1 Thessalonians Introduction and Overview  --  Gil Rugh

Introduction and Overview
1st Thessalonians


Gil Rugh

Copyright © Indian Hills Community Church, Lincoln, Nebraska

GR1113  -  1st Thessalonians

The following text is taken from sermons preached by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. The text has been edited and condensed by IHCC staff and may contain some material from adjacent sermons in the series.

irst Thessalonians was written around 50 AD, and was one of the first epistles written by the apostle Paul. Based on this date, the letter to the church at Thessalonica was written less than 20 years after the crucifixion of Christ.

Paul established the church on his second missionary journey. Paul's decision to make this journey is recorded in Acts 15:36. Originally, Paul and Barnabas planned to make the trip together, but after disagreeing on whether to take Mark with them, Barnabas separated from Paul, taking Mark with him to Cyprus. Paul decides to bring a new associate, Silas, with him to Thessalonica (Acts 15:37-40). Early in the tour, the Holy Spirit keeps them from going into areas of Asia, directing them instead to Macedonia (Acts 16:9). So Paul and Silas leave Troas, and depart for Macedonia, taking the gospel to Europe for the first time.


The first major city they come to is Philippi (Acts 16:12). It is here that they share the gospel with Lydia, a merchant woman from Thyatira. The Lord opens her heart and she believes and is saved. She is the first convert on European soil. And as we will see, women played a major role in the Macedonian ministry, and are some of the key converts on Paul's journey throughout this part of the world.

As Paul and Silas continue to share the gospel, opposition begins to build. After they cast a demon out of a girl, they are beaten and thrown into prison. It is here that we see the sovereign control of God in one of the outstanding conversions in ministry. While Paul and Silas are in prison, an earthquake occurs and opens the jail doors. When the jailer arrives, he expects to find Paul and Silas escaped, but Paul announces that they have not left.

Through this experience, the jailer recognizes the supernatural hand of God in what has transpired. In Acts 16:30 he says, "...sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They answer, "...Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household." Did that mean that the salvation of the jailer would result in the salvation of his entire family? No, the point is that salvation is available to all those who will believe in the person and work of Christ. In Acts 16:32-34, Paul and Silas minister to the jailer and his entire family. As a result of hearing the Word of God, the jailer and his entire household are saved and baptized.

The experience of Paul and Silas in Philippi could be considered a mixed blessing. On one hand, they were beaten severely and thrown in prison. On the other hand, they witnessed the salvation of several people. However, they are not allowed to stay and build their ministry. Because of the opposition, they encourage their converts and move on. I imagine this would have been a very difficult task because of the burden they felt for these new believers. But they had to leave Philippi in order to avoid the continually increasing pressure.


As Paul and Silas travel to Thessalonica (90-100 miles southwest of Philippi), they pass through Amphipolis and Apollonia (Acts 17:1). After arriving in Thessalonica, Paul went to the Jewish synagogue in the city to begin his ministry. It was his practice to center his ministry in the synagogue if the town had one. Acts 17:2 says, "And according to custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures." He went to the synagogues because he could "reason" (literally "conduct a discussion") with the Jews out of the Old Testament Scriptures, and it gave his ministry a starting point.

What did he do in-between Sabbaths? We find that he held a job while he was in Thessalonica. He had to support himself, so he worked during the week and preached in the synagogues on the Sabbath. Evidently, he also ministered to pagans who worshipped idols, because we will see in the first letter to the Thessalonians that many of them became believers. How long was he there? We know he was there for at least three weeks. However, it may have been as long as three months. At any rate, Paul and Silas had a relatively short ministry in the city of Thessalonica.

There were three points Paul conveyed in his message in Acts 17:3: (1) The Christ had to suffer, (2) The Christ had to die and be raised from the dead, and (3) Jesus is the Christ. He would establish from Scriptures that the Messiah would have to suffer, die, and be raised from the dead. After establishing this fact, he would provide the evidence that proved Jesus fulfilled the prophecy, therefore He is the Messiah. He says, "explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, 'This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.'" The word "explain" means "to interpret", or " to open something up." Paul would take the Scriptures and open up the truth to those in the synagogue concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ.

