An Overview Of The Book Of 1 Thessalonians

The City Of Thessalonica

Thessalonica exists today as the city of Saloniki. Originally the name of the city was Therma, or Therme. This Greek name meant “Hot Bath” or “Hot Springs”. The city was so named because of the hot salt-springs located about four miles from the site of the present Saloniki. The city's name was changed by Cassander. He was the king of Macedonia and one of the successors of Alexander the Great. He rebuilt and repeopled the city in 315 B.C. and renamed it Thessalonica after his wife Thessalonike, a sister of Alexander the Great.

The city became the great naval station of the Macedonians. It was surrendered to the Romans after the battle of Pydna in 168 B.C. The Romans made it the capital of the second of the four districts of Macedonia. When the four districts were made into one province under the jurisdiction of a proconsul, it became the residence of the proconsul. In the first Roman civil war in 49 B.C. the city became the headquarters of Pompey and the Roman senate. The city aligned itself with Octavius, who became Caesar Augustus, against Sextus Pompeius from 42 to 39 B.C. The city was rewarded by being declared a free city. At the time of Paul in the first century Thessalonica was the capital of the whole region between the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea. The magistrates, or city rulers, were called by Luke in Acts 17:8 politrarchs, a title that is not mentioned in ancient literature. Luke's use of the title politrarchs is evidence of his minute accuracy, for on the arch of the Vardar Gate is found this very designation for the seven city magistrates.

Thessalonica was on the main Roman highway known as the Egnatian Way, or Via Egnatia. It connected Rome in the west to its imperial territories to the east and north of the Aegean Sea. The Romans constructed the Egnatian Way for the military purpose of moving their legions quickly from one part of their empire to another. The highway passed through Thessalonica. Huge arched gates towered over the road on the west and east ends of the city. The city's location in the heart of the empire made Thessalonica the chief Roman military station that commanded this strategic point of the highway.

The military value of Thessalonica to the Romans was further enhanced by the city's location at the northeast corner of the Thermaic Gulf. Possessing a fine harbor, the city became a strategic Roman naval station. From this naval station, as well as from those in Corinth in southern Greece and Ephesus on the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea, the Roman navy was able to control the Aegean Sea, which was an all important travel and trade route between east and west.

Possessing its excellent harbor and being located on the Egnatian Way, Thessalonica shared the traffic of trade from the east to the west with Corinth. The city was a major sea trade port of the Roman Empire and a commercial center of great importance. Rather than risk the dangers of sailing through the storms and rough seas around the southern coast of Greece, most cargoes being shipped by boat from east to west were brought either to Corinth in southern Greece or to Thessalonica to the north. At Corinth the smaller vessels with their cargoes were rolled overland across the isthmus and relaunched to continue their journey across the Adriatic Sea to Italy and Rome. The cargoes of the larger ships were unloaded, transported overland across the isthmus, and reloaded onto waiting ships which carried them across the Adriatic Sea to Italy. The cargoes which were shipped to Thessalonica were unloaded at the docks, put into wagons, and transported to Rome over the Egnatian Way.

Being the capital city of the area and a major military station and commercial center, Thessalonica was host or home to many different people from all regions of the Roman Empire--Roman officials, Roman soldiers and sailors, shippers and merchants, travelers and visitors, Gentiles in great numbers as well as Jews. Thessalonica was the type of city Paul sought to conduct a prolonged ministry of preaching the gospel.

The Church Of Thessalonica

The Spirit led Paul to establish the church in Thessalonica about 51 A.D. This date is based on an incident that occurred during Paul's ministry in Corinth, where Paul worked for more than a year and a half after leaving Thessalonica. While in Corinth Paul was persecuted by the Jews. They brought him before Gallio, the Roman Proconsul of Achaia, which was the southern province of Greece. Corinth was the capital of Achaia and the residence of the proconsul. Gallio served as the Roman proconsul in A.D. 51-52. This establishes the date of Paul's ministry in Corinth and in Thessalonica where Paul worked for a short time before going to Corinth.

