1 Thessalonians 1 by Robert Dean
There's no way to sugar-coat it. Studying the Bible isn't always smooth-sailing. Listen to this lesson to grasp a series of steps to help master 1 Thessalonians. Discover both the internal and external evidence about the author, the Apostle Paul. Learn about the way of life in Thessalonica that made the contents of the book relevant. See how the theology in the letter brings comfort to believers of all ages who are under oppression and suffering.

Introduction: Who, What, When, Where, Why?
1 Thessalonians 1
1 Thessalonians Lesson #002
July 11, 2013

The author of 1 Thessalonians is stated in chapter one, verse one and in chapter two verse eighteen. It is the apostle Paul. He was Jewish from Tarsus, raised during the disapora, was raised by a family that sent him as a young man to Jerusalem. Because of his outstanding intellect and background in Tarsus they knew that he had a special talent and ability in logic, in the Old Testament Scriptures and rabbinical tradition, so they sent him to Jerusalem to study under one of the greatest rabbis of all time, Gamaliel. He excelled at the school of Gamaliel beyond all of the other students.

As he grew up he was zealous for Judaism, zealous for the Pharisaical interpretation, and he became very hostile to Christians. So he became the chief persecutor of Christians within the first year or two after the resurrection of Christ as the church began to expand. He was responsible for the imprisonment and execution of a number of Jewish believers.

He received a letter of authorization from the chief council of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem to pursue these Jewish Christians in Damascus. On his way there he is confronted by the risen, resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. Not in a vision, but this was the last post-resurrection appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ on the earth. He confronts Paul saying, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Again and again Paul was resisting the convicting ministry of God the Holy Spirit but at that time he finally breaks down and responds positively to the gospel, recognizing what he had been hearing all along, that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah of the Old Testament.

He was given a mission at that point and that was to be an apostle to the Gentiles. But that mission to the Gentiles did not mean that he would ignore Jews. He recognized that during this transition period especially, from the time of the death of Christ in AD 33 to the destruction of the temple in AD 70, that the Jews still had an opportunity to respond to the gospel message of the kingdom. We see all through the book of Acts that the message in those early years was still the opportunity for the Jews to repent and turn to Jesus as the Messiah and the times of refreshing would come.

The apostle Paul is the author here based on the internal evidence of 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:18. Internal evidence is simply evidence from within the epistle itself. External evidence would be any evidence outside of the epistle of 1 Thessalonians which gives evidence to Paul having there and could have written this. That would include the episode described by Luke in Acts chapter seventeen as well as any other historical attestation from early church fathers later on. Generally speaking external evidence and internal evidence for the Pauline authorship of 1 Thessalonians is in complete agreement, complete agreement with Acts 17, complete agreement with what we know of Paul. There is nothing there to indicate that it could be written by somebody else.

In fact, for the first 1800 years of church history there was no debate over the authorship of any of the Pauline epistles, including 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Then in the early 19th century there arose this new approach to biblical study called critical scholarship, which is the foundation for what became known as liberal European Protestant theology. In this there was basically a rejection of the authority of Scripture that was an application of the concept of evolution—evolutionary ideas to religion, evolutionary ideas to the development of the New Testament. The assumption was not that the New Testament is what it says it is until evidence is found to the contrary; the assumption was that nothing is what it claimed to be unless hard evidence is found that it actually is. The view of liberal Protestant theology was that this whole thing was made up, it couldn't have possibly been written by the people who claimed to have written it, they were too ignorant at that time to have written like this, or that the miracles could not have taken place because that is a violation of everything we know from reason and science. Their assumption was that it wasn't valid at all unless it could be proven beyond any historical shadow of a doubt.

From that vantage point they questioned and doubted everything. They doubted all of the Pauline authorship, Pauline authorship, etc. All of that was just assumed to be the product of legend, that later on people after 150-300 of Christianity only wrote these legends down and then the New Testament came into effect, but not until about 250 or 300. Historically we now have evidence from archaeology, from ancient writings, that show that is completely false. Liberals have been forced to re-examine their belief and today virtually no one doubts the Pauline authorship of the Thessalonian epistles. There are still a few people who doubt the authorship of some of the other epistles but for the most part it is very rare to find anyone today doubting Pauline authorship of 1st or 2nd Thessalonians.

