Introduction to First and Second Thessalonians
J. Deering, AncientPath.net
Intro to 1+2 Thessalonians
FIRST AND SECOND THESSALONIANS are probably Paul's first extant epistles. Indeed, they are among the earliest of all the New Testament writings. Although penned so early these epistles in no way reflect undeveloped, immature teaching, for Paul had been a Christian for seventeen or eighteen years by the time he wrote 1 Thessalonians, and he had been a missionary for seven or eight years. His theology was fully developed in his mind and tested in his experience before he ever penned an epistle.
The Epistles are like finely cut gems. They reflect the depths of theological thought, especially in the area of future things; they mirror the pattern of teaching which the apostle used with new Gentile converts; from every part shine forth the character and conduct of Paul's missionary heart; they sparkle with the brilliance of the captivating power of the gospel of the grace of Christ. They are a joy to read and a delight to study.
I. THE CITY OF THESSALONICA
In Paul's day Thessalonica (now Salonika) was an important city. Its history had made it so, for in 315 B.C. Cassander, son of Antipater, reconstructed Therma (named for its hot springs) into a fine metropolis and gave it the name of Thessalonica after his wife who was the daughter of Philip of Macedon and half-sister of Alexander. Under the Romans the city was the capital of the newly formed province and its largest city with a population of about 200,000. Its location also contributed to its importance. It was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of the cities along the entire Egnatian Road, a great military highway which connected Rome with the east and which ran parallel to the sea line of communication by way of Corinth. Situated at the northwestern corner of the Aegean Sea, its sheltered harbor was made into a naval station and equipped with docks by the Romans. Its location midway between the Adriatic and the Hellespont makes it even today a natural outlet for traffic from all points.
This commercial activity had two important results. First, it made Thessalonica a wealthy city. Well-to-do Romans settled there, and Jewish merchants were attracted by the commercial advantages of the city (Acts 17:4). However, the majority of people, as everywhere, made their living by manual labor. Macedonian women, though, did enjoy a higher social position and greater privileges than elsewhere in the civilized world. Second it brought Thessalonica a reputation for evil and licentiousness. The strange mixtures of a seaport city and the rites of the worship of the Cabiri necessitated a special appeal on the part of the apostle for chaste living (I Thess. 4:1-8).
Thessalonica was a free city, and enjoyed autonomy in all its internal affairs. Although it was the residence of the provincial governor, he exercised no civil authority, the city being ruled by politarchs (cf. Luke's accurate reporting in Acts 17:6). This political privilege was jealously guarded by the people, who were extremely sensitive about anything that might result in imperial disfavor. Therefore, the charge of treason framed against Paul and his companions was the most dangerous that could have been laid against them in such a city (Acts 17:7).
II. THE WORK AT THESSALONICA
The Apostle and Writer Luke divides up the dealings of God with mankind, and the beginnings of this new assembly called the "Church" in the book of Acts. In Chapters 1-13:43 the emphasis falls upon God's dealings with those individuals who will be the cornerstone and human family of the Jews. Paul speaks to the men in the Synagogue at Pisidian Antioch and tells them of that purpose. But then at verse :44 turns his attention to God's purposes for the Gentiles. In Acts Chapter 17 he begins the story of his love for the new assembly that has been established in Thessalonica.
To this city on second missionary journey came Paul, accompanied by Silas and Timothy. Silas had been chosen in Antioch as Paul's partner for this second journey after the separation from Barnabas over John Mark. Young Timothy was enlisted at Lystra (Acts 16:1-3) after the journey had begun. Having revisited the churches established on the first journey (which was the original purpose of the trip), they came to an impasse at Troas until Paul had the vision of the man of Macedonia calling him to come to Europe to help him. Their first European stop was Philippi, but they were compelled to leave after the illegal imprisonment experience. They then traveled the hundred miles to Thessalonica where Paul, as was his custom, preached in the synagogue for three Sabbaths with success (Acts 17:2). The converts included Jews and a great multitude of devout Greeks who were attracted by the monotheism and morality of Judaism and who had attached themselves to the synagogue. Some of the believers were of the upper classes, but most were apparently of the working class, since Paul refused to be dependent financially on them in any way.
Naturally the Jewish community did not like to be depleted in this manner, so some of the Jews resorted to violence by inciting a mob to attack the house of Jason, Paul's host, and drag him before the rulers where he was charged with harboring traitors to Caesar. This charge of treason is the first recorded after the trial of Jesus before Pilate and could have been an outgrowth of the eschatological preaching of Paul at Thessalonica as reflected in the Epistles. The politarchs took security of Jason and the others accused with him and let them go. Probably this action was in the nature of placing them under a peace bond which included the guarantee that Paul would leave the city immediately and not return.
