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BIBLE BOOK: Thessalonians

Two of the earliest Epistles…..

 

 

 

Two of the Epistles in the New Testament were written by Paul to the Thessalonians and are some of his earliest writings. They were penned following a visit made by Paul and Silas to the Macedonian city during what is often referred to as the Second Missionary Journey. Both of the letters appear to have been written within a short space of time – probably about A.D.51. The visit Paul and Silas had made to Thessalonica could have taken place in the previous year.

 

To understand the background to the two epistles we need to read the opening verses of Acts 17 which describe the visit which had been made to the city. After their imprisonment at Philippi, which was brought to an end by an earthquake, Paul and Silas had moved on. Their journey had brought them to Thessalonica where a Jewish synagogue was located. The evangelists entered it and spent three Sabbath days with the worshippers, using the Old Testament Scriptures available to point the listeners to the Lord Jesus, the promised Messiah. A number were persuaded by what they heard and responded to the message. However, opposition soon arose and Jason’s home (where the evangelists were staying) was attacked. Paul and Silas were branded as men who had turned the world upside down and who were proclaiming “another king, one Jesus” (Acts 17:7). Such was the unrest that the new believers in Thessalonica sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea.

 

Although the visit to Thessalonica had been cut short, a real work of God was done in those brief three weeks. Paul makes reference to this in the first epistle particularly. The first chapter of 1 Thessalonians is full of thanksgiving to God for His work in the hearts of those who had come to believe. They had turned to God from the idols formerly worshipped and were now serving Him with a new purpose as they awaited the return of His Son from heaven. It is therefore clear that in his brief visit Paul had made his listeners aware of the promised return of the Lord Jesus. This indicates to us the importance of this truth.

 

 

1 THESSALONIANS

Comparing this letter with the account of the journeys in Acts, it is possible to deduce what had happened. When Paul was driven out of Berea, Silas and Timothy remained there. Paul went on to Athens where he wanted his companions to join him. However, Paul had genuine concerns for the new believers in Thessalonica who were being persecuted. As he did not want them to be shaken, he sent Timothy to encourage them amidst their trials. His visit to Thessalonica was successful, for Timothy rejoined Paul (now in Corinth) bringing him good news. The new converts were going on well and were eager to see Paul again. It would seem that Timothy’s arrival in Corinth prompted Paul to write the first letter.

 

The first chapter is very much one of thanksgiving to God for the way in which the Thessalonians had responded to the Gospel. Being among the elect of God, they had received the word preached with much joy. Their genuine faith in the Lord had become evident to many others, and it was being spoken about miles away. They had become examples to all who believe.

 

In the second chapter Paul reminded his readers of the time he had spent with them and of how gently, yet conscientiously, he had ministered to them. He had not exploited them in any way but had toiled as a tentmaker while with them in order to cover his expenses. He and his colleagues had acted in ways which were holy, just, and blameless (2:10). The Thessalonians had not been persuaded by skilful oratory but had received the message which they heard as “the word of God” (2:13). Although their faith had resulted in immediate persecution, they had continued with the Lord. Paul revealed to them just how much he had wanted to see them again but had been hindered by Satan (2:18).

 

As explained earlier, 1 Thessalonians 3 shows us Paul’s concern for the saints whom he earnestly desired to spend time with once more. While praying that the Lord would open the way and enable him to pay them a visit, Paul commended them to God and to His gracious blessing (3:11-13).

 

Chapter 4 of 1 Thessalonians contains a number of practical exhortations. Paul urged the believers to please God by their walk and to maintain holiness. To all intents and purposes they were a loving fellowship of believers, but Paul encouraged them to be conscientious in their daily work. The reference to working with their own hands suggests that many of the believers would have been from a working-class background (4:11). The closing verses of the chapter have often been read at the funeral services of Christian believers. They contain words of comfort in the face of death, reminding us that the Lord Jesus is coming again. When He descends from heaven, His summoning shout will raise the believing dead and change the saints who are living at the time. All will be caught up into the air to meet Him, “and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (4:17). What a wonderful hope this is!

 

The final chapter begins with a continuation of this same theme. Although the earlier teaching may have been new (4:15a), Paul had no need to write to them “of the times and the seasons” (5:1). Such matters are referred to in the Old Testament and concern Israel. The Thessalonians were familiar with such teaching. There is a coming day of judgment when the Lord Jesus will return to this earth and will mete out sudden destruction, but His believing people are not appointed to wrath (5:9). We believe this indicates that the Church will not pass through the coming Great Tribulation but will be “raptured” to heaven before that terrible day of judgment. The closing verses are of a very practical nature, and the short staccato-like instructions of verses 16-22 are worth careful consideration.

 

It should be noted that 1 Thessalonians places great emphasis upon the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. His second coming is mentioned in the closing verses of all five chapters. Until the moment of His return, God’s people can avail themselves of His abundant grace (5:28).

 

 

 

2 THESSALONIANS

This second epistle was probably written only a short time after the first. The believers were still growing in faith and love (1:3) and were to be commended. However, there appeared to be some confusion in their minds over certain aspects of the Lord’s return. Paul deals with these matters carefully. He did not want them to be misled in any way – even by a forged letter which might be in circulation (2:2). Some were teaching that the day of Christ had already arrived. Paul was concerned to put this right. In 1 Thessalonians the Lord’s return is viewed from the perspective of the Church; in 2 Thessalonians it is viewed from the perspective of the world.

 

The first chapter of 2 Thessalonians commends the saints for their endurance amid life’s trials. Paul assured his readers that God would deal righteously with those who troubled them, before taking them on in thought to the moment when the Lord Jesus returns from heaven to take vengeance upon the disobedient (1:8). Until that day, he encouraged them to persevere in the faith, assisted by the grace of God (1:12).

 

In 2 Thessalonians 2 we are provided with additional details of future events. Having set their minds at rest in his opening remarks, Paul proceeded to explain the coming Day of the Lord. Before that day arrives there will first be a falling away – an apostasy from the faith. Coupled with this there will be the revelation of the “man of sin” (2:3). This coming world leader will oppose all that is of God and will take God’s place, sitting enthroned in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. This figure, who is a tool of Satan, will be destroyed by the Lord Jesus when He returns from heaven. Before this, however, many who have refused salvation and found pleasure in unrighteousness will be deceived by him (2:9-12). Should the Thessalonians have begun to have doubts about themselves, Paul closed the chapter with a brief exhortation encouraging them to stand fast in the faith.

 

The final chapter of 2 Thessalonians is a very practical one. After requesting prayer for himself and for his own ministry, Paul charged them to live responsibly. Some, it would appear, were being idle and refusing to work. People like this ought to be shunned so that they might be ashamed (3:14). Those who truly knew the Lord must not grow weary “in well doing” (3:13) as they sought to please Him. Peace and grace are both mentioned in Paul’s conclusion (3:16,18).

 

 

RELEVANT EPISTLES

Both of these epistles are very relevant for the Lord’s people today. His coming again is now so much nearer than it was in their day. We need to be heavenly-minded people who are looking for Him to come, but at the same time we need to be living in a way which glorifies Him. As signs of apostasy become more evident, we should be the more expectant as we look for our Saviour to return. These two letters show clearly how we ought to be living in the light of His coming.