Understanding The Bible
Clarence E. Mason's "Earlier New Testament Epistles"
First Thessalonians



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Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible


  1. Background
    We are dealing here with a mission church, surrounded by idolatry and paganism on the one hand and Judaism on the other. The history of Paul's visit to Thessalonica and the founding of the church there is found in Acts 17. It was then a city of about 70,000. (The modern city is today called Salonika, so we pronounce it "Thes-Salonika. ")

    Paul came into the city an utter stranger. There was no city-wide advertising; no daily press notices; no committee of welcome, etc. He had no human backing. He had nothing but the plain simple Word. The Spirit used it, souls were saved, and a church founded. Then he moved on to Berea when an uproar was started at Thessalonica.

    Paul may have been there for only about a month (Acts 19:2), yet in that time he covered the foundational truths of the faith. His message was concerning the death, resurrection, and coming again of Christ (to the earth), "reasoning out of the (O. T.) Scriptures. " Since he had only the O.T., and there was nothing in the O.T. about the Rapture, this coming was Christ's coming WITH His saints to set up a kingdom. So they accused him of treason before the magistrate for, said they, he preaches "that there is another king, one Jesus" (Acts 17:7). He preached a gospel which can save either Jew or Gentile. This is a foundation book.

    After Paul left Thessalonica, he heard that they were being persecuted and because he was hindered in going himself, he sent Timothy and Silvanus (Silas) to them.

  2. Occasion of the epistle
    These messengers brought back a report that the Thessalonian believers were continuing in the faith despite persecution, and progressing splendidly, but nevertheless were discouraged because of incomplete views on the Lord's coming (3:10). They had only been taught of His coming to the earth and of the saints' part in His glorious reign. Some of their loved ones had died in the meantime and they sorrowed because they thought that these would not share in the glorious kingdom to be established on earth at the coming of the King (4:13).

  3. Object of writing

    1. To strengthen their faith

    2. To comfort them in their afflictions

    3. To instruct them more fully concerning the second coming

    4. To urge to practical holiness

  4. Time and place of writing
    About AD 52 or 53 (from Corinth). It is therefore usually considered to be the earliest epistle of Paul, having been written within 25 years after the Lord's death. (It is also the first N.T. epistle written to a church.) It is significant to observe that at this early date all the distinctive truths foundational to Christianity had been presented: the Lord's deity (called "Lord" some 40 times); His vicarious death; His physical resurrection; the conversion of the sinner; a holy walk; the Lord's return; etc. Christianity is a revelation, not an evolution.

  5. The theme
    Broadly speaking, the theme is the second advent (particularly the Rapture).
    It is seen in connection with:
    Salvation, 1:9-10
    Service, 2:19-20
    Sanctification, 3:13
    Satisfaction, 4:13-18
    Safekeeping, 5:23-24

    Or viewed another way we have: (Robert Lee)
    Chapter 1 Serving (and Waiting) at (till) His coming. (An Inspiring Hope to the young convert) 1
    Chapter 2 Joy at His coming (An Encouraging Hope to faithful servant) 2
    Chapter 3 Holy at His coming (A Purifying Hope for the believer) 3
    Chapter 4 Reunion at His coming (A Comforting Hope for the bereaved) 4
    Chapter 5 Kept till His coming (A Rousing Hope for sleepy Christians) 5

    The FIRST epistle: largely His coming FOR the Church

    The SECOND epistle: largely His coming WITH the Church (although both are in each)

    The Church has no hope in this world; and the world has no hope in the next.

    The Church is a dateless, sign-less body. If we could discover when He was coming, we could WAIT for Him, but we could not WATCH for Him, and the constant admonition is "WATCH!"

    The Church is a heavenly body and has no earthly chronology.

  6. Its Distinctiveness
    This is probably the first letter to a local Christian church.

  7. Observe the moral order of the N.T. epistles (as arranged in our Canon)

1. ROMANS Justification by faith
2. 1 CORINTHIANS, 2 CORINTHIANS A guard against PRACTICAL failure in "Romans" truth
3. GALATIANS A guard against DOCTRINAL failure in "Romans" truth
4. EPHESIANS The Church--her position and character and walk
5. PHILIPPIANS A guard against PRACTICAL failure in "Ephesians" truth
Tells how a heavenly people, still upon the earth, should conduct themselves.
6. COLOSSIANS A guard against DOCTRINAL failure in "Ephesians" truth
The Head is in heaven; so is the whole body; we are to find our sufficiency in our "Complete Head."
7. 1 THESSALONIANS, 2 THESSALONIANS The hope of the Church--the coming of the Lord
8. 1 TIMOTHY, 2 TIMOTHY, TITUS, PHILEMON A guard against GENTILE idolatry and philosophy dimming that hope
9. HEBREWS, JAMES, 1 PETER, 2 PETER A guard against JEWISH apostasy and legalism dimming that hope
10. 1 JOHN, 2 JOHN, 3 JOHN, JUDE Christian fellowship and the fellowship of apostates
11. (REVELATION) (The complete and final victory of Christ and of us in Christ)


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