From Thessalonica the missionaries proceeded to Berea, but soon were compelled to leave there because of opposition from the Thessalonian Jews who dogged their steps. Paul went on to Athens, where Timothy joined him and from where he was dispatched back to Thessalonica in order to report on the condition of the young church. Both Timothy and Silas rejoined Paul at Corinth, from which city the two Epistles to the Thessalonians were written.
The duration of Paul's stay in Thessalonica is the subject of debate. Acts 17:2 declares that Paul reasoned in the synagogue for three (apparently successive) Sabbaths, while I Thessalonians 2:7-11 mentions the fact that he was in Thessalonica long enough to gain employment and Philippians 4:16 seems to imply that he was there long enough to be able to receive two gifts of money from the Philippians. Because of the apparent teaching oŁ these latter two passages, many are certain that Paul had to be in Thessalonica over a period of months - certainly longer than three or four weeks.
For instance, Ramsay (St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen, p. 228) thinks Paul was there six months. However, the anxious tone of I Thessalonians makes it quite clear that Paul was not there long enough to see the church established but rather that he was forced to leave the city before little more than the work of evangelizing had been done. As for his working during the stay in the city, this could easily have been necessary even if he stayed only a month and especially if he assumed some or all of the maintenance of Silas and Timothy as well. A careful study of Philippians 4:16 would indicate that it probably does not mean that Paul received several gifts from the Philippians while at Thessalonica. The verse may be translated this way: "Both (when I was) in Thessalonica and (kai) more than once (hapax kai dis) (when I was in other places) you sent . . ." (cf. Morris, The Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians, p. 17). Thus the verse need not imply that any more than one gift reached Paul in Thessalonica. Therefore, we conclude that there is no definite reason for extending Paul's stay in Thessalonica past the month indicated by the Book of Acts.
III. DATE AND PLACE OF WRITING
As has been stated, both Epistles were written from Corinth during the apostle's eighteen-month stay in that city. The first Epistle was written during the earlier part of that period just after Timothy had returned from Thessalonica with news of the progress of the church, and the second letter was dispatched a matter of weeks (or at the most a few months) later. Any date assigned will have to be approximate, though probably the writing of these letters should be placed during the winter of A.D. 51-52.
IV. PURPOSE OF FIRST THESSALONIANS
First Thessalonians was written after the receipt of Timothy's favorable report of his visit to the city. Therefore, its first purpose is to express Paul's thankfulness and give encouragement to the people. Second, Paul in this Epistle defends himself against what was evidently a campaign of the Jewish opponents of Christianity to defame and slander him. They had apparently spread the word that Paul's conduct was dishonorable and that his failure to return to the city proved that he was only interested in whatever profit he could gain from his evangelistic mission in the town. The first three chapters of the Epistle contain Paul's answer to these charges, which may have had some success among the people. Not to have defended himself would have been disastrous to the entire missionary enterprise in all of Macedonia.
A third purpose of the letter was to encourage these new converts to stand fast in the face of persecutions and pressure to revert to the easy standards of the paganism from which they had turned. Fourth, a doctrinal question had arisen in the church concerning the fate of Christians who had died before the ushering in of Christ's Kingdom. This Paul answers in the fourth chapter. Finally, some matters in relation to their church life had to be dealt with. Some of the believers needed to be reminded that although Christianity is a religion of charity, they were not to be moochers. In their church services, too, there was some misunderstanding concerning their relationship to the work and gifts of the Holy Spirit and to one another in the congregation.
This is a letter from a pastor who was basically satisfied and even thrilled with the progress of his flock but who wanted to encourage them to go on in their faith. It is a heart-warming letter showing a side of Paul which we do not see in some of his other Epistles.
V. PURPOSE OF SECOND THESSALONIANS
The purpose of the second Epistle can be discovered from the letter itself. In one way or another information had reached Paul concerning the state of the church in Thessalonica. Good word came concerning their steadfastness in persecution and for this Paul commends the believers. However, there had been misapprehension, if not misrepresentation, of the apostle's teaching concerning the coming of the Day of the Lord. Some thought it had evidently begun and that they were experiencing its judgments when the apostle had taught them in the first Epistle that they were not appointed unto that wrath. Concerning this Paul corrects them. Finally, the brief warning of the first Epistle (5:14) against disorderly conduct had had little effect and the situation had worsened. Concerning this Paul gives strict and definite instructions. He is careful to give whatever praise was deserved, while at the same time dealing firmly and clearly with the deviations in doctrine and practice.
