Wherever Rabbi the Apostle Paul and his companions in ministry preached the gospel of the kingdom Satan always opposed their work for the Lord Jesus. The first century Body of Messiah, by and large, was persecuted throughout the Roman Empire, not only by the pagan secular authorities but also by the religious Jews who rejected the Messiah our Lord Jesus. Many of them were actually in league with the Roman authorities in their provinces even though they hated the Romans because of Roman occupation.
Added to this, these religious leaders who were not born again by the Spirit hated the reality they faced when Jesus followers were proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead, proclaiming His sacrifice for sin as the Passover Lamb who had died and was buried in a sealed tomb for three days and nights, and who had risen physically from the dead. The power of the Holy Spirit attesting to their testimony really stirred up the Jewish religious leaders wherever the gospel of the kingdom was proclaimed. Thessalonica was no exception.
Paul Silas and Timothy at Thessalonica
(Acts 17:1-4) When Paul, Silas and Timothy came to Thessalonica there was a Jewish Synagogue located there, and as was Paul’s custom he went into the synagogue on three consecutive Sabbath days to reason with them from the Old Testament scriptures, explaining and proving by the Word of God that the prophesied Messiah had come already, that He had died and suffered and had risen again from the dead and that only in Him was the resurrection from the dead. Paul clearly told them with great boldness that the Messiah was the Lord Jesus.
Some of the Jews were persuaded by what Paul was preaching to the point where they joined themselves to Paul and his fellow workers to hear more from them about the Messiah. Not only did these Jews respond but also God-fearing Greeks who were favourable to the Jews and were proselytes (Gentile converts to Mosaic Judaism). Many women also believed the witness and testimony of Paul, Silas and Timothy and with eagerness embraced the message these men proclaimed. It must have been a spiritually refreshing and liberating experience for those who responded to Paul’s preaching because the Spirit of God was resting upon Paul and his companions in the ministry.
(Acts 17:5-9) Now opposition from the local Jewish religious leaders reared its ugly head. These religious leaders were jealous because Paul and his companions had a spiritual power accompanying their preaching which they did not have as religious leaders in the Jewish community. In their obsessive militancy against Paul and his fellow workers the Jewish religious leaders rounded up a mob of bad characters and incited them to riot. Satan was really upset as he was losing ground once again to these Spirit anointed followers of the Lord Jesus who had been devastating Satan’s kingdom and seeing many delivered out of his hand, having been snatched out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s marvellous light! (1 Peter 2:9).
The mob in their rage went to the house of Jason, himself a New Covenant believer, where Paul. Silas and Timothy had been staying but when the mob arrived they did not find them there. The mob then dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city officials shouting that Paul and his fellow workers had caused trouble wherever they had been and their reputation were known throughout many of the Roman provinces. As far as the mob, incited by the religious leaders were concerned, Paul and his fellow workers had now come to Thessalonica to cause trouble for the autocracy of these Jewish religious leaders.
What a testimony these rioters gave unwittingly when they cried out that these men who had arrived at Thessalonica were the same ones who “had turned the world upside down.” In reality Paul and his other two co-workers through preaching the gospel of the kingdom were in fact turning the world right side up! Scores of people both Jews and Gentiles and the common people were being saved left right and centre through Paul and his companions in the ministry as the Holy Spirit did His convicting and converting work through them! (John 16:8-11) (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Jason who had housed Paul and the other two was also accused before the Roman magistrate along with Paul, Silas and Timothy of preaching another king and kingdom other than the one ruled by Caesar himself. This threw the magistrates into turmoil and in their haste to dismiss the matter causing this uproar they made Jason and the other brothers in Jesus post bond and let them go.
Paul wrote his first letter in 50AD and his second letter in 51AD and these were his first two letters he wrote as an apostle. Paul was also accompanied by Silas and Timothy who may well have aided Paul when writing his letters. It is clear from both letters Paul wrote that he, Silas and Timothy had taught the believers at Thessalonica a great deal about the end times, the coming of antichrist and about the Second Coming of Messiah and the events leading up to it including the rapture and resurrection of the faithful Body of Messiah. Also, it is clear that the Thessalonian believers had been suffering persecution but had maintained their witness and kept their loyalty to the Lord Jesus which was so powerful and effective that they were an example to the assemblies in many other provinces in the Roman Empire (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10).
Paul and his fellow workers spent only a very short time with the Thessalonian Body of Messiah. Some scholars think it was only for three weeks while others think it was three months, yet it was a very short stay because Paul and his other two workers had to keep moving as they were the constant targets of both the Jewish religious hierarchy and the Roman officials. Paul and his companions in the ministry were preaching about another King and His kingdom to come which would dethrone all other earthly kingdoms and consequently would have enraged any Roman Caesar because the very idea of another king ruling over an eternal kingdom would bring a swift response from Rome. Even today in countries like North Korea and China it is an offense to preach about the Second Coming of Messiah to inaugurate His Messianic rule on earth and to overthrow all earthly kingdoms arrayed against God.
