First Thessalonians is Paul’s first letter to the early church in Thessalonica in Greece. It is most likely Paul’s earliest letter in the New Testament.
Acts 17 records Paul’s time in Thessalonica, which he visited with his coworker, Silas, and helped establish a church there. But the church in Thessalonica faced intense persecution from some of the Jews who lived in the city.
The Thessalonian Christians were persecuted because they believed in Jesus as the Messiah King. Some of the Jews made claims to the Roman government, who controlled the city at the time, that this meant the church was defying Caesar. The church faced such intense persecution that according to Acts 17:1-10, Paul and Silas had to flee the city under the cover of night so they could continue on their journey to preach the Gospel throughout the area.
First Thessalonians was written with the intention of reconnecting with the Thessalonian church.
The letter has two main parts. In chapters 1-3, Paul celebrates the faithfulness of the Thessalonian church, despite continued persecution, and in chapters 4 and 5, Paul challenges the church members to continue persevering and growing in their faith.
Surrounding these two sections are three prayers for the church people: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 3:11-13 and 5:23-24.
The first prayer is a prayer of thankfulness. The second is a prayer for God to “make your love increase and overflow for each other” and to “strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy.” The third prayer is for God to “sanctify you through and through.”
Faithfulness despite persecution: Paul spends a lot of this letter speaking into the persecution the Thessalonian church faces on a continual basis. He reminds them that their persecution because of Christ is not a sign to give up, but a normal part of following Jesus and something to be expected. And Paul thanks the church for their steadfast faith in Jesus despite persecution and encourages them to remain faithful in all circumstances.
The coming Day of the Lord: Throughout the book, Paul keeps his focus (and encourages the Thessalonians to keep their focus) on the day when Jesus will return. From his opening prayer, to his discourse on what to expect when the day comes in chapter 5, Paul continually reminds the Thessalonians that this life is not all there is and their hope is not in this world, but in the one to come.
1 Thessalonians 1:2-10
1 Thessalonians 3:11-13
1 Thessalonians 5:12-24
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
First Thessalonians reminds us that while life has challenges, hardships, heartbreak and even persecution, a day is coming when all that is wrong in the world will be made right. If you believe in Jesus, you can face trials with an eternal perspective, confident that this world is not all there is.
For Christians, the day of Jesus’ return is a day to wait for expectantly. And while Christians are waiting, they should work hard, depend on the Holy Spirit in all things, love one another and remain faithful to the One who calls them sons and daughters.
First Thessalonians also challenges the reader to ask the question: “When Jesus returns, whose side will I be on?”
The letter exposes the reality and the intensity of Jesus’ return, and what will happen to those who chose not to follow Jesus when He comes to judge the world.
But we can have hope when we put our faith in “Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).