The Epistles Outlined (1): 1 Thessalonians

The Author of the Epistle

It is generally accepted that Paul is the author of the epistle, that the writer brought the gospel to Thessalonica, and planted the assembly there (Acts 17 with 1 Thess 1:5-6; 2.1-12). His authorship is confirmed by the introduction (1:1), by the writer’s desire to return to Thessalonica (2:8), and the reference to the writer sending Timothy to them (3:2).

The Place and Time of Writing

Timothy’s return from Thessalonica was the occasion when the epistle was written (3:6-7). Paul was in Corinth when Timothy returned (Acts 18:1-5), making Corinth the place from where the epistle was written. It is accepted that this is the earliest of Paul’s epistles and was written in AD 50-51.

The Background to the Epistle

The city of Thessalonica was a key city in Macedonia, being its chief port. It was therefore strategically and commercially important. Its population was mostly Gentile, but there was also a large company of Jews. When the gospel came, some Jews and many Gentiles were saved and an assembly was planted (Acts 17:1-4). The length of their stay is not stated, but as a result of the opposition that arose, Paul and Silas were compelled to leave (Acts 17:5-10). Paul, greatly concerned about the newly planted assembly, sent Timothy from Athens back to Thessalonica to encourage the saints and to see how the assembly was progressing (1 Thess 3:1-2). The report, which he received at Corinth (Acts 18:5), was encouraging and thus, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, he wrote to the assembly.

The Division of the Epistle

Chapters 1-3 Historical

Chapter 1 – How the Gospel was received

Chapter 2 – How the Servants conducted themselves

Chapter 3 – Where the Servants went and how they acted

Chapter 4 Doctrinal

Chapter 5 Instructional

The Purpose of the Epistle

To Encourage them in the example they had set (1:6,10)

To Express gratitude for their endurance under persecution (2:13-16)

To Emphasize the need to be steadfast (3:8-13)

To Enlighten them as to those who had fallen asleep (4:13-18)

To Exhort them to live as sons of the light (1-22)

The Key Theme – The coming of the Lord that is mentioned in each chapter – The Coming of the Lord and salvation (1:9-10), service (2:19-20), sanctity (3:12-13), solace (4:13-18), and satisfaction (5:10,23). The Lord’s Coming and the Conversion of Sinners, the Crown of Servants, the Consecration of Saints, the Comfort of the Sorrowing, and the Consummation of Salvation

The Outline of the Epistle

Chapter 1

After the opening salutation (v 1) the apostle expresses gratitude for what the gospel had wrought in the Thessalonians (vs 2-4), he writes of the entrance of the gospel into Thessalonica (vs 5-7) mentioning the preaching (in word), power, presentation (with assurance), proof (what manner of men), purpose (v 6) of the gospel, and the pattern they set (v 7). He then mentions the expansion of the gospel (v 8-10), noting their conversion (turned), consecration, and contemplation of the Lord’s coming.

Chapter 2

This chapter is divided into three sections – The Preachers of the Word (vs 1-12), The Persecution of the Saints (vs13-16), and the Purpose of Paul (vs 17-20. The first section deals with the coming of the servants (vs 1-6): Paul mentions that their coming was purposeful (v 1 – not in vain), with courage (v 2), with purity (v 3), of God (v 4), and not of themselves (v 5); and the care of the servants (vs 7-12) characterized by the tenderness of a mother (vs 7-9), and the faithfulness of a father (vs 10-12). In the second section the apostle deals with the reception of the word (vs 13 – as from God), the result of salvation (v 14 – suffering), and the reason for persecution (vs 15-16 – opposition to God and His Word). The closing section deals with the heart’s desire of Paul (v 17), the hindrance of Satan (v 18) and the hope of Paul (vs 19-20).

Chapter 3

In verses 1-5 we have Timothy’s journey to Thessalonica mentioned, in verses 6-10 his return journey is in view, and in the closing verses Paul’s intended journey is before us. The apostles concern for the saints because of their affliction is evident in his sending of Timothy (vs 1-5) and also his comfort through the saints in the report that Timothy brought from Thessalonica (vs 6-8). In the closing verses we have the apostle’s constant praise and prayer for the saints (vs 9-13) that the saints increase and abound in love and be established in their hearts unblameable in holiness.

Chapter 4

In this chapter the apostle writes about things they know (vs 1-12) and things they don’t know (vs 13-18). The first 12 verses take the form of exhortation as to their conduct in relation to God (vs 1-2), to themselves (vs 3-8), to fellow believers (vs 9-10), and to the world (vs 11-12). They deal with the purity expected (vs 1-8), the progress desired (vs 9-10), and the power of testimony (vs 11-12). In verses 13-18 the apostle gives instruction as to their concern. This passage deals with their anxiety concerning some of their number who had died and was intended to bring comfort to their hearts. We have the problem stated (v 13), the problem solved (v 14), and the particulars unfolded (vs 15-17). The apostle shows that at the Lord’s coming there will be resurrection (dead in Christ shall rise), rapture (caught up), reunion (together), reception (to meet the Lord) rest or repose (ever with the Lord). The result intended (v 18).

Chapter 5

In the closing verses of chapter 4 Paul writes of the Lord’s coming to take away His own from the world whereas in the opening 11 verses of this chapter he writes of the coming judgment upon the world in the Day of the Lord. This subject is one of the themes of the O T in contrast to the new revelation of chapter 4. In these verses we have the contrast between the sons of the light and the sons of the night (vs 1-5), the character suitable to the sons of the light (vs 6-8), and the consummation of salvation, which is certain on the grounds of the sovereign appointment of God (v 9) and the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus (v 10). The apostle then mentions their responsibilities toward their leaders (v 12-13), gives his final exhortations (v 14-22), unfolds his desire for them (v 23-24), and concludes the epistle with requests and a benediction.