The epistle is addressed to the church of the Thessalonians (1:1). The church in Thessalonica was the second church established in Macedonia, following the establishment of the church in Philippi. Its establishment was the result of Paul’s evangelical effort during his second missionary journey. Read Acts 17:1-10 for the account of Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica.
A.D 50-51. First Thessalonians is probably the earliest of the Pauline Epistles.
In response to Paul’s preaching in the synagogue in Thessalonica, some Jews, a great multitude of devout Greeks, and a few of the leading women came to the faith. But out of jealousy, the unbelieving Jews instigated a riot in the city. Consequently, the brethren had to send Paul and Silas away to Berea, where the gospel was well received. But, later, the the same same group of Jews from Thessalonica came to Berea to stir up the crowds. Because of this persistent opposition, Paul left Berea for Athens.
Meanwhile, concerned for the believers in Thessalonica, Paul and his company longed to return there. But Satan hindered them (2:18). Therefore, from Athens, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to strengthen the church there, while he himself continued on to Corinth. Having visited the Thessalonian believers, Timothy returned to Paul and brought back a report about them, which moved Paul to write the first letter to the Thessalonians.
1. What did Timothy report? ________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________
2. For what does Paul commend the believers and give thanks to God?
3. Paul encourages the church in Thessalonica concerning something that believers are destined to encounter and must endure. What is it?
Besides commending the believers and strengthening them to face hardship, Paul also writes to the Thessalonians regarding holy conduct in their personal lives in preparation for the Lord’s return.
- Informal, personal style.
- Absence of quotations from the Old Testament.
- It uses the word “parousia” (the technical term for the arrival of a ruler) to describe the Lord’s coming more than any other Pauline epistle. [ref]
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:23).
1. Read the entire epistle once for general impressions. Then go through each section as listed in chart A and record a heading for each section. Note that chapters 1-3 are mainly looking back at events in the past whereas chapters 4-5 are mainly looking forward to the return of Christ (Thus the title of this lesson: Remembrance and Expectancy).
Ministry to the Thessalonians
In the first half of the letter, Paul time and again recalls how he and his fellow workers first brought the gospel to the Thessalonians. He writes that the gospel did not come to them in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance (1:5). The effect of their preaching was evident in the response of the Thessalonians, who welcomed the gospel not as the word of men, but the word of God (2:13). Consequently, the believers turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1:9). Despite much affliction, the Thessalonians received the word with joy and became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia (1:6-8).
Paul emphasizes that the gospel he preached was genuine. The believers themselves can testify how Paul and his companions conducted themselves while preaching the gospel in Thessalonica (1:5,9; 2:1). They were bold in speaking to the Thessalonians even after suffering persecution at Philippi (2:2). Their exhortations did not come from error or uncleanness or deceit (2:3). They preached as God-pleasers rather than men-pleasers, without flattery or covetousness (2:4-5). They were gentle, loving, devout, just, and blameless. As a nursing mother and a loving father, they toiled night and day to bring up the believers in the Lord (2:7-12).
Sufferings for the Faith
The church in Thessalonica was established in the midst of afflictions (1:6). Just as the churches in Judea suffered persecutions from the Judeans, the Thessalonian believers faced persecutions from their countrymen (2:14). Concerned that this relatively young church may be shaken by these afflictions, Paul eagerly hoped to return to Thessalonica to strengthen the believers (3:1-3).
Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they are appointed to afflictions (3:3). Even while he was still with them, he had already foretold of their impending sufferings (3:4). But, as it turned out, the Thessalonians were able to withstand the test of faith, and the good news that Timothy brought back, in turn, comforted Paul in his affliction and distress (3:6-7).
The Coming of the Lord
Perhaps this is the most prominent subject of this epistle. Every chapter ends with mention of the Lord’s coming. The Thessalonian believers had turned to God from idols to serve the living God and to wait for His Son from heaven (1:9-10). The ministers’ hope and joy and crown of rejoicing are the believers in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ at His coming (2:19-20). Paul prays that God may establish the Thessalonians and preserve them blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (3:13; 5:23). The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. Thus, believers must live as sons of light and be watchful and sober (5:1-8).
In chapter 4 Paul specifically teaches about those who have fallen asleep. At the coming of the Lord Jesus, God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus (4:14), and the dead in Christ will rise first (4:16). Then those who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and be with the Lord forever (4:17). This hope of resurrection and rapture should comfort believers so that they would not sorrow as others who have no hope (4:13,18).
Living to Please God
The latter half of the epistle concentrates on a Christian’s daily walk (4:1). Believers are to abstain from sexual immorality, knowing that God has called us to holiness (4:3-7). Paul also urges the Thessalonians to increase more and more in their love (4:9-10) and to lead a quiet and productive life (4:11-12). In view of the coming of the Lord and of the sudden destruction on those living in darkness, believers need to be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation (5:4-8).
In the community of faith, believers are to esteem the spiritual leaders, be at peace with one another, warn the unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all, avoid rendering evil for evil, but always pursue what is good (5:12-15). In our personal lives, we are to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in everything, hold fast to the good and reject all evil (5:16-22).
This epistle speaks of the afflictions that Christians are appointed to suffer. Although we may not undergo the same kind of persecutions as the believers then endured, sufferings in our lives for the sake of our faith are certain. Just as the Thessalonian believers needed to stand firm in trials, we must be ready to face sufferings on the heavenly journey.
The epistle’s call to a holy living in view of the Lord’s coming certainly warrants our serious attention today. As the day of the Lord draws closer, the sins of this world continue to increase. More than ever, Christians need to be sober, living as sons of light in the midst of this dark age. Besides its ethical demands, the constant reminder of the Lord’s coming in the epistle can also be our source of hope and strength as we eagerly wait for the return of our Lord.
Map & Chart
Map A Geography in the time of the early church