- Salutation (1:1)
- The character and reputation of the church (1:2-10)
- The apostolic labours among them (2:1 - 3:13)
- Dealing with church problems (4:1 - 5:11)
- Final exhortations and conclusion (5:12-28)
Authorship, date, and background
The Apostle Paul, on his second missionary tour, visited Thessalonica (now known as Salonik) around A.D. 49. He wad walked from the city of Philippi to Thessalonica, along the Egnatian highway. He and his colleagues spent three Sabbaths in the synagogue at Thessalonica preaching the gospel. Apparently they then spent several months more in the city and established a church. Thessalonica, a free city, had been founded by Cassander. He named it for his wife, who was the half-sister of Alexander the Great. It was a flourishing seaport and a successful commercial center. In this pagan city, some Jews and a number of Gentiles came to faith in Jesus Christ. The Jews who did not respond to the gospel persecuted Paul, forcing him to flee the city (Acts 17:5ff.). He went to Berea, where the Jews willingly inquired into the truth of Paul's message.
When the reports of Paul's success became known in Thessalonica, the unbelieving Jews came to Berea to foment a riot. Paul left Berea and eventually arrived in Athens. Silas and Timothy remained in Berea to help the infant church. From Athens, Paul went to Corinth where he was to plant another church. While in Corinth, Timothy brought a report of certain happenings in the church at Thessalonica, a church about which the apostle was deeply concerned. He had planned to revisit the church, for he later wrote, "But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. Wherefore we would have come unto you…. But Satan hindered us" (2:17, 18).
1 and 2 Thessalonians were written within a short time of each other and Corinth was the city in which the letters were composed; the date was ca.A.D. 50-51. These two letters comprise the earliest epistles of Paul which are found in the New Testament. There are some who think Galatians may have been written earlier, but this seems unlikely. The Thessalonian church was in turmoil because of divisions between Jewish converts who were steeped in the traditions of the Old Testament so far as personal living and family life were concerned and the Gentile believers who had come out of paganism and were quite casual about sexual and other matters. It is possible that Paul may have received a letter from the Thessalonian church, and that his own letters to them may have been a result of such communication.
Characteristic and content
Paul writes to the Thessalonians to assure them of his love to praise them for their steadfastness in standing up to the persecution which has come their way from the unbelieving Jews. He also wishes to correct certain errors which have crept into the infant church. He wishes to strengthen the believers for the future conflicts he knows they will experience. Since his own personhood has been attacked, he defends himself against the charges by affirming that his motivation was good and his conduct appropriate. He speaks about the great fundamentals of the Christian faith, one of which has to do with holy living. He wants the Thessalonians to separate themselves from the current flagrant immorality by which they are surrounded. The church members are also upset over the fate of Christians who depart this life prior to the coming of the Lord. Paul assures them that the dead in Christ will be raised to everlasting life at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He definitely teaches that the true church will be raptured or caught up in the air to be with Jesus, without saying whether this will happen before the great tribulation, in the middle of it, or after the church has gone through it. Other scriptures must be adduced for further light on this point.
Paul instructs believers to be busy about the ordinary tasks of life since their expectation of the immediate return of Christ has caused them to grow carelessly about daily duties. He urges them to honor the elders who labored among them (5:12). He also cautions believers not to quench the Spirit and not despise those who prophesy. (5:19, 20).