Why would somebody question Paul's authorship? Three reasons were frequently cited. First, some said it is not as doctrinally focused as some of his other epistles, and if it was really the apostle Paul then it would be dense with doctrine. That is typical of a lot of the reasoning from Protestant theology. They are just assuming that whatever characterizes one thing must characterize everything. Often they come along with vocabulary studies. This was especially true with the use of computers in the 20th century. They ignore the fact that there are different scenarios, different reasons, different audiences that these epistles were written to, and so they are not always going to be talking about the same thing.

The conservative view is that within the body of Paul's letters they are going to address the whole realm of doctrine, and Paul does not address eschatology in Romans or Colossians and certain other epistles, but that is what is covered in Thessalonians. So when those are included within the body of Paul's epistles then you have Paul addressing all areas of theology. It is not necessary for Paul's letters to always cover the same basic things.

So the first reason for questioning Paul's authorship was that it is not as doctrinal as others. Again, that varies from epistle to epistle. There is not much doctrine is Philemon, not as much perhaps in 2 Corinthians. Also we have to look at what they means by the use of the word doctrine. Some are more personal than others, some are more didactic and polemic than others. In fact, 1 Thessalonians has hardly any polemics in it. By polemics is meant that he is interacting with a lot of false teaching. It focus on encouragement and then in the last two chapters on preparation for the Rapture and the end time, and to be awake.

The second reason for questioning Pauline authorship has been alluded to already. That is that there is a heavy emphasis in both 1 and 2 Thessalonians on future things, or what is known in theology as eschatology. That is not emphasized in other Pauline epistles and so the liberals came along and said, see, if it was Paul he wouldn't be talking about eschatology. They are assuming something that is not in evidence as they approach this. That is, that Paul is only interested in soteriological issues and not eschatological issues. This is completely false and it shows a very superficial, shallow view of the apostle Paul.

Others contend that Paul could not have written this epistle because they claim there were certain differences between what is reflected in Acts, assuming that he was only in Thessalonica for the three weeks mentioned in Acts 17. The reality is he was probably there much longer, maybe three or four months, but Luke only focuses on the opening part because the emphasis of Luke is on the start of the persecution of Paul and how that developed in running him out of town. It doesn't at all indicate that he was only there for the three weeks. Initially the responders were Jewish but once he left the synagogue there were a tremendous number of Gentiles who joined the congregation, which is the same kind of thing we saw in our study of Acts when we looked at what happened in the city of Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.

The second issue in introduction is the date and location. In other words, when did Paul write it, and where did he write it from? He wrote it approximately late 50, or more likely early 51. It is from Corinth that he writes this epistle.

To whom is he writing? This is clearly stated again in the first verse. He is writing to the church in Thessalonica, the body of believers there who are by this time primarily Gentiles, though there is still an element of Jewish background believers. He did not get as much of a positive response from the Jewish community here as he had in other places. This city was the capital of Macedonia and one of the most significant cities in Greece. It has a population at that time of approximately 200,000.    

The purpose for Paul's writing has to do with the circumstances back in Thessalonica. He has heard from Timothy that the Thessalonians are strong in their faith. Word about their faith has gone out to various others in the region so that they are developing a reputation for their faithfulness to the Word and their study of the Word. They are also facing a lot of opposition. So there is always the threat of them giving up and caving in to desire to just get along with those around them. Therefore Paul needs to encourage them. The first part of this epistle is more personal in terms of a personal challenge to them in light of the work that God has already begun in that congregation. So he sent a letter of encouragement, a letter to challenge them to be steadfast, to persevere in their spiritual walk.

So what Paul does at the beginning is remind them of the way they had received the gospel. He is reminding them of what God had already begun in their life; he reminds them of the things they had seen. For example, v. 5 "for our gospel did not come to you in word only." In other words, in that context with the way the philosophers of Greece operated it was more of an academic thing, an intellectual curiosity and developing some sort of intellectual skill. So he was saying it is not just a matter of coming in word only or just a message, it was associated with the power of the Holy Spirit. They saw changed lives and the power of the Holy Spirit was definitely present, and they came with an inner conviction of their salvation. And they, v. 6 "received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit." They were definitely facing opposition and a certain amount of hostility.

