1 Thessalonians Bible Study, 1. Introduction

Tod Kennedy, 2009


Contents of Introduction

  1. Outline of Acts 17
  2. Points to emphasize or “So what?” from Acts 17
  3. Summary of Acts 17
  4. Historical background for 1 Thessalonians
  5. Chapter Titles for 1 Thessalonians

Outline of Acts 17

  1. Paul and Silas in Thessalonica (17:1:1-9).
    • Paul taught from the Scripture in the synagogue that Jesus is the Christ (17:1-4).
      • Paul explained and gave evidence that Christ suffered, died, and rose again.
      • Paul’s evidence demonstrated that Jesus is the Christ.
    • Rejecters of biblical evidence that Jesus is Messiah caused a riot so Paul and Silas went to Berea (17:5-10).
  2. Paul and Silas in Berea (17:10-15).
    • Paul taught from the Scripture in the synagogue, and Jews and Greeks searched the Scripture and believed the message (17:11-12).
    • Rejecters of biblical evidence caused turmoil so Paul went to Athens (17:13-15).
  3. Paul taught and reasoned in Athens Jesus and the resurrection (17:16-34).
    • Paul taught Jews and God-fearers in the synagogue and anyone in the market place (17:16-18).
    • Paul taught and reasoned with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in the Areopagus (17:19-34).
      • Paul started with the philosophers’ frame of reference and then moved to the biblical view (17:19-23).
      • Paul talked about God: creator-owner (17:24, 26), omnipresent and invisible (17:24, 27, and 29), source of life (17:25, 28), creator of the human race (17:26, 29), and king of history (17:26, 30).
      • Paul said that God was patient (17:30) and will judge mankind based upon a righteous standard and that righteous standard was Jesus, whom God proved was qualified by arising from the dead (17:30).

Points to emphasize or “So what?” from Acts 17

  1. Bible based evangelism is the best method. We explain the Scripture teaching and give biblical evidence for what you say. Paul emphasized that Messiah-Christ must suffer (die), and rise from the dead. The Scripture demonstrated that Jesus is Messiah-Christ (Acts 17.1-4).
  2. Unbelief can express itself by hatred and violence against believers. The Bible’s message divides people (Acts 17.5-8, 13).
  3. When we present the Bible’s message, there will be differing responses. Our ministry is to present the Bible’s message accurately and clearly (Acts 17.32-34). Some listeners will believe the Bible’s message (Acts 17.4, 11-12, 34) and some will not (Acts 17.5, 13, 32).
  4. God designed, revealed, and authorized the Bible message; none of it came from pagan religions (Acts 17.18-21).
  5. God has designed and orchestrated history, including nations and laws, so that mankind may come to God-consciousness, hear the gospel, and have the opportunity to believe the Bible’s message (Acts 17.26-27).
  6. Apologetics, which is a defense of the faith or why we know the faith is true, is often an important part of witnessing about Christ (Acts 17.2, 17).
  7. In Paul’s mind the biblical message of salvation included the Old Testament teaching about Messiah, coupled with the historical death and resurrection of Christ (Acts 17:1-4). To the Athenian philosophers Paul also began with Jesus and the resurrection. This brought immediate questions (17). Paul then followed up for these philosophers who had no biblical frame of reference by explaining in panorama the person of God, and then that God created all things, that God is Lord and owner of heaven and earth, that God is the source of life, that God set the plan for history to help people turn to God, that people are the image of God, that God wants people to repent (change their thinking about God, life, and how to have eternal life), and that there will be a righteous judgment through the resurrected Jesus (17:18-34). From this we see that we need to be prepared, flexible, and should not short cut the biblical message of salvation.

