Introduction to 1 Thessalonians


It was during Paul’s missionary journey (second) that the light of the gospel first broke into the darkness of Thessalonica. See Acts 17:1-10.

The assembly that was left behind in the city was instructed in many of the great doctrines of the faith.

Their ardent and vigorous faith in Christ brought upon them severe persecution.

When Paul arrived in Athens (Acts 17:15) he learned of this.

Consequently he tried to visit them, but Satan hindered. 1 Thess. 2:17-18.

So he sent Timothy to them. Ch. 3:1-2.

Timothy ultimately brought back a good report to Paul (Ch. 3:6-8). This prompted Paul to write this letter.

Paul’s stay in the city was brief.

Acts 17 says it lasted three successive Sabbath days, just under a month.

Despite the brevity of his visit, he discussed with these new believers many of the great Christian doctrines such as:

1. The Trinity 1:1, 5-6.

2. The Holy Spirit 1:5-6, 4:8, 5:19.

3. The Lord’s second advent 1:10, 2:19; 3:13, 4:14-17, 5:23.

4. The Day of the Lord 5:1-3.

5. Assurance 1:5.

6. Conversion 1:9.

7. Election 1:4.

8. Resurrection 4:14-18.

9. Sanctification 4:3, 5:23.

10. Christian behavior 2:12, 4:1.

One of the most important themes of the epistle is the return of the Lord Jesus. It is mentioned at least once in each chapter.

A believer who is expecting the return of the Lord momentarily has no room for:

1. Idols in his heart 1:9-10

2. Slackness in his service 2:9, 19

3. Divisions in his fellowship 3:12-13

4. Depression in his mind 4:13-18

5. Sin in his life 5:23

v. 1-The men mentioned here had been accused of turning the world upside down.

This was unsolicited tribute to the power of the gospel delivered through dedicated men.

The letter was written to the church “in Thessalonica,” in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The word church was used at this time to describe any kind of assembly.

Paul wants to make it clear that this is not a heathen assembly, but one that is related to God as Father and Jesus Christ as Lord, double security.

v. 2-3 Paul gave thanks to God for them “all” and remembers them without ceasing in his prayers. It would appear that he mentioned each one by name.

The Thessalonians displayed three outstanding spiritual virtues.

1. The work of faith. This would primarily refer to their conversion to God. Their faith was not of the empty, theoretical kind. It was a living, vibrant, energetic faith that demonstrated itself in power and intensity in the face of adverse conditions. This faith in God was the driving force that energized them in their work for God. This was the same faith that the heroes of Hebrews 11 displayed as they worked and died in their service for God.

2. The labor of love. The next virtue that Paul calls to mind is their labor of love. This speaks of their service for God motivated by their love for the Lord Jesus. Theirs was a determined, self-sacrificing love. Their love for Christ inspired them to labor and toil to the point of weariness and fatigue. Their love never wavered despite the cost.

3. The patience or endurance of hope. The third virtue was their patience of hope, steadfastness. This hope is given by the indwelling Holy Spirit. This hope is that steadfast waiting for the return of the Lord Jesus. They had been undergoing tremendous persecution because of their faith and love for Christ. Despite this, they never wavered. Their hope in the coming of the Lord and in all the other promises of God in Christ was unshaken. They believed God. Such hope produces unshakable patience and steadfast endurance.

v. 4 “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.”

“Brothers, whom God loves, we know that he has chosen you.” T.C.N.T.

Paul was certain that God had chosen these saints before the foundation of the world.

The elect are chose by God in a past eternity.

By Spirit-given insight Paul recognized, in view of the spiritual characteristics of verse 3, that the Thessalonians were among the elect.

Many people, when viewing the Biblical truth of “election”, picture God as a tyrant, damning or saving men at will.

The Scripture rather gives the impression that election proceeds from God’s love.

It is not a device for sentencing men to eternal torment, but rather for rescuing them from it.

Election protects us from thinking of salvation as dependant on human whims, and roots it squarely in the will of God.

Our being saved is only because God, by His Spirit, convicted us and then saved us by His grace.

Our election was no afterthought with God.

Ephesians 1:4 “Chosen in Him before the foundation of the world.”

Paul thanks God for His choice of the Thessalonians.

v. 5 “For our gospel came not unto you in word only.” Etc.

This verse describes the manner in which the gospel came to Thessalonica.

Paul had had the experience of being forbidden by the Spirit to preach. Acts 16:6

Sometimes he had spoken fearfully and haltingly. 1 Corinthians 2:3.

In his frequent discussions with the Jews he no doubt felt it was hopeless.

In Thessalonica his experience was different; he felt the power of God.

