. Not only that, but they will even name a co-conspirator (Jason) as culpable and worthy of severe punishment when they fail to find Paul and Silas.
All this happened because Paul and Silas were proclaiming that Jesus is the Messiah – the Christ. They were making a strong case for a new king: Jesus. The Jews were now in danger, they realized, of losing their place of prominence in the Jewish synagogue. They were worried that Jesus would change everything they held dear. In this case it must have been power, security, prestige, and influence in the synagogue and the city. When they spoke people listened. Now Jesus was supplanting that – taking away their prerogative and positions of honor.
Jesus does that. He threatens those who are secure in themselves. He upsets those who want to trust their own bank accounts, power plays, places in society, and efforts to make a life for themselves. He threatens those who live for themselves and want to make a life for themselves apart from God.
To live totally for Jesus requires radical faith – world-turned-upside-down-faith. Dethroning myself and placing Jesus where he belongs – or better yet, placing myself under Jesus’ rule and reign is an act of repentance and faith. He earned my salvation so that, “I may live under him in his kingdom and serve him” (cf. Luther’s Small Catechism, Creed, 2nd Article). Sadly not everyone acknowledges this. Some will even seek to thwart his reign.
Not every follower of Jesus will incite such a strong negative reaction. But followers of Jesus need to be wise to the ploys of the Evil One, and remember who the real king is.