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Introduction to the First and Second Books of Thessalonians                            


I. Writer


         Paul the apostle (1Thess. 1:1; 2Thess. 1:1). He jointly signed with Silvanus, and Timothy In the beginning of the letter, however, the letter was written by Paul himself (See 1Thess. 2:18; 3:2; 5:27-28; 2Thess. 2:5; 3:17).

     According to the records of the Bible, Paul was formerly called Saul (Acts. 13:9), an Israelite, of tribe of Benjamin (Rom. 11:1), a Hebrew of Hebrews (Phil. 3:5) considering parentage. Paul was born in Tarsus of Cilicia, at the feet of the famous teacher Gamaliel, educated according to exactness of the Jewish law (Acts. 22:3). Afterwards, he became to live a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of the Judaism (Acts. 26:5) and was zealous for God and persecuted the assembly (Gal. 1:14; Phil. 3:6). However, he did it ignorantly, in unbelief (1Tim. 1:13). One day, when he intended to go to Damascus to seize Christians, the Lord Jesus manifested to Him on his way (Acts. 9:1-5). He became a Christian henceforth and was called to be an apostle (Rom. 1:1). The apostleship of Paul was mainly towards the Gentiles (Gal. 2:8). He went out to preach for tree times east to Jerusalem and west to Rome and his tracks were found in all satrapies of the Roman Empire. He established many churches and made the groundwork for the preaching of the gospel of Christianity all over the world today. He wrote altogether thirteen epistles in the New Testament, thus becoming the main exegete of the truth of Christianity.


II. The Time and Location the Books were Written


It is generally acknowledged that the first and second books of Thessalonians were the first two books among Paul’s epistles. Since these two books were sent out in the name of Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy (1Thess. 1:1; 2Thess. 1:1), they were supposed to be together before the letter was written. According to the records of the Bible, they met each other in Corinth (Acts. 18:1, 5) and the first book was written after Paul had visited the church at Thessalonica and returned to Corinth (1Thess. 3:6). To sum up the above-mentioned facts, we could confirm that the first and second books of Thessalonians were written when Paul was fulfilling his duty in his second journey and stayed at Corinth. It was about in A.D. 50-52. And the second book may be written half a year after the first book.


     Some Bible scholars held that the first and second books of Thessalonians were in reverse order and therefore the first should be the second and the second should be the first. Now their reasons are listed as follows:

     1) The past tense is used to mention the tribulation they suffered in the first book (1Thess. 1:6; 2:14) and the present tense is used in the second book (2Thess. 1:4-7).

     2) Usually “the salutation of Paul with my own hand” was in the first epistle (1Cor. 16:21; Col. 4:18; Philem. 19) in order to make the pattern of his letters to them. And Paul mentioned it in the second book when he wrote to the church in the city of Thessalonica (2Thess. 3:17).

     3) The teachings of “the day of the Lord” in the second book (2Thess. 2:1-12) should be first and therefore there is “concerning the times and the seasons, you have no need that I should write to you” in the first book afterwards (1Thess. 5:1).

     4) “The love of every one of you all abounds toward each other” (2Thess. 1:3) in the second book should be first and “concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you” (1Thess. 4:9) in the first book afterwards.

     5) Paul mentioned in the first book that he wanted to visit the church in the city of Thessalonica (1Thess. 2:18; 3:10) again and again and he did not mention it in the second book, showing that the first book should be written after the second book.

     6) It is mentioned in the first book that some believers in the church at the city of Thessalonians had died (1Thess. 4:13) and the brothers who labored and were over the church had risen (1Thess. 5:12). These were not mentioned in the second book. And therefore, compared to the second book, the first book was farther from the time Paul had left the city of Thessalonica.

     7) The contents of the first book are quite detailed and the second book is brief, showing that the first book is an additional remark of the second book.


     The above-mentioned reasons of guess are quite farfectched and they cannot be used to prove that the second book was before the first book and the first book was after the second book. Now we retort them one by one:

     1) “Having received…in much affliction” and “suffered the same things from your own countrymen” which were in the past tense in the first book refer to their sufferings when they believed in the Lord. Actually when Paul wrote the first book, their sufferings had not been the past and there were “afflictions” awaiting them (1Thess. 3:3). And therefore the present tense is used to describe their sufferings they shall face after they had been saved.

