Updated: Oct 21
Some of you are aware that I like to look for rare books. I enjoy collecting books, reading them, and studying them. To be clear, I don't own many of them because they are expensive. Pictured is a leaf from the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah 53 and it was printed in the early 1600's. It's one in my study that I appreciate.
At times, the language of an ancient text or the style of literature can make it difficult for us to connect with. The age or an ancient culture can make it a challenge to understand because we may lack context. My youngest daughter, for example, enjoys Greek and Norse mythology. Reading Homer's Iliad is challenging; just pronouncing the names is difficult!
The Scriptures are ancient literature. As such, reading them can produce challenges. There are language differences and cultural differences that we may need to overcome. Yes, even some of the names listed in the genealogies throughout Scripture can be difficult. I get it!
We are beginning a study of 1 Thessalonians "Conservative scholars date 1 Thessalonians between a.d. 50 and 54. This would make the epistle one of Paul's earliest inspired writings, probably his second (after Galatians)."(1) As we look back at this ancient text, we will have some challenges with culture and perhaps even language. However, despite differences between the experiences of first-century Christians living in Thessalonica and ourselves today, we know this is God's inspired word. We have this letter to help us understand Jesus and more about the lives of those who follow Him.
Through our study, I hope we will seek God's wisdom for our lives today and to understand how to apply His wisdom in our culture and in our lives.
The Gospel in Thessalonica
The city of Thessalonica was situated near the northwest corner of the Aegean Sea. In the Apostle Paul's time, it was a major seaport of the Roman province of Macedonia. "Thessalonica ranked with Corinth and Ephesus, the main ports of the provinces of Achaia and Asia, as a great shipping center.”(1) The population of Thessalonica in New Testament times is estimated at nearly 200,000 people.(2) Because of the commerce, the city's population was a diverse culture of Greek, Roman, Asian, and Jewish heritages.
Paul first preached the gospel in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey.
“When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.”
What was Paul proclaiming?
From the Hebrew Scriptures, Paul proclaimed that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. He proclaimed that Jesus is Messiah. Paul could have used texts such as Isaiah 53 to demonstrate God's Suffering Servant.
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
Understanding the nature of Christ's suffering is essential to our shared common faith. However, Paul is proclaiming more. Jesus is Messiah. The word messiah means anointed and is the language of kings. Paul is proclaiming Jesus is God's Anointed. In our culture, we may lose some of the impact of this statement. What Paul is proclaiming is allegiance to King Jesus. As Christians today, we pledge our allegiance to King Jesus. He is Lord, and we are to serve Him with our lives.
As mentioned, we may lose some of the impact of Paul's statement in our day. It's an impact we should recover. However, it was not lost in the first century.
“But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go. As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.”
Paul and his team had to make a hurried exit from Thessalonica. Although a young church had been planted, they did not have long to develop deep roots and grow. Add to this that the young church was established amid persecution, trials, controversies, and hardships. Paul is rightly concerned for them.
A Good Report
In (2:17), Paul describes his hurried departure from Thessalonica as somewhat like leaving the church orphaned. Although he had longed to see them and made every effort to do so, he had been hindered from returning (2:18).
1 Thessalonians 3:1–9
“So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain. But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?”
Paul's fears are eased, Timothy has brought good news. The church is strong, growing, and longs to see Paul. In this very personal letter, Paul will offer encouragement, hope, and instruction as he continues to build up the church.
Crossing The Context
The body of Christ, the church, should be a place of encouragement, support, and growth. Paul and the church in Thessalonica were experiencing trials and persecution. There were pressures from their culture that sought to persuade them to abandon their trust in King Jesus. Throughout all of this, Paul desires them to live to please God (4:1).
This is our call today. We may live in a different culture and face different challenges. However, like our brothers and sisters in the first century, we are called to live lives pleasing to God.
How can we be an encouragement and source of strength to the body of Christ today?
Thomas L. Constable, "1 Thessalonians," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 689.
Harrison, Everett F. Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964.
resources & downloads
Article: 1 Thess. Introduction
Handout: 1 Thess. Introduction
Slides (PDF): 1 Thess. Introduction
BibleProject (video): 1 Thessalonians Book Overview