The gospel did not come to them in carefully arranged rhetoric, i.e. in word only.

1. It came with power. The dynamic of the gospel worked in their lives with spiritual energy, producing conviction of sin, repentance and conversion.

2. It also came in the Holy Spirit. Then as now there are many kinds of power in the professing church. The kind of power that was seen in Thessalonica was the Holy Spirit’s power which breaks men and women and leads them to Christ for salvation.

3. The gospel also came in much assurance.

Their full assurance of faith was the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives.

They knew Whom they had believed.

They were saved and they knew it.

Verses 4 and 5 show how the gospel was presented to the Thessalonians.

Verse 6 shows how they responded to it.

They received the gospel in much affliction and joy of the Holy Spirit.

Those who received Christ were persecuted and suffered dreadfully.

Through it all, they experienced joy and serenity as the Holy Spirit strengthened them and ministered to them.

Paul and Silas knew something of this joy and serenity. Acts 16:25

The early saints were beaten for their faith in Christ, but left the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name. Acts 5:40-41.

This joy in affliction comes only from the Holy Spirit, who is our Comforter.

They also became imitators of the apostles and followers of the Lord.

Dramatic changes had taken place in the lives of these new converts.

From being idol-worshippers, worldly and grossly immoral, they now followed the Lord.

The model church as an example to us today.

v. 7 The Thessalonians became reproducing Christians.

Their joy, despite severe persecution, was an example to believers in Macedonia and Achaia.

This would encompass all the Christians in Greece.

No other local church was ever singled out by Paul and set forth as an example by which other churches should measure themselves.

v. 8 “For from you has sounded forth the Word of the Lord.”

This is an example of what a New Testament church should be like.

The word of the Lord, which would in essence be the Gospel, sounded forth from them like the clean piercing blast of the trumpet or a roll of thunder echoing and re-echoing, and was heard in distant places.

Thessalonica, being a great seaport, news of their transformed lives and faith was carried throughout the Roman Empire.

So extensively had the report of their faith traveled, that it was not necessary for Paul to report on their spiritual state.

Believers are not intended to be terminals of their blessings, but channels through which they can flow to others.

Rivers of water should flow from every believer to those around. John 7:37-38.

v. 9 It was common knowledge that when Paul went to Thessalonica, a startling transformation took place in the lives of many people.

1. They had turned to God from their pagan idols. When one becomes a child of God, there must be a break with worldly habits. We must leave our idols behind. There must be a change of direction. The whole life of the believer must be reoriented.

2. To serve the living and true God. They had yielded their lives to God. Romans 12:1-2. This God whom they were serving was the living and true God, in contrast to the false and lifeless idols they once worshipped.

Paul’s “entrance” into the city was a Spirit-empowered entrance.

His preaching of the gospel was no mediocre, mechanical presentation.

It was delivered with such burning zeal and faith, that the Thessalonians in turn caught the fire and the flames of their joy, love, and faith spread to others in distant places.

Note the wonderful sequence of events.

Two men go into this heathen city and preach the gospel.

They preach in the power of the Spirit.

Unregenerate men and women are regenerated.

These become so enraptured with Christ that they leave their idols.

Next a local church is formed.

They serve and praise God, live lives of holiness, bravely endure persecution, witness and win others to Christ.

May we never lose sight of the scriptural approach to evangelism.

v. 10 These new converts were also waiting for the Lord’s return.

The context would support that they expected Him momentarily.

One can imagine the anticipation of these new believers as the beauty of the Lord unfolded to them.

1. The Person – God’s Son, possessing absolute deity.

2. The Place – from Heaven His dwelling place.

3. The Pledge – Whom God raised from the dead.

4. The Precious Name – Jesus, matchless name.

5. The Prospect – Who delivers us from the wrath to come.

They turned to God – this would equate with their “work of faith” v. 3. They were looking to God.

They now served the living and true God – their labor of love. They were “looking on the fields.”

They were waiting for the return of God’s Son – steadfastness of hope. They were looking for Jesus.

Are we waiting for God’s Son from heaven?

Are we waiting for the redemption of the body? Romans 8:23

Are we really waiting and looking for the Savior, the Lord Jesus? Phil. 3:20

Do we really have the hope of the Rapture? 1 John 3:3

The One we look for is Jesus, Who will deliver us from the wrath to come.

This may be understood in two ways.

1. He delivers us from the eternal punishment of our sin. On the Cross He endured the wrath of God against our sin. Through faith in Him, God reckons our debt paid. There is therefore no judgment for us because we are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

2. The second aspect is that the Lord will deliver us from the coming period when the wrath of God will be poured out on a world who rejected His Son. This period is known as the Tribulation and the Great Tribulation.