You’ve seen in your Bible, before each Book, a lengthy introduction to the text. Most likely, if you are like me, you have skipped over that information and just dove right into the Book. However, before you dive in, I encourage you to warm up a bit, look at your surroundings, and better understand where you are going; otherwise, who knows where you’ll end up? So, here is your warm-up before you plunge into 1st Thessalonians.
Author & Date
The author of 1st Thessalonians is the Apostle Paul. Paul was born Saul in Tarsus, now modern-day Turkey, around 4 A.D., about the same time Jesus was born. Paul was a Pharisee and a religious zealot who persecuted Christians until Jesus appeared to him on the Road to Damascus. Jesus’ appearance so changed Paul that he became one of the greatest defenders of the Christian faith. Paul wrote 13 of the 27 New Testament Books. 1st Thessalonians is one of Paul’s earliest writings, thought to be written between A.D. 49 and 51 from Corinth.
Paul was writing to the Church in Thessalonica. On Paul’s second missionary journey, he visited Thessalonica and preached in the city’s synagogue for at least three weeks. Jews and Greek men and women received the Gospel and became the church of Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-2).
Not only is it essential to know the author and the audience, but it is also important to understand the setting of the Book. During the first century, Thessalonica was the capital city of the Roman province of Macedonia. It was an important ancient city because of its strategic location on the Egnatian Way, a key trade route connecting Rome with the eastern provinces, and its harbor on the Aegean Sea. The location of Thessalonica on a crucial trade route meant lots of people passed through. The more people that passed through, the more people that had the opportunity to hear the Gospel and be witnesses to the ends of the earth as Jesus commanded (Acts 1:8)!
We know there were Jews in Thessalonica because Paul preached from a Jewish synagogue. When Paul visited Thessalonica during the early third century, it was predominantly pagan. Pagan cults, temples, and deities filled the city. It is believed that at least twenty-five gods were worshiped in the city.
Also, the Roman Emperor was believed to be a god. Acts 17:7 alludes to this when we are told that the mob that was after Paul and other Christ-followers said “they are all guilty of treason against Caesar, for they profess allegiance to another king, named Jesus.”
As we read through the New Testament, we can get context from the Book of Acts, a history of the early church. Before Paul visited Thessalonica, he and Silas had visited Philippi, a Roman colony. While in Philippi preaching the Gospel, Paul and Silas angered merchants within the city who accused them of “throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” The crowds attacked Paul and Silas, stripped them, beat them with rods, and then threw them in jail. However, God miraculously released them from jail, and they left Philippi and headed for Thessalonica. (Acts 16)
Understanding what happened to Paul in Philippi right before he arrived in Thessalonica explains Paul’s reference in 1 Thessalonians 2:2 to “being shamefully treated at Philippi.” It also explains the risk Paul and Silas took in preaching the Good News to the Thessalonians.
By reading Acts 17:1-15, you gain a deeper understanding of what Paul meant when he said in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 that the [Thessalonians] “received the word in much affliction…” You see that persecution followed Paul and Silas from Phillippi to Thessalonica.
Let’s take a look at some of this text.
"Paul and Silas then traveled through the towns of Amphipolis and Apollonia and came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was Paul's custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. 3 He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, "This Jesus I'm telling you about is the Messiah."
From this, we see Paul spent at least three weeks preaching the Gospel in the Jewish synagogue.
Acts 17:4 tells us how the Jews reacted to his message.
4 Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women. But some of the Jews were jealous, so they gathered some troublemakers from the marketplace to form a mob and start a riot. They attacked the home of Jason, searching for Paul and Silas so they could drag them out to the crowd.
They were jealous; they incited a riot against Paul and Silas. They attacked other Thessalonians that they believed were harboring Paul. The Jews of Thessalonica even accused Paul and Silas of treason against the Roman government because they claimed Jesus was King! Treason is a serious accusation.
Paul had many purposes in writing this letter to the church in Thessalonica. One reason was to refute false teachers accusing Paul of wrong motives. Another objective was to strengthen the church in Thessalonica by encouraging them to live their lives in a way that pleases God. Paul used this letter to reassure the Thessalonians that persecution is a part of the Christian walk and not to retaliate in the face of persecution but instead to love. Paul also wrote this letter to restore the Thessalonian’s hope. Many of them had lost their loved ones through persecution, and they were concerned that they would not see them again. Paul reassured them that those who have died would rise first with Christ.
Now you have the background material for 1st Thessalonians, let’s reflect on what you learned. Click links below.