New Testament Survey: Acts to Revelation - Lesson 18

1 Thessalonians

A main theme of 1 Thessalonians is the second coming of Christ.

Robert Stein
New Testament Survey: Acts to Revelation
Lesson 18
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1 Thessalonians

Paul and His Letters

Part 2

II.  1 Thessalonians

A.  Occasion of the Letter

B.  Reason for the Letter

1.  Praise church (1:2-10; 2:13; 3:6-10)

2.  Encourage church (1:6; 2:1-2, 14; 3:4)

3.  Defend his actions (1:5; 2:1)

4.  Clarify issue of parousia

C.  Outline of the Letter

1.  Salutation – 1:1

2.  Thanksgiving – 1:2-10

3.  Body of Letter – 2:1-3:13

a.  Defense of mission – 2:1-16

b.  Defense of concern for Thessalonica – 2:17-3:13

4.  Exhortation – 4:1-5:22

a.  Moral duties – 4:1-12

b.  Concerning the "dead in Christ" – 4:13-18

c.  Concerning the time of Christ's return – 5:1-11

d.  Specific moral duties – 5:12-22

5.  Conclusion – 5:23-28

Class Resources
  • Acts was written by the same person that wrote the Gospel of Luke and continues where Luke left off with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

  • Luke wrote as a historian and includes details related to geography, political leaders and navigational terms. He was also an eyewitness and acquainted with eyewitnesses of events recorded in Acts.

  • Luke's purpose in writing Acts was give an orderly historical account of events surrounding Christ's ascension, the first followers of Christ and the spread of the early Church.

  • Acts 1:8 is the theme verse for the whole book. The structure of the book of Acts shows how this theme was fulfilled by recording events relating the spread of the gospel geographically.

  • At first, the early Church was made up mostly of Jews who continued to live a Jewish lifestyle.

  • Two events in the early Church were the choosing of an apostle to take the place of Judas Iscariot, and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

  • The elements of conversion in the New Testament are repentance, faith, confession, regeneration and baptism.

  • Many of the early Christians spoke Greek and Aramaic. Stephen was one of the first deacons and was martyred for his faith.

  • The apostle Paul's background as a Jew, training as a Pharisee, and Roman citizenship had a significant influence in his ministry and writings.

  • Paul had a dramatic conversion experience as he was traveling on the road to Damascus.

  • After Paul's conversion, on some areas of his theology his positions stayed the same, and on some areas his positions changed dramatically.

  • Many of the events related to Paul's life and ministry are recorded in the book of Acts.

  • The conversion of Cornelius and Peter's vision were important events in emphasizing the inclusion of Gentiles into the early Church.

  • The church at Antioch sent out Paul, Barnabas and John Mark to preach the gospel. This was Paul's first missionary journey.

  • The Jerusalem Council was a meeting of the early Church leaders to decide how to include Gentiles Christians into what had, up to this point, been a predominantly Jewish Christian group.

  • Barnabas and John Mark went to Cyprus and Paul and Silas went through Asia Minor, then to Macedonia and Greece.

  • Some of the letters from Paul in the New Testament are to an individual and some are to congregations. The letters are written in a form that includes the same general elements in the same order.

  • A main theme of 1 Thessalonians is the second coming of Christ.

  • Paul addresses some issues regarding the second coming of Christ, such as being responsible to work and support yourself in the meantime.

  • On his third missionary journey, Paul spent most of his time in Ephesus.

  • Paul defends his apostleship and explains that the foundation of our relationship with God is based on faith, not works.

  • Paul begins by defending his apostleship. He then explains justification by faith and gives some ethical exhortations. (The lecture does not cover points C. Ethical Exhortations (5:1-6:10) and D. Conclusion (6:11-18), but we included the outline points for your benefit.)

  • Most people agree that Paul wrote both letters to the Corinthians. He answered questions from people in the Corinthian church and addressed problems that had arisen.

  • In 1 Corinthians, Paul emphasizes unity and diversity in the body of Christ, and responds to questions about marriage, spiritual gifts and the Lord's Supper.

  • Paul defends his actions and apostleship and encourages the people in the church in Corinth to contribute to his collection for the poor in Jerusalem.

  • The content of Paul's letter to the church in Rome was shaped by the ethnic background of the congregation and the challenges they were facing at that time.

  • The outline of Paul's letter to the Romans indicates his understanding of the fundamental concepts of the gospel.

  • Paul wrote Romans from the perspective of his calling as the Apostle to the Gentiles.

