Overview of the Book of 1 Thessalonians

Question

Overview of the Book of 1 Thessalonians

Answer

Overview of the Book of 1 Thessalonians

Author: The author is the Apostle Paul.

Purpose:

To assure the Thessalonians of Paul's love and to instruct them on the importance of living for Christ and properly understanding the ramifications of his return.

Date: A.D. 50-51

Key Truths:

  • God is to be thanked for the faithfulness of his people.
  • Believers are to be commended for their faithfulness.
  • Believers are to live lives pleasing to God.
  • Believers who have died will rise when Christ returns.
  • Believers must always be ready for the return of Christ.

Author:

The author of this epistle identified himself as the apostle Paul (1 Thess. 1:1; 2:18). Paul's authorship has occasionally been challenged, but with notable lack of success.

The possibility of contributions from Silas and Timothy with regard to the substance of the Thessalonian letters cannot be determined with any certainty. Certain peculiarities of these epistles, in comparison with the rest of the Pauline corpus, may be traceable to the influence of one or the other of these close associates of Paul.

Time and Place of Writing:

Paul almost certainly wrote his first letter to the Thessalonians from Corinth, where Silas and Timothy, co senders of the letters, were reunited with him (Acts 18:5; 2 Cor. 1:19). This epistle was most likely written in A.D. 50 or 51, and 2 Thessalonians was written shortly thereafter. Therefore, 1 and 2 Thessalonians are among the earliest letters we have from Paul's hand, the letter to the Galatians holding the only reasonable claim to an earlier date (see "Introduction to Galatians").

Original Audience:

The city of Thessalonica was named for the half-sister of Alexander the Great and was founded about 315 B.C. by her husband, King Cassander of Macedonia. In Roman times it was the provincial seat of government, and it was ruled by five or six "city officials" (Acts 17:6; from the Greek, politarch, "city ruler").

On Paul's second missionary tour, he and his companions Silas and Timothy had come to this city of over 200,000 along the Egnatian Way after having been "insulted" at Philippi (1 Thess. 2:2), their last base of ministry, according to the book of Acts. Paul preached and debated in the synagogue in Thessalonica for three successive Sabbaths (Acts 17:2).

The Thessalonian correspondence indicates that the makeup of the congregation was predominately Gentile, promoting the view that a successful ministry among Gentiles continued after Paul's access to the synagogue was cut off. During their abbreviated stay in Thessalonica, which cannot have lasted more than several months, the missionaries apparently received more than one small contribution for their support from the Philippian congregation (Phil. 4:15-16). This, combined with earnings from their own labors (1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:7-8), meant that they were able to support themselves without having to depend upon the Thessalonians for any financial remuneration. They set an example of humble, industrious behavior for a minority in the Church who wanted to refrain from working for a living.

Eventually some members of the Jewish community enlisted unscrupulous men to stir up animosity against the Christians. A riot ensued, and a number of Christians, including a Jewish convert named Jason, were dragged before the authorities. Jason and the others were forced to post security money to guarantee the peaceable conduct of the new group. Paul, Silas, and Timothy were summarily whisked away under cover of darkness and soon found themselves in Berea to the west (Acts 17:5-10).

Purpose and Distinctives:

First Thessalonians was occasioned by a report Paul had received from Timothy regarding the state of the Thessalonian congregation (1 Thess. 3:6-7). Paul wrote with joy and relief, for, according to this report, the Thessalonians were continuing to stand firm in the faith despite the premature departure of Paul and his coworkers and despite harassment from hostile factions.

Paul focused on two important themes in this letter:

(1) Christ's Return. Much teaching about Christ's return runs through both Thessalonian epistles, especially in chapters 4-5 of the first letter and chapters 1-2 of the second. Paul's preaching at Athens (Acts 17) confirms that his strategy among non Jewish audiences at this time was to stress the coming judgment (1 Thess. 4:6), which God has placed in the hands of the risen Jesus Christ.

The return of Christ for judgment will immediately precede a resurrection of the just for their eternal rest and salvation in the Lord's presence (1 Thess. 4:16; 5:9; 2 Thess. 1:7), as well as a resurrection of the unjust that Paul presupposed would be for their eternal separation from Christ (2 Thess. 1:9). The onset of the end will be preceded by a widespread movement of apostasy and by the appearance of a diabolical "man of lawlessness" (2 Thess. 2:3; see also 2 Thess. 2:1-12). Since this person had not yet appeared, those in the Thessalonian congregation who had been claiming that the "day of the Lord" (2 Thess. 2:2) had already arrived were to be silenced.

(2) The Divine Christ. Another notable characteristic of these letters is Paul's assumption of Christ's divine status. This is all the more striking because of the early date of the letters and the spontaneous and unguarded nature of the references. Several times Jesus Christ and God his Father are linked together as the common source of divine blessing and the common object of prayer (1 Thess. 1:1; 3:11; 2 Thess 1:1-2, 12; 2:16; 3:5, 16). Paul's use of the Old Testament expression "day of the Lord [Yahweh]," in which "the Lord [Yahweh]" is now revealed to be the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:2). The unified work of the three Persons of the Trinity is mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14. See "The Trinity: One God or Three?."

Notes from the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Dr. Richard Pratt, ed. (Zondervan, 2003).

Introduction Material:

The Epistles of the New Testament

Copyright:

Copyright, Authors, and Theological Editors of the SORSB

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries who served as Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored numerous books.