Introduction to 1st Thessalonians
1st Thessalonians is Paul’s earliest letter. It was written from Corinth about 50 – 51 AD to the church Paul had founded in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey. (Which was probably only a year or two prior.)
Acts 17: 1-10 When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,” he said. 4Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women. 5But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason's house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd] 6But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus." 8When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. 9Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.
10As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.
Thessalonica was a seaport and trade center on a busy international highway called the Via Egnatia, which extended from Rome all the way to the orient. It was the capital and largest city in the Roman province of Macedonia.
There were many religions, including a large Jewish population there at this time. Some Jews accepted Paul’s message when he was there, but more gentiles. These gentiles were drawn to the Jewish worship of one God and its high religious and ethical teaching, but not everything about the religion: like circumcision, the food laws and the Sabbath observance. So these people were good candidates from Christianity.
Where it said in Acts 17:3 that Paul preached in a synagogue from the scriptures; explaining that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead: that was his usual style.
A synagogue was where Jews gathered for teaching and prayer and could be formed anywhere there were 10 Jewish males. At synagogue services the shama, which was Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!, was recited. After that certain prayers would be spoken. Then a reading from the law, which was the first 5 books of the Bible. Next would be a reading from the prophet intending to illustrate the law, and then the sermon.
The synagogue leader would decide who was to lead the service and give the sermon. Usually a different person was chosen each week. It was customary to invite visiting rabbis to speak, so Paul would come in and start with the Old Testament and how it pointed to the promise of a Messiah and then he would show how Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled this expectation.
Sometimes Jews wouldn’t allow him to speak. Sometimes they listened only until he got to Jesus. But, some were converted and also non-Jews would often come hear Paul preach.
In Thessalonica we see he was run out of town. Later he sends Timothy back to see how they were doing. All Christians in the 1st century were persecuted and the Thessalonians were probably persecuted by the very Jewish people who got rid of Paul. These Jewish leaders didn’t refute the theology that Paul taught; so much as they were jealous of the popularity of his message. And like Jesus’ teachings, it would cause them to have to change if they followed it.
The leaders had to manufacture an accusation that would stand with the Roman government. The Romans weren’t interested in theology, but treason got their attention. Paul had talked about a King and His Kingdom.
Paul gets a good report back from Timothy and he writes this letter to express his thankfulness for the loyalty and spiritual growth of these people and to answer some questions they had. Also in this letter Paul instructs them in Christian morals and he gives them (and us) good practical advice for Christian living.
He wanted them to have an hour by hour consistency of life. He also talks about the second coming of Christ. Like many Christians in the first century they thought Christ would return immediately and He hadn’t yet and they were concerned about people who were dying in the meantime. What happened to them? Would they miss out?
I’ll start going through the book in my next post.