An Overview of First Thessalonians

Pastor Phil Andrukaitis, October 16, 2023

The Apostle Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians

Thessalonians’ General Theme: Living Righteously While Waiting Patiently for Jesus to Return

Sermon Title:  An Overview of First Thessalonians

Sermon Text: First Thessalonians


Often, I have been asked by people how they might find a “good church” in their neighborhood.  What would you say?

And then there are some church members in every church looking for a “better church,” for one reason or another.  Are there “good churches” out there?  Oh Yes!  Are there “better churches” out there?  Again, Yes!  What about “perfect churches?”  I don’t believe so; however, if you find the perfect church, don’t attend that church because you will spoil it.

Kidding aside, if this church (or any other church) desires to be a “good church” or a “better church” or even a “great church” then they must pattern themselves after the Thessalonian Church because Paul stated in his first letter to the Thessalonian Church that they had …become an example…tupos (Strong’s #5179) or translated a different way, a “model church”; whose example served as a blueprint for all churches throughout Macedonia and Achaia [Greece] (1st Thessalonians 1:7).

Over the last thirty years, some mid-western mega churches have successfully merchandised their models, providing teachings and other resources [their blueprint] for smaller churches who desire to grow.  Unfortunately, when blueprints focus on increasing numbers instead of focusing on “making disciples,” the results are disappointing.  Jesus Christ said that He would build His Church (Matthew 16:18).   The church’s mission is to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20).  Only the Lord of the Church brings genuine numerical and spiritual growth to a local church.  

Cultural – Historical Background


Thessalonica was originally named “Therma” because of its many hot springs in the surrounding area; but in 315 B.C. “Therma” was renamed after the half-sister of Alexander the Great.  Later, the city was known as Salonika and today its modern name is Thessaloniki. 


If you have some maps in the back of your Bibles, please turn to them for just a moment.  If you locate Macedonia, you will see that Italy is to the left and Asia is to the right.  If you look further right and down the east side of the Mediterranean Sea, there you will find Israel. 

Located near the top of the Aegean Sea, Thessalonica was a most important city in the Roman province of Macedonia. 

  • Thessalonica provided at least two military advantages; a sheltered harbor for a naval station and secondly, a center point on a major highway that runs east to west, connecting the western part of the Roman Empire with the East. 
  • Thessalonica also provided great commercial opportunities for all merchants. 
  • And finally, what comes with great advantages and prosperity?  Corruption and vice; Thessalonica possessed a reputation for evil and licentiousness.  The worship of Cabiri (ku-bī’rī, -rē),cult (fertility cult and protectors of seafarers) moved Paul to exhort the Thessalonians to live holy lives (1st Thessalonians 4:1-8).


Beginning in Acts 15:36, Paul and his traveling doctor friend, Luke, along with other believers, embarked on a second missionary journey – to revisit churches they had planted and to plant new churches.  If we are going to better understand this letter, we need to see how this church was established.  Turn to Acts 17:1-10.  Let’s read it.

What were the results after Paul “…reasoned with others from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2)?  The membership of in the Jewish synagogue began to diminish.  Moreover, many other God-fearing Greeks and prominent women also became believers.  Paul and the missionary team were taking the battle into the “enemy’s country.”  Paul was not ashamed to preach the gospel because he understood its power came from God for the purpose of bringing salvation, first for the Jews then for the Gentiles (Romans 1:16). 

These conversions to Christ prompted the enemies of God to take extreme measures against Paul and his companions.  Driven by hate, the Jews forced Paul out of Philippi, then out of Thessalonica (having to escape by night), and onto Berea.  The enemies of the cross, controlled by the power of sin in their unregenerate hearts, hate God and His servants.

After some time had passed and while Paul stayed in Athens for about two months, he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see what was happening with the church.  When Timothy and Silas returned with a good report for Paul, who was now in Corinth (Acts 18:5), Paul immediately sat down and wrote this letter to the Thessalonian saints.  The date:  A.D. 51-52. 

The Church

This letter to the Thessalonians is believed to be the earliest of Paul’s letters, written about eighteen years after the death and resurrection of Christ; therefore, it is one of the earliest pictures we have of the early church comprised of recent converts, both Jews and Greeks.  Remember, for a new church comprised of new converts, it was commended by God through this God-inspired letter for its example to all other churches.  In addition, it is a letter written from a relieved and grateful pastor to his growing flock he was forced to leave.  Indeed, the Thessalonian church was a model church – a church after which all churches should pattern itself.

Purposes and Theme of Paul’s Letter

1st        To express his thankfulness to God – for their faith, love, and hope – especially in the midst of persecution (1:2-3)

Paul knew that God was the source of power behind this growing, successful church.

