When the apostle Paul, during his second missionary journey, comes to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1) and preaches there, a church comes into existence. However, not only a church starts, but also persecution. Opposition from satan is often proof that a real work of God is happening. There is no doubt that God was working in the Thessalonians. They witnessed to the Lord Jesus. You can then be certain that satan will come into action. You will hardly experience any opposition from satan if you do not live the life of a Christian.
The brethren advise Paul to flee (Acts 17:10). He has been there for a very short period, only three sabbaths. He managed to preach the gospel and to teach the new converts in, at the most, four weeks. From his first letter to them it appears that he, despite his short stay, had been able to pass on much of the truth of God.
After Paul has fled from Thessalonica he comes to Berea. Persecution also arises there because also there Jews from Thessalonica stir up the crowds against him. Paul also left this city at the advice of the brethren (Acts 17:14). You see that Paul was not trying to play the hero and he also did not consider the advice of the brethren below his dignity, but accepts them.
He goes to Athens while his companions Silas and Timothy stay in Berea. In Athens Timothy must have joined Paul again because from there he sends Timothy to Thessalonica (1Thes 3:1-2). He himself leaves Athens and comes to Corinth (Acts 18:1), where Silas and Timothy join him again (Acts 18:5). Besides, Timothy had news about the Thessalonians (1Thes 3:6).
To Paul it is a great comfort when he hears the good news about them from Timothy for which he give thanks to God. Servants are not made of stone; they do have feelings. Paul is refreshed by the news. Timothy’s report also makes it clear that certain issues need to be addressed. Paul doesn’t want to wait for another opportunity to visit them. No, he writes this letter immediately after he has heard the good news. Therefore we have, just like the Christians through the ages, a document of invaluable value at our disposal.
You may consider Paul’s letters to the different churches to be means by which the apostle watched over his work. Each letter has its own character, which is in agreement with the state of the church he writes to. God has used this to record what would be necessary for the church as a whole through the ages.
The two letters that Paul wrote to the Thessalonians belong to the first letters he wrote. The first letter to them was written as an addition to what he had already orally passed on to them. In that way he provided in what was lacking in their knowledge. His second letter was necessary because false teachings arose concerning the coming of Christ. When they would open themselves up to these false teachings they would seriously undermine their faith and that would lead to disgraceful practices. Therefore his second letter is corrective in character. He exposes the false teachings to prevent them from suffering shipwreck concerning their faith.
The central theme in both letters is the return of Christ, though not only as a formal doctrine. Christ’s return is connected to all spiritual and natural relationships in which we find ourselves. It is expressed in all circumstances in the life of the Christian.
Each of the five chapters of the first letter ends with a reference to that coming, though every time from a different aspect:
1. In chapter 1 the expectation of that coming is also the goal of our conversion (1Thes 1:10).
2. The end of chapter 2 refers to the coming of Christ as the event in which the believers will see the fruits of their work (1Thes 2:19).
3. Chapter 3 concludes with His coming in connection with the holiness which will then be seen in all its real value (1Thes 3:13).
4. In the last part of chapter 4 the coming of Christ is presented as comfort for believers who had to bury loved ones (1Thes 4:13-18).
5. In the conclusion of chapter 5 the coming of Christ is connected to the unexpected judgment that the world will meet – as the first part of that chapter describes – and the sanctifying effect that it should have on the believer (1Thes 5:23).
We now go back briefly to the first acquaintance of Paul with the Thessalonians. In Luke’s account of it in Acts 17:1-10 he describes vividly what that was like. He also mentions details regarding Paul’s preaching and how it was received.
According to his custom Paul first goes to a synagogue because he wants to preach the gospel to his ‘brethren after the flesh’ first. He converses with them starting from familiar Scriptures. On that basis he explains and shows that Jesus is the Christ, Who had to suffer and rise again from the dead. Some of them are convinced. Also among the Gentiles people come to faith. But that does not please satan. He succeeds by inciting Jews and wicked men to cause an uproar.
A procession starts to the house of Jason, who apparently had provided accommodation to Paul and Silas. When the crowd doesn’t find them there, Jason has to pay the price. Jason and some other brethren are dragged to the city council. A twofold charge was brought: the people Jason has given accommodation to, cause turmoil in the whole world, and they preach another King than the emperor, Jesus (Acts 17:6-7).
As has often happened in the history of professing Christianity, also here the charge is in fact a compliment to the Christians who are not ashamed of the gospel. A clear testimony concerning the Lord Jesus causes turmoil. People do not like to be confronted with their sinfulness, even if this is done to have them confess that they may be saved.
Also the preaching of Christ Who is glorified in heaven, is an offense and an annoyance. You only have to tell the people around you that you have submitted your life to the authority of the Lord Jesus. Tell that the power is not in the hands of the world leaders, but that all power in heaven and on earth has been given by God into the hands of Him Who is despised and murdered by the world. Tell, like the Thessalonians, that you have converted and that you want to live for Him and under his commandments. That’s what the world responds to.
The Thessalonians have, imitating what the Lord Jesus did before Pilate, witnessed the good confession (1Tim 6:13). The Lord Jesus witnessed before Pilate that His kingdom was now not of this world (Jn 18:36). His kingdom is still to come. He will establish it at His return. And that is what the Thessalonians confessed. The true hope of everyone who confesses Jesus as Lord – and thereby confesses to be a subject of that Lord – is focused on the return of Christ to establish His kingdom.
All these things are not only for the advanced believers. The Thessalonians were newly converted. With them you see the youthful freshness of a living faith that in all circumstances counts on God. It is something that makes one jealous. Their example is embarrassing and encouraging at the same time.