1 THESSALONIANS - FULL OUTLINE
Home Bible Study
I. PERSONAL AND HISTORICAL, 1:2-3:13
A. Paul's Commendation of the Thessalonians, 1:2-10
1. The content of his commendation, 1:2-8
a. Their work of faith, 3a, 4-5
b. Their Labor of love, 3b, 8
c. Their Patience of hope, 3c 6-7
2. The confirmation of his commendation, 1:9-10
a. Thessalonians' faith confirmed, 9b
b. Thessalonians' love confirmed, 9c
c. Thessalonians' hope confirmed, 10
(1) The character of their hope, 10a
(2) The content of their hope, 10b
(3) The center of their hope, 10c
B. Paul's Conduct Among the Thessalonians, 2:1-12
1. Conduct characterized by unselfish love, 2:1-4
a. Negative aspect of his love, 2
b. Positive aspects of his love, 3-4
(1) Love of the truth, 3
(2) Love of the task, 4
2. Conduct characterized by unstinting labor, 2:5-6
a. Labor in selfishness, 5-6
b. Labor with gentleness, 7
c. Labor with willingness, 8-9
3. Conduct characterized by unspotted life, 2:10-12
a. The Excellency of Paul's life, 10
b. The exhortation of Paul's life, 11
c. The effect of Paul's life, 12
C. Paul's Concern for the Thessalonians, 2:13-3:4
1. Concern about sufferings, 2:13-3:4
a. The cause of their sufferings, 2:13-16
b. The character of their sufferings, 2:17-20
c. The cure for their sufferings, 3:1-4
2. Concern about Satan 3:5
3. Concern about shortcomings, 3:6-13
a. The character of shortcomings, 6-10
b. The cure for their shortcomings, 11-13
II. PRACTICAL AND HORTATORY, 4:1-5:24
A. Concerning Development, 4:1-12
1. Abound in abstinence, 4:1-8
2. Abound in affection, 4:9-10
a. The explanation of love, 9a
b. The extent of love, 9b
c. The expression of love, 10a
d. The expansion of love, 10b
3. Abound in ambition, 4:11-12
B. Concerning the Dead, 4:13-18
1. We have a preview, 4:13-14
2. We have a promise, 4:15
3. We have a picture, 4:16-18
a. A return, 16a
b. A resurrection, 16b
c. A rapture, 17a
d. A reunion, 17b
e. A reassurance, 18
C. Concerning the Day of the Lord, 5:1-11
1. The meaning of the Day of the Lord, 5:1-2
2. The method of the Day of the Lord, 5:3
3. The message of the Day of the Lord, 5:4-11
a. It examines, 4-5
b. It exhorts, 6-8
c. It encourages, 9-11
D. Concerning Duties, 5:12-24
1. In relation to saints and society, 5:12-15
a. Rules for the governed, 12-13
b. Rules for the governors, 12
c. Rules for the group, 14-15
2. In relation to self, 5:16-24
a. Be happy, 16
b. Be prayerful, 17
c. Be thankful, 18
d. Be discerning, 19-21
e. Be particular, 22
f. Be holy, 23-24
2 THESSALONIANS - FULL OUTLINE
I. CORRECTION CONCERNING PERSECUTION, 1:3-12
A. In Persecution Have Your Heart Right, 1:3-4
B. In Persecution Have Your Head Right, 1:5-10
C. In Persecution Have Your Hand Right, 1:11-12
II. CORRECTION CONCERNING PROPHECY, 2:1-17
A. Relation of the Day of Lord to the Present, 2:1-2
1. The trouble, 2:1
2. The talk, 2:2a
3. The truth, 2:2b
B. Relation of the Day of the Lord to The Apostasy, 2:3a
C. Relation of the Day of the Lord to The Man of Sin, 2:3b-5, 8-9
1. His revelation, 2:3b
2. His religion, 2:4-5
3. His power, 2:9-10
4. His punishment, 2:8
D. Relation of the Day of the Lord to The Restrainer, 2:6-7
E. Relation of the Day of the Lord to Unbelievers, 2:10-12
F. Relation of the Day of the Lord to the Believer, 2:13-17
1. The believer's position, 2:13-14
2. The believer's practice, 2:15-17
III. CORRECTION CONCERNING PRACTICE, 3:1-15
A. The Disorderly Ones, 3:6-13
1. The penalty for the disorderly, 3:6
2. The pattern for the disorderly, 3:7-9
3. The precept for the disorderly, 3:10
4. The pursuits for the disorderly, 3:11-13
B. The Disobedient Ones, 3:14-15