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1 Thessalonians 1:1-5:28 & Acts 17:1-10 by Robert Dean
Ready to take a tour? First you need to know where you're going and what there is to see. Listen to this lesson to get ready to take a fly-over of 1 Thessalonians and learn the background for the letter in Acts 17. Find out how the Apostle Paul points out the reality of oppression and suffering for church age believers and the importance of focusing on the Lord's return for comfort.
Series:1 Thessalonians (2013)
Duration:1 hr 1 mins 23 secs

Overview of the Epistle
1 Thessalonians 1:1–5:28
1 Thessalonians Lesson #001
July 9, 2013

We begin with an overview or flyover of the epistle. But before we get into the text we turn to Acts chapter seventeen where we read about the apostle Paul's initial visit to Thessalonica, which occurred on his second missionary journey.

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. [2] And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures." The Scriptures that he is using is just the Old Testament. He probably uses the LXX, which is the translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek. He is going to Old Testament passages to demonstrate that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. He is presenting a cogent, logical presentation of the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth to the Jewish community. [3] NASB "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.'"

The response in verse 4, "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." He has some response from the Jewish community but he has a greater response from the proselytes. These would either be the godly Gentiles or the proselytes at the gate, or maybe there were some full proselytes who were Gentiles who were in attendance at the synagogue because they had positive volition and were seeking to know the truth about God. They had aligned themselves at least with the synagogue. Luke emphasizes that it wasn't just men, but women as well.

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." They created a riot in the city and attacked the house of Jason where Paul was staying. [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; [7] and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.'" They go to the secular authorities in order to get them to condemn and imprison Paul and the other believers. It is interesting that in chapter twelve there is also an accusation about Paul prohibiting people from being circumcised and from reading Moses and the opposition presents a totally false indictment. Their condemnation is not based on truth at all but is based on their hatred and jealously for Christianity, which is not rational.

The result: Acts 17:8 NASB "They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. [9] "And when they had received a pledge [bond] from Jason and the others, they released them." That night the brethren sent Paul and Silas away from there to Berea.

This covers a period of roughly from November of AD 50 to January of AD 51. The only real chronology that we have is that Paul taught in the synagogues for three Sabbaths. But he is in Thessalonica teaching and strengthening the believers there for more than those three weeks—probably for two and a half to three and a half months.

What marks his ministry in Thessalonica is this opposition from the Jewish community and the persecution and oppression that rises out of that opposition.  It is important to understand when we look at 1 Thessalonians because of part of Paul's primary message there has to do with the reality of opposition, persecution and suffering in the life of the believer in the church age.

1 Thessalonians is addressed by Paul, Silas and Timothy. So Paul is writing this to the Thessalonians when Silas and Timothy have rejoined him, sometime in the second missionary journey, when they write to him very concerned about the death of some people in the congregation. They didn't expect that. Paul's teaching on the soon coming of Christ, the imminency of Jesus' return was so real that they did not expect to die physically. But once some members in their group died, either from persecution or naturally, they were upset because they had misunderstood what Paul was teaching about the immediacy of Jesus' return. That tells us something about the whole doctrine of the imminency of Christ's return, that no prophecy needed to be fulfilled in order for Jesus to return in the heavens for the church at the Rapture.

After Paul leaves Thessalonica he goes to Berea and then to Corinth. When he is in Corinth Silas (known here as Silvanus, his Latin name) and Timothy have rejoined him and that is how he has learned about the confusion that exists in the Thessalonian church. So he says, 1 Thessalonians 1:1 NASB "Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace." Thessalonica is large enough to have attracted a significant number of Jews who have established a synagogue there and so there is a somewhat powerful Jewish community, the leaders of which set themselves in opposition to Paul.

As we look at the epistle in terms of its basic structure and outline, it seems that there are two basic divisions. The first three chapters are very personal and intimate, and they seem to focus around the idea that the apostle Paul is encouraging the Thessalonians in terms of their response to the gospel, that they are indeed believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and this has brought forth evidence that is undeniable of their salvation.