This was the established ministry pattern of Paul. We see this truth in 1 Corinthians 2:1-2, "And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." One will note the simplicity of Paul's pattern. He didn't preach with brilliant intellect, or brilliant speech. Rather he preached the brilliant simplicity of the gospel of Christ--He suffered, He died, and He was raised again, and by believing in Him we will be forgiven of our sins. Everywhere that Paul went, he gave the same message.

See also Acts 13:27-39

What was the impact of that simple message? Acts 17:4 says, "And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a great multitude of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women." There are three groups of people mentioned in this verse. First, "some of them were persuaded." This refers to those Jews who became converts because they are distinguished apart from the other groups. "God-fearing Greeks" were the Gentile converts to Judaism, They were a ripe field for the gospel in New Testament times because they had come to recognize the truth of the Old Testament, but they didn't fit in because they were not Jewish. Many of them came to believe the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The last group of converts listed in verse four is "a number of leading women." This includes all the women converts in the providence of Macedonia. At this time, women played a more open and prominent role in all the activities of life, And, according to verse 4, they were some of the first to believe the gospel message as well.


Many times a sign that one's preaching is effective is opposition to that ministry. This is exactly what happens to Paul and Silas. Acts 17:5-9 says that the Jews became "jealous" and formed an angry mob. They put the city in an uproar. Eventually, they came to the house of Jason, where Paul and Silas were staying. After receiving a "pledge" (a bond or guarantee that there would be no more trouble) from Jason, Paul and Silas were released. Finally, they were sent away at night to the city of Berea. It is not brilliance that causes many to convert to Christianity. It is not the smooth delivery of his message that causes many to oppose him. It is the message itself. Every believer, regardless of how long he has been saved, should be able to spread the simple message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So often, we try to re-invent the wheel when we are witnessing to somebody. We try to make the gospel seem more exciting or logical. We fail to realize that it is the gospel itself--(Christ suffered, Christ died on the cross for our sins, Christ was raised from the dead, and we can have eternal life when we trust Him as our Lord and Savior)--that God uses to bring salvation to depraved humanity, And above all else, this is the one, simple thing people need to hear from us.

In Acts 17:6, we see the impact that the gospel had on Thessalonica; "And when they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, 'These men who have upset the world have come here also." The word "upset" means "to disturb," or "to trouble." The impact of Paul's ministry has been so strong that the Jews knew who he was. The word had spread concerning his message of Jesus Christ. So, according to the Jews, Paul and Silas were the men who "disturbed" the whole "world" with their message.

Verse 7 continues, "and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus." Notice how the Jews say they are such good Romans? They say, "There is no other king besides Caesar." These Jews had not changed in the 17 years since the crucifixion of Christ. They rejected Paul's message and stirred up the crowd and authorities against them.

Finally, we see in verse 10 that Paul and Silas are sent "away by night." Evidently, because of the bond secured from Jason, and the problems they are having in the city, they recognize that they must leave Thessalonica "immediately." This is an indication of how serious the situation is. Paul and Silas could not even sleep over night and leave in the morning. They had to leave right away, under the cover of night.

After experiencing this type of persecution and danger in city after city, most of us might think, "Maybe I should try a different approach." But what does Paul do? When he and Silas arrive in Berea, they "went into the synagogue of the Jews" (Acts 17:10). Paul is a slow learner isn't he? He gets kicked out of one city, and he goes to another city and does exactly the same thing. If I were traveling with Paul I might have said, "Paul, what are you doing? Don't you remember what just happened in Thessalonica?" To which Paul would have probably responded, "Yes, people were saved by hearing the gospel." He didn't care about the persecution he had endured. He knew that it was part of his job. Instead of laying low for a few days, he immediately went into a synagogue and began preaching the Word of God.

Was Berea the same as Thessalonica? According to verse 11, it was different; "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so." Paul presented the same message to the Jews in Berea as he had in Thessalonica, but the Jews in Berea had open hearts, They were willing to look at the Scriptures openly to see if claims concerning Christ were true. The result was "Many of them therefore believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men" (verse 12). Again, we see the impact of the gospel on the Gentiles during Paul's ministry.

This is more like it. Paul shares the gospel, the Jews are open minded, and many Jews and Gentiles are saved. This seems like the perfect city in which to stay. But God has other plans for Paul. Verses 13-14 says, "But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there likewise, agitating and stirring up the crowds. And then immediately the brethren sent Paul out to go as far as the sea; and Silas and Timothy remained there." Again, Paul must flee the city because of the danger he faced. Because he was the focal point of the ministry, Paul was the one who left Berea, while Silas and Timothy remained.