2) “The salutation of Paul with my own hand” in the second book is used to deal with the problem of “letter, as if from us” in the same letter (2Thess. 2:2). It cannot be used to deduce that all the letters with the salvation with his own hand are the first letters.

3) The reason why it is mentioned in the first book that Paul did not need to write to explain the day of the Lord to them is that he had told them when he was there (2Thess. 2:5). In the second letter he had to mention it again to correct the false explanation in the church in the city of Thessalonica because some people said that the day of Christ had come in the name of Paul (2Thess. 2:2).

     4) Actually from the first day, the condition that believers loved one another in the church in the city of Thessalonica was quite good (1Thess. 1:3; 3:6, 12) and therefore Paul thought that there was no need to exhort them in the letter concerning it. When Paul wrote the second book, their love was manifested more abundant.

     5) Though it is not mentioned in the second book whether Paul had returned to visit the church in the city of Thessalonica, it cannot prove that it is the first letter. Anyway, Paul was close to the church in the city of Thessalonica and he had returned to visit them many times (See Acts. 20:1; 27:2; 1Cor. 16:5; 2Cor. 1:16).

     6) The death of believers is not related to the length of time that they need and Paul always appointed elders who were over them when he departed from the churches in various churches (See Acts. 14:23).

     7) The length of the books is not related to the order of the books, for example, the first book of Corinthians is longer than the second book of Corinthians.


     The conclusion is that the first book is still the first and the second book is still the second. And the order is right.


III. The Recipients


         This book was written to the church in Thessalonica (1Thess. 1:1; 2Thess. 1:1). She was established by Paul on the second journey, however, soon Paul suffered persecution and the groundless accusation and had to leave in a hurry. And therefore he cannot stay there for a long period to shepherd and build the church (Acts. 17:1-9).

     The city of Thessalonica was close to Aegean Sea and it was built in B.C. 315. It had the quite important status in the time of Greek. It was set as the capital town of the province of Macedonia by the Roman Empire in B.C. 164.

     Some bible scholars, according to the seventeenth chapter of the Acts, deduced that Paul the Apostle stayed at Thessalonica for a short time and even it was less than a month. However, we thought that Paul at least stayed at the city of Thessalonica for several months and the reasons were as follows:

       1) “for three Sabbaths” which was mentioned in the Acts only referred to the time he preached the gospel in the synagogue of the city of Thessalonica (Acts. 17:1-3) instead of the time he stayed at the city of Thessalonica altogether.

       2) more than half of believers in the church at Thessalonica were the Gentile pagans who worshiped idols formerly (1Thess. 1:9) instead of the Greek proselytes (Acts. 17:4). And therefore they should be the fruits of the gospel that Paul bore outside of the synagogue.

       3) When Paul stayed at the city of Thessalonica, he worked with his own hands to support himself (1Thess. 2:9). If he just stayed there several weeks, there was no need for him to do so.

       4) When Paul was at the city of Thessalonica, the church in Philippi sent men unto his necessity two times (Pill. 4:16). It was also the clear proof that Paul did not stay there for a short time. 

       5) Paul recounted by himself that he taught them concerning many topics during the period that he stayed at the city of Thessalonica (1Thess. 2:11; 3:4; 4:1-2, 11; 5:1-2; 2Thess. 2:5, 15; 3:4, 10).

       6) Paul had established the intimate relation with the local believers and they were quite familiar with each other (1Thess. 1:2, 6; 2:7-8, 11, 17, 19-20; 3:6-10)


     In addition, some Bible scholars, considering that there was much grammar of the Old Testament in the wordings of the second book of Thessalonians, advocated that there were two groups of believers in the church at Thessalonica: one was the group of the Gentiles and the other was the group of the Jews. And the first book was written to the Gentiles and the second book to the Jews. However, Paul constantly firmly believed that there was neither Greek nor Jew in the church (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11), especially at that time the so-called bill of the apostles that “putting no difference between us and them” had been adopted soon (Acts. 15:9). If Paul indeed allowed the existence of two groups of believers in a local church, that was quite unbelievable. And therefore the saying that the first and second books were written to different recipients cannot stand.