Just to address that, it is wrong to think that to know you are saved you base that on certain external evidence. But that does not mean that the opposite is not true. That is, as you look at a person's Christ and that they have claimed to believe in Jesus as savior, if they are positive and grow spiritually they are going to demonstrate that in their life. There will be certain evidences that can't be counterfeited by someone who is an unbeliever, someone who has made a false profession of faith or just claimed that they had become a disciple of Jesus. There is a supernatural work that God the Holy Spirit does in producing the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer that is significantly an indication that someone is saved. However, just because that evidence is not there doesn't mean a person is not saved. A person can go into carnality. Some people just want to be saved and they don't want to grow and mature in their spiritual life, they just want to make sure that when they die they will go to heaven. That is not the challenge of the New Testament. The challenge of the New Testament is that we are to grow. And if we grow that will produce an evidence of our salvation. But that is not the basis for our assurance of salvation. Assurance of salvation is based upon the fact that we know that we believed the Christ. We trusted in Jesus, the Messiah and that He died on the cross for our sins. That is the gospel message. Paul emphasizes the Thessalonians' belief several times in the epistle.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-4 NASB "We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention {of you} in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, {His} choice of you."

Paul begins with a prayer and a reminder to them of the way in which he prays for them. This fits within the context of a couple of different responses that Paul makes because he has been attacked and slandered by the Jewish leaders of the synagogue as they seek to destroy his message. If you can't counter the message then you try to attack the individual. That is called an ad hominem message. The assault here is on the character of Paul and one of the things that they claimed was that this conversion that the Thessalonians had was just some sort of emotional thing, it had no real spiritual backing from God and did not indicate anything. So embedded within Paul's response in 1:2-10 is his rehearsal of some of the evidence in the life of the Thessalonians.

There are five things to be pointed out. First of all, he focuses on their response to the gospel. This is part of his opening sentence, which goes from verse 2 to verse 4. He reminds them that he is constantly grateful to God for what they have done and always prays for them. Notice that he begins this section with a prayer and at the end of chapter three he goes back to what he is praying for. That provides a sort of an inclusio, a literary device stating something one way at the beginning and then repeating it in a synonymous way somewhere later on. It brackets a section. It is a sort of literary device to show the beginning and the end of a particular section.

1 Thessalonians 3:11 NASB "Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; [12] and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love …" We have to highlight the word "love" as we read through this epistle. It is mentioned a number of times. Paul is emphasizing how they are demonstrating the unique characteristic that defines a disciple of Christ.

As Jesus said in John 13:34, 35 NASB "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." This is a unique characteristic produced by the Holy Spirit, Galatians 5:20, 21. So Paul relates to their love as an evidence of their justification.

 "… for one another, and for all people, just as we also {do} for you; [12] and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also {do} for you; [13] so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints."

So Paul begins with a prayer in 1:2-4 and then closes with a prayer in 3:11-13. That is the opening section that is more intimate and more direct as Paul is responding to some of these challenges. It is also interesting to note that the focus of Paul's message to them in encouraging them is to remind them about the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ: that we live today in light of the coming of Jesus Christ, because the next thing in God's plan after the Rapture is going to be the judgment seat of Christ. We are going to be evaluated in terms of our spiritual life and spiritual growth—what we have done with the grace blessings that God has distributed to us at the instant of salvation. So there is a focus all through this epistle on Christ's coming.

1 Thessalonians 1:10 NASB "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." After the Thessalonians were saved they turned to God to serve the living and true God and to wait for His coming. So there is a reference to His coming in verse 10, and another in 2:19, "For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?" And again in 3:13. So the thread that binds these first three chapters together is this focus on the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is mentioned again in the well-known passage in 4:15, and again in 5:23 as he closes the epistle, "… may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." He ties the whole epistle around this eschatological reality that Jesus Christ is going to return for us and we need to be prepared for it.

As we look at the opening part he talks about their response to the gospel. He mentions three things: "…your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father." Notice he combines the three elements of 1 Corinthians 3:13 that endure during the church age: faith, hope and love. He remembers that and that is evidence of the fact that they are the elect of God. Paul says that the only way that we know that somebody is part of the elect is by their response to the gospel. We don't know it ahead of time; we know it when a person believes in Jesus; we know that they are part of the elect in Christ because they have trusted in Him. This is evidence of their salvation. In fact, to get the main sense of this verse we could say "we remember these three things because we know of your salvation by God."

Then he gives further explanation. 1 Thessalonians 1:5 NASB "for our gospel did not come to you in word only …" And then he is going to define this by, again, an example of three things. "… but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction …" They had a conviction when they first heard the gospel of its truth and they believed in Jesus Christ. As a result [6] "You also became imitators of us and of the Lord …" The key isn't imitating the apostles per se, but imitating them as they are imitating the Lord. "… having received the word in much tribulation …" This is the Greek word thlipsis. We see this mentioned several times—3:3, 4, 5, 7. These are mentions of this ongoing adversity.