  • Paul begins Romans by stating the problem of sin and enumerating a few specific sins. His conclusion in chapter 3 is that both the Jews and the Gentiles are under the wrath of God.

  • The divine remedy to the problem of sin and separation from God is justification by a righteous God.

  • The results of God's righteousness include, peace, hope, freedom, living in the Spirit and assurance.

  • Paul was arrested in the Temple in Jerusalem, went on trial in Caesarea, and was transported to Rome and imprisoned awaiting trial before Caesar.

  • A major theme in the book of Philippians is joy in times of adversity.

  • In Colossians, Paul emphasizes the preeminence and supremacy of Christ.

  • Imperative is always based on the indicative.

  • Most scholars agree that Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul, partly because the content follows an outline that is similar to other letters attributed to him that are contained in the New Testament.

  • In Ephesians, Paul emphasizes who we are in Christ and the mystery of the gospel.

  • Paul writes to Philemon about how Philemon should receive his runaway slave Onesimus, who has become a committed disciple of Christ under Paul's influence and is returning to him.

  • Luke does not record the details of Paul's death in the book of Acts.

  • The best argument is for Pauline authorship, possibly with the help of a secretary.

  • Two themes in 1 Timothy are the role and requirements for bishops and elders, and the role of women in ministry.

  • Paul gives instructions to Titus who is a pastor in Crete.

  • Paul gives instruction to Timothy, who is a young pastor.

  • It is unclear who wrote the book of Hebrews.

  • A major theme in Hebrews is the supremacy of Christ. There are also passages that emphasize that perseverance is essential.

  • According to James, true faith results in works.

  • The apostle Peter wrote this letter to encourage Christians to be faithful during a time of suffering.

  • Themes in 1 Peter include the atonement, the new birth and the continuity of the Old and New Testaments.

  • Some people question whether or not 2 Peter was written by the apostle Peter.

  • Themes in 2 Peter include false teachers and the return of the Lord.

  • 1 John is similar to the Gospel of John in style, vocabulary, theology and purpose.

  • John makes a distinction between acts of sin and continuing in sin.

  • Jesus came as God in the flesh and offers us the gift of eternal life.

  • Revelation is a book written in an apocalyptic genre by the apostle John.

  • The philosphy of interepretation you use when you study the book of Revelation determines what you think specific passages in the book are teaching.

  • Chapters 1-12 begins with the seven churches, and includes the seven seals and seven trumpets.

  • Revelation chapters 13-22 focus on the beast, Christ's final victory, final judgment and the millenium.

  • After Christ ascended and the church was spreading, it was helpful to have a written record of Christ's life and the apostles' teaching. All the books included in the New Testament were written before the end of the first century.

  • Each book included in the New Testament had to meet specific criteria. They are arranged with the Gospels first, then letters, then the book of Revelation.

In this second graduate-level class on New Testament Survey, Dr. Robert Stein walks you through the New Testament books Acts through Revelation. In his analysis of the books, you will learn not only the facts but also be challenged with their theological and spiritual significance.


Let’s look at 1 Thessalonians. The occasion, or the reason that Paul writes this letter, is found in 1 Thessalonians 3:6, “Now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you ….” Timothy has come from the church, and he has brought good news. If you look at 3:1-2, he talks about this, “When we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, [while waiting for them, Acts says] and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s servant to establish you in your faith and exhort you ….” Now Timothy has returned, and he informs Paul as to what is going on, and he is very happy about it. He praises the church. If you look at the opening part of the letter, after his beginning salutation (A to B), “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy [A], to [B] the church of the Thessalonians, in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”, and then you have the greeting, “grace to you and peace”. Then you have, “We give thanks to God always for you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering …” And so he has a good word of exhortation here which he refers to all the way from vv. 1-2 to v.10. There is that joyous expression. In 2:13, “We thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God …..” In 3:6-10, “Now Timothy has brought us the good news of your faith … for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.” So you have in 3:6-10 also exaggeration. Praise is important. And Paul praises the churches. Even when he has some problems, he can find something to praise the church about. He even praises the Corinthian church. My goodness, if my church that I attend was having the problems that they had in Corinth, I would not be able to say too much good about it. But Paul does – it’s important, and he searches for things that he can comment and praise them about.

