Introduction to Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians

Being an Old Testament prophet was one of the greatest responsibilities of a lifetime and beyond. For some, it became almost an unbearable task. It was a calling to represent God to the people that led to rejection, abuse, torture and eventual death but those who rejected God’s word.

The anguishing words of Jeremiah speaking to God are some of the most notable of this difficult but noble calling.

“Whenever I speak, I cry out
proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
insult and reproach all day long. ~ Jeremiah 20:8

When Jeremiah spoke the word of God to his people, the people pushed back hard. But when the Lord called these special men for their service, they answered Him with zeal and determination, despite the obstacles that lied ahead.

As a New Testament evangelist, it was not much different for Paul, the apostle. As he traveled throughout Asia Minor (Turkey) and Macedonia (Greece), he planted seeds and established new Christian churches among the Jews and gentile in foreign nations.

Although Paul was not present standing alongside Jesus at the time, no one understood better the words Jesus spoke to His disciples as He sent them out among the people of Israel saying,

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. ~ Matthew 10:16

As Paul assigned leaders to these newly established churches so he could continue on his journey to spread the word of our “Blessed Hope in Christ” to other gentile nations, his thoughts and worries never drifted away from these new churches of young believers.
He fully understood that they were vulnerable ‘sheep among the wolves.’ The Greek city of Thessalonica was one of those places. An important city for many reasons, the new church there came under attack early by the Jews and the pagans of that day.

Paul’s initial visit to Thessalonica would be during his second of three missionary journey’s through Macedonia. Paul traveled with Silas west from Phillipi, stopping in Thessalonica. It’s there where they eventually met up with Timothy.

Paul would eventually make stops in Berea and Athens and finally coming to rest in Corinth. It was in Corinth where Paul would remain for one and a half years to begin penning his letters to the churches. The first two of those letters are 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Also known as his “end times” letters.” These two epistles to the young and vulnerable church in Thessalonica would be the first letters Paul writes on eschatology (end times).

It’s estimated that these letters were written approximately six months after his time in Thessalonica while he was in Corinth around 50 A.D..

Paul’s visit to Thessalonica would be short and tumultuous as the enemies of the gospel of Christ would quickly rise up against Paul.

Upon entering Thessalonica, he spent the first three weeks in the synagogue preaching the gospel of Christ to his fellow Jews. When they grew indignant, he turned to the Greeks. He followed a strict discipline on the preaching of Christ in every town he stopped, to the Jew first then the gentile (Romans 1:16, Acts 1:8).

Thankfully, the Lord blessed Paul with new followers of Jesus Christ from both the Jewish and pagan population. It would be these new followers that would hide Paul from the coming persecution of the unbelievers of Thessalonica. Eventually, Paul would be led out of town and brought to Berea where he would face a much more welcoming community of Jews who were open to hearing and testing the truth of his message of Him crucified.

Because of Paul’s early exit out of Thessalonica, he didn’t get to complete his message on the return of Christ. Just as Jesus taught His Apostles about His second coming, so to, did Paul teach on Christ’s return to these new followers.

Paul’s quick and secretive departure left him gravely concerned for the persecution and the resistance these new followers would endure. He sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to gain a report on how this young church was fairing in the face of oppression from the unbelievers.

Timothy returned to Paul after his visit to Thessalonica with a positive report. The newly planted church was enduring and growing. Just as you can imagine, based on the topic of Christ’s return that Paul spoke of, Timothy returned with many questions.

The Thessalonians were still in their infancy of understanding and that left them to seek answers to their inquiries. “Has Christ already returned? How will we know? Will it be in our lifetime? What if we die before He comes back? And what about our relatives who have already died believing in Christ? Do we have the same hope? Will we see one another again?”

Based on the questions, it was obvious what Paul had taught when he was with them. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, Paul would answer these questions in 1 & 2 Thessalonians. It’s estimated that these two letters were written approximately 6 months apart.

While 1 Thessalonians answered the most pressing questions presented by the new believers, Paul would learn that they needed reassuring and clarification. Especially in the face of unbelievers as they tried to sow seeds of doubt of Christ’s return. This would later take place in his second epistle 2 Thessalonians.

Paul took very seriously his responsibility of planting new churches throughout Asia Minor and Macedonia and preaching on Jesus Christ. He understood that this work was similar to bringing new children in the world and raising them to walk with Christ. We can see in his letters, his need to constantly nurture and reassure his followers. They needed critical spiritual guidance in order that they not lose their way.

“Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).

Paul was aware of the dangers everyone of his churches faced as they encountered the scoffers and deception in the communities around them. Thessalonica was no different. Shortly after 1 Thessalonians was written, someone within the community began to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of the baby Christians that Christ had already returned. Possibly the Thessalonians didn’t fully understand what Paul meant in his first letter.

Paul put ink to paper once more to clarify his first letter and address the deception that was being permeated by the unbelievers. This time, the Holy Spirit would guide Paul to further explain his original letter. Then he would add guidance and direction on how each new believer should live their lives as they wait for Jesus’ glorious return.

As a believer, these two epistles help to compliment our wisdom and understanding of God’s prophetic words of things still yet to come as revealed in the two most important books of prophecy, Daniel and Revelation.

No one knows better the perfect timing of Christ’s return than the Father. Jesus made this very clear (Matthew 24:36). He encouraged us not to be idle (Matthew 25:14-30). He helped us understand that while we wait and do His work, we would face increasing trials and tribulations in a world filled with deception. And because of this, He left us with these very encouraging words. “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).