Summary of Acts 17

  1. Acts 17.1-4.  Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke traveled on the Ignatian Way from Philippi to Thessalonica, a distance of about 100 miles. This famous highway stretched 540 miles and connected Rome to its eastern provinces. When Paul reached Thessalonica, he resumed his practice of going first to the synagogue to teach the Jews that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. This had two advantages: first, the Jews already had a biblical frame of reference about the Messiah, and second, Paul wanted to make sure that the Jews had a clear opportunity to believe in their Messiah (Acts 17.3). The Jews had long awaited their Messiah; he would be their mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2.5; Hebrews 8.6), their king (Luke 19.38; John 1.49), and their priest (Hebrews 2.17; 4.14-15; Hebrews 5.10). Paul’s biblical evangelism received a good response. Many believed in Christ as savior.
  2. Acts 17.5-6. As happened so often with Paul, he spoke so clearly and with such grace, confidence, and authority that people had a hard time staying neutral. Those who did not receive his message about Jesus the Christ got mad. They aroused the people into a riot and even gathered some “hired rioters” to further inflame the crowd. The trouble makers then went looking for Paul, apparently now staying with a man named Jason, so the crowd gathered at Jason’s house.
  3. Acts 17.7-9. Since the mob did not find Paul, they attacked Jason and forcibly took him to the authorities, to whom the rioters made false accusations—that the missionaries attempted to overthrow Caesar and put Jesus in his place. This was a serious accusation, but Roman law protected those with Roman citizenship; Thessalonica was in the Roman senatorial province of Macedonia. The governing authorities made Jason pay a bond, money to guarantee that Paul would not incite revolution, and then let him go.
  4. Acts 17.10-15. The Thessalonian believers thought it best to get Paul out of town, so they sent him, Silas, Timothy, and probably Luke to Berea. Berea was a Macedonian city about fifty miles west of Thessalonica. The current name is Verria. They went to the synagogue to teach about Jesus the Messiah. Both Jews and Greeks believed the gospel and were given eternal life. They became part of Christ’s spiritual body called the church. They became members of God’s kingdom, and became citizens of heaven. Luke writes that the Bereans compared what Paul said with Scripture in order to determine whether his message was biblically true. This habit of comparing a teacher’s statements with Scripture is one that we all should develop; it is a protection of the priesthood of the believer and encourages us to spend time studying the Bible.  You can guess what happened: the Thessalonian Jews found out that the some of the Bereans believed in Messiah-Christ as savior, so they rushed to Thessalonica and caused more rioting. It was time for Paul to again move on. A group of believers took Paul to Athens. Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea. They were to join Paul later at Athens.
  5. Acts 17.16-18. Athens had a history of classical sculpture, literature, oratory, and philosophy. Socrates (469-399 B.C.) and Plato (429-347 B.C.) were natives of Athens. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), Epicurus (341-270 B.C.), and Zeno (335-263 B.C.) moved to Athens. Epicurus founded a school in Athens in 306 B.C. Epicureans believed that the gods were uninterested in man and that pleasure and the tranquil life—freedom from the fear of the gods and of death, freedom from pain and anxiety—were the chief goals for man. Zeno founded the Stoic school in Athens. Stoics believed in rationalism, individualism, pantheism, and duty. Athens was a city full of idol temples and images. Athens was filled with religion but empty of Christ. As Paul waited for Silas and Timothy, he wandered the city and was provoked by the idolatry. In this religious climate he witnessed for Jesus Christ—in the synagogue and in the market—daily. As a result of his witnessing, he got into discussions with the philosophers. Paul was talking about Jesus and the resurrection, both new ideas to the Greek philosophers. The newness of the ideas to the philosophers demonstrates that Christianity did not borrow its foundational doctrines from ancient religions as some claim; Messiah-Jesus, the savior, and the resurrection were new to the philosophers of Athens. The faith of the Old and New Testament was God designed and unique—they are one and the same faith.
  6. Acts 17.19-31. The philosophers took Paul to the ancient and famous Court of Areopagus (Greek, Hill of Ares; Ares was the son of Zeus and Hera). This is a large rock area northwest of the Acropolis (Greek, edge of the city and 49 feet above sea level). The Areopagus identified the place that city fathers met in early times to discuss concerns of politics and religion. In the time of Pericles (c. 495-425 B.C.) it was even a criminal court. The hill of Ares was 377 feet high. Ares is the Greek god of war. Mars is the Roman god of war and so Mars Hill is the Latin form of Areopagus.  There philosophers discussed and debated ideas. The Court was well known, widely respected, and in Paul’s time was accepted as authoritative in religious and moral debate. To this court Paul was invited. They asked him about Jesus and the resurrection. Paul began by observing that the philosophers were a religious group (17.22). He then referred to an altar to an unknown god. These altars could be seen in Athens at that time. He then formed his message around the unknown God: 1. God is the creator and sovereign (17.24-25); 2. God, who began the human race with Adam, planned human history including the different  administrations or dispensations so that mankind might come to God-consciousness which means to believe that God exists and go from that belief to faith in the biblical message, the gospel (17.26-27); 3. since God created mankind in his image, we should not reduce God to a metal image—the creator cannot be reduced to an idol (17.28-29); 4. God has moved on from the past dispensation in which the revelation about Christ was partial to the present time when Jesus Christ has been fully revealed; 5. God was patient in the past and the message about Christ is now complete so God wants everyone to repent.  Paul goes on to say that an unbeliever thinking about God and Messiah-Jesus may hold off God’s judgment or prepare a person to listen more closely to the gospel.  God wants each person to turn from his human viewpoint and sin and set his attention closely to the gospel so that he might understand it, believe it, and be saved (17.30); and 6. that God’s judgment is coming; God will judge the world of mankind through the resurrected Jesus Christ (17.31).
  7. Acts 17.32-24. The response to Paul’s message differed among the listeners. Some sneered at it, some wanted to hear it another time, and some believed and were saved. The parable of the sower taught the same things: when people present the gospel, there will be differing responses.

