To the First Epistle to the Thessalonians


The ancient city of Thessalonica lies on the edge of a large gulf indenting the Balkan Peninsula.  The city rises at the end of the bay astride a natural amphitheatre.  On the east and western sides of the city, ravines ascend from the shore and make their way around the city.  Mount Olympus stands in clear view from the docks of the seaport, rising 9600 feet above the sea across the gulf.


The city was founded in 315 B.C. by Cassander.  He named it after his wife, the daughter of Philip and the stepsister of Alexander the Great.  The town served as a Macedonian naval station.


When Macedonia fell to Rome in 168 B.C. and the kingdom was divided into four parts, Thessalonica became the administrative center for one of the districts.  The city took the side of Antony and Octavius against Brutus and Cassius in the Roman civil war.  By virtue of this action, the city was granted freedom status in that it did not have to pay taxes to Rome.  It retained this status in the days of Paul.


The city lay astride the Ignatian Way, the main Roman road that connected the Adriatic with the Hellespont.  It was the largest city of Macedonia, a city of commerce and of leisure.





Paul first came to Thessalonica during his second missionary journey.  Acts 17:1-10 relates the story.


1.         Ministry in the Synagogue:  Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” (Acts 17:1-3).


Paul regularly made it his practice to begin ministry in any given city by targeting the synagogue.  This is the place where the Bible was already being taught.  It was the place where there were people to be found who knew of the Lord.  They had heard of the Old Testament promises of a coming Messiah.  What they had not heard was that Messiah was to suffer and to rise from the dead.


Paul came to the place where there was some truth already being taught and he built upon that foundation.


Paul’s ministry at the synagogue of Thessalonica took place over a period of three Sabbaths.  After this time, he apparently removed himself from the synagogue and this small, fledgling church began meeting on its own.  Paul mentions in Philippians 4:16 that, while he was ministering in Thessalonica, the church at Philippi sent financial gifts to him on several occasions.  This would seem to imply that his ministry in Thessalonica continued over the space of at least several months.


2.         Growth of the Church:  And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a great multitude of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. (Acts 17:4).


The early growth of the church was made up of both Jews as well as Gentiles.  Neither was it exclusively a male church.  There were “leading women” within the church.  It was a church made up of various races and genders.


3.         Persecution:  But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and coming upon the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. 6 And when they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; 7 and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And they stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. 9 And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them. 10 And the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea (Acts 17:5-10a).


The initial persecution of this fledgling church was instigated by the Jews.  They didn’t like the gospel and they didn’t like the fact that Paul had met with initial success in proclaiming the message that Jesus is the promised Messiah.  They were motivated by jealousy.


A mob was formed and a scapegoat was found in the person of Jason.  We don’t know anything about Jason except for his name and the fact that he was accused of having received Paul and his company.


There is a principle here.  When you associate yourself with the people of Jesus, it will not be long before those who hated Jesus will also begin to hate you, too.  There is a spiritual war going on and it will not allow you to remain neutral.  You will be called upon to choose side.  To make no decision is to make a decision.





Some time has now passed since Paul has departed from Thessalonica and he now writes a short letter to them.  It is a letter of encouragement and he also wishes to correct several problems that have arisen in the church.


1.         The Problem of Persecution:  For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews (1 Thessalonians 2:14).


2.         Encouragement in Holy Living:  For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God (1 Thessalonians 3:3-5).


3.         Establishing a Christian work ethic:  Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you; 12 so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).


There were some in the church who, recognizing the giving spirit of Christians, thought that they could quit their jobs and live off the generosity of other Christians.


4.         Comfort for the Death of Loved Ones:  But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).


The Christians at Thessalonica lived with an expectancy of the soon return of Jesus.  They were looking forward to Jesus coming and gathering His people to Himself, just as He had promised in the Olivett Discourse (Matthew 24).  There was only one problem.  There were some who had died.  What would happen to them?  Would they miss out on the return of Christ because they had not “endured to the end”?  Would they be lost because they were already dead?


Paul explains that there will be a resurrection and that those who have died will actually precede those who are living at the time of Christ’s return.



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