First and Second Thessalonians
New Testament Survey, Lesson 8 of 13
Thessalonica was a large and prosperous city in Macedonia. It was located on the Aegean Sea. The great military highway from Rome to the East ran through the city. Thessalonica served as the capital of its district. Its population was made up of Romans, Greeks, and Jews in Paul’s day. The church in Thessalonica was established by Paul and Silas about A.D. 51 on Paul’s second missionary journey.
When Paul and Silas were asked to leave Philippi after they had been beaten and imprisoned, they passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia and came to Thessalonica. They stopped to evangelize in Thessalonica because a synagogue of the Jews was there (Acts 17:1). The Gospel was to be preached to the Jews first (Acts 1:8; Romans 1:16). Synagogues were good places to start for the people who assembled there already believed in the one true God and the Old Testament Scriptures. They were looking forward to the coming of the Messiah (Christ). They would give visiting Jews such as Paul and Silas an opportunity to speak.
Paul and Silas preached the Gospel in the synagogue for three sabbaths. They showed that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies concerning the Messiah (Acts 17:2, 3). Some of the Jews, many of the Greeks, and several of the leading women became believers in Christ (Acts 17:4). The unbelieving Jews were jealous of Paul’s success in winning converts. They gathered together a mob of evil men who caused an uproar in the city. They dragged Jason, a Christian, and some of the other brethren before the rulers of the city. They made false charges against the missionaries. They said: These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also. They accused Paul and Silas of acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus (Acts 17:6, 7). The rulers of the city were troubled when they heard these things. They “took security” (a bond) from Jason and the other brethren. Then the brethren, for the sake of their safety, sent Paul and Silas away by night (Acts 17:9, 10).
After preaching in Berea, Paul went on to Athens where he waited for the coming of Silas and Timothy who had remained behind in Berea (Acts 17:14). They eventually came to Paul after he had gone on to Corinth (Acts 17:15; 18:5). Paul learned from them the persecution against the church in Thessalonica still continued. He also learned that some had misunderstood his teaching of the second coming of Christ. They thought Christ would return within their lifetime. When some of the Christians died, they feared these Christians would lose their reward since they would not be alive when Christ came. Paul wrote to them to correct this false idea and to encourage the saints to be steadfast in persecution.
In the first chapter, Paul commended the Thessalonian Christians for their work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1:3). He reminded them of how powerfully the Gospel had come to them. He mentioned how the Word of God had gone forth from Thessalonica to many other areas. Others had heard of how they had turned from idols to serve the living God (1:5-10).
The Jews who had opposed Paul in Thessalonica and Berea were making false accusations against him. He defended himself in chapter two. He reminded the Christians how he and his companions had preached the Gospel honestly and sincerely. They did not use flattering words or seek glory from men (2:5, 6). They worked night and day to support themselves while preaching the Gospel (2:9). No one could honestly question their motives. In the third chapter, Paul expressed his great concern for the Christians which caused him to send Timothy back to them. He told of his joy when he learned they were standing firm in spite of persecution.
In the fourth chapter, Paul warned the Christians of the dangers of sexual immorality, a common sin in the Roman world of the first century. He urged them to abstain from sinful relationships by possessing their own vessel (wives) in sanctification and honor. By doing this, they would not wrong his brother (take advantage of them by becoming involved with their wives) (4:1-8). This warning needs to be heeded by Christians today!
In the latter part of chapter four, and the first part of chapter five, Paul corrected misunderstandings about the second coming of Christ (4:13-5:11). Those who have died in Christ will not lose their reward at His coming. In fact, they will be raised first before the living saints are caught up to meet the Lord in the air. No mention is ever made of the Lord setting foot on earth again. At His coming, the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up (2 Peter 3:10). Those who are caught up to be with the Lord will “always be with Him.” The New Testament says nothing about a so called seven year rapture as false teachers claim. Rather than fear the second coming, Christians should be ready to meet the Lord whether He comes during their lifetime or after their death.
The second letter to the Thessalonians was written a few months after the first. The date was late 51 or early 52. Persecution against the church continued. Paul reminded the Christians that their persecutors will be punished by Christ at His second coming (1:6-10). Two mistaken ideas are corrected in this epistle. First, there was still confusion about the second coming of Christ. Some were shaken from your mind. Perhaps a false letter claiming to be from Paul was being circulated (2:1, 2). Paul made it very clear that the second coming would not take place for a long time. A great falling away from the faith would come first. The man of sin would be revealed (2:3-12).
False teachers often charge the New Testament writers with teaching that Jesus would come back in their lifetime. In fact, the opposite is true. Some at Thessalonica did believe this, but Paul corrected them. A second problem in Thessalonica was that some Christians had quit working. They were living off others. Paul taught If any will not work, neither let him eat (3:10). Further, he taught that those who were too lazy to work, and indeed all disorderly saints, should be withdrawn from (3:6).
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