By Dr. Rick Flanders

“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: and Paul, as his manner was, went unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.

“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: and Paul, as his manner was, went unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.

“And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.  But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.  And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason hath received: and these do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.”

(Acts 17:1-7)

Just twenty years after the great Day of Pentecost, the Christians were being accused of having “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) by their influence on the culture.  And they did indeed turn the world in which they lived “upside down.”  Within a hundred years, it could be said, the followers of Jesus had convinced the Roman world generally that He had risen from the dead.  Before another couple of centuries passed, what was Western civilization became what historians have called “Christian civilization.”  The pagan world in which they lived and witnessed for Christ was turned upside down, or might we say, right-side up!  Such has been the effect of the powerful revivals of New Testament Christianity that have repeatedly occurred in world history.  They have transformed the culture of nations that had gone far away from God, and changed their societies, their politics, and their history.  This is especially true in the history of the United States.  The Christian Gospel turned America upside down in the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century in the years that preceded our independence.  It happened again in the Second Great Awakening of the nineteenth century, and in the great metropolitan revivals of the decades between the Civil War and Prohibition.  There is no debating this fact.  Nor can it be denied that, from the Christian perspective, our nation again needs to be turned upside down.   But can it be done?  Will another awakening bring America back to God?  Will there be another nation-changing Christian revival?  Is there anything Christians can do to bring such a thing to pass?

The story of the establishment of the church at Thessalonica gives us the answer to this question. Paul was the chief evangelist of Christianity in the first century.  The Acts of the Apostles gives much space to the record of his ministry around the known world, how he did what he did, and what the results of his work were.  This account gives special attention to his evangelistic method, telling us in detail what “his manner was” (Acts 17:1-4).  The method of the first Christians was not political campaigning, armed insurrection, or secret conspiracy.  It was not a moral crusade or a revolutionary movement.   It was something different, and it is plain in the inspired accounts what method they followed: an effort that transformed their world.  And we take comfort in the truth that in our times we also can partner with God to reap a great harvest of souls and impact the world in which we live for Christ.


Paul, the preacher who came to Thessalonica with the message of Christ, was an evangelist, accompanied by an evangelistic team.  In the Greek New Testament it is clear what and who an evangelist was.  In Acts 16:9-10, we are told how Paul and his team, when seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit about their next step, were persuaded by a vision to go to Macedonia, “assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us [them] for to preach the gospel [euangellizo, evangelize] unto them.”  Their journey took them to Macedonia, a province north of Achaia in what is now northern Greece, where the cities of Philippi, Amphipolis, Apollonia, Thessalonica, and Berea were located.  Their intention was to “evangelize” these towns.

To evangelize is to preach the gospel.  The Greek word euangellion is the word translated in the English Bible, “gospel,” and it means “good news” as in Luke 2:10 (“glad tidings”).  As used in the books of the New Testament, evangelize speaks almost exclusively of the work of evangelists in making public proclamation of good news.  People of Roman times knew what an evangelist, in the generic sense, was.  He was a proclaimer of good news who came to town to let everybody know about something really good that had happened.  He would be like Ahimaaz of old, “a good man, and cometh with good tidings” (Second Samuel 18:27).  The adoption of the term by Christians referred to men who were gifted to make persuasive public proclamation of the Good News of Christ.

Throughout his writings, Paul referred to his work as that of an evangelist, to evangelize (check the Greek of Romans 1:14-16, First Corinthians 9:16, and Ephesians 3:8).  Watch him in the book of Acts, going from city to city, finding a venue to hold public meetings, and preaching the Gospel to the people, just as he did in Thessalonica.

Pastors are different from evangelists, both in their gifting and their ministry.  But their work goes hand in hand.  We can see this in Ephesians 4, where both evangelists and pastors are shown to  be gifts to God’s people “for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (verses 11 and 12).  When Paul came to a city as an evangelist, he held public meetings, preached the Gospel of Christ, won people to the Lord, and formed a church.  Then (watch him in Acts 14:21-23) he appointed certain men in the new congregation to serve as pastors.  The title “pastor” means “shepherd” and the pastors shepherded, fed, and guided the flock after the evangelist was gone.  The pastoral office is also called that of an elder or a bishop (overseer—check Acts 20:17 and 28, and First Peter 5:1-3). Ephesians 4 teaches us that the work of the evangelist and that of the pastor overlap.  Both prepare Christians to do “the work of the ministry.”  Although the vision and activities of the two differ, the preaching of both ministers to the saints as well as to sinners.  This is one reason evangelists came (and come) to churches for “revival meetings.”  They have a role to play in the lives of the Christians and in the life of a church, as well as an itinerant ministry reach out to the lost world.  One of their functions is to keep the work of spreading the Gospel in focus within the churches.  Christianity at its best is represented powerfully by Spirit-filled evangelists, as well as locally by faithful pastors.  And the leaders at the front lines of the battle to conquer the world were the evangelists (look again at Luke 4:14-18, Acts 21:8, Second Corinthians 11:24-28, and Second Timothy 4:5-6).  Like Paul (look up Acts 13:2-4, and 9), they were men called by the Holy Spirit, sent by the Spirit, and “filled with the Holy Ghost.”  They travelled everywhere, spreading the Gospel of Christ, and calling the multitudes to repentance.  This is one reason Christianity spread so fast in those early days.

