A REVIEW ON
THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE
TO THE THESSALONIANS
1.THE HISTORICAL BACK GROUND
3.THE PLACE AND THE DATE
4.THE OCCASION AND PURPOSE OF THE LETTER
6.SIGNIFICANCE OF THE THEME
B. AN ANALYTICAL OUTLINE
1.THE HISTORICAL BACK GROUND.
(a)The city of Thessalonica:
The city was founded by Cassander, the king of Macedonia in 316 B.C. and named the city in the honor of his wife Thessalonica. In Paul’s day, Thessalonica was one of the most important sea ports of Macedonia situated by the bank of the Bay Thermaicus North West corner of the Aegean Sea. The city being situated on the great Egnatian way’ it was connected to many other important cities of Asia Minor by land as well as by sea. The City had developed into a great commercial city. In modern times, the city is known as Salonika and officially as Thessalonica. According to the estimation, the population of Thessalonica in the New Testament times was 95000 comprising 32,000 Turks; 47,000 Jews and 16,000 Greeks and other Europeans, #1,#2
The city is known for its richness in architecture and art. Being a great commercial city, it was very immoral and ungodly mainly because of idolatry among females.
(b) THE CHURCH OF THESSALONICA:
In his second missionary journey Paul carried the gospel to Thessalonica with his co-worker Silas and established the church there (Acts 16:6 ; 18:23 ; 17). He spent only three weeks in Thessalonica in the house of Jason organizing the church. But the Holy Spirit worked through him abundantly.
Mears Henrietta writes.
“Paul’s success in Thessalonica has not been the usual experience of missionaries among heathen. Carey in India, Judson in Burma, Morrison in China, and Moffat in Africa waited each seven years for his first convert. But here, the Holy Spirit allowed Paul to reap a sudden harvest.”
(What the Bible is All About, P532) #3
The church was mostly comprised of the Jews and the Greek gentiles and some outstanding ladies converted from rank idolatry.
Mentioned in 1:1 and also in 2:18.
SO far as the authenticity of the epistle is concerned, no question has been brought forth by any modern scholar. There is nothing contradict or disharmony in this epistle with the doctrine proclaimed in Paul’s major epistles.
3. The Place and the Date.
The epistle was written from Corinth according to the references found in Acts 17 and 18 as well as in I Thessalonians. The conservative scholars date I Thessalonians 50 A. D. and 54 A.D. Most scholars agree that I Thessalonians was written in 52 A.D.
4.THE OCCASION AND PURPOSE OF THE LETTERS:
After the first visit to Thessalonica, Paul and Silas proceed to Berea and ministered the word of God there. But soon the hostile Thessalonians Jews stood against Paul and his ministry. So Paul had to move for Athens while Silas and Timothy remained in Berea (Acts 17:10-15). Paul had a deep concern for the new Thessalonians coverts so he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica. His concern for Thessalonians motivated Paul to write this letter. The main purpose for writing the letter are---
(1) By this time Paul was in Corinth. Paul had preached the death and the resurrection and the coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ to the Thessalonians. These Thessalonians embraced his message in their hearts. Paul loved them for their faithful love towards him. Paul had a longing heart to visit them and this prompted him to write this epistle.
IThessalonians 2:17; 1:5-6; 2”:8, 9, 13, 19-20.
(2) The church at Thessalonica was also longing to spread the gospel to other communities. This had really filled Paul’s heart with joy. He wrote this letter to encourage them in the missionary endeavors (1:8)
(3) The church at Thessalonica had undergone a severe trials and tribulations (2:2, 14, 15). Paul wrote this letter in order to praise for their forbearance and console them in their hour of affliction:
(4) The church at Thessalonica was broken hearted because of the passing away of their beloved one’s. There had been a misunderstanding among them regarding the Rapture and the Revelation of the Lord Jesus. Many of them believed that Lord Jesus Christ would return even before any one of them departed from this life and the departed souls would be able to behold this glory. Paul wrote this letter in order to correct this view they were holding.
“THE LIVING HOPE”
ie,”the Second coming of Christ”
This is the central truth which has been especially emphasized in his letter. The theme ensures the eternal reign of the believers with Jesus at His second advent.
6. The Significance of the “Theme”:
The theme has a significant bearing in itself since people at that time believed in the imminence of the “Parousia” (appearance) of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of the Believers had even quit their jobs to prepare for the Lord’s coming. The believers in Thessalonica were caught in frenzied speculations on the exact time of the second coming of Christ.
Many a baffling questions had troubled their minds such as
--- will they miss out the life after death?
--- will they forfeit a share in the glory of the Lord Jesus at His second advent?