Part of that hostility involved a certain amount of criticism of the apostle Paul and his ministry in Thessalonica. One thing is for sure, the more that you stand for the truth in a pagan-rich environment—and even though the Jews aren't pagan they are rejecting the truth of God's Word at this point—you will become a target, there will be opposition. They are facing strong opposition just as Paul had experienced it in other areas. So Paul is writing to them while down in Corinth, having gone through several months of opposition, hostility, times when he was beaten, times when he was put in prison, been kicked out of the synagogues a couple of times, encouraging them as someone else who goes through this hostility and opposition to stay with it, not to give up.

Paul then will connect in the first three chapters as he reminds them of the impact the gospel had on them initially, and then in the second chapter he gets into Timothy's ministry with them and the impact of the gospel on their lives while Timothy was with them. By the time we get to chapter four he is connecting that to the Rapture and to the second coming. So there is a major theme in the epistle to be alert, to be ready, because Christ could come at any time and we have to be ready for the Rapture, ready and prepared for the next life and what will come after the Rapture at the judgment seat of Christ, and our preparation for the eternal kingdom. That is a very present reality for the apostle Paul.

The city of Thessalonica was founded in 316 BC by Cassander, the son one of Alexander the Great's generals and was associated with the heirs of the Greek empire. He named it after his wife who was the daughter of Philip II of Macedonia and a sister of Alexander the Great. Originally there was a small town there called Therma. Today the town is known as Salonica, or sometimes Thessalonica, and it is a major city in Greece. During World War II there was a large Jewish population there, 60,000 of whom were killed in the holocaust. Much of ancient Thessalonica is located under the modern city.

Biblically it is significant because it was one of the places where the apostle Paul and Silas and Timothy established a church there. From there a number of believers went out having ministries in other areas. Some are mentioned: Aristarchus and Secundus are mentioned in Acts 19:29; 20:4 as two of Paul's travelling companions on his missionary journeys. Aristarchus is also mentioned later in Acts 27:2 and Colossians 4:10, as well as Philemon 24 as one of Paul's travelling companions. The church there produced a number of leaders who responded to Paul's challenging and were also part of his entourage as he travelled on his missionary journeys.

Two epistles were written by Paul to the church at Thessalonica from which we learn a lot about biblical prophecy, especially the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians chapter four, the day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 5, and the Antichrist and some of the chronology related to the rise of the Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians chapter two.

Outline of the epistle

1:1-10  Paul's commendation of their growth.

2:1-16  Paul's founding of the church and Paul defends criticism of his ministry by reminding them of the circumstances that occurred when he founded the church.

2:17-3:13 Paul reminds them of the impact of Timothy's ministry amongst them.

4:1-12  Specific directions. God's expectation for their personal spiritual growth.

4:13-18  New revelation concerning the Rapture of the church.

5:1-11  Focus on the day of the Lord, which is what happens after the Rapture in the Tribulation period.

5:12-24  A number of specific challenges and commands to each individual believer.

In 1 Thessalonians we learn about God in terms of the nature of God. There is the emphasis in 1;9 that there is one living and true God. This states part of the purpose of the epistle and this is an important verse: "For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, [10] and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, {that is} Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come." That is a sort of purpose statement for this epistle.

We learn about God in terms of theology proper, the reference to God as the living and true God who has loved men and women: v.4, "knowing, brethren beloved by God, {His} choice of you." And He has revealed Himself to them, 2:13 "For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted {it} not {as} the word of men, but {for} what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe." This again connects God with truth and the message of the gospel. And also this will emphasize something about salvation in terms of faith alone by the last phrase.

In terms of revelation about Jesus Christ he focuses on  a number of things, specifically in verse 10, "and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, {that is} Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come." Here that term orge [wrath] when  it is associated with the future tense "to come," is not talking about the present divine discipline on unsaved people and on a world of negative volition, it relates to that future period known as the Tribulation or Daniel's seventieth week.

We see that the Holy Spirit imparts joy and truth in terms of the agent of revelation and prophetic insight. 1:6, "You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit"; 4:8, "So, he who rejects {this} is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you." That talks about the indwelling and revelatory aspect of the Holy Spirit; 5:19, "Do not quench the Spirit"—the role of the Holy Spirit in the present church age.

