Paul and Silas visited Thessalonica in the autumn of 49AD, on Paul’s second missionary journey having passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia. Thessalonica was a seaport city and a key communication and trade centre. It was on an important trade route and the largest city in Macedonia and the capital of its province. Paul spoke at the synagogue on three Sabbaths (our Saturdays) and probably when the Jews met on Mondays and Thursdays too.
A number believed Paul’s message: some Jews, some ‘God-fearers’, and some leading women in Thessalonica, presumably Gentile (Acts 17:4; 17:12).
But things became unpleasant for Paul when he preached on his third Sabbath there. His Jewish opponents started a riot (Acts 17:5) because of the many converts Paul was making. They claimed that Paul and Silas were claiming that there was another king besides Caesar (Acts 17:7).
This was a concern to the local people because Thessalonica valued its position as a city able to govern itself under Roman rule. If the Romans heard that its people were valuing another king, there could be trouble. One of the Christians, Jason, was forced to give bail money to free Paul and Silas and they left the city soon after. His good friend Timothy (3:1-5) later brought good news of the church and in the letter Paul was responding to some of the queries raised. It was probably soon after the visit, maybe 50AD, that Paul wrote to the Thessalonians after his brief stay in the city.
After his speedy exit, Paul explains why he had to suddenly leave, and to clear up any confusion about his motives. He wants them to know that he is pleased at how they are progressing. Many other churches in the region speak warmly of how they have so clearly started following Jesus.
In particular he needed to clear up misunderstanding about the return of Jesus. Some of the Thessalonians had died and there was confusion over where their souls had now gone. The New Testament speaks often of the fact that Jesus Christ will visibly return to the earth again to bring salvation and exercise judgement.
The Thessalonians believed that this was very soon and many had stopped working and had become dependent on others. Paul needed to explain that we do not know when the return of Jesus is, and that Christians need to keep working.
Why read it?
Stay focused on Jesus
Early on the letter explains how the Thessalonians turned from idols to serve Jesus. We may not have actual idols, but anything that has first place in our lives other than Jesus will prevent us knowing the fullness of the joy that is to be ours.
Don’t let money get in the way
Paul made sure he carried on his trade of tent making so he could earn money separate from his work with them. That way no one could claim that he was preaching to get an income. The Gospel should always be offered free of charge. It is right in certain circumstances to pay those who serve the church and the cause of the Gospel, of course, but important that ministry is not withheld because money is an issue.
Don’t be alarmed
You can be sure that those who die as Christians are much better off, even though you will be sad to lose them and will miss them. The letter reminds you that there will be a glorious reunion to look forward to when Christ returns. He will come again. We look forward to it!
|1-2||A hope that saves|
|2-3||A hope that sanctifies|
|4-5||A hope that’s secure|