As Christians who are dispensationalists we are often under attack by people who distort and misconstrue what dispensationalists say. And unfortunately in the case of some popularizers of dispensationalism our belief has been distorted and misrepresented and sometimes we are our own worst enemy. It is very clear from this that the apostle Paul recognizes that we will go through tribulation  in this life. The Rapture isn't some sort of get-out-of- jail-free card where we are going to avoid tribulation. We are going to avoid the Tribulation with a capital T, which is really a word that is only used a few times for Daniel's seventieth week. That is a more accurate term for that seven-year period, also know as the time of Jacob's trouble. It is a period of intense suffering that will occur after the Rapture of the church, but the Rapture of the church is not a doctrine that is designed to give us an escape plan from going through difficult times. As Paul points out clearly in 1 Thessalonians chapter three we are appointed or destined to go through suffering. That is part of God's plan for our life.  

Result: 1 Thessalonians 1:7 NASB "so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia." As a result of that the Word of the Lord went forth as a testimony throughout Greece and even beyond. That was part of their testimony. The summary is given in verse 9. So the five things we've mentioned was, first of all, response to the gospel (1:4); 2) that they had become imitators of Paul and of Christ; c) that they had learned to depend upon God the Holy Spirit so that they could experience joy in the midst of tribulation (1:6); the summary in vv. 9, 10, others had heard of their circumstances; d) they had turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; e) to "wait for His Son from heaven to deliver from the wrath to come." Wrath is another term for God's judgment in time and it is used in this case of the Tribulation period.

That is his opening prayer and reminder to them of the tremendous evidence produced in their life because of their positive volition to the gospel and their study and application of the Word. They had a period of intense growth because they went through an intense period of opposition suffering and persecution.

In chapter two there is a shift to deal with a second attack, which is a personal attack upon the apostle Paul in terms of his motives and his conduct. This isn't unique to Thessalonians, it does happen in several other epistles. For example, in 1 Corinthians Paul has to defend himself against opponents in Corinth who have personally attacked him. This is also true in 2 Corinthians and some of the other epistles. Paul was constantly under personal attack and at times he had to respond to it by pointing out the obvious cases. 

The first couple of verses give us a transition. 1 Thessalonians 2:1 NASB "For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain." He has just listed all of the wonderful things he had changed in the life of these Thessalonian believers. [2] but after we had already suffered and been mistreated [arrogantly abused] …" This is the verb hubrizo, from the noun which means excessive arrogance or self-promotion. That is how he characterized the opposition in Philippi. "… in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition." The word "opposition" here is the Greek word agon, from which we get our word "agony."

Then in vv. 3-13 is where he defends himself in terms of the personal attacks. 1 Thessalonians 2:3 For our exhortation does not {come} from error or impurity or by way of deceit. Their message was not characterized by anything simple. He uses three terms to express that. It didn't come from error or uncleanness or deceit. In contrast [4] "but just as we have been approved …" The Greek word dokimazo, which indicates something that is tested, evaluated for the sake of showing its approval or value. So they had been tested by going through these difficult circumstances which shows why God recognized them and entrusted them with the gospel. "… by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts." So their motivation wasn't approbation lust, or any of the negative things which is what would happen in Greek/pagan culture where there would be these teachers who would go around and develop their own following. Paul is saying, it is not about us, it is about God.  

1 Thessalonians 2:6 NASB "nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority." Notice the grace orientation of Paul towards believers and the words he uses to describe his emotional intimacy with these believers. [7] But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing {mother} tenderly cares for her own children. [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."

Then he reminds them how they (Paul, Silas and Timothy) labored in their midst. Paul was conducting his own business. He had his tent-making business, which is another indication that he was there for more than just three or four weeks. 1 Thessalonians 2:9 NASB "For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, {how} working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God." Then he uses three adverbs. [10] You are witnesses, and {so is} God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers." That is in contrast to the error, uncleanness and deceit back in verse 3.

1 Thessalonians 2:11 NASB "just as you know how we {were} exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father {would} his own children." Notice another collection of three. What is the ultimate purpose of their ministry? [12] so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory." The ultimate goal of the ministry is not how much you know but how it changes our lives. Walking worthy means living a life that follows the pattern that God has revealed, so that He is glorified.

Then we see a shift a little bit as he returns to the focus on the Thessalonians' conversion and the results of their faith. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 NASB "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." The bottom line is that because they believed the gospel they were regenerated and then God the Holy Spirit is working in their life. As a result of that they faced persecution. 