Paul makes an effort to answer all these questions categorically that suffocate their believing souls. The Thessalonians have nothing to worry about. Every believer whether dead or alive will have a share in the wonderful glory of the Lord. With the sound of the trumpet of God, the dead in Christ will rise first at His advent. Believers do not actually die, they merely “fall asleep” (4:13). The living will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord Jesus and be with Him forever.
The Gr. Word is “harpagesometha”, Latin” rapiemur” which has been translated as “rapture” in English. This is the greatest hope that a believer can hope for in the near future which is well founded in Jesus. It is a matter of real joy and comfort for all the believers in Christ. Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to get prepared for the most blessed and spectacular an event to take place in the real history of mankind in Christ – “the climax of blessedness” – as has been called by some. The motto is therefore, “WATCH AND PRAY” which should be graven deep inside every Christian.
The Theme was significant not only to those Thessalonians believers but it is more and more significant to our own times ie. to the churches of this 21st century. Paul has assured us about this living hope and at the same time admonishes us to live a life pleasing to God encouraging and edifying one another.
2.The Suddenness of Christ’s Coming 5:1-11
(i)The day of the Lord and the manner of His coming Vs 1-3
(ii)Spiritual enlightenment Vs 4-7
(iii)Edification for the hope of Salvation Vs 8-11
b. An exhortation for Christian Conduct 5:12-28
i. In relation to the church elders Vs 12-13
ii. In relation to other members in the church vs 14-15
iii. Instructions for holy living. Leading words are Vs 16-24
(d) Quench not
(e) Despise not
(g) Abstain from
iv. Paul’s appeal Vs 25-26
(b) Greet Vs 27-28
v. Conclusion and benediction Vs 27-2
“The word comfort means more than soothing; it means strengthening; and it came to Paul at a time when he needed it, for he was in the midst of the pressure of affliction and distress. Both words imply trouble from without ‘affliction’ meaning ‘choking’, ‘pressing care’ and ‘distress’ signifying the crushing kind of trouble. It is easy to see why he speaks of his situation in such terms, for he was at Athens alone and had just suffered four successive experiences of apparent defeat since he set foot in Europe. At Philippi he had been cast in jail and asked to leave and to guarantee that he would not return. At Berea he was pursued by the Jews and compelled to move on. At Athens he had little success with the philosophers of the city. Surely he was in affliction and distress and this news meant strength and life to him. It brought to him a revival of energy which was not a passing thing but a continual source of inspiration”
(First Thessalonians P48) #5
Now Paul’s heart is filled with thanksgiving to God. He prays day and night that God might direct his way to them and increase and excel them in love to one another and to all men so as to strengthen before God when the Lord Jesus returns with his saints. This passage explicitly shows Paul’s a real burden, a real concern and a real love for the Thessalonians.
4.Spiritual Exhortation (4:1-18)
(a)Christian way of conduct: (Vs 1-2)
Paul here is much concerned about the three aspects of Christian living—
(I)General Conduct of living
(III) Brotherly love
Paul declares that God has called the Thessalonians for holiness and not for immorality. For God also gave us the Holy Spirit in our lives. Therefore Christians are to walk according to His divine call which is only pleasing to Him. Paul is very specific in mentioning the practice of sexual promiscuity. Paul makes a solemn protest against those who practice these sins. For God has called us unto holiness and not unto immorality. The Greek word for holiness is *“Hagiasmos”. The meaning is “set apart”. God has set us apart from sin only to be dedicated or consecrated to God. Christians are not of sin but the idea is that of progressive sanctification. Paul probably means setting apart from the practice of sin more specifically from fornication ie, sexual immorality.
“The Thessalonians lived in a pagan environment in which sexual looseness was not only practiced openly but was also encouraged. In Greek religion, prostitution was considered a priestly prerogative, and extramarital sex was sometimes an act of worship. To a Christian, the will of God is clear; Holiness and sexual immorality are mutually exclusive. No appeal to Christian liberty can justify fornication. “#6
Thirdly, Paul speaks about the Brotherly love. Love is the basic horizontal principle of Christian living. Thessalonians have already learnt the lesson of loving one another by giving affection for their neighboring who were in the province of Macedonia. Paul’s prayer is that the Thessalonians believers would cultivate this love more and more amongst themselves and also to their neighbor to endeavor to live quietly. Paul also reminds them of their own business that they work with their own hands to be self supporting so that their life be respected by everybody outside the world.