2nd       To defend himself against the slanderous attacks upon his ministry, which were coming from the Jewish community (2:1-12; Acts 17:5-13)

Paul did not want the young believers to get the wrong idea about the gospel ministry or about his pastoral ministry. 

3rd        To encourage them to stand fast against the persecution and pressure to return to their former pagan lifestyle (3:2-3; 4:1-12)

When the pain of persecution and the pressures of worldly conformity impact Christians, especially in the absence of spiritual leadership, recent converts are tempted to abandon the faith.  This was most concerning to Paul.

4th        To comfort their hearts and answer their questions regarding believers who died before the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ (4:1-13)

Following Paul’s forced departure (leaving under pressure) from Thessaloniki,     worthless teachers and so-called shepherds upset the young believers by telling them they had missed the rapture.

5th        To answer questions about the “Day of the Lord” (5:1-11)

The saints knew that God would have His “day of reckoning”; therefore, they needed clarification regarding divine wrath. 

6th        To provide practical theology regarding spiritual conduct and corporate worship (5:12-13, 19-20)

As we reflect on these purposes, a dominant theme runs throughout the letter.  At the close of each chapter, there is a direct reference to the return of Jesus Christ (1:10; 2:19-20; 3:12-13; 4:13-18; 5:23-24).  In fact, there are 24 references to Christ’s second coming; that is why this letter is most significant for the church – the letter addresses the need for Christians to live righteously while waiting patiently for Christ to return. 

How appropriate for the church today.

Let’s consider this future reality for just a few moments.  How many of us really believe that Christ is going to return?  Do we live as if His return will happen in our lifetime; even now?  Did you know that even Paul believed the rapture of the church could happen, even in his day?  “…we who are alive and remain…” (4:15)   In addition, how are we preparing the younger generation to live for Christ here and now? 

Considering current events within our country, the following questions beg asking:

  • First, while the November elections are only 23 days away, in whom are you trusting?  For what are you hoping?  Are you looking for a reversal of Biden’s policies and fewer socialist congressional representatives?  I believe that Biden and his administration (which is a culture of death) purposes are designed to collapse this country by impacting these five areas:
  • Militarily
  • Economically
  • Health Care
  • National Borders
  • Foreign Policy
  • Secondly, how do we prepare the next generation as our nation continues to slide into moral depravity and inevitably experience the judgment of God?  Don’t be fooled; God is not mocked for whatsoever man sows, that will he reap (Galatians 6:7).
  • Thirdly, what action steps are we, the older generation, taking to ensure that those who come behind us will walk as Jesus walked?  In other words, are we simply talking or walking the life of faith in Christ Jesus?  Jesus said that just before He returns, that generation will be just like the generation prior to the global flood in the days of Noah.  Listen to Jesus’ words:

“For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:38-39).

I am concerned for my children and grandchildren.  I suspect that you may be too.  Yet, do our children really believe that Jesus is coming back, perhaps in their lifetime, or are they expecting that everything will turn out okay; that government will fix everything? 

God sovereignly rules over all nations.  He raises up world leaders and nations and brings them down.  Since God appoints rulers and authorities, our votes reveal to God what we value and believe.  Nevertheless, God is preparing and aligning the nations for His Son return.  Therefore, it is natural for us to ask ourselves, what on earth is God doing with America?  Considering the days in which we live, 1st Thessalonians is most appropriate for the church today. 

I believe we can help our church families become great churches if we stay true to the Great Commission of making disciples and applying the lessons from the Thessalonian church. 

Mark these words:  When Christians whole-heartedly strengthen their lives in God’s Word and make disciples, and when hardships as never before impact our country (maybe this world), people will turn to God. 

Will we be ready to help them stand firm in Christ?

Why study this letter?

First, this letter is part of God’s inspired Word.  The Lord of the Church is concerned how we live and apply Scripture to our lives.

Secondly, this letter reveals the heart of a shepherd and his ministry in “spiritual pediatrics.”  Therefore, how do we work with young and old, whatever level of spiritual maturity that have achieved?

Thirdly, this letter is a blueprint for our church today; how to grow His Church.

Fourthly, since this letter reveals to us, 24 times, that Jesus Christ is going to return, what practical advice does God give us? 

Concluding Observations

  • God’s witnesses are everyday people.
  • God’s witnesses are committed people; men and women who will sacrifice themselves for Christ. 
  • God’s witnesses rely on God’s Word. 
  • God’s witnesses may experience violent opposition when communicating the Gospel.
  • God’s witness will accomplish God’s will.  Neither His Word nor will, can ever be stopped.  God is sovereign over all, even man’s will.

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