Snapshot view of 1 and 2 Thessalonians
Two important letters in New Testament for todays world.
Snapshot view 1 and 2 Thessalonians
Back ground to the letters.
Paul arrived in Thessalonica, as recorded in Acts 17:1-10 and started a work there by first preaching in the local synagogue for three weeks. Then he had to leave due to the opposition that was building up against the message as often happened. The opposition came from two area; the Jews and the leaders of the city.
The city of Thessalonica was an important city with an important harbour. Here Xerxes the Persian had his naval base and later in the time of the Roman Empire it was an important dock yard. It was a free city meaning that it never had Roman troops setting up a base there. It had a population of about 200 000 and at times contested Constantinople for being the capital city of the world. East and West met here and so it was an important gateway to Asia and Europe. This was an important step in the spread of the Gospel.
The main message of 1 Thessalonians.
It was of concern to Paul that the Gospel that he brought there would be established and would survive. Paul writes what was probably his first letter, apart from Galatians, to the Thessalonians, encouraging them to hold fast and to straighten out some of the misconceptions that they had, especially about the return of Jesus. At this time it seems like the church believed that Jesus would return in their life time and this had a large influence on their behaviour.
It was Timothy who brought news from Thessalonica that led to Paul writing the letter. There was good news for Paul, namely that they were standing strong in the faith and that they continued to hold Paul in high regard. (1 Thess. 2:14; 3:4-6) There was also worrying news that the preaching of the Second Coming had lead some to stop working and simply to wait for Christ to arrive. So Paul explains that they need to continue with their ordinary lives and not get over excited about the supposed impending return of Christ. Freedom in Christ sometimes led people to reject the authority that they lived under. (1 Thess. 5:12-14. They were also concerned about what would happen to those who died before Christ returned and so Paul explains to them that all will be with Christ. (1 Thess. 4:13-18) There also seemed to be some who questioned Paul's sincerity and there was some division in the church, all problems that Paul had to deal with here and in other congregations.
Again Paul writes to the church of the Thessalonians. There are a lot of similarities between his first letter and his second one. Obviously not much had changed as he had hoped would have happened after his first letter. The same problems still existed and so the same advice was needed.
Confusion about the Second Coming.
However, in this short letter Paul adds some interesting facts about the second coming of Jesus and also as to what must take place before that happens. Clearly there was a lot of confusion in this new church because they did not have copies of the Gospels, which were only written later and also the letters that we find in the New Testament. From Acts 17:11 we learn that the Christians in Berea were more noble than those in Thessalonica because they diligently searched the scriptures (Old Testament) daily, thus implying that the church in Thessalonica did not do so. As there was strong opposition from the Jews to the congregation in Thessalonica, it could even be assumed that access to the scriptures was difficult. Remember that at this time people did not personally have access to scriptures as we do today.
As we look at this short letter we get a better look at the events that will take place when Jesus returns. It will be a time of revelation (1:7), it will be a time of tribulation for those who have wronged the Christians (1.6) and a time of "vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel (good news) of our Lord Jesus Christ (1:8). It will be a day of punishment and also a timeof glorification (1:9,10). This is one of the most frightening and graphic pictures in the Bible, bringing a stern warning, but also great promise.
Paul warns the Thessalonians to be certain "that God would count you worthy of his calling..." (1:11). A challenge to a life of dedication and service.
The coming of the Lawless One.
In Chapter 2, Paul introduces "the lawless one" and "the time of lawlessness" that has to proceed the second coming. This has been referred to as one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament. To us today this is a very strange passage to get our minds around but to the people of that time it was probably much easier. They believed implicitly in a world where the spiritual battle between good and evil was taking place and to them was very real.
The Thessalonian church also had information that Paul had given them that we do not have today Perhaps the restraining power that held the evil force back was the Roman Government who had, after all, saved Paul from the hands of the mob on several occasions. Over the years many figures have been identified as the "lawless man". Be that as it may, today we see the lawless one around every corner waiting to devour us (compare1 Peter 5:8; 2 Peter 3:1-13; 1 John 2:18). As Jesus came to show us what God is like so Satan has many representatives that illustrate what he is like. All that protects us from this danger is the Holy Spirit, strengthening us and keeping us safe as we battle to overcome Satan. To speculate about when Jesus will return is a waste of time and energy as Jesus also explained (Matthew 24:29-31; 36-44).Compare 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-9
It is a great sign of Paul's humility that he requests the Thessalonians to pray for him (3:1). His advice to them is to "not grow weary of doing good" (3:13). Good advice for us today!
As in all his letters, Paul starts with words of encouragement before he deals with the problems that might exist.
Key passages for the church today would include those demanding sexual purity (4:1-8; 5:23), love and respect towards leaders (5:12,13) and patient helpfulness towards those in need (5:14,15)
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Barclay, W. The letters to Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians - Daily Study Bible.
New Illustrated Bible Dictionary.