We now move from one of the last parts of the New Testament to be written (John) to one of the first (only Galatians and Mark may be older). We know Paul was in Corinth when he wrote 1 Thessalonians (1 Thess 3:1-2), and we know from an archaeological connection to the mention of the Roman government official Gallio in Acts 18:12-17 that this places Paul in Corinth around AD 51 or 52. By al appearances, 2 Thessalonians was written shortly after, maybe six months later.
There are some letters of Paul that scholars argue were not actually written by Paul; the Thessalonian letters are not two of these. There is almost universal agreement that these are authentic Pauline letters.
We see from Acts 17 that Paul and Silas had quick, evangelistic success in Thessalonica even with prominent people in the city. Just as quickly, though, unbelieving Jews came in behind them to counter their work. Specifically, a mob was formed that chased Paul and Silas south to Berea and then to Athens, causing hardship for the new Thessalonian Christians like Jason and others. We should notice the charge brought against Paul and Silas by their opposition: “They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:7). Thessalonica was the capital city of Macedonia, a Roman colony widely inhabited by retired military officials in the Roman army and thus loyal to the king. It is worth noticing that in this milieu, the kingship of Jesus was still so foundational that Paul and Silas did not back down from sharing this fact.
Have you ever done something in a hurry and just hoped it lasted? If so, you understand why Paul wrote his Thessalonian letters. We don’t know exactly how long Paul stayed in Thessalonica, but it would have been shortly after the first converts were made. These new Christians were left unsupported and unguided, which would have been especially challenging as they had converted from paganism (1 Thess 1:9). In his absence, Paul begins to instruct them through his letters in godly living in a hostile world.
There are no letters of Paul’s that have more to say about the second coming of Christ than these two. Every chapter of 1 Thessalonians ends with a reference to the second coming (eschatology). With a doubt, this theme will run throughout all of our reading this week and a half. Eschatology is not an easy concept, therefore there is no surprise that the Thessalonians were struggling with this new teaching. Whether they should continue to work until Jesus returns appears to be an issue for them as does the cryptic “man of lawlessness” we will read about in 2 Thessalonians.