Although some scholars believe Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians were the first letters written, most scholars and Bibles date the writing of the first letter between 49-50 A.D, and the second letter between 50-51 A.D., during Paul’s stay in Corinth. This was his second missionary journey recorded by Luke in chapters 17-18 of the book of Acts.
Paul was forced to leave Thessalonica within a few weeks of establishing the church. Opponents, who hired rioters to find Paul but failed, charged his host and other believers of treason against Rome. Believers hustled Paul, Silas and Timothy from Thessalonica to Berea, where the people “were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica.”
New believers in Thessalonica were left with incomplete knowledge of the gospel and erroneous views* of the second coming of Christ. These erroneous views were partly due to a forged report to the church in Paul’s name declaring that Christ had already returned. As a result, some believers had an indifferent attitude about remaining godly; others were concerned about friends who died and were worried about their entry into heaven.
Enemies in Thessalonica, not satisfied that Paul was in Berea, went there and “stirred up trouble.” Believers in Berea acted at once, escorting Paul onto Athens. They then returned to Berea with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him there.
The Imperatives (The Commands)
Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. (1T 4:13-18)
Although Paul sent Timothy Thessalonica to support the believers, they needed both reassurance and exhortation from the man who they relied upon as their mentor and pastor.
- We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God. (1T 2:3)
- Keep yourselves from sexual promiscuity, keep control of your own body, and do not take advantage of those who do not know God.” (1T 4:4-6)
- Now, concerning brotherly love…we urge you to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you (1T 4:9-12)
- Respect those who labor among you and guide you in obedience to Christ. Do not quench the Spirit, but test everything. Keep what is good and toss out everything that is evil. (1T 5:19-22)
- Do not be shaken, alarmed or deceived by a spoken word or letter that appears to be from me. (1T 2:2-3)
- Stand firm and hold onto what you have been taught by me, either in person or through my own letters. (2T 2:15)
- Keep away from anyone walking in idleness; in fact, if you’re not willing to work, then don’t eat. I can’t say it strongly enough: stop being idle, stop gossiping, and earn your own way. (2T 3:6, 10-12)
- Don’t grow weary of doing good. (2T 3:13)
- If you notice a brother not following any of these commands, warn him, because he’s not following Christ. (2T 3:14-15)
The Indicatives (Truths in Christ)
As Paul makes a strong case for being obedient and following what he has already told them, he also reminds the Thessalonians of the strength they possess in the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t want them to be swayed by unbelievers, or by those who take parts of the gospel or other Scripture* and twist it to their own ends.
For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 1T 1:4-6
While the Thessalonians were new believers and susceptible to false teaching and unfounded fears, they had forgotten the strength of their initial faith and conviction through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. They allowed fear and doubt to outweigh their love of God and their confidence in His faithfulness.
- Brothers and sisters, we know you are loved by God; he chose you because the gospel came to you not only in word but also in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction. (1 T 1:4-5)
- Through faith and the Holy Spirit you became imitators of us and of the Lord, and you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. (1T 1:6)
- Through faith and the Holy Spirit you became examples to believers all over Macedonia, and you anxiously wait for Christ’s return from heaven whom he raised from the dead. (1 T 1:6, 9-10)
- You yourselves have been taught by God to love one another (1 T 4:9)
- This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 T 5:18)
- God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 T 2:13-14)
- The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. (2 T 3:3)
Again, Paul encourages us to be present in the Spirit. He urges us to be wise in who we follow, and do our own thinking and reading of Scripture and the words of Jesus. He strongly urges us not to simply take from our fellow believers, but to give back so that we contribute to the body of Christ. He admonishes us to live holy lives now, understanding that we don’t know when Christ will return; yet we should live in expectation, rather than thinking he won’t return until after we are dead and gone.
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*I wanted to address briefly the “rapture” theory that stems from a misreading of two verses of 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (I’m not getting into the whole dispensational pre-millennialism/post millennialism argument.)
Paul is responding to those Thessalonians who are concerned about those already dead (fallen asleep): will they be included in the resurrection when Jesus returns. Paul comforts them, and uses the term, Parousia, meaning, the coming of the Lord.
In his explanation, Paul uses military terminology as an analogy for how we will greet Jesus when he returns. It is the way those would come out from the city to meet a royal officer or king. The first who go outside the city gates to greet the officer are the dignitaries (those already asleep). The next in line to greet the officer are the rest of us who go out to greet the king to escort him back into the city to welcome him.
As verse 17 suggests, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them [the dead] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”
This doesn’t mean we’ll be swept up and away; it simply means we escort him back to earth, to welcome him to the New Jerusalem, as it is detailed in Revelation 21:1-4.
If you read Matthew 24:36-44, Jesus tells us two things: 1) the only one who knows when he will return is the Father, and 2) it is not the believer who is “taken up,” it is the wicked. Believers are left behind to care for one another.