Paul established the church in Thessalonica during his second missionary journey, which has been dated as A.D. 50-52. Acts 16:6-10 informs us the Spirit had expressly forbidden Paul on his second missionary journey to preach the Word in the northern Roman provinces of Asia Minor and Bithynia in what is now the country of Turkey. Rather the Spirit led Paul to Troas, the ancient city of Troy, on the west coast of Asia Minor across the Aegean Sea from Macedonia, which is in northern Greece. There in Troas the Lord gave Paul a vision of a man beckoning him to come to Macedonia. Understanding that the Lord wanted him and his co-workers to preach the gospel there, Paul together with Silas, Timothy, and Luke sailed west to Macedonia and set their feet for the first time on European soil at the port city of Neapolis. From there they traveled by foot to the strategic city of Philippi. After leaving Philippi, Paul traveled over the Egnatian Way through the cities of Amphipolis and Apollonia to Thessalonica, a distance of about one hundred miles (cf. Acts 17:1).

After arriving in Thessalonica with Silas, Paul, as was his custom in Galatia, went first to the Jewish synagogue to begin his mission work. He taught and reasoned with the Jews from the Old Testament Scriptures on three consecutive Sabbath days. From the Scriptures Paul explained that the promised Messiah (Christ) had to suffer and rise again from the dead. Paul told those in the synagogue that the promised Messiah was Jesus. The Spirit blessed Paul's and Silas' teaching of the gospel. After but those three weeks some of the Jews were persuaded to believe Jesus was the Christ, as well as a great multitude of Greek converts to Judaism (proselytes) and a number of the leading women of social prominence in the city of Thessalonica. Thus in the short span of those three weeks a sufficiently large congregation of believers was gathered and established. The church consisted of a few Jews and mostly Gentiles.

As in the city of Philippi, however, persecution quickly arose in Thessalonica. The great majority of the Jews became quite jealous of the gospel and of Paul's success. Those Jews went to the marketplace in Thessalonica, where they enlisted idle, evil men, who were looking for trouble. Having enlisted their aid, the Jews quickly gathered a mob which started rioting. They ignited the city into an uproar (cf. Acts 17:5). They seized a Christian man named Jason and some additional believers of the church that met at Jason's house. They dragged these Christians before the ruling magistrates of the city, whom Luke called politrarchs. With Thessalonica being the Roman capital of the province and the residence of the Roman proconsul, as well as a Roman military station, the Jewish led mob charged that the Christians were acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar by saying there was another king named Jesus (cf. Acts 17:7). It seems that news of Jewish and civil persecutions of Paul and his co-workers in the eastern cities of Galatia had reached the ears of the Jews and people of Thessalonica, for the Jewish led mob made the accusation that the men who had upset the world in other places had come there to Thessalonica (cf. Acts 17:6). Since the mob accused Jason and the other Christians of acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, it is also plausible that the Jews and people of Thessalonica had heard of the charges leveled against Paul and Silas in the Roman colony of Philippi, which was a mere one hundred miles away on the Egnatian Way. In Philippi Paul and Silas were charged with throwing the city into confusion and advocating customs which were unlawful for Roman citizens to accept and practice (cf. Acts 16:20,21).

The Christians in the church of Thessalonica immediately sent Paul and Silas that night to Berea. There the Spirit again blessed their preaching and teaching. Many Jewish were brought to faith, as well as a number of prominent Greek women and men. When the Jews in Thessalonica heard of Paul's success in Berea, they traveled to Berea and instigated a persecution of the Christians there (cf. Acts 17:10-14).