So Paul flees the city of Berea and comes to Athens. What does he do? Does he check into a cheap motel, pull the blinds, and wait? No. He was "reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present" (Acts 17:17). It is clear to see the pattern of the apostle Paul. He was dedicated to sharing the simple message of Jesus Christ with all those with whom he came in contact, both Jews and Gentiles. He was willing to endure persecution and opposition in order to have the privilege of leading people to Christ, even if he had to flee the from the city.

We know he had a very successful ministry because he writes back to the church at Philippi, he writes back to the church at Thessalonica, he writes back to the church at Corinth.., etc. God accomplished His purposes in the life and ministry of the apostle Paul by building up believers wherever Paul ministered. We need to have that same kind of attitude. Often, when we share the news of Jesus Christ with someone, and they are saved we think, "This is great. I want to spend my whole life telling people about Christ." Then, when we encounter a few closed doors, a few cutting remarks, or a little persecution, we think "Maybe this isn't for me after all." We need to learn from the example of Paul. He endured persecution to the point where he had to flee for his life. However, he never wavered in his presentation of the simple message of the gospel of Christ, nor in his concern that those who received the message grew in their faith.

This is evident in the letters to the churches. Consider the letter to the church at Thessalonica. He says, "Paul and Sylvanus (Silas) and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; Grace to you and peace" (1 Thessalonians 1:1). It is amazing that although Paul only spent a short time in Thessalonica, he had established that body of believers into a local church. They didn't need a lot of doctrine, or years of studying before they became committed. Every city established a local church, and then Paul would write them, visit them, and send messengers to them to build them up in their faith and maturity in Jesus Christ. This was not a small task when one considers that the oldest believer at the church of Thessalonica would have been saved for no more than three months. Not only that, but each of these churches was located in a city where they would have had to endure tremendous persecution. The fact is, many of these Christians probably lost their jobs and became social outcasts in their cities for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Paul says that the Thessalonians are a church "...in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." This would have been a tremendous encouragement to these believers, and a reminder that they are part of the body of Christ. The preposition "in" grammatically joins God the Father and Jesus Christ together. It is a clear indication of the deity of Jesus Christ. The picture is that God the Father is their Father. The stress is on the security He provides through His love and strength. Paul is saying, "I can't be there, but don't worry. You are in God the Father." He reminds them that they are joined to live in that sphere with "God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (See also Colossians 3:3)


Paul concludes verse 1 with a word of greeting. He says, "Grace to you and peace." Paul is writing this greeting to those whom he had led to Christ. This term means "unmerited favor," It is God's gracious provision to those who have experienced His salvation, and the constant provision He makes for those who belong to Him. We see this truth in 2 Corinthians 12:9. As Paul prayed to God to deliver him from the thorn of flesh in his side (the messenger of Satan that made his ministry so much more difficult), God said, "...My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." The provision of God is adequate and sufficient. There is no need to remove our thorns because He will make adequate provision to enable us to stand up and carry on our ministry effectively. This is Paul's message to the Thessalonians.

When we are at our weakest, encountering "insults, distresses, persecutions, with difficulties," we are at our strongest because Christ's power is clearly seen in us. It is a paradox. It is when we are weakest, humanly speaking, that we are at our strongest, spiritually speaking. When Paul writes the Thessalonians, "Grace to you..." that is a very meaningful expression. It is a reminder that, no matter what happens to them, they will be able to stand and be strong through the daily provision of God the Father.

The same is true for us today. We, as a church, are under the control and authority of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are privileged to live in the realm of His grace and peace. As believers, we will be recipients of God's gracious provision and strength, no matter what the circumstances of our lives.

In light of that, we need to be evaluating how God will use each one of us in the local church. Specifically, what job has God given you? But regardless of how we particularly function in the local church, we are all called to be clearly presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ to those whom God brings into our lives.

Basically, we are individually responsible to serve the Lord Jesus Christ and bring glory and honor to Him. We do that by being a testimony for Him to the world and by functioning properly in the local church. Our study in 1 Thessalonians will help us to be better equipped to do just that.

Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.

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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.

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