What is the Book of 1 Thessalonians About?

Read this 3-minute introduction to help you find your bearings in the Bible story, and be inspired to read 1 Thessalonians!


Historical Context

Paul wrote this letter to the church in Thessalonica.He probably wrote in AD 49–51 from Corinth during his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1–18). 

From Remember that the ultimate author of every book of the Bible is the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). He has written this book to equip you for life, to help you know the true God, and to give you hope (2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4). The Holy Spirit wrote 1 Thessalonians for your good and to lead you into joy.

As we have already seen, Paul, Silas [as he is called in Acts, although the Greek here has the Latin form ‘Silvanus’] and Timothy were the missionary team who evangelized Thessalonica. It is natural, therefore, for Paul to associate Silas and Timothy with him in both his letters to the Thessalonians. This does not necessarily mean that they shared in composing them; it is more likely to have been a courteous gesture, since Silas and Timothy were so well known in the Thessalonian church, together with a general indication that they were in agreement with what Paul wrote. 

—John R. W. Stott 

Source: John. R. W. Stott in his book, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians: Preparing for the Coming King, which is part of the series The Bible Speaks Today, published by IVP Academic.

Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia, a Roman province in northern Greece. Boasting a population of more than 100,000, the city was a powerful commercial center in the Greco-Roman world. It was strategically located on the coast of the Aegean Sea at a key juncture along the Via Egnatia (a major Roman east-west highway). The city, therefore, attracted a diverse array of people and philosophies. This cosmopolitan makeup shaped its religious climate as well. While primarily polytheistic,[1] Thessalonica included a sizable number of monotheistic Jews.

In Acts 17:1–11, Luke recounts Paul’s visit to the city. He entered the local synagogue and on three consecutive Sabbaths “reasoned with them from the Scriptures” and proclaimed Jesus as the Christ (Acts 17:2–3 ESV). Some of the Thessalonians “were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women” (Acts 17:4 ESV). Nevertheless, a band of jealous Jews “formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd” (Acts 17:5 ESV). Unable to find Paul, Silas, or Timothy, they dragged Jason and some others before the authorities and charged them with sedition: “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:6–7 ESV). Narrowly escaping by night, Paul and his associates journeyed west to Berea, where, Luke notes, the Jews were “more noble than those in Thessalonica” (Acts 17:11 ESV). However, on learning that Paul was in Berea, some of the Thessalonian Jews “came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds” (Acts 17:13 ESV). Paul again escaped, sailing south to Athens (Acts 17:16–33).

[1] Polytheism – The belief in or worship of multiple (poly) gods (theism). The Thessalonians served and revered various Greco-Roman deities, including Aphrodite, Demeter, Dionysus, and Zeus. Idolatry was rampant in the city (1 Thessalonians 1:9).

—Matt Smethurst

Source: Content taken from 1–2 Thessalonians: A 12-Week Study © 2017 by Matt Smethurst. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Paul has received a report from Timothy about the Thessalonian church. Paul writes to them to restore their hope, which has been tested by unexpected deaths in the church. He reassures them that both the dead and the living believers will be safe at the second coming (1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11). In addition, Paul wants (1) to stress the authenticity of himself, Silas, and Timothy as preachers of the gospel (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2:1–12; 2:17–3:10); (2) to teach them that persecution is normal for Christians (1 Thessalonians 3:3–4); and (3) to challenge them to take responsibility for earning their own living (1 Thessalonians 4:9–12). 

The Setting of 1 Thessalonians

c. AD 49-51 

Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians from Corinth near the end of his second missionary journey. Paul and his companions had established the church in Thessalonica but were forced to leave by opponents of the gospel. Later, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to check on the church there, and Timothy’s report led Paul to write this letter. Thessalonica enjoyed privileged status as the capital of Macedonia and was located on a natural harbor along the busy east-west Egnatian Way.

Unless otherwise indicated, this content is adapted from the ESV Global Study Bible® (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2012 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Message Series

Living Like There Is No Tomorrow by Colin Smith

In this 8-part message series, Pastor Colin Smith encourages us from the book of 1 Thessalonians to live with a godly urgency. Our lives are passing. Christ is coming. The truth is, we really don’t know what tomorrow will bring. You will be motivated, challenged, and strengthened as you listen.

1 Thessalonians Dictionary

As you read through 1 Thessalonians, you might come across words and ideas that are foreign to you. Here are a few definitions you will want to know!

Chief angel. The term in the New Testament refers to Michael.

To have faith or to trust that something is true. The Bible tells us that we can believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and trust him to keep his promise to forgive sins. We show that we believe that God loves us and wants what is best for us by obeying his commands.

A piece of metal armor that protected a soldier’s throat and chest.

The Greek word that means “God’s Chosen One.” “Messiah” is the Hebrew word meaning the same thing. Jesus was the Christ.

An assembly or gathering. The word church is used to refer both to local groups of believers in Christ (church) as well as to all believers (Church).

(1) To be certain about the things we cannot see or to trust someone because of who he or she is. For example, a Christian has faith that Jesus is God’s Son. (2) The whole message about Jesus Christ—that he is God’s Son and that he came to take the punishment for our sin so that we may become members of God’s family. This describes the faith of a Christian.

(1) Literally, “good news.” The good news of the Bible is that God sent his Son, Jesus, to take the punishment for sin and then raised him from the dead so that any person who believes may have new life. (2) The story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ told in the first four books of the New Testament. The books are also called the four Gospels.

Pure; set apart; belonging to God. God is holy. He is perfect and without sin. Jesus is holy too. He is without sin and dedicated to doing what God wants. Because Jesus died to take the punishment for sin and then rose again, people who believe in him have the power to be holy too. God helps them to become more and more pure and loving, like Jesus.

The personal but unseen power and presence of God in the world. The book of Acts tells us that the Holy Spirit came to followers of Jesus in a special way after Jesus had gone back to heaven. The Holy Spirit lives within each person whose sins have been forgiven. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit is our helper and comforter. The Holy Spirit teaches us truth about God. He helps us understand the Bible and helps us pray in the right way. He gives us the power and strength to do what Jesus wants.

To continually treat someone cruelly or unfairly, even though the person has done nothing wrong. The early Christians were persecuted for teaching that Jesus is God’s Son.

(1) To be rescued (or delivered) from evil. (2) To be kept from danger or death. In the New Testament, salvation usually means to be rescued from the guilt and power of sin. By his death and resurrection, Jesus brings salvation to people who believe in him.

To be set apart for God’s use. A Christian’s sanctification is an ongoing process. When a person becomes a Christian, he or she is sanctified. The Holy Spirit continues helping him or her become more and more like Jesus, which is the process of sanctification.

Very great anger.

This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. 

Tough Questions