The Writer Of The First Letter To The Thessalonians

Paul is the author of 1 Thessalonians. Paul, Silvanus (the Roman name of Silas), and Timothy are all named in 1 Thessalonians 1:1. Silas and Timothy did not author the letter, however. Silas and Timothy are mentioned because the Christians in Thessalonica knew these co-workers of Paul personally, as they knew Paul himself. Silas had assisted Paul in establishing the church in Thessalonica. Timothy had gone to Thessalonica as Paul's agent to encourage the Thessalonian Christians (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:1,2). The personal pronouns “we”, “us”, and “our” in the letter indicate that Silas and Timothy were in perfect agreement with what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. 1 Thessalonians 2:18, as well as 3:5 and 4:27, clearly show that Paul himself was the actual writer of the letter. In these verses Paul referred to himself with the personal pronoun “I”.

For more information about Paul and his ministry, see An Overview Of The Book Of Acts.

The Recipients Of The First Letter To The Thessalonians

The Christians in the church of Thessalonica, 1 Thessalonians 1:1

Date Of The First Letter To The Thessalonians

The letter was written late in A.D. 51 to early A.D. 52.

The Occasion For The Writing Of The First Letter To The Thessalonians

When Paul left Thessalonica, he traveled first to Berea, then to Athens, and from there to Corinth, where he remained for more than one and a half years. In Corinth the church in Thessalonica remained on Paul's mind and in his prayers. The persecution that had begun there during his short visit persisted and was intense. Paul was concerned about the Christians of Thessalonica standing firm in the gospel of Christ under the persecution they were suffering. According to 1 Thessalonians 2:17,18, having been separated from the Thessalonians but a short time, Paul strongly desired to return there a number of times. Satan, however, in some manner had prevented him from doing so. Unable to go to Thessalonica himself, Paul sent Timothy to strengthen and to encourage the Thessalonians. When Timothy rejoined Paul in Corinth, Timothy brought Paul an exhilarating report of the Thessalonians' faith, love, and hope (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:2,3). Relief and joy prompted Paul to write his first letter to the Thessalonians. He wrote to tell them how thankful he was for their remaining faithful to the gospel and to further encourage them in their faith. Being relatively new Christians, he also wrote to supply what was lacking in their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:10).

The Place Where The Second Letter To The Thessalonians Was Written


Purpose Of The First Letter To The Thessalonians

1. To express to the Thessalonians Paul's thankfulness to God for their faith, love, and hope (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:2,3).

2. To strengthen and encourage the Thessalonians in their faith in the face of persecution (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:2).

3. To supply what was lacking in the faith of the new Christians in Thessalonica (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:10).

Outline Of The First Letter To The Thessalonians

Part 1: Greeting, 1 Thessalonians 1:1

Part 2: Thanksgiving For The Faithfulness God's Word Produced In The Thessalonians, 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10

A. Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians' faith, love, and hope, 1 Thessalonians 1:2,3

B. Acknowledgment that the gospel came to the Thessalonians in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with full conviction, 1 Thessalonians 1:4,5a

C. The Word of God the Thessalonians received with joy in the face of persecution empowered them to be imitators of Paul, Silas, Timothy, and the Lord, as well as to be an example for all believers, 1 Thessalonians 1:5b-7

D. The Thessalonians spread the Word of God throughout all Greece, 1 Thessalonians 1:8

E. Others spoke well of the Thessalonians' faith from the beginning and their waiting in hope for the second coming of Jesus, the Son of God, who saves them from the wrath of God to be revealed on the day of judgment, 1 Thessalonians 1:9,10

Part 3: The Thessalonians Knew The Effective Ministry Of God's Faithful Servants, Paul and Silas, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

A. The Thessalonians knew the ministry of God's servants among them was not in vain but was effective, 1 Thessalonians 2:1

B. The ministry of God's faithful servants, Paul and Silas, 1 Thessalonians 2:2-12

1. God's faithful servants were bold to speak the gospel amid much opposition, 1 Thessalonians 2:2

2. God's faithful servants considered their ministry a trust from God to speak the gospel as God desired it to be proclaimed, 1 Thessalonians 2:3,4

