1 Thessalonians

Historical Note. Thessalonica was an important Macedonian trade hub in the first-century Roman world. It is still a large city in Greece today. The assembly in Thessalonica had been formed after Paul visited there on his second missionary journey (see Acts 17). Paul remained in the city for “three sabbaths” (Acts 17:1). A key feature of that city was “the synagogue of the Jews”. As Paul always went “to the Jew first” (it was “according to Paul’s custom”), he went into the synagogue and “reasoned with them from the scriptures”. While some of the Jews believed, the bulk of them were stirred up with jealousy, and instigated a riot among the masses. They raided the house of Jason, but were unable to find Paul and Silas. Instead they dragged Jason and other brethren before the magistrates. Paul and Silas escaped, with the help of the new converts in Thessalonica, a short distance west to Berea. There were also Jews in Berea, but they were “more noble” than the Jews in Thessalonica, because they “received the word with all readiness of mind, daily searching the scriptures if these things were so”. While in Thessalonica only “some of them believed”, by contrast in Berea “many from among them believed” (Acts 17:12). When the Thessalonian Jews heard what was happening in Berea, they came over and caused another riot. Therefore Paul had to leave and go into the southern part of Greece; first to Athens and then to Corinth. It would seem that the epistle was written from Corinth, because Paul was there when Timothy returned with the good news that the Thessalonians were going on well (Acts 18:5).
Overview of the Epistle. The first epistle was written to comfort and strengthen the new converts in Thessalonica. The doctrine of the epistle doesn’t deal with the Christian position, as in Ephesians or Colossians, but rather those things that were practically necessary for the young saints to be preserved. It is of note that the hope of the Lord’s coming is emphasized in Thessalonians, because of the tremendous practical effect it has on the heart of every believer. The Lord’s coming is mentioned at the close of each chapter (1 Thess. 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:14-17; 5:9)!
  • In chapter 1, we are converted to wait for the Lord’s coming.
  • In chapter 2, we look forward to being together with all the saints at the Lord’s coming.
  • In chapter 3, the hope of the Lord’s coming produces practical holiness in our lives.
  • In chapter 4, the Lord’s coming is a comfort to those who have lost their loved ones.
  • In chapter 5, we are preserved until the coming of the Lord.
They were facing great persecution in the years ahead, and yet they were very young in the faith. Paul emphasizes the need for sanctification (practical holiness) and the hope of the Lord’s coming for His saints. The epistle can be broadly divided into two sections. Chapters 1-3 have to do with Paul’s commendation of the Thessalonians, his care and conduct among them, and his desire to see them again. Chapters 4-5 take up doctrine and exhortations related to Timothy’s report.
Chapters 1 – 3.

In ch.1 of First Thessalonians, Paul commends the saints for believing the gospel, and maintaining a bright testimony for the Son of God, in the midst of a pagan world. In ch.2, Paul reminds the Thessalonians of his behavior among them, to show that he loved and cared deeply for them. In ch.3, Paul explains that he greatly desired to see them again, and attributed the riots of Acts 17 to Satan's efforts to hinder him. Paul says that he was "bereaved" of their company, and "separated for a little moment in person, not in heart" (1 Thess. 2:17). This was to show that his sudden departure was no indication that he loved them any less. If anything, the epistle would show that Paul had a special place in his heart for new converts. It was Paul's great love for the Thessalonians that caused him to send Timothy back to Thessalonica while Paul was in Athens (1 Thess. 3:1). When Timothy returned with a good report, it caused Paul to praise the Lord, and beseech Him for an opportunity to return to Thessalonica in person. Nevertheless, Paul recognized that he would have to wait for God's direction. By the language of ch.3, it would appear that the timing of the first epistle was shortly after Timothy's return; "Timotheus having just come to us from you" (1 Thess. 3:6). Since Paul was only a short time in Athens, he probably wrote 1 Thessalonians from Corinth, where he stayed for eighteen months.

Chapters 4 – 5.

Apparently, Timothy's report of the Thessalonians involved a number of matters. Paul addressed these in ch.4-5 of the epistle. They needed to be reminded to continue in practical holiness and love (1 Thess. 4:1-12). Being converted only a short time earlier, practical instruction was needed. Also, an eschatological issue had arisen. Paul had taught the Thessalonians when present of the coming kingdom and reign of Christ. In fact, the Jews brought this up when accusing Jason, etc. before the magistrates of harboring Paul; "these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying, that there is another king, Jesus" (Acts 17:7). The knowledge of the appearing and reign of Christ according to Old Testament prophecy was a great joy to the assembly in Thessalonica, and they were waiting for the Son from heaven. However, some among them had died, and it raised a question in their minds; would the dead in Christ miss out on the kingdom? Paul did not want them to be ignorant "concerning them that are fallen asleep" (1 Thess. 4:13). In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Paul unfolded the truth of the rapture, explaining how the dead will be raised and caught up to meet the Lord in the air, in order to be with Him and return with Christ when He comes with all His saints. Paul knew this would lead to another question: would the saints then be on earth to endure the wrath which will come before the Lord appears? In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Paul reminded the saints that the Day of the Lord would be a time of judgment, which will catch the ungodly by surprise, as "a thief in the night". The saints are "sons of light and sons of day" and therefore that day will NOT overtake believers as a thief. Why? "Because God has not set us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ". In the final verses, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28, we have exhortations concerning our conduct while we wait for the Savior to come. In the first epistle Paul deals with a lack of understanding about the Lord’s coming; i.e. missing details. But in the second epistle he deals with positive error (false doctrine) about the Lord’s coming that had reached the saints via letters pretending to be from Paul.

Of special note is the timing of 1 Thessalonians. It was the first inspired epistle, and it was written to a young assembly. The exhortation to recognize leaders (though not stated as elders) is found in the fifth chapter, and this gives us an important pattern. After those whom the Lord gave authority to appoint elders had died, the church was not left without oversight! The Spirit of God is still raising up individuals to do that work.


  1. Kelly, W. Exposition of First Thessalonians.
  2. Darby, J.N. Notes on the First Epistle to the Thessalonians.
  3. Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.