(b)The Rapture of the Church : Vs 13-18
The Church at Thessalonica was broken hearted because of the passing away of their beloved ones in the Lord. There had been some misunderstanding among them regarding the Rapture and the Revelations of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many of them believed that Lord Jesus Christ would return even before any one of them departed from this life and the departed souls would no Behold His glory. Paul felt it urgent that he should clarify this view and put forward the doctrine of Rapture. The basis of the resurrection of the dead in Christ is “Christ’s death and resurrection”. For we believe that Christ died and rose again. Like manner, those who died believing in Jesus will also be resurrected to be a part of the rapture along with those who will remain alive at His advent.
“To the Christian, dead is sleep. No, the believer does not become unconscious in Spirit; the body returns to dust, but the spirit goes back to God who gave it. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
--- The early Christians called their burial grounds “cemetery”, The Greek word means” dormitory” or sleeping chamber. In the true sense of the word, the believers body is put in a grave (dormitory)—a crept or sleeping chamber in a mausoleum and it will remain there until the resurrection at which time it will be raised an incorruptible body that will never die. Sleep, therefore, is not permanent. The body returns to dust, only to be raised incorruptible when Jesus comes”’ Green, #7
Paul here gives the order of the Rapture.
1.The Lord Jesus himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God. V4:16
2.The dead in Christ shall rise first. V16
3.Those who will be alive at his coming will be soon caught up along with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. V17
4.We will be transformed from corruptible to incorruptible in a twinkling of an eye. Ref. ICor.15:52
5. We shall be with the Lord for ever. V17
The statement ‘with a shout’ originally means with the word of command which signifies the command of the Lord in His Highest Authority. The voice of the archangel’ and ‘the trump of God’ express the command of Christ. In the original language, the voice of the archangel’ signifies the majesty and power of summons. #8
The ‘Dead in Christ’ strictly refers to those who died believing in Christ or the N.T. saints of this dispensation. Therefore, the resurrection at His first advent is primarily selective. All the dead will not be raised. The scripture is very plain that the unsaved people will not be raised until the Second Advent. The word ‘caught up’ in Greek implies the meaning of a sudden, powerful, irresistible force. The English word for ‘caught up’ is ‘snatched up’. The idea is that the rapture will suddenly take place and the church of the believers in Christ will be snatched up to meet the Savior in the clouds. The statement, in the clouds suggests that we will be surrounded by the clouds which will act as a giant chariot. The rapture will be really a wonderful, majestic and glorious event which Christian will ever experience.
This is the greatest hope for the Christians and a matter of real comfort and joy. Paul therefore says.
“Now then, encourage one another with these words,” 4:18
5. Personal watchfulness for the Day of the Lord : (5:1- 123)
Paul exhorts the Christian believers at Thessalonica to get prepared for the imminent return of the Lord. Paul makes clear distinction between the rapture of the church and the day of the Lord. Christ’s coming in the rapture is compared to a thief in the night which no body knows (Ref. Math 24:47 ; LK 12:39,40; II Pet 3:10; Rev 3:3). The Day of the Lord is a period of time which follows the rapture, a time in which God will directly deal with the wicked people of this world. It will be a time of tribulation and judgment. The day of the translation of the church is the end of the day of grace but also a dawning of the day of the Lord.
“The rapture is a blessed day but the Day of the Lord is a day of darkness.” Says Green #9
The day of the Lord is also described as the day of the wrath in
I Thessalonians 2:16, The day of the Lord is also mentioned in the old Testament very specifically. But it has two distinct meanings.
(a)A Day of Judgment, Is 13:9-11
“Behold, the day of the Lord cometh—
And I will punish the world for their evil ---“
In other words, the day of the Lord will be dramatically a fearful judgment day for the world. Ref. Zeph 1:14-16; Joel 1:15; Amos 5:18
(b)A day of deliverance and blessedness.
Zeph. 3:14-15; Is. 11. This day definitely refers to the millennium, a time of Israel’s blessing and deliverance in which Christ will reign 1’000 years in this earth. Re. Rev 20:5-6
Paul is here referring to the Day of Judgment for the world. In that day people will speak of ‘peace and safety’ (V3). But this will be the very hour when God will send His boom of judgment upon the mankind. Quite contrary to this, it is a matter of great assurance that the day of the Lord will not overtake the church (V4). The Thessalonians believers were really confused with the two terms, the rapture and the day of the Lord. Paul reassures the believers that the Thessalonians have nothing to fear about it because, they are children of the light, not of darkness. Paul’s exhortation is that they should always be watchful and sober for the coming of the Lord lest they be left behind. Here Paul uses two figures of speech so far as our readiness is concerned –
(i) The breastplate of faith and
(ii) The helmet of the hope of salvation—both referring out the Armor of protection. Faith, love and hope are the three main ingredients of Christian life. Paul says, “Put on” ie. Exercise them in our daily walk whereas the Christ’s return is very imminent. God has not appointed us for wrath to come, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us (5:9, 10), Paul here brings forth a profound doctrine of our union with Christ. Whether we die or live, we are united with Him. These things should be a matter of comfort and edification for every one of us.
