The First Epistle to the Thessalonians
- Recipients, Author and Time of Writing
- Subject and purpose of writing
- Contents (overview)
1. Recipients, Author and Time of Writing
Starting 146 BC, Thessalonica (today: Thessaloniki, Salonika) had been the capital of the Roman province Macedonia. The city was situated on the Via Egnatia, an important east-west-feeder road and additionally had a port in a bay of the Aegean Sea. In the Antiquity this city reportedly had more than 200,000 inhabitants. As in many cities of trade there was a Jewish community and a synagogue in Thessalonica.
When the Apostle Paul during his second journey (around 51 to 54 AC) with Silas and Timothy came from Philippi to Thessalonica he - as was his custom - first of all went to the synagogue and preached the gospel of the salvation in Christ to the Jews (Acts 17:1-4; compare 1 Cor. 15:1-4). Some of the Jews, a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and of the chief women not a few believed the message preached. But the Jews which believed not put the whole city in an uproar against the servants of Christ. Paul and Silas were immediately sent away and had to leave by night (Acts 17:5-10). Their stay had probably lasted three weeks only. During this short period the believers of Philippi had already sent unto the apostle's necessity (Phil. 4:16).
When Paul came to Berea the angry Jews of Thessalonica came to persecute him there also and he had to flee again. This time he left Silas and Timothy behind and continued to Athens on his own.
In his thoughts Paul often was with the believers in Thessalonica which he had to leave so abruptly and whom he wished to see again soon. 1 Thess. 2:18 tells us that Satan hindered them to go back to the Thessalonians. This is why Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica to establish the assembly in her faith and to comfort her. Timothy probably accompanied the Apostle to Athens, as Paul had wished so, and from there returned to Thessalonica, again, as Paul wished (see Acts 17:15-16; 1 Thess. 3:1-5).
Paul himself travelled on to Corinth after his stay in Athens. There he later met with Timothy and Silas again (Acts 18:5; 1. Thess. 3:6). Timothy and Silas brought mostly good news from Thessalonica and Paul was inspired by the Holy Ghost to write the First Epistle to the Thessalonians. Based on the “Gallio inscription” from Delphi the time of writing of this epistle may be dated around 51/52 AC.
Apart from the radical critics of the “School of Tübingen” hardly any other scientist has doubted the genuineness of this epistle which in style and expression is really typical for Paul. It is probably the first of Paul's epistles in the NT. Already the early church fathers mention mention this epistle. Irenaeus (around 140 to 202 AC), Clemens of Alexandria (around 150 to 215 AC) and Tertullian (around 160 to 220 AC) refer to it as epistle of Paul and the Muratori canon mentions the epistle itself (end of 2 nd century).
2. Subject and purpose of writing
This First Epistle is a real shepherd epistle of the apostle. He wants to encourage and comfort his beloved children in the faith as a mother (or nurse) and as a father even though he is far away from them (1 Thess. 2:7+11). If necessary he also wants to exhort them and to take away every uncertainty regarding the ones that are asleep and the coming of the Lord.
Amid many subjects and thoughts of the epistle the one subject that stands out is the coming of the Lord. It is mentioned in every chapter and is the only subject which is also treated doctrinally in this epistle - and this on the basis of a communication Paul had received from the Lord; 1 Thess. 4:15-18).
The Coming of the Lord
The coming of the Lord and the blessed and living hope of the believers linked with it is the central subject of the First Epistle to the Thessalonians (Tit. 2:13; 1 Pet.1:3). Nowadays this blessed hope is nearly forgotten in large parts of Christendom and is considered as matter of secondary importance. The Thessalonians however had been converted not only to serve the living and true God but also to await his Son from the heavens (1 Thess. 1:9-10)! Without this Christian hope the gospel is not complete. The heavenly calling of the Christian ought to have a practical impact on his daily life (chap. 2:12).
On the other hand the apostle considered the Thessalonians as his joy and crown of rejoicing at the coming of the Lord Jesus (chap. 2:19). But he also wished that their hearts might be established unblamable in holiness at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints (chap. 3:13). Chapters 4:13 to 5:11 go into details concerning the coming of the Lord. Paul distinguishes clearly between the Lord's coming for the believers and his coming with the redeemed ones. At the coming for the believers which will take place before the judgments of the Great Tribulation all the dead in Christ shall raise and the then living ones shall be changed. Together they will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (chap. 4:15-18; compare 1 Cor. 15:51ff). After the Great Tribulation the Lord will appear with the saints to set up His kingdom, the Millennium, at the “day of the Lord”. The formerly raptured saints will then come down from heaven with Christ after the judgments to reign with Him over the people then living on earth (chap. 4:13-14; 5:1-3; compare 2 Thess. 1:7-10; Mat. 25:31ff; Rev. 19:11-21).
Faith, Love, Hope
The three pillars of the Christian faith are mentioned at the beginning and at the end of the First Epistle to the Thessalonians (chap. 1:3; 5:8). In addition, faith is a major theme in chapter 1, love in chapters 2:1 to 4:12, and hope from chap. 4:13 onwards.
These three pillars appear a lot more in the New Testament: 1 Cor. 13:13; Gal. 5:5-6; Col. 1:4-5; Heb. 6:10-12; 10:22-24 (compare Rom. 5:1-5; Eph. 1:15.18; 1 Pet. 1:3-9.21-22).
No reference from the Old Testament
It is a peculiarity of the First Epistle to the Thessalonians that there is not a single reference made to the Old Testament.
4. Overview of Contents
1 Thess. 1:1-10: Thanks and Joy over Faith of Thessalonians
1 Thess. 2:1-3:13: Love in the Apostle's Service for the Thessalonians
1 Thess. 4:1-12: Admonitions
1 Thess. 4:13-5:11 The Hope of the Coming of the Lord
1 Thess. 5:12-28: Admonitions and closing remarks