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1 Thessalonians 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verse 1


Paul wrote this first sentence to identify himself, his companions, and his addressees, and to convey a formal word of greeting.

At the time he wrote this epistle, Silas and Timothy were with Paul. "Silvanus" was the Roman form of his name, which Paul preferred over "Silas." Luke used "Silas" (Acts 15:22; et al.). No one knows if this Silvanus is the same man whom Peter mentioned in 1 Peter 5:12. Silas and Timothy were Paul’s primary associates on his second missionary journey during which the church at Thessalonica came into existence (Acts 15:40). We know more about Timothy’s background than we do about Silas’. Paul may have led Timothy to faith in Christ on the first missionary journey (1 Timothy 1:2; Acts 13-14). Timothy had recently returned to Paul in Corinth when Paul wrote this letter. He had come from Thessalonica bearing news of conditions in the church there (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 3:6). The Thessalonians knew all three men personally.

First and 2 Thessalonians are the only Pauline Epistles in which Paul did not elaborate on his name or the names of his fellow writers. This probably implies that his relationship with the Thessalonians was good and stable. [Note: D. Michael Martin, 1, 2 Thessalonians, p. 47.]

The "church" (Greek ekklesia) is a group of people, Jews and Gentiles equally, whom God has called out of the mass of humanity for a life separated unto Himself. The Greek word refers to many different types of assemblies (social, political, and religious), and in the Septuagint it is a synonym for "synagogue." This term became useful to Paul in gaining access to the Gentile world as well as in separating from the Jewish world.

Paul accorded Jesus Christ equality with God the Father. By calling Jesus Christ "Lord," Paul conveyed the idea, to both Jews and Gentiles, that Jesus is God; both groups would have understood this implication. [Note: Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, p. 48.] God is not only the strong, loving, security-bestowing Father, but He is also the sovereign Lord His people must obey.

"Grace" was a common Greek salutation that meant "greeting" or "rejoice." "Peace" is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew "shalom" meaning "favor," "well-being," and "prosperity in the widest sense," especially prosperity in spiritual matters. Paul used both words when he greeted the recipients of his epistles. God’s grace is the basis for and leads to our peace.

The absence of any reference to Paul’s apostleship in any of his inspired writings to the Macedonian churches, namely, those in Thessalonica and Philippi, is noteworthy. He mentioned his apostleship in all his other epistles and sometimes had to defend it vigorously (e.g., in 2 Corinthians). Evidently the Macedonian churches never questioned Paul’s apostleship as did the churches elsewhere (e.g., in Galatia and Corinth).

Verses 2-3

1. Summary statement 1:2-3

The Thessalonians’ response to the gospel and their continuance in the faith caused Paul and his companions to thank God for them continually. "Continually" is hyperbole meaning very often. Obviously Paul did not mean that he spent all his time praying for the Thessalonians. Three characteristics of these Christians stood out to Paul. First, they had turned to Christ in faith. Second, they had served Him out of love. Third, they had borne up under tribulation patiently because of the hope that lay before them. Each virtue found its object in Jesus Christ as they lived before God. They had exercised faith in the past when they first trusted Christ. They were loving Him in the present, and they were hoping for His return in the future (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:13).

"These three Christian virtues-faith, love, and hope-occupied a large place in early analyses of Christian responsibility. The expectation was that in every life faith would work (Galatians 5:6; James 2:18), love would labor (Revelation 2:2; Revelation 2:4), and hope would endure (Romans 5:2-4; Romans 8:24-25). This threefold balance probably arose even before Paul’s doctrinal stance had matured and perhaps came from the teachings of Christ himself." [Note: Thomas, p. 242. Cf. A. M. Hunter, Paul and His Predecessors, pp. 33-35.]

"The triad of faith, hope and love is the quintessence of the God-given life in Christ." [Note: Gunther Bornkamm, Paul, p. 219.]

Verses 2-10

A. Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians 1:2-10

Paul began the first main section of his epistle by reviewing several aspects of the Thessalonians’ salvation and giving thanks to God for them to encourage his readers to persevere despite persecution.

". . . both letters name Paul, Silas, and Timothy as the authors of the letters. Yet the letters are traditionally ascribed to Paul alone. Is this fair? Many scholars answer no. They note the way the first-person plural dominates both letters, even in the thanksgiving section, which does not happen in most of the other Pauline letters, including three of them that name someone else in the salutation (1 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon). The inclusion of more than one person in the salutation of a letter was most unusual in antiquity; readers would probably have read the plural ’we’ as a genuine indication of authorship. However, there is reason to pause before drawing this conclusion. . . . Paul is the primary author [cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:17]." [Note: Carson and Moo, pp. 534-44.]