He also wants to encourage the church. There’s a time of persecution that they have (1:6) “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.” And in 2:1, “For you yourselves know, brethren, that our visit to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, [this fits nicely with the story of Paul in Acts – one of those un-designed coincidences, where Paul’s being beaten and thrown into prison.] …we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of great opposition.” So he wants to talk about his persecution, and is also encouraging them in theirs. In 2:14, “For you brethren became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews.” So here he praises the church and encourages them.

He defends his own actions here, because it seems that the church is wondering why Paul didn’t come himself, but sent Timothy as a substitute. He mentions that time and time he wanted to come, but he was not able to, that Satan prevented him. “I was willing to be left alone in Athens, I was so concerned about you, and so I sent Timothy.” So that, I was all alone in Athens during this time, and I have a great concern, I want to defend this.

But there is a theological problem that is raised by this church, and it has to do with the “Parousia”. That’s a technical term that you need to know, because it’s used in the literature. It’s the Greek word for the coming, the coming of the Lord. There is some confusion here, and so Paul now tries to clarify this. And this clarification itself will be confusing to them, and he’ll have to write 2 Thessalonians as a result. But in 4:13 he says, “We would not have you ignorant, brethren about those who are asleep.” There’s a particular problem. Apparently, some Thessalonian believers have in the meantime died, and now there’s a real problem. Paul said that when the Lord returned, we would meet him. What about those who’ve died? And so now he now deals with those who have died, and the coming of the Lord. “We don’t want you to be ignorant, brethren, about those who have fallen asleep, that you may not grieve as others who do not have hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” Death is not the end. Jesus died and rose from the dead, so those who are believers, your mother or father, or whoever it is that you lost, they too will have hope this way. “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” So, don’t be discouraged – those who have died will not miss out on the Lord’s return. When he returns, we will join him, but first the dead in Christ will rise, and we will join them in this regard.

There have been those who have argued that this indicates that Paul thought he and the Thessalonians would be alive when the Lord returned, and that the Lord’s return was very near and imminent. Later on he realized that was not true, and he changed his mind about the Lord’s return being very, very close. After all, doesn’t he say, “…we who are alive will meet him in the air…”? Now think for a minute. That doesn’t make a lot of sense. The letter is written in AD 50. Twenty years have gone by. There have been Christians who have died. Furthermore, there have been Thessalonians who recently died, who are Christians. If “we who are alive” means “all of us who are Christians that are now living, we will meet the Lord”, that assumes that no one again will die in Thessalonica. And that doesn’t make sense. The other question is, how would you write simply that those who have died when he returns, they will rise from the dead; and then we who are presently alive will meet him? How do you do that without being extremely cumbersome? Would you say “those who have died will meet him, and those who are alive (although some of us may not be alive any longer), we will meet him in the air”? That’s very awkward. At the present time, we talk about the dead and the living, and so the dead will rise and then we will rise and meet him. And so that’s the simplest way of dealing with it. Don’t push it and say that this means that Paul believed that he would be alive when the Lord returned. No, it means that at the present time he’s with the living, not the dead.

And he doesn’t have any specific idea as to when the Lord is returning. He can’t say “I have been guaranteed by the Lord I will still be alive when he returns.” He doesn’t say anything like that. And with the very fact that some of them have already died, Paul is quite aware that maybe even before this letter returns to them one or two more Christians may have died. So you can’t say that Paul is that naïve, that he thinks that no one who is a Christian from the time he has penned this letter will die again. It’s simply the only way that he can refer to the living and the dead. “When we’re alive” means Christians who are alive will meet him in the air, and those who are dead will rise from the dead. Where we are, nothing is specifically mentioned in that regard.

Concerning the time of the Lord’s return in 5:1-11, he simply points out that no one really knows that time; it’s unknown to us. The specific time is not revealed, which again suggests that, if that’s true, he couldn’t be so dogmatically naïve to say that “I know that I will still be alive when the Lord returns.”

Does that make sense? It’s amazing how a lot of biblical critics make such a big deal out of that, and I always wonder, “Well, how would you word it?” Well, the way you would word it, to protect yourself would be so awkward, that it’s just not the way people would write. So it’s just common sense that you would apply in this regard.

Let me just point out that he concludes his letter in the typical fashion, vv. 5:23 and following, and then in v. 26, “Greet the brethren with a holy kiss. I adjure you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” “I adjure you by the Lord that this letter be read to all the brethren”: he has a high view of his letter, kind of like it’s scripture. He doesn’t say that, but he says that it should be read by everybody. When we recognize it as part of our Bible, it’s because we believe that this letter should be read to all the brethren. So we have a similar mindset in that regard as Paul.