No wonder there was at least 10 major imperial Roman persecutions of the faithful Body of Messiah before the Roman emperor Constantine arrived on the scene which is another matter in itself. The coming of Constantine saw the beginning of the last great apostasy Paul mentions in his second letter to the Thessalonian believers, an apostasy that would have its climax at the end of this present age with the arrival of the man of sin and his beast empire and that his revealing will be preceded by a flood of Satanic counterfeit miracles signs and wonders that will deceive many including those within wider Christendom (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12). With these things in view let’s now look at the overview of 1 Thessalonians.
Chapter 1: Paul thanks God for the faithful witness and commitment of the Thessalonian believers, their faith, their labour of love and endurance inspired by hope in the face of severe persecution. They had responded to the gospel message because it had been delivered by Paul and his two co-workers in the power of the Holy Spirit with deep conviction and without embellishments. Even in the severe persecution the believers welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
Their faithful witness for the Lord Jesus had become widespread among other assemblies located in other provinces within the Roman Empire. The assembly at Thessalonica had experienced a deep spiritually transforming work of the Holy Spirit which saw them turn from idolatry to serve the living and true Triune God and with the continuous anticipation and expectancy that God would send His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, the Lord Jesus who saves all who are eagerly waiting for Him from the coming wrath.
Chapter2: Paul writes about the ministry that he and his companions had been engaging in despite severe opposition and insults for their stand for the Lord Jesus. Their motives were pure, their speech plain and without flattery, neither did they preach for personal profit. Paul also mentions that he and his companions in the ministry were totally transparent in their daily speech and conduct while they were residing in the assembly.
Paul and his two fellow workers were greatly encouraged because the Thessalonian Body of Messiah had responded to the Word preached knowing it was not from men but from God and it was clear the preached Word had started the inward spiritual work in their hearts and lives. He mentions their suffering once again not only at the hands of their own countrymen but also from the religious Jewish leaders who rejected the Messiah and the message about Him. Paul and his companions wanted to see the believers once again face to face but Satan had prevented them yet Paul was not discouraged because he saw the deep spiritual work that God had done in the hearts of the assembly at Thessalonica.
Chapter 3: Paul was in Athens and desperately eager to see how the assembly at Thessalonica was coping with the severity of the constant persecution and whether they were standing firm in the gospel message. Because he could not come himself he sent Timothy to them to strengthen and to encourage them in their faith so that they would not become unsettled by the trials they faced every day. Paul also mentions that his counsel to them about trials and persecution for their faith would come and it had eventuated as Paul had predicted. He was genuinely concerned that Satan might have turned them away from the faith and that his efforts may have been in vain. When Timothy returned to Athens he reported to Paul and Silas about the love and faith and fond memories the assembly at Thessalonica had concerning Paul, Silas and Timothy as well.
Paul ‘s letter is filled with a grateful heart of thanksgiving for their spiritual growth and fidelity to the Lord Jesus and Paul kept praying for them that God would meet those areas of spiritual knowledge that they still needed to be instructed in. He prays that they will be ready to meet the Lord when He returns.
Chapter 4: Paul urges them to keep living and striving to live lives separated to God from the works of the flesh especially sexual immorality which will be judged by God. He encourages them to pursue and increase in brotherly love and to live in a manner that gives a good witness to the unsaved. He mentions the Second coming of the Lord Jesus again and the rapture and resurrection of all believers both those who have physically died and those who are still alive on earth when the Lord Jesus returns to earth, and that they were to encourage one another with what Paul was writing to them. In the face of constant persecution the Second Coming of the Messiah our Lord Jesus was to be a frequent subject in their fellowship and teaching.
Chapter 5: He had already taught them a great deal about the end times and the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus which he saw as vitally important to their continuance in their faith and for their spiritual survival. He had already spoken to them and taught them about the Day of the Lord when the pagan world would be judged suddenly and when they least expected it by the return of the Lord Jesus. In light of this awesome end-time event the believers were to stay spiritually alert, walking in the light of God’s Word and not be found spiritually sleeping as the pagans were doing unawares of what was coming.
He encourages them to self-controlled, and to be continuously putting on the breastplate of faith and love to protect and to guide their hearts, and the hope of their ultimate salvation out of this present evil age as a helmet to protect and govern their thinking, knowing that they were not destined to experience God’s coming wrath but to receive salvation or their final deliverance and rescue by the Lord Jesus when He comes back. Added to this, Paul encourages them again that whether one lives or physically dies either way they will be with the Lord and very much alive! They were to encourage each other in this matter. He ends his first letter with practical instructions concerning their leaders and their fellow believers and that all of them should seek the spiritual and physical needs of their brothers and sisters.
They were to be joyful always, to pray continuously, and to be giving thanks in all circumstances knowing that this was the will of God in the Messiah our Lord Jesus. They were to be careful not to quench the fire of the Holy Spirit living in them personally and amongst them corporately. They were not to treat prophecies lightly or flippantly or contemptuously but to test everything. They were to hold on to the good and to avoid every kind of evil. He then declares that God might sanctify them fully in body, soul and spirit so that they might be kept blameless and without accusation until the Lord Jesus comes back. He clearly states that God who calls them to holy living and to be totally sanctified will be faithful to perform it. He signs off the letter expressing that the unmerited favour of the Messiah our Lord Jesus will be with them always until the end.