For the next two days, we’ll look at the context of 1 Thessalonians. Who wrote it? When did they write it? Why did they write it? Then on Wednesday, we’ll begin studying the book verse by verse.
Who? When? Where?
Paul is the widely regarded author of 1 Thessalonians. He wrote it while he was living in Corinth (for a year) during his second missionary journey, some time between 49-51 A.D.
If you’re not familiar with the apostle Paul’s story, he was the biggest persecutor of the early church before he was miraculously converted when he met Jesus on his way to Damascus (around 33 or 34 A.D.). Paul spent a number of years growing in his relationship with the Lord before he became a missionary and took his first missionary journey around 46-47 A.D. It was at that time that Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
To anyone who’s not Jewish, Paul’s calling was significant. God not only loved Israel and wanted to have an eternal relationship with them, but he loved the Gentiles as well. Paul became the missionary to the Gentiles, and a majority of the Christians around the world today can trace their spiritual roots to Paul. The Thessalonians were some of the first Gentiles to hear and receive the gospel.
Why was 1 Thessalonians Written? What’s its Purpose?
There are three main reasons Paul wrote this letter, and we need to keep in mind these reasons as we’re studying the book. Otherwise, we could potentially take things out of context and miss Paul’s message:
1) The first and primary reason Paul wrote this letter is to reassure the Thessalonians of their salvation. Some members of the church had died (4:13), and because they were not informed about what would happen to deceased Christians at Christ’s return, some apparently thought that those who had died would miss out on the second coming, and they had plunged into hopeless grieving for them. Hence, the main theme of 1 Thessalonians is the second coming of Jesus. It is mentioned in every chapter of the book, and Paul wanted to assure them that both the dead and the living were destined to be saved at the second coming.
2) The second purpose of the book was to underline the missionaries’ authenticity as preachers of the gospel of God. Paul had planted the church in Thessalonica with Timothy and Silas, but they had to leave prematurely (Acts 17) because of heated persecution. A month later, Timothy was sent back to help the church to grow, but the Thessalonians were questioning Timothy’s leadership and wondering why Paul was taking so long to return to them.
3) Thirdly, the Thessalonians were facing ongoing persecution, and Paul wanted to assure them that persecution was normal for Christians. No one endured more persecutions than Paul, and no one knew how to encourage others in that area better than him.