In terms of sanctification Paul emphasizes the importance of living a holy life, growing in our sanctification, 4:3 and 5:23.

The gospel is mentioned in 1:5 in terms of its impact, the way they had received it: "for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake." It is mentioned again in 2:2-4, "but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. For our exhortation does not {come} from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts."

It is also mentioned in 2:8, "Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us." Also in 3:2.

The greatest area of doctrine in this epistle has to do with the future coming of Christ at the Rapture and then what happens after the Rapture at the day of the Lord. It is in this epistle that we learn more about the Rapture or the second coming than any of Paul's other epistles.

Background in Acts 17 which focuses on Paul's initial visit to Thessalonica. What is important to remember is the context as Luke is giving us a sort of travelogue as he goes first to Philippi and where he meets hostility and is imprisoned and miraculously freed. They have been beaten badly by their captors and should not have been. Acts 16:22 NASB "The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order {them} to be beaten with rods." They were not going to be a pleasant sight after they spent the night in the jail and having been beaten, and they leave Philippi in that condition. And it is only about a three or four-day walk from there to Thessalonica. They wouldn't have been one of the most attractive travelling groups by this time.     

Acts 17:1 NASB "Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews." Here Luke mentions a synagogue whereas at Philippi there was not a synagogue. [2] And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures." It was Paul's normal operating procedure that he first went to the Jews and gave them an opportunity to respond to the gospel. He "reasoned" with them. This is the Greek word dialegomai from which we get our word dialogue. It was a technical term for laying out a rational case for something. He is building a case for Jesus of Nazareth being the Messiah. For three Sabbaths he reasoned with them from the Scriptures. That was his authority. What Scriptures does Paul have? He has the Old Testament. Once again he is going back to Old Testament Scripture to show and to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah.

That is very important because we live in a day where there are a number of evangelical scholars who reject the idea that there are messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. There is really a tradition of this going back to the Protestant Reformation. At the time of the Reformation there were a number of the Reformed theologians, Calvin and others, who learned Hebrew by studying with the rabbis and picked up some false interpretations from the Old Testament. They went back to a rabbi from about the eleventh century AD who had pretty much gone through and rearticulated a lot of the Old Testament messianic prophecies that had always been understood by the Jews as messianic and reinterpreted them so that they are fulfilled historically, not to be necessarily future with the Messiah. In Luke 24 when Jesus is on the road to Emmaus with two of His disciples and He goes through the Scriptures all through the Old Testament showing how He fulfilled all of these messianic prophecies, you wonder how anybody can do that.

But we live in an era today when people are more impressed with new theories and new ideas than they are with really studying the Scriptures. Scholarship today in evangelical circles is no longer somebody who is a man of the Word who really knows the Bible and can argue from the Bible. He is somebody who knows all of the interpretations, what all the different commentators said, rather than really knowing the text. Evangelicalism today has slipped into a form of scholasticism or rabbinical theology where we argue more what theologians and pastors say than from the Word of God. Nobody knows what the Bible says, they just know what these different pastors, professors or scholars have said. This gets us away from the Word.

The Word clearly indicates that the Old testament revealed the Messiah. Verse 3 of this chapters says: "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.'" Paul clearly understood that the Old Testament predicted the suffering of the Messiah and the resurrection of the Messiah.

Acts 17:4 NASB "And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women." In verse 3 the word "explaining" is the word dianoigo which means to open up their minds. He is opening up the Word so that they can think about it in terms of the claims of the Old Testament. The second word "evidence" is a technical word which means to demonstrate your argument logically. So he is demonstrating logically from the Scripture that Jesus is the Messiah.

Notice the result. Some of the Jews were persuaded and a great multitude of the gentiles. So this is going to be primarily a Gentile congregation. 

Then we have a contrast: the Jews who were not persuaded. This is the majority in the synagogue. They became jealous. Acts 17:5 NASB "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 attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. [6] 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.'" Apparently they have heard from others about Paul in Derbe, lystra and Iconium as well as Philippi.

Acts 17:7 NASB "and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus. [8] 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."

As a result of this. Acts 17:10 NASB "The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews." So that is all that we see dealing with their time in Thessalonica.