During Paul’s brief stay in Thessalonica during his second missionary journey, he was chased from the city by some jealous Jews (Acts 17:1-9). He was forced to leave the young Thessalonian believers in a state of threat and turmoil. When Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians, he was complimentary toward them and detailed his concern for their situation because he wanted to edify them in the gospel as they suffered for it. In 1 Thessalonians 1-3, Paul greeted and commended the church for their steadfastness in the gospel, then provided a lengthy review of his relationship with the church. Paul’s prayer in 1 Thess 3:11-13 concludes this extended preliminary section of the letter. Concerns for moral purity and awareness of Christ’s return dominates the body of the letter (1 Thess 4:1-5:22). Paul concluded the letter with a prayer of benediction (1 Thess 5:23-28). Paul’s encouragement to the church reflected his Old Testament theology expressed in Christ’s death, resurrection, and the promise of His return.
(1) In 1 Thess 1:9, Paul noted that the Thessalonians turned from idols, reflecting the Lord’s commands that Israel avoid idolatry. When the Lord revealed Himself on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19, the people were afraid. The first two commandments the Lord gave Moses were that the people should have no gods before Him and avoid making any image that would represent Him (Exod 20:3-6). When the people complained to Aaron and he made a calf of gold for the people to worship, God was offended (Exodus 32). During the period of the Judges, the people worshipped idols and turned from the Lord (Judges 17-18). In 1 Kgs 12:25-33, Jeroboam established a pattern of idolatry that shaped Israel for generations and incited God’s wrath to the point that He removed Israel from the land (2 Kings 17, 25). Paul commended the Thessalonians as authentic believers in light of the fact that they received the gospel amid persecution (1 Thess 1:1-10). Paul surveyed his brief relationship with the church and recalled how their faith had already produced good works, love had produced labor, and hope had produced endurance (1 Thess 1:2-3). All of this was evidence of their authenticity—the fruit of their election by God, and the evidence of the Spirit among them (1 Thess 1:4-6). So true were the Thessalonians that—although they were not very old in the Lord—their Christian maturity made them “an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Thess 1:7). These churches heard how the Thessalonians had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thess 1:9b-10).
(2) In 1 Thess 2:15, Paul wrote that the Jews in Judea were responsible for persecuting the Old Testament prophets, Jesus, himself, and the Thessalonians. The way that Paul fused generations of Jewish leaders that killed the righteous reflected Jesus’ statements in Matt 23:34-36//Luke 11:49-51. Jesus indicted His opponents because they behaved just like their forefathers. When Cain killed his brother Abel (Gen 4:8-10), Cain established a pattern of persecuting the righteous that would continue even until the time when King Joash of Judah killed the prophet Zechariah (2 Chron 24:15-22). When God sent His righteous Son, the Jewish leadership set their hearts against Him. When God sent Paul to Thessalonica, the Jewish leadership gathered a crowd to oppose Paul and his message of Christ crucified and risen (Acts 17:1-9). The Thessalonians, too, because of their commitment to Christ, had to endure the wrath of the Jewish leadership that opposed the righteous.