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New Testament Survey

1 Thessalonians



LOOKING AHEAD TO . . .

First Thessalonians

Key Verse(s):

Key Chapter(s):

Key Word(s) or Concept(s)

Consider:

            Is this book about judgment or comfort?

            Is there an overriding theme to this book?

Suggested Reading beyond the Key Chapter(s):

First Thessalonians

The Thessalonian church was founded by Paul and Silas on the second missionary journey (Acts 17:1-9). The church apparently misunderstood Paul’s teachings on the end times and feared that Christ had returned and they had been “left behind,” and that those who had died had missed heaven. Paul writes to correct these views. It should be noted that Paul’s stay in Thessalonica was short, but probably not as short as the three weeks as might be inferred from Acts 17:2. This time is probably the period Paul ministered to the Jews. Paul was in the city long enough to take up a trade (1 Thess. 2:9) and to receive gifts from Philippi (Phil 4:16).

First Thessalonians was probably written earlier in Paul’s time at Corinth when he received word at the return of Timothy and Silas about the church (Acts 18:5; 1 Thess. 3:6). Therefore, 1 Thessalonians was written about A.D. 51. The salutation shows the letter as being from Paul, Silas, and Timothy. Corinth is the last place where Acts places Paul, Timothy, and Silas together; therefore, Corinth is a natural candidate for the origin of the letter.

Theme and Purpose

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For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
1 Thessalonians 2:13

As is indicated, the church at Thessalonica is a young, immature church. In all such situations, Satan jumps into the smallest of cracks in an effort to cause the new believer to question his faith. This is why studying doctrine is so very important to a Christian. The more one knows and understands the Bible, the better equipped he is to combat and fight Satan. The spiritual weapons of Ephesians 6:10-18 work only in the realm of faith. Faith comes only from Romans 10:17:

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So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Paul’s purposes were, then, to express his satisfaction and thanks to God for the healthy spiritual condition of the church (1:2-10) even in the face of doubts and troubles. False accusations had been made against the Apostle (2:1-3:13) which Paul combats. Further, this leads the Apostle to explain why he had been unable to visit the church again (2:17-18). Since he was unable to visit, Paul uses this letter to express his love for this particular church (3:10). And, as is often the course of events in the Apostle’s letters, Paul moved to correct errors in the church’s life style (4:1-12; 5:12-18). These corrections lead into a discussion on the Second Coming of Christ (4:13-18) and the Day of the Lord (5:1-11).

Special Considerations

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The return of the Lord is a prominent theme of this letter, being mentioned no less than five times (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23). In some of the other letters of the Apostle, this Second Coming of Christ is called the Day of Christ (Phil 1:10; 2:16; 2 Thess 2:2) to distinguish it from the Day of the Lord, the day of judgment (5:1-11). The Day of the Lord, the day of judgment is an Old Testament concept which will find its ultimate fulfillment in Christ. For example, the phrase “Day of the Lord” occurs 25 times in the King James version of the Bible (24 times in the NIV). Eighteen of these occurrences are in the Old Testament, all in the writings of the prophets.

Paul helped to form the church at Thessalonica, but was forced to flee the city (Acts 17:1-9). He went to Berea only to have the Thessalonians show up there to continue the persecution (Acts 17:10-14). The contrast of the right and wrong way to approach God is found in this story, for the approach to God is one of attitude and obedience. Luke writes,

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These [the Bereans] 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.
Acts 17:11

With this degree of hostility, the church at Thessalonica is to be commended as well for staying in the faith in the absence of the Apostle!

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A disciple is a pupil or learner, thus, the pupil of a teacher. While Jesus was not truly a teacher in the eyes of the Pharisees (John 7:14ff), His followers saw Him as a teacher and He was popularly referred to as Teacher or Rabbi (Mark 9:5; 11:21; John 3:2). His followers are properly called disciples. While the term may describe all who followed Him, it is more properly restricted to those who accompanied Him on his travels (Mark. 6:45; Luke. 8:2; 10:1). Discipleship is based on a call by Jesus (Mark 1:16-20). It involves a personal allegiance Jesus which is marked by devoting full allegiance to Him (Mark 8:34-38; Luke. 14:26-33). In many of the examples of the New Testament, this meant the literal abandonment of home, business, and property (Mark 10:21, 28). The loyalty to Jesus must come first. This loyalty is based upon faith and is the task of taking up one’s cross daily (Mark 8:34-38). This demand was well beyond the normal Jewish concept of pupil-teacher relationship, giving the word ‘disciple’ a new meaning.

Chapters 1-3 are a look back to where the Thessalonians received their salvation. Paul looks at their past where they turned from idols, at their present where the church is to serve, and at the future, where the church is to wait until the Second Coming. The first part of chapter 4 and the second half of chapter five present the applications to the church on how to live while the Day of Christ and the Day of the Lord are intermingled in between (4:13-18; 5:11-26).

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The Rapture is an important doctrine in the life of the church. The word “rapture” will not be found in the Bible. The term comes from the Latin word used to translate the Greek word harpazo, which is translated as “caught up” in 4:17. The word properly means to be seized, snatched, or carried off by force. It is the action of God which will take the church home! While this letter sets forth the most complete description of the Rapture, we will wait until our review of Revelation to discuss it in detail.

Note the rich doctrine Paul squeezes into just a few verses:

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Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father
1 Thessalonians 1:3

The trio of faith, hope, and love is the cornerstone of the Christian religion. In the King James Version of the Bible, these three appear together again in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, and, of course, in the concluding verse of Paul’s love chapter (1 Cor 13:13). The modern translations also include the trio in Colossians 1:5:

The faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel
NIV

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Note, if you include Colossians 1:4 and 5 together, these verses fit the pattern in the King James as well!

Outline

I.         Greeting and Thanksgiving - Chp 1

II.        Paul’s work and reception in Thessalonica - Chp 2

III.       Timothy’s report - Chp 3

IV.      How to live to please God - 4:1-12

V.        The unexpected Coming of the Lord - the Rapture - 4:12-18

VI.      The Day of the Lord - 5:1-11

VII.     Live with this Coming always in mind - 5:12-22

VIII.    Benediction - 5:23-28

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Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
1 Thessalonians 4:18

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This is a book of great comfort. Do the words of this particular book give you the comfort Paul attempted to convey to the Thessalonians?

How do you receive the Word of God?

How do you stay close to God?

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16 Rejoice evermore. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This book is rich in the concept of the return of Christ. Look at the closing verses of each chapter – 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:17; 5:23. The coming of Christ is foremost in the Apostle’s mind as he penned this letter.

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How important is the Return of Christ to you?

 

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