Historical background for 1 Thessalonians

  1. Theme: Paul is unable to revisit this new group of believers who are under satanic attack, therefore he writes this letter to teach, to stabilize, and to encourage them in their CWL.
  2. Author: Paul (1 Thessalonians 1.1).
  3. Date: Around AD 51.
  4. Paul wrote from Corinth while on his second missionary trip to believers in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1.1) and
    • Thessalonica or Thessalonika or Thessaloniki is also known as Salonika or Saloniki.
    • He had visited Thessalonica earlier during this trip. He stayed approximately two weeks and had a very fruitful ministry there (Acts 17.1-4). Many of the new believers were very responsive to Paul’s teaching and authority, but the city also had a group of very antagonistic Jews (Acts 17.5-9). They stirred up mob riots. To escape this rioting. The Thessalonian believers sent Paul and Silas to Berea (Acts 17.10). Some of these antagonistic Thessalonians followed Paul to Berea and there caused the same kind of trouble (Acts 17.11-13).
    • Because of this outbreak of rioting the believers in Berea sent Paul to Athens by ship (Acts 17.14) while Silas and Timothy remained at Berea. After he arrived at Athens Paul sent instructions for Silas and Timothy to follow later (Acts 17.15). They met Paul a short time later in Athens (1 Thessalonians 3.1).
    • Paul stayed a little longer at Athens, but sent Timothy and Silas back to Thessalonica to equip the young church there and to find out how they were doing (1 Thessalonians 3.1-2, 5). They had instructions to rejoin Paul in Corinth. Paul soon left Athens and went on to Corinth (Acts 18.1).
    • When Silas and Timothy completed their mission in Thessalonica they rejoined Paul in Corinth and reported to him about the state of the Thessalonian church (Acts 18.5; 1 Thessalonians 3.6-7).
    • Paul wrote this letter to the young church after he heard the report from Silas and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 3.6-7; 1.1).
  5. Political background: The first century church was under Roman rule. God used Roman rule to protect, to consolidate, to extend, and to test His young church. Thessalonica was the leading city of Macedonia. It was on the Ignatian way. It also was a city that connected the Aegean to the Danube area.
    • Claudius was the Roman emperor at this time. He ruled from A.D. 41-54. The Praetorian Guard found him hiding after his nephew, Gaius Caligula, was assassinated and the guard immediately proclaimed him the emperor. He was 50 at the time. Claudius was liked by the army and the provincials, but disliked by the Roman nobles. He was a learned and scholarly man. His physical appearance was distracting. Claudius was afflicted with a paralysis which caused his head to shake, his mouth to slobber, and his walk to be awkward. Claudius did a good job in provincial and foreign policy. He expanded the empire, built roads, increased provincial business, and promoted law, order, and justice. He valued Roman citizenship. He was not anti-Semitic, but did not want Judaism to spread. Claudius got into trouble with the nobles by giving too much power and privilege to his family and the freedmen. His family also gave him trouble. The final family trouble was that Agrippina, his wife and young Nero’s mother, assassinated him in A.D. 54. (See CAH Vol X, pages 667ff).
    • See 1. The summary of Acts 17 for Areopagus.

Chapter Titles for 1 Thessalonians

  1. Chapter 1, The Thessalonians accepted God’s message taught God’s way by Paul and it gave God’s results.
  2. Chapter 2, Paul and his team served God and so they chose to please him, not to please men.
  3. Chapter 3, The Thessalonians’ spiritual growth encouraged Paul.
  4. Chapter 4, Reminder to apply Bible doctrine daily.
  5. Chapter 5, The day of the Lord, authority orientation, and other commands.