The city of Thessalonica was the capital of the province of Macedonia. It is located to the southwest of Philippi on a bay of the Aegean Sea. Its location on the famous highway, the Egnatian Way, and its position as a port town made it a prosperous city. In Paul’s day Thessalonica had a mixture of Greeks, Romans and Jews. From Acts we know that the Jews established a synagogue there. Even today the city is a large and prosperous city; only Athens is a larger Greek city.
THE THESSALONIAN CHRISTIANS
The church at Thessalonica was established on Paul’s second missionary trip. Read Acts 17:1-10. After leaving Philippi, Paul came to Thessalonica together with Silas and Timothy. For three Sabbath days in a row Paul spoke at the synagogue, proving from the Bible that Jesus was the Messiah. Some Jews and many Greeks, including quite a number of prominent women, became Christians. But some jealous Jews soon began causing problems for the Christians. They started a riot, dragged Jason, one of the Christians, and other believers before the city officials and accused them of opposing the laws of the emperor by saying that Jesus was a king. At night Paul and Silas were able to escape to Berea. But the Thessalonian trouble-makers pursued them even there and stirred up the crowds against Paul. It is evident that right from the first day they believed, the Thessalonians were persecuted for their faith in Christ. That persecution continued. Because of the persecutions, Paul was able to minister personally to the Thessalonians for perhaps only about a month. But Paul later sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to strengthen and encourage them in their faith [1 Th. 3:2].
THE EPISTLES TO THE THESSALONIANS
While still on his second missionary trip, Paul went from Berea in Macedonia down to Athens; for a time, Timothy stayed on in Macedonia (Acts 17:14-15). Later, Timothy joined Paul in Athens; then Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to minister to the Christians [1 Th. 3:1-2]. Meanwhile, Paul continued on his trip down to Corinth (Acts 18:1). It was at Corinth that Timothy joined Paul again and was able to give Paul a report on the Thessalonian church (Acts 18:5 and 1 Th. 3:6). After listening to Timothy’s report, Paul wrote his two letters to the Thessalonians. The second letter was written only a few months after the first. By comparing Acts 18 and 1 Th. 3, we can determine that Paul wrote his letters to the Thessalonians from Corinth while still on his second missionary trip. This means that his letters were written not long after the church in Thessalonica had been established. It also means that 1 and 2 Thessalonians are the earliest or next-to-the earliest letters of Paul to be written. The two letters may have been written about 50 A.D.
Paul’s first letter was written in order to respond to the reports that Timothy had brought from Thessalonica. Timothy’s report was generally very good (1 Th. 3:6). Paul wrote first, therefore, to give thanks because the Thessalonian church was proving to be a “model church;” though persecuted, their faith and love were strong. He wrote also to settle some problems in the church and to answer some questions; to defend his ministry because of charges made against him (2:1-16), to encourage more holy living (4:1-8), to answer questions especially about Christ’s second coming. Paul’s main doctrinal topic in 1 Thessalonians is the second coming of Christ.
THEME, OUTLINE AND BASIC CONTENTS OF 1 THESSALONIANS
“THE LORD IS COMING AGAIN”
1.The promise of Jesus’ second coming means comfort during persecutions. (1-3) Paul thanks God that the Thessalonians turned from idols to the living God and that, though persecuted, they are awaiting Jesus’ return in strong faith and love. Paul also writes that he was persecuted by enemies in Thessalonica. The return of Christ always means much during time of persecution, because it means rescue. Some key passages: “In spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you become a model to all the believers.” (1:6-7). “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven” (1:9-10). “When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe” (2:13).
2.Paul instructs about the second coming and encourages holy living. (4-5) The Thessalonians had two questions of Paul concerning Jesus’ second coming: What will happen to Christians who die before Christ returns? When will Christ return? The answers: Dead Christians will be raised at Christ’s return and together with the still-living Christians will meet Christ. No one knows the day of Christ’s return; it will come suddenly; we must be ready at all times. Because of Christ’s coming, Paul says that we are to live like the “sons of light” that God has made us in Christ. Some key passages: “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (4:5) “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (4:14). “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (5:2). “Since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (5:8).
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