Studies in the Thessalonian Epistles



Background of I Thessalonians

In Acts 16 on Paul's second missionary journey in approximately A.D. 50 Paul, Silas, and Timothy answered God's call to go to Macedonia. Acts 16:9-40 says,

(9) And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.

(10) And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.

(11) Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis;

(12) And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days.

(13) And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.

(14) And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.

(15) And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.

(16) And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying:

(17) The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.

(18) And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.

(19) And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers,

(20) And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city,

(21) And teach customs, which are

not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.

(22) And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them.

(23) And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:

(24) Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.

(25) And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.

(26) And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.

(27) And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.

(28) But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.

(29) Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,

(30) And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

(31) And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

(32) And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.

(33) And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.

(34) And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.

(35) And when it was day, the magistrates sent the serjeants, saying, Let those men go.

(36) And the keeper of the prison told this saying to Paul, The magistrates have sent to let you go: now therefore depart, and go in peace.

(37) But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out.

(38) And the serjeants told these words unto the magistrates: and they feared, when they heard that they were Romans.

(39) And they came and besought them, and brought them out, and desired them to depart out of the city.

(40) And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.

Paul, Silas, and Timothy needed another place to preach the gospel, and Thessalonica, which had a synagogue of the Jews, was not far away. Thessalonica, which was named for the stepsister of Alexander the Great, was located on the Egnatian Way, a famous Roman road which ran across Macedonia between Philippi in the East and Dyrrhachium in the West on the Adriatic Sea. It is estimated that as many as 200,000 people resided in Thessalonica at the time of Paul's visit there. It was the chief seaport as well as the chief political city of Macedonia.

Paul's experiences in Thessalonica are detailed in Acts 17:1-10,

(1) Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:

(2) And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,

(3) Opening and alleging, that

Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.

(4) And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.

(5) But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.

(6) And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also;

(7) Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.

(8) And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things.

(9) And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go.

(10) And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.

Paul continued to have trouble in Berea with the Jews from Thessalonica. His experiences in Berea are reported in Acts 17:11-14,

(11) These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

(12) Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.

(13) But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.

(14) And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea: but Silas and Timotheus abode there still.

After having had the wonderful opportunity of proclaiming the gospel message to the Jews in Berea, Paul once again fled for his life. The brethren who sent Paul away were new converts, the fruit of Paul's labors in Berea. It is not clear how long Paul stayed in Berea, but it seems that it was not long. It is clear, however, that many were saved.

Not much time had elapsed since Paul received the Macdonian vision and had come to northern Greece, but in that brief time he had had some exciting, but frightening, experiences. He had been beaten and jailed overnight in Philippi, run out of Thessalonica after a brief stay there, and run out of Berea after a short stay in that town. Paul was greatly concerned for the Thessalonican believers when he went to Athens alone and left Silas and Timothy in Berea. The Berean Christians sent Paul away as if he were to go by ship, but he secretly turned south and went to Athens. Some of the believers from Berea accompanied Paul to Athens. When they left Paul in Athens to return to Berea, Paul sent word to Silas and Timothy that they were to rejoin him as quickly as possible. While waiting in Athens for their arrival, Paul's spirit was stirred in him when he saw that Athens was completely given to idolatry. He went to the synagogue of the Jews, where he met with the Jews and Jewish proselytes and reasoned with them. He also went to the market place where he reasoned with those who met with him. Eventually he encountered some Epicurean philosophers as well as some Stoic philosophers who took him to Aeropagus where he preached a message to the intellectuals on Mars' hill. A few, but apparently not many, were saved. Acts 17:15-20 says,

(15) And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed.

(16) Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.

(17) Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.

(18) Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.

(19) And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?

(20) For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.

Acts does not indicate that Silas and Timothy rejoined Paul until he was in Corinth. Acts 18:5 says,

(5) And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.

I Thessalonians 3:1-10 provides some additional insight into what took place. It says,

(1) Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;

(2) And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith:

(3) That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.

(4) For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.

(5) For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our

labour be in vain.

(6) But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you:

(7) Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith:

(8) For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.

(9) For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God;

(10) Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?

Reading between the lines, Silas and Timothy apparently both rejoined Paul before he left Athens for Corinth. It is not clear what Silas actually did, but it is assumed that he and Timothy both followed Paul's instructions sent to them via those who had accompanied Paul to Athens and who were returning to Berea (Acts 17:15). What is clear is that Timothy rejoined Paul in Athens because I Thessalonians 3:1-2, 5 indicates that Paul (and, perhaps, Silas also) was left in Athens alone when Timothy was sent back to Thessalonica to learn how the Thessalonian believers were doing. The difference between we and us in I Thessalonians 3:1 and 6 in contrast to I in I Thessalonians 3:5 may be significant and indicate that Silas remained with Paul in Athens when Timothy was sent back to Thessalonica. It is even less clear where Silas was located between the events mentioned in I Thessalonians 3:1-5 and the time when he and Timothy rejoined Paul in Acts 18:5. This writer's guess is that Silas stayed with Paul in Athens for a period of time but was subsequently sent elsewhere, perhaps to Berea, and that Timothy and Silas met somewhere else and then rejoined Paul in Corinth (according to Acts 18:5). At some point in time Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. Whether Silas was sent to some other place from Athens or whether he accompanied Paul to Corinth and was then sent elsewhere is not clear. What is clear is that according to Acts 18:5 he came from Macedonia. I Thessalonians was written as a result of Timothy's return from Thessalonica with good news about how the believers in Thessalonica were doing. Timothy's good report of the church at Thessalonica prompted Paul to write to praise their steadfastness amid persecution and to correct certain errors and misunderstandings which Timothy had related to him.