IV. The Motivation for Writing these Epistles


         After Paul and the fellow-workers left Thessalonica, this rising church was also persecuted. And immediately Paul sent Timothy, the young fellow-worker, to return to visit and help the Saints there. Afterwards, from the mouth of Timothy, Paul knew that they did not yield to the persecution and contrarily stood firmly (1Thess. 1:6-7; 2:14; 3:4-6; 2Thess. 1:4). Paul was gratified and he still cared for their spiritual future because he did not work for a long period among them and he was afraid that their foundation of the truth was not firm and they might be influenced by various kinds of outside teachings. And therefore he wrote the first book to exhort them and here were the main points:

1) he reminded them to remember how he taught them among them and the example of his walkings (1Thess. 1:5-6; 2:1-12).

       2) he exhorted them to abstain from the local evil and licentious custom and possess their own vessels in sanctification and honor (1Thess. 3:13-4:8).

       3) he exhorted them to work with their own hands and be a normal man before the world, besides loving one another (1Thess. 3:12; 4:9-12).

4) he clearly explained the conditions of the coming of the Lord and the experiences of believers in future and he exhorted them to watch and be sober for these (1Thess. 4:13-5:11).

5) he exhorted that they should not despise prophecies (i.e. the teachings and doctrines of the Lord’s workers), however, they should test all things and it is inappropriate for them to swallow the teachings up (1Thess. 5:20-21).


However, not long after Paul wrote the first book of Thessalonians, some outside false teachers appeared and some people wrote to them in the name of Paul. They especially brought in some false doctrines and teachings concerning the coming of the Lord (2Thess. 2:1-2) so that Paul had to write the second book. He corrected the false teachings on one hand and on the other he exhorted them to live the normal life of waiting for the coming of the Lord and not to live in idleness before the Lord comes.


V. Importance


     Among Paul’s epistles, the first and second books of Thessalonians, the book of Romans and the book of Ephesians are called the tree doctrinal books in the New Testament and they stress on the three virtues of believers “faith, hope and love” respectively: 1) the book of Romans stresses on “faith”------“justification by faith”; 2) the book of Ephesians stresses on “love”------“building in love”; 3) the first and second books of Thessalonians stress on “hope”------“hoping for the coming of the Lord”.

     Christians should have the right knowledge and attitude to the coming of the Lord. The Lord Jesus set the desk of the Lord to make believers remember Him in breaking the bread and drinking the cup for the purpose of reminding us to wait for His coming (1Cor. 11:26). Paul said that if we believers do not have the hope that we shall rise and be with the Lord when He comes and “in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1Cor. 15:19). And therefore we should search and read the first and second books of Thessalonians carefully and then we shall exactly know the coming of the Lord and the day of the Lord and have the normal attitude and life of waiting for the coming of the Lord.


VI. General Description


         God the Father has chosen and kept us, the Lord Jesus Christ came to the world to save us and shall come again to receive us and the Holy Spirit moves us to make us receive the grace and guides us. The Holy Trinity works to make us have faith, love and hope.  

     Believers, in the local churches, should walk worthy of God who calls us into His own kingdom and glory. And the will of God is our sanctification and blamelessness. And therefore we should possess our own vessels in sanctification and honor; love one another in the church; work with our own hands in the society and walk properly toward those who are outside. 

     We are not those who do not hope on earth because our Lord Jesus Christ will come again to receive us. And therefore we shall not move though we suffer tribulation and are evilly treated by others. Contrarily our faith is much firmer, our love is more abundant and we have more endurance because of hope; we live the remainder of our life by rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and giving thanks in everything. The Holy Trinity Himself will sanctify us completely.


VII. Special Points


         There are at least the following five special points in the first and second books of Thessalonians:

1) three “triplets” are clearly mentioned in the first book: a) the Holy Trinity------God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit (1Thess. 1:9-10; 3:11; 4:8); b) faith, love and hope (1Thess. 1:3; 5:8); c) spirit, soul and body (1Thess. 5:23).