They became imitators. 1 Thessalonians 2:14 NASB "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, [15] who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men." Paul is not blaming all Jews for the death of Christ but he recognizes here, as well as in 1 Corinthians 2:8 that both Jews and Gentiles were responsible. There is a whole history of negative volition among the Jews. They killed the prophets. As Jesus pointed out, how many times did God send prophets to the Jews but they rejected and killed them from Abel all the way down to Jesus Himself. And these opponents want to prevent them from speaking to the Gentiles at all.

As a result of that Paul had to leave. 1 Thessalonians 2:17 NASB "But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. [18] For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and {yet} Satan hindered us." Paul was caring but hadn't had a chance to come back because of these opponents. 


1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20 NASB "For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy." He recognizes he may not see them again until that return.

Then in chapter three he goes on to explain why he stayed at Athens and just sent Timothy back to them to encourage them and strengthen them. 1 Thessalonians 3:2 NASB "and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith." Paul was concerned that because of opposition they may fall away. [3] "so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this."

Then he goes on and talks about the affliction they are going through. He is concerned that Satan is going to use this to get an opportunity to get a foothold into their thinking and that they will turn away from Christ. But he is encouraged by Timothy who has returned and given a good report. 1 Thessalonians 3:6 NASB "But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you." Faith here is not trusting Christ for salvation but their ongoing post-salvation faith.

1 Thessalonians 3:8 NASB "for now we {really} live, if you stand firm in the Lord. [9] For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account." He is very empathetic with the Thessalonians and their struggle, closing out with a prayer. [10] "as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?"

Then in chapters four and five we get a focus on the future, on the Lord's return, and the implication of that for our walk with the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 4:1 NASB "Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us {instruction} as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more."

He goes on with some practical exhortations in verse 3 NASB "For this is the will of God, your sanctification; {that is,} that you abstain from sexual immorality." And down through verse 12 we have some very practical challenges to every believer. It is summarized in verse 7 NASB "For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification." That is related to understanding our relationship to God the Holy Spirit. Above all, this is going to be exemplified by love, v. 9 NASB "Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for {anyone} to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another." This is exemplified in verses 11: living a quiet life, working with your hands. And then he comes back to this theme of our life [12] so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need."

Having said all of that in terms of their spiritual life he gets into a prophetic portion where he talks about the end game. He is going to answer their question about what happens to those who have died in Christ. He says that they are not lost; they will rise first when Christ returns. 

1 Thessalonians 4:15 NASB "For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. [16] For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of {the} archangel and with the trumpet of God …" Notice three things again. There is this pattern of triplets throughout the epistle. "… and the dead in Christ will rise first. [17] Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord."

When we get to this passage later we are going to see a tremendous parallel between this and John 14:1-3. The same ideas as in John are present here. It is a remarkable parallel between the number of similar words showing that the two passages are passages related to the Rapture that precedes the Tribulation, and are designed for comfort. 1 Thessalonians 4:18 NASB "Therefore comfort one another with these words." Eschatology is not to satisfy some sort of curiosity about the future, it is to comfort us in times of distress.

In chapter five the focus is on what happens after the Rapture in terms of the day of the Lord, which is a term for the judgment that comes during the Tribulation, and that those who say peace and safety—this is talking about unbelievers in the Tribulation who are caught unawares—cannot escape the day of the Lord once it comes. But we as believers should not be fearful of that because we are not going to be going through it. 1 Thessalonians 5:9 NASB "For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." Again, a verse emphasizing that we don't go through that end time judgment as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ will be raptured before the Tribulation begins. [10] who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. [11] Therefore encourage one another …"

Then we come to the concluding exhortations, a series of different challenges that Paul gives to the Thessalonians in terms of how they should live. He says three positive things. [16] "Rejoice always; [17] pray without ceasing; [18] in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." Then there are three negatives. [19] "Do not quench the Spirit; [20] do not despise prophetic utterances. [22] abstain from every form of evil."

In the middle of that [20] "do not despise prophetic utterances; [21] But examine everything {carefully;} hold fast to that which is good." This is related to discernment in claims of prophecy.

It concludes with a closing prayer, a benediction. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 NASB "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." Then Paul asks for prayer for them, followed by some closing remarks.

So what we see in this epistle is a very personal, intimate, endearing section on Paul's relationship to the Thessalonians, their salvation in the midst of persecution. And embedded within that a great theology of suffering in the Christian life, focused on preparation for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.