Alive brothers in Thessalonians
Deceased brothers in Thessalonica
Background to the epistle
The book of Acts describes Paul’s efforts in Thessalonica as successful (Acts 17:4), with many Jews and Gentiles believing in Jesus. The Thessalonians completely changed their lives from worshipping and sacrificing to pagan gods, to being strong C
hristians who worshiped the true, living God (1 Thess. 1:9). After that brief golden age of three sabbaths (Acts 17:2), though, a riot broke out because “the Jews were jealous” of this Christian sect (Acts 17:5). So, Christians were brought before the “city officials,” because they were supposedly worshipping another king besides Caesar, the Jesus preached by Paul (Acts 17:6). Due to that contentious environment, the life of Paul was in danger, so he moved on to Berea to avoid the mobs and riots present in Thessalonica. However, those jealous Jews from Thessalonica followed him to Berea, stirring up the people over there (Acts 17:13). So, to protect his life once again, Paul left and went to Athens. Now, if the Thessalonians made life for Paul so terribly difficult, it must have been miserable for the
Thessalonians who he had converted and still lived there. Presumably, this persecution continued to happen in Thessalonica, for the crowd and officials were “thrown into turmoil” (Acts 17:8). Life would have been very difficult for them. So, Paul sends Timothy to check on them (1 Thess. 3:2). He did this, not only because he was concerned that they would persevere in the faith, but also because of his deep love and connection with them. Paul and his companions had shared, not only the Gospel, but also their “very selves” (1 Thess. 2:8). So, in addition to preaching in the Jewish synagogues (Acts 17:2), Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy shared life in communion with the Thessalonians. Maybe they played games together or shared life stories. Paul is, therefore, very anxious to hear how the Thessalonians have been living since his departure. When Timothy returns from his visit, Paul is overjoyed, because Timothy says that they had kept the faith, and greatly missed Paul! They also had questions for him, particularly about their deceased loved ones (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Because of his deep love for them, Paul therefore writes 1 Thessalonians.
He starts off by praising their “work of faith” and “labor in love” of Christ (1:3), even saying that they are an example to the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia on how to suffer (1 Thess. 1:7). They had persevered in the faith. However, the Thessalonians also grieved the loss of some of their loved ones who had died since Paul had left (1 Thess. 4:13), so Paul gives them an encouraging teaching so that they can “comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18). He says that Christians have a hope unlike any other pagan, that, when Christ returns to earth again, the “dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16). This means that their dead Christian brothers will come back to life and reunite with their bodies, as Christ Himself did at His own Resurrection (1 Thess. 4:14). Now, once Jesus returns and the dead come back to life, the rest of the Christians still alive on earth will go to Heaven as well, joining Christ with their separated brethren for all eternity (1 Thess. 4:17).