The ministry of the New Testament evangelist is greatly needed in our time.  There are some men today who are called evangelists, but operate quite differently from the first evangelists.  Our world will not be reached with the Gospel, nor turned upside down, unless we have men who will live by faith and be dedicated to travelling everywhere to spread the Word.  Whenever the people of God have been revived such evangelists have come forward, and had the support of godly pastors.  In the English evangelical revival of the 1700s, the Wesleys and George Whitfield, filled with the Holy Spirit, went all over Great Britain and appealed to the common man with the claims of Jesus, and called him to repentance.  In the American Great Awakening about the same time, Whitfield was also used, along with Edwards and other men like the Tennants.  In our Second Great Awakening, such evangelists as Asahel Nettleton, Charles Finney, and Baptists like Knapp, Swan, and Earle moved great crowds with their logical, persuasive appeals to believe the Gospel.  After the Civil War, great cities were moved under the preaching of men like D.L. Moody and Sam Jones, and later Billy Sunday, Mordecai Ham, and J. Wilbur Chapman in Gospel campaigns organized with the cooperation of the pastors and orthodox churches in the town.  God uses evangelists in the same way now as He did in the New Testament, and we should use them, too.

Unfortunately, many who have been called and gifted to be evangelists have been restrained, limited, and discouraged from functioning according to the Biblical pattern by many who do not share their vision.  Churches and their pastors need to get a new and correct vision of the work of the evangelist, and labor with them to reach the public with the Good News.


The message they preached was the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  First Corinthians 15 defines the Gospel as the news that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he rose the third day according to the scriptures” (verses 1 through 4).  Of course the account in Acts 17 says that Paul’s message was “that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ” (verse 13), which, of course, is the Gospel.  But notice the “manner” in which this Gospel preaching was done.  We read that Paul’s evangelizing was

  1. PUBLIC: He spoke in the synagogue, first to the Jews and then to everyone else who came to hear him (verses 1-4).  We need to hold great public meetings in large auditoriums again in every city to make the Gospel of Christ widely known!
  2. REPEATED: He preached for “three Sabbaths” (verse 2).  Usually people don’t get the Gospel the first time they hear it.  To reach a community effectively the evangelist must be set up to preach the Gospel in public meetings over and over again.  A series of Gospel meetings in an evangelistic campaign, or even in several such campaigns in succession, can have a profound effect on the city.
  3. REASONABLE: The Bible says that he “reasoned with them” (verse 2).  Effective Gospel preaching must be reasonable.  And the Gospel is powerfully reasonable.   Some evangelists sadly have been hindered and rendered ineffective because their preaching style has been influenced by a cultural flavor in the churches with which they serve that wants them to entertain the crowd with antics and catch-phrases that don’t make any sense to unbelievers who may be persuaded to attend.  The best evangelists have always presented logical, sensible, persuasive sermons, and not wild screaming orgies.
  4. SCRIPTURAL: We read that Paul persuaded the people “out of the scriptures” (verse 2).  The preaching of the Gospel of Christ must be based on and filled with the scriptures in order to be powerful. Remember that the Word of God has power (Romans 1:16 and Hebrews 4:12-13).  See this in the way Gospel preaching is described for us in First Corinthians 15:1-4.
  5. CLEAR: Paul was “opening” (verse 3) the truth to the people.  His preaching in the power of the Spirit was clear, and caused the hearers to “get it” (read First Corinthians 2:1-5).  The light came on in the minds and on the faces of the listeners.  The evangelist must be clear about the issues of sin, Christ, and faith.  People must understand him.
  6. DECISIVE: Before he had finished the sermon, we would find Paul “alleging” that the Gospel was true and insisting that the listeners make up their minds.  That’s why such a sermon should close with a call to repentance.  The truth demands a decision, pro or con.  Thus “invitations,” “altar calls” or other ways of calling for a decision should be employed.

What turned the world upside down was the repeated, public, reasonable, scriptural, clear, and decisive preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in cities around the world.  The Cause of Christ will move forward and triumph in many places as pastors and the people they lead and instruct get back to working with evangelists to hold meetings for mass evangelism where the Good News is plainly and powerfully exposed to the people.


Paul’s preaching in Thessalonica called for sinners to repent and believe in Jesus.  And many did, we are told, and “consorted” with the evangelist to further the Cause (verse 4).  What they did was they formed a church.  The term “church” in the New Testament is used to refer to a “congregation” (the meaning of the Greek word used).  The local assemblies of believers in Christ were actually the Church of Jesus Christ, the vital earthly center of God’s presence, called in the Bible the Body of Christ, the New Testament Temple, and the Wife of Jesus (look up Ephesians 1:22-23, 2:19-22, 3:20-21, 4:11-16, and 5:28-32), and was the means of transforming believers into disciples of Christ.  The work of the church is essential to the changing of people’s behavior.  The forming of the church at Thessalonica is reviewed in First Thessalonians 1 and 2.  Men in the new congregations generated by the preaching of the evangelists were appointed as “elders,” one of the designations given to the office of pastors (Acts 14:23).  These men were charged with teaching, guiding, and caring for the flock of Christ’s sheep (see First Peter 5:1-4).  It was in the context of a church that former pagans were taught to think and live as Christians.  It was said that they were taught to accept that “there is another King, one Jesus” (verse 7).  Their ways were no longer dictated by the customs of their society or even “the decrees of Caesar,” but rather by the commandments of their new King.

Our deteriorating society will not be rescued from self-destruction by electing into power another political party, or even by conservative media.  If America is to be “turned upside down” according to God’s truth, it will be done by the widespread preaching of the Gospel and the forming of churches to teach new Christians how to think and live.  It worked in the First Century!  We must work this plan now, very soon.

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