6.An exhortation to Christian living in the Church in the light of Christ’s return. (5:13-18)
Paul exhorts the Christian believers at Thessalonica so far their duty is concerned towards their spiritual leaders. It is a vital part of our Christian duty to esteem the leaders in love because of their labor and pastoral care. Secondary, Paul exhorts the believers to live in peace with one another and do their duty towards the unruly, the feeble minded, the weak persons and also to all persons. To pay evil for evil is not at all a Christian way of living. The attitude of our Christian faith is to do good even to a man who does evil to us which is contrary to natural man. The Thessalonians are admonished not to pay back evil for evil rather for good to all man.
Finally Paul exhorts the Christian believers to live a holy life according to the will of God in Christ Jesus. Rejoicing, Praying and thanksgiving are the vital parts of Christian life. ‘Rejoice evermore’ (V16) – Paul means to rejoice even in times of affliction and persecution. Paul had an experience how to rejoice even under the heavy persecutions by the enemies. Pray without ceasing’ (V17) – Paul means the attitude of a praying heart or to have a spirit of prayer, a continuous overflow of our willing heart and mind. The quality for Christian living is to give thanks in every thing even in times of affliction, weariness and hunger. It seems very hard for a Christian. But “This is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (V18). “Quench not the spirit”, (V19) – means not to extinguish or subdue or suppress the control of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Likewise in Eph. 4:30, we read” Grieve not the Spirit”, God has given us the Spirit to indwell in our hearts (Rom 8:9) to comfort us, to lead us, to assure us and to live a victorious life. Christians should recognize the manifold blessings and the working power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
“Despise not the prophesying” (v20) – in other words, “Do not underrate the true sayings of prophets because, these are the direct revelation of God. On the other hand, Christians should examine all things what they hear and read comparing by the word of God in order to determine what is right and wrong. Another quality of Christian living is to abstain from all the appearance of evil (V22) because, it is the very God of peace that sanctifies us wholly (V23). It is Paul’s humble prayer that God will keep or preserve the spirit, the body and the soul blameless unto the appearing “Parausia” of the Lord Jesus Christ for the saints. God who calls us by grace is faithful and He will do what he says.
CONCLUSION: (v 27-28)
In this concluding part, Paul is again making three exhortations to pray for him to greet all the brothers in Christ with a holy kiss and to read this epistle before the whole congregation of the church. Paul then says the usual benediction identifying the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Like the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia in the Book of Revelation, the church of the Thessalonians is one of the churches that received no condemnation at all but praise from Paul. Paul is greatly delighted with them and tells them,
“Indeed, you are our glory and joy,” 2:19
Paul gives thanks to God for their faith in God. The church of Thessalonians became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from them not only in Macedonia and Achaia but their faith in God had become known every where. Paul praises them for gladly receiving the gospel despite their sufferings. He also praises them for their faith and love for one another. The church itself was indeed a suffering church, a living church and a loving church. The same has become a model to the churches of the 21st century.
The message that Paul brings to this church is the message of “a living hope”, the hope of the coming of the Lord, which is also the hope of every Christian. This hope brings an encouragement and comfort to our hearts. Paul says.
--May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.” 3:12-13
The letter has two glorious facets in it. They are ‘hope’ and ‘holiness’. It is the hope that encourages us to live a life of holiness. Thus Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is a living letter to the church of the 21st century which appeal the church to purify herself from all kinds of ungodliness and impurities in order to prepare herself in perfect holiness to meet the Lord Jesus in the air and reign with Him for ever and ever.
#1 John F Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck
The Bible knowledge commentary, NT Ed (P687)
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#2 Oliver B. Greek,
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The Gospel Hour, Inc, P.O) Box 2024
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Publishers, Inc. Wheaton IIIindois.
#4Oliver B. Green,
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The Gospel Hour, Inc Oliver B. Green
Greenville, South Carolina
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Publishers. Inc Wheaton, IIIinois.
#6 “Thomas L. Constable”, The Epistle of Thessalonians “in”
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Walvoord and Zuck
Victor Books, Wheaton, IIIinois.
#7 Oliver B. Green, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the
Thessalonians (P 134-1135)
The Gospel Hour, Inc. Greenville.
#8 Oliver B. Green
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The Gospel Hour, Inc.
#9 Oliver B green,
The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians (P 157).
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