The main doctrinal theme of I Thessalonians is the return of Christ at the rapture. Paul closes every chapter in I Thessalonians with some teaching regarding the return of the Lord. In 1:10 the believer is to wait for his Son from heaven. I Thessalonians 1:10 says,

(10) And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.

Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that they will be his glory and joy at the coming of the Lord. I Thessalonians 2:19-20 says,

(19) For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?

(20) For ye are our glory and joy.

In I Thessalonians 3:13 Paul expresses his desire for the believers in Thessalonica,

(13) To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.

Some believers may have died after Paul was

forced to leave Thessalonica because in I Thessalonians 4:13-18 Paul writes of the reunion of the dead and living saints at the rapture. Saved persons who die before the Lord's return will not be at a disadvantage to those who are still physically alive when He returns.

(13) But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.

(14) For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

(15) For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.

(16) For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

(17) Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

(18) Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

Finally, Paul writes in I Thessalonians 5:23,

(23) And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Introduction - 1:1

I. Paul's recollections of his ministry in Thessalonica - 1:2 - 3:13

A. His thanksgiving for the Thessalonian believers - 1:2

B. His remembrance of the Thessalonian believers' response to the gospel - 1:3

C. His knowledge of the Thessalonian believers' election - 1:4-10

D. His ministry in Thessalonica - 2:1-12

E. His message received by the Thessalonian believers as the Word of God - 2:13-16

F. His desired return to Thessalonica hindered by Satan - 2:17-20

G. His godly concern for the Thessalonian believers - 3:1-5

H. His rejoicing over Timothy's good report - 3:6-10

I. His prayer for the Thessalonian believers - 3:11-13

II. Practical exhortations - 4:1 - 5:22

A. Abstain from immorality - 4:1-8

B. Love one another - 4:9-12

C. Encourage one another with the hope of the Lord's return - 4:13-18

D. Live as children of the day - 5:1-11

E. Commandments for daily living - 5:12-22

Conclusion - 5:23-28

An Introduction to II Thessalonians

Nearly all of the background of II Thessalonians is the same as the background of I Thessalonians. Paul is the author of II Thessalonians as well as of I Thessalonians, and Silvanus or Silas and Timothy were with him when he wrote both epistles (Note I Thessalonians 1:1 and II Thessalonians 1:1). Both epistles were apparently written during Paul's eighteen-month stay in Corinth (Acts 18:11). It is not clear how long Paul had been in Corinth when Silas and Timothy joined him in Acts 18:5, after which he wrote I Thessalonians, or how long Silas would continue in Corinth after Paul wrote II Thessalonians. What is clear is that Paul could not have written II Thessalonians more than a year or so after he wrote I Thessalonians, and it could have been considerably less. Something else which is unclear is how long Silas continued to minister with Paul or whether he accompanied him after he left Corinth. Acts does not mention Paul, Silas, and Timothy as being together after Acts 18:1 and 5 when all three were together in Corinth. As a matter of fact, Silas is not mentioned again in Acts after 18:5. Timothy was sent into Macedonia in Acts 19:22 but was part of the group which accompanied him into Asia in Acts 20:4. Timothy eventually became the pastor of the church at Ephesus, and Silas (i.e. Silvanus) is mentioned as Peter's amanuensis in I Peter 5.

Someone had to personally deliver I Thessalonians to the church in Thessalonica. He would eventually have to return to Paul and report to Paul how I Thessalonians was received and understood and what was transpiring in Thessalonica as a result. How long the messenger would have stayed in Thessalonica is not clear; nor is it clear who the messenger was.

Some new problems had developed in the church at Thessalonica, and some clarification of what had been written in I Thessalonians was also necessary.

1. There was the problem of persecution. The believers in Thessalonica were undergoing severe persecution. Paul wrote to encourage them.

2. There was the problem of whether the tribulation the church was enduring was actually that of the great tribulation. Paul wrote to them and advised them that they were not experiencing the great tribulation.

3. Then there was the problem that some had apparently quit working and were depending on others for support while they awaited the rapture. They obviously thought it would take place sooner than it has.

The theme of II Thessalonians is the tribulation, events in it, and how believers should be living prior to the rapture which immediately precedes the tribulation.

The Outline of II Thessalonians

Introduction - 1:1-2

I. Encouragement in a time of great persecution - 1:3-12

A. Paul's thanks for the Thessalonian believers' faith, love, and patience in the midst of persecution - 1:3-4

B. God to judge the unsaved world during the great tribulation - 1:5-10

C. Paul's prayer for the Thessalonian believers in the midst of persecution - 1:11-12

II. The day of the Lord - 2:1-12

A. False teaching in Thessalonica - 2:1-2

B. Characteristics of the great tribulation - 2:3-12

1. Great apostasy - 2:3

2. The revelation of the man of sin - 2:4

3. The removal of the restrainer - 2:6-7

4. The destruction of the man of sin - 2:8

5. The deception of the man of sin - 2:9-10

6. The delusion of the unsaved - 2:11

7. The damnation of the unsaved - 2:12

III. Thanksgiving, exhortation, and prayer - 2:13-17

A. Chosen to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth - 2:13

B. Called by Paul's gospel - 2:14

C. Glorified with the Lord Jesus Christ - 2:14

D. Stand fast and hold fast to Paul's teachings - 2:15

E. Paul's prayer that the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father comfort and establish the Thessalonian believers - 2:16-17

IV. Practical advice - 3:1-15

A. Paul's request for prayer for the gospel message and for himself - 3:1-2

B. Paul's confidence in the Thessalonian believers' obedience - 3:3-4

C. Paul's desire for the Thessalonian believers - 3:5

D. Paul's instructions to withdraw from disorderly and disobedient brothers - 3:6-15

Conclusion - 3:16-18