Introduction to I Thessalonians
This first epistle to the church at Thessalonica was written soon after Paul’s first visit there, while on his second missionary journey (Acts 17:1-4). After forming a church there, Paul and Silas were suddenly required to leave the city. Paul, therefore, felt it necessary to confirm and extend the teaching he had left unfinished when he was with the Thessalonians. After he reached Corinth he wrote to the church there as soon as he had opportunity (Acts 18:1-4; I Thessalonians 3:1-6).
This was relatively early in Paul’s ministry, and many have assumed that I Thessalonians was the earliest of his canonical epistles, written about A.D. 50. However, it is also quite possible that Galatians was written even earlier (see “Introduction to Galatians”), possibly in A.D. 49.
Thessalonica (modern Salonika), on the road to Athens from Philippi, was the capital of ancient Macedonia and was a large and important port city. Paul had first entered Europe at Thessalonica. The church he started there was composed of both ethnic Jews and Gentile proselytes to Judaism, with a great multitude of the latter becoming Christians (Acts 17:4). This development stirred up the unbelieving Jews, who thenceforth sought to destroy Paul wherever he went.
He had warned the new converts that they might face persecution, and was overjoyed when Timothy later came from Thessalonica to meet Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:5) with the good news that the young Christians in Thessalonica were standing firm (I Thessalonians 3:1-6). However, they did have a number of questions, especially in relation to life after death and the promised return of the Lord. These were key topics which Paul in his brief ministry there had evidently not been able to deal with adequately. Consequently, this epistle contains perhaps the most important and definitive passage in the Bible on these topics (I Thessalonians 4:13–5:10).
Other than that, perhaps Paul’s main purpose in writing the first Thessalonian epistle was to defend his ministry against the slanders of the Jews, reminding them that he had not taken anything at all from them out of a sincere desire to share the saving gospel of Christ with them without any obligation on their part (I Thessalonians 2:1-12). He also reminded them of a number of pithy and practical instructions for effective Christian living in a pagan world.
The first Thessalonian epistle is as timely today, over 1,950 years later, as when it was written, and as much applicable to churches and believers in the modern world as in the ancient world.