Paul’s letters to the church in Thessalonica provide an enlightening snapshot of the life and concerns of the earliest Christian churches. Paul vividly remembers his first impressions of the Thessalonian Christians to whom he writes. (The story of his encounter can be read in Acts 16 and 17.) They would suddenly understand what he was saying. It would grasp their hearts and minds. Paul and his companions, explaining the gospel to them, would become excited as they saw the message take hold, make sense, and begun its work of transforming hearts and lives.

Written from Corinth within weeks of Paul’s sudden need to depart from his beloved Thessalonian converts, the letters express the apostle’s joy that these believers excel in the most important of graces: faith and love. From this perspective, 1 and 2 Thessalonians set forth a vital teaching on what makes for a good church. Paul’s converts did not have political power, financial resources, or perhaps even great numbers. Buit having received the gospel “not as the word of men but as … the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13), they possessed true spiritual riches and power. In this way these two letters, among the earliest of the New Testament, provide an excellent primer on what constitutes a healthy and thriving church, even amid adversity and with a need for continued spiritual growth. These letters are vital for every Christian who longs for a healthy and growing Christian life.

The letters to the Thessalonians are particularly known, however, for their concentrated doctrinal teaching regarding the second coming of Jesus Christ. Indeed, Paul’s eschatology in these letters is of primary importance for those seeking a firm understanding of end-times teaching. Paul’s teaching here, reproduces in a doctrinally clear fashion the teaching of Jesus’ Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24-25 and Luke 21. Thessalonians also provides an essential doctrinal grid for approaching the book of Revelation. As such, the apostle’s clear and orderly teaching in these letters is a vital resource not only for properly understanding Christ’s return but also for inciting a joyful anticipation that agrees with the earliest Christians’ fervent desire. One of the great tragedies today is that so many Christians have been led to face the thought of Jesus’ return with fear and dread. But for Paul and his Thessalonian readers, Christ coming is nothing less than “our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). This joyful expectation of Christ’s return is clearly communicated in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, so that a careful study of this material will lead to a life-and-death transformation of our hope for the future in the Lord.

These letters are among the very earliest documents we possess from the beginning of the church’s existence. They are already full of life, bubbling with energy, with questions, problems, excitement, danger, and, above all, a sense of the presence and power of the living God, who has changed the world through Jesus and in now at work in a new way by His Spirit. Those same qualities can touch us as well as we delve more deeply into them.

When the apostle Paul began his letter to the believers in Thessalonica, he recalled his first impressions of them. Thessalonica – modern Thessaloniki, or Salonica – was, and is, a thriving seaport in northern Greece, roughly two hundred miles north of Athens. Paul had come there after preaching in Philippi, further east, where he had been beaten and thrown in prison before pointing out that he was a Roman citizen.

Though Paul’s normal practice was to begin his preaching in the Jewish synagogue or place of prayer, it seems that most of the people who came to believe his message were non-Jews. For them, there was a double barrier to be crossed before they could accept the gospel. It was not only a crazy message about a man who was dead and then came to life again. It was a crazy Jewish message. Paul must have known, as he went from place to place, that most people who heard what he was talking about were bound to think him mad.

And yet the Thessalonians had not. Some in Thessalonica, as in most places he went, found that something happened to them when they listened to his message. A strange power gripped them – the power that, Paul would tell them, was the Holy Spirit at work.

What are some ways different people respond to remarkable experiences – reading an inspiring book, for example, or witnessing an uncommon event?


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