3. God's faithful servants did not preach the gospel under false pretenses but with sincere gentleness, 1 Thessalonians 2:5-7

4. God's faithful servants worked tirelessly to preach the gospel, 1 Thessalonians 2:8,9

5. God's faithful servants conducted themselves in such ways to enable the Thessalonians to live in a manner worthy of God, 1 Thessalonians 2:10-12

Part 4: Reflections On The Past That Led To The Present, 1 Thessalonians 2:13-3:13

A. Reflections on the past, 1 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5

1. Having been God's faithful servants, Paul and Silas thanked God that the Thessalonians received their message, not as the word of men, but as the Word of God, 1 Thessalonians 2:13a

2. The Word of God performs its work in those who believe, 1 Thessalonians 2:13b

a. Thus the Thessalonians endured the persecution of their fellow countrymen that was comparable to the persecution endured by the churches in Judea at the hands of the Jews, 1 Thessalonians 2:14

a.1 Those Jews killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and persecuted the apostles, 1 Thessalonians 2:15a
a.2 Those Jews oppose God and are hostile to all people, even hindering the apostles' preaching to the Gentiles that the Gentiles may be saved, 1 Thessalonians 2:15b, 16a
a.3 Those Jews abound in sin and are under the wrath of God, 1 Thessalonians 2:16b

3. Paul had greatly desired to return to the Thessalonians, but Satan had prevented his doing so, 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20

4. Anxious about the faith of the Thessalonians, Paul had sent Timothy to strengthen and to encourage them, since Paul could not go to them himself, 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5

B. Conditions at the present time

1. Paul is much comforted by Timothy's report about the Thessalonians' faith and love, 1 Thessalonians 3:6,7

2. Paul can now say he lives, so long as the Thessalonians stand firm in the faith, 1 Thessalonians 3:8

3. Paul cannot thank God enough for the joy the Thessalonians' faith gives him, 1 Thessalonians 3:9

4. Paul prays he may yet return to complete what is lacking in the faith of the new Christians in Thessalonica, 1 Thessalonians 3:10

5. Paul prays in behalf of the Thessalonians that the Lord will increase their love and keep their hearts blameless until Jesus' return in glory, 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

Part 4: Exhortations That Aimed To Complete What Was Lacking In The Thessalonians' Faith, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-5:22

A. Excel even more in living a God-pleasing life, 1 Thessalonians 4:1

1. Abstain from sexual immorality, for God has called you for the purpose of being holy, 1 Thessalonians 4:2-8

2. Excel even more in your love for one another through leading a quiet life in which you mind your own business and work, 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

B. Do not grieve over your fellow believers who died in the faith. Rather, comfort one another in the knowledge of the resurrection to eternal life with Christ in heaven, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

C. Knowing that the day of the Lord's judgment will come suddenly, encourage one another to live self-controlled lives as God's children of light whose armor is their faith, love, and hope, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

D. Promote a healthy congregational life, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22

1. Appreciate and respect your pastors and leaders, and live in peace with them and one another, 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13

2. Practice church discipline and with patience encourage the fainthearted and help your spiritually weak brothers, 1 Thessalonians 5:14

3. Do not repay evil with evil, but seek what is good for one another, 1 Thessalonians 5:15

4. At all times rejoice, pray, and give thanks, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

5. Don't snuff out the Spirit and his work, but cherish the utterances of his prophets as you examine everything carefully according to God's Word to hold to what is good and to avoid every form of evil, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

Part 5: Conclusion, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-28

A. Closing prayer, 1 Thessalonians 5:23,24

B. A request for the church's prayers, 1 Thessalonians 5:25

C. Closing greeting, 1 Thessalonians 5:26

D. Closing instruction to have this letter read to all the Christians, 1 Thessalonians 5:27

E. Closing benediction, 1 Thessalonians 5:28