2) Since our salvation is of God (1:1, 4), all our walkings, works and pursuits after we have been saved should be responsible to God and we should please Him in everything (1Thess. 1:9-10; 2:4, 12; 4:6-8; 5:18).

3) The Holy Trinity is the reason and reliance of all our spiritual virtues: a) patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Chris (1Thess. 1:3); b) joy of the Holy Spirit (1Thess. 1:6); c) stand fast in the Lord (1Thess. 3:8); d) the Lord makes you increase and abound in love (1Thess. 3:12); e) God called us in holiness (1Thess. 4:7); e) God Himself sanctifies us completely (1Thess. 5:23).

4) Paul showed the deep sense of shepherding in these two books and he even regarded the spiritual states of believers as his matter of life and death (1Thess. 2:8; 3:7-8).

5) Every chapter in the first book of Thessalonians concluded with the second coming of the Lord (1:9-10; 2:19-20; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:23-24); the detailed explanations were stated aiming at the day of the Lord in the second book of Thessalonians. And therefore if we want to have a full view of the second coming of the Lord, we should research these two books carefully.


VIII. Key Verses 


         Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father” (1Thess. 1:3)

     “For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord” (1Thess. 3:8).

     “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven... And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” (1Thess. 4:16-17).

     “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks;” (1Thess. 5:16-18).

     “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Thess. 5:23).

     “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition” (2Thess. 2:3).


IX. Key Words


Coming or “the day of Christ” (1Thess. 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2Thess. 1:10; 2:1, 2).

“Gospel” (1Thess. 1:5; 2:2, 8, 9; 2Thess. 1:8; 2:14).

“Faith” (1Thess. 1:3, 5, 8; 3:5, 6, 7, 10; 5:8; 2Thess. 1:3, 4, 11; 3:2).

“Love” (1Thess. 1:3; 3:6, 12; 3:9; 5:8, 13; 2Thess. 1:3).

“Hope” or “wait” (1Thess. 1:3, 10; 2:19).

“Devoutly” or “sanctification” (1Thess. 2:10; 3:13; 4:3, 7; 5:23, 25; 2Thess. 2:13).

“Much affliction”, “suffer” or “tribulation” (1Thess. 1:6; 2:14; 3:3, 4; 2Thess. 1:4, 6, 7).


X. Outlines of the Book


The Outlines of the First Book of Thessalonians

I. Foreword (1:1-2).

II. Thanksgiving and stating his feelings (1:3-3:13):

  A. Thanking God that the church normally received God’s grace (1:3-10).

  B. Recounting by himself how he preached the gospel to the church (2:1-12)

  C. Caring for the state of the church after his parting (2:13-3:10).

  D. Making intercession for the church (3:11-13).

III. Exhortation and consolation (4:1-5:22):

  A. Exhorting believers to abstain from sexual immorality and be sanctified (4:1-8).

  B. Exhorting believers to work with their own hands and walk properly (4:9-12).

  C. Exhorting believers not to sorrow because the Lord shall come (4:13-18).

  D. Exhorting believers to watch and be sober and wait for the coming of the Lord (5:1-11).

  E. Exhorting believers to deal with each other kindly and respect the Lord’s servants (5:12-22).

IV. Epilogue (5:23-28):

  A. Blessing (5:23-24).

  B. Advising and urging (5:25-27).

  C. Blessing again (5:28).


The Outlines of the Second Book of Thessalonians

I. Foreword (v.1-2).

II. Thanksgiving and intercession (1:3-12):

  A. Thanking God for the church (1:3-10).

B. Making intercession for the church (1:11-12).

III. Correction and exhortation (2:1-3:15):

  A. Correcting the fallacious ideas concerning the second coming of the Lord (2:1-12).

  B. Exhorting them to stand fast by relying upon the Holy Trinity and make intercession for the Lord’s workers (2:13-3:5).

  C. Correcting the fallacious idea of being unwilling to lead a quiet life and work (3:6-12).

  D. How to deal with believers who were unwilling to hear the teachings of the Lord’s workers (3:13-15).

IV. Epilogue (3:16-18):

  A. Blessing (3:16).

  B. Advising and urging (3:17).

  C. Blessing again (3:18).


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

   Translated by Mary Zhou