1 Thessalonians Overview

Tod Kennedy, 1996


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 Christian way of life.

2. Author: Paul (1 Thessalonians 1.1).

3. Date: Around AD 51.

4. Paul wrote to believers in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1.1) and from Corinth while on his second missionary trip.

  • 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 the 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 AD 41-54. The praetorian guard found him hiding after his nephew Gaius Caligula was assassinated and 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 Agrarian, his wife and young Nero’s mother, assassinated him in AD 54. (See CAH Vol. X, pages 667ff)
  • Guide to the content of 1 Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians Chapter 1: The Thessalonians accepted God’s message taught God’s way by Paul and it gave God’s results.

  1. God’s election of people makes the gospel effective and Paul was glad to see this demonstrated (1 Thessalonians 1.1-4).
  2. God communicates the gospel through mankind, but uses His resources, not human propaganda (divinely given, not humanly given) (1 Thessalonians 1.5).
  3. Concentrate on learning the Word of God while controlled by the Holy Spirit and you will grow spiritually which is the normal Christian Way of Life (1 Thessalonians 1.6).
  4. Spiritual growth of the Christian way of life will have witness application (ministry) (1 Thessalonians 1.7-10).

1 Thessalonians Chapter 2: Paul and his team served God and so they chose to please Him, not to please men.

  1. Continued ministry while under the pressure of tests shows whom you serve, why you serve, and what is important (1 Thessalonians 2.1-12).
  2. Receive the Word (actual learning and certainty of its truth) of God from God’s gifted man and it will do its work inside of you (real application with results) (1 Thessalonians 2.13-14).
  3. When you experience undeserved suffering because you live the Christian way of life do not think you alone are attacked. Many positive growing believers that preceded you have experienced the same thing (1 Thessalonians 2.15-16).
  4. Satan works (by permission) to prevent the authoritative and knowledgeable Bible teacher’s link up with the teachable believers (1 Thessalonians 2.17-20).

1 Thessalonians Chapter 3: The Thessalonian’s spiritual growth encouraged Paul.

  1. Knowledgeable Bible teachers strengthen and encourage believers about the faith Christian way of life so those believers can continue to advance in the faith and fulfill their destiny even while under tests (1 Thessalonians 3.1-4).
  2. Knowledge that the teachable “congregation” stands firm while under pressure gives inner happiness to the one that has taught them (1 Thessalonians 3.5-10).
  3. The Bible communicator’s God directed ministry for believers combined with God’s love (source dependent love) inside believers gets believers ready to properly meet Christ when He comes for the church (1 Thessalonians 3.11-13).

1 Thessalonians Chapter 4: Reminder to apply doctrine daily

  1. Do not practice sexual sin (and business/social sin?) because that damages sanctification or the Christian walk (1 Thessalonians 4.1-8).
  2. Love for believers requires that you to attend to your own life and not interfere with another’s life (1 Thessalonians 4.9-12).
  3. God does not want believers to worry about the separation from friends at physical death. It is only temporary and will end when Christ comes for the church and gives physical resurrection to all church believers (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18).

1 Thessalonians Chapter 5: The day of the Lord, authority orientation, and other commands

  1. The day of the Lord, with all its sudden suffering, will not catch church believers because it begins with Satan’s spiritual darkness and you church believers are sons of light and day (1 Thessalonians 5.1-5).
  2. Since daylight is the time to be awake, alert, and active and you believers are a part of God’s kingdom of spiritual light (not a part of Satan’s kingdom of spiritual darkness) stay spiritually awake, alert, and active while you can (1 Thessalonians 5.6-11).
  3. Practice authority orientation because authority protects your day to day life so that you may learn doctrine, think love, live in peace, and correctly fill the right need (1 Thessalonians 5.12-15).
  4. Make it a practice to rejoice, pray, thank, listen, examine, hold tight, and abstain (1 Thessalonians 5.16-22).
  5. God is getting you believers ready to meet your Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5.23-24).
  6. Pray for the absent spiritual servant-leader, pass his greetings on to the church, and make his Bible teaching available (1 Thessalonians 5.25-28).