"Paul, like a good psychologist, and with true Christian tact, begins with praise even when he meant to move on to rebuke." [Note: William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians, p. 217.]

Verses 2-13


This extended personal section of the epistle contains thanksgivings for the Thessalonian Christians, reminders for them, and concerns that Paul had regarding them.

Verses 4-5

Paul’s favorite appellation for the Thessalonians was "brothers." He used it 15 times in this epistle and seven times in 2 Thessalonians. It emphasizes the equality of Christians in the family of God, Jews and Gentiles alike, and it reveals Paul’s strong affection for his Thessalonian converts.

"The phrase beloved by God was a phrase which the Jews applied only to supremely great men like Moses and Solomon, and to the nation of Israel itself. Now the greatest privilege of the greatest men of God’s chosen people has been extended to the humblest of the Gentiles." [Note: Barclay, p. 218.]

Paul thanked God for choosing the Thessalonian believers for salvation. There are three participial clauses that modify the main verb eucharistoumen ("we give thanks," 1 Thessalonians 1:2). 1 Thessalonians 1:2 b gives the manner of giving thanks, 1 Thessalonians 1:3 the occasion, and 1 Thessalonians 1:4 the ultimate cause. Their response to the gospel proved God’s choice of them. Paul had not persuaded them by clever oratory, but the power (Gr. dynamei, dative case) of God through the Holy Spirit’s convicting work had brought them to faith in Christ (cf. Romans 1:16). This Greek word stresses inward power that possessed the missionaries, not necessarily that supernatural manifestations accompanied their preaching, which dynameis ("miracles," 1 Corinthians 12:10; Galatians 3:5) would have emphasized.

"The spiritual power and conviction with which the message was received matched the spiritual power and conviction with which it was delivered." [Note: Bruce, p. 15.]

The lives of the preachers who had behaved consistently with what they taught in Thessalonica had backed up their message.

"Conviction is invisible without action. Paul’s conviction as well as that of the Thessalonians (seen in their respective actions) testified to the genuine relationship that each had with the God who chose them . . ." [Note: Martin, p. 59.]

"Persons in both the religious and philosophical communities of the first century felt that the only teachers worth a moment’s attention were those who taught with their lives as well as with their words." [Note: Ibid. Cf. A. J. Malherbe, Moral Exhortation, A Greco-Roman Sourcebook, pp. 34-40.]

Verses 4-10

2. Specific reasons 1:4-10

Verses 6-7

Paul was also grateful that his readers had demonstrated the fruit of their faith by becoming followers of their teachers and their Lord. They had welcomed the gospel message even though it had meant much suffering for them because of the persecution of unbelieving Jews and Gentiles. Most of the New Testament writers took for granted that tribulation is the normal experience of Christians (cf. John 16:33; Acts 14:22). Nevertheless with tribulation joy had also come to them, the joy of sins forgiven. News of their good example had circulated within their own province of Macedonia but had also reached their neighboring province to the south, Achaia. This excellent example included generously giving to other Christians in need (2 Corinthians 8:1-8).

"This is high praise, for in the first place Paul calls no other church a pattern, and in the second he thinks of them as examples, not only to the heathen, but to Christians throughout Greece." [Note: Morris, The Epistles . . ., p. 38.]

Verse 8

The Thessalonians had acted as relay runners by passing the gospel they had heard on to farther places. They were a missionary church.

"The figure is of an echo that continues indefinitely (perfect tense, eksechetai, ’rang out’) and implies the persistence of the testimony over an ever-increasing expanse . . ." [Note: Thomas, p. 247.]

They were so effective at this that Paul felt his ministry of pioneer evangelism was no longer necessary in that area. Possibly only the news of the Thessalonians’ faith had circulated widely but they had not sent out missionaries. [Note: Martin, p. 63.]

Verse 9

Other people were telling Paul how effective his readers had become at spreading the gospel since they had heard it from him. They reported how the Thessalonians had turned from idols to serve the only divine and true God (cf. Titus 2:11-13). This was the evidence of their faith and love (1 Thessalonians 1:3). [Note: For a good explanation of the relationship between repentance and faith, see Charles C. Ryrie, So Great Salvation, pp. 91-100.] This reference indicates a sizable Gentile population in the church since idolatry was a Gentile vice. There were evidently two types of Gentiles in the Thessalonian church: pagan Gentiles who had been idolaters and God-fearing Gentiles (cf. Acts 17:4).

"The language of separation occurs with regularity in the Thessalonian correspondence (1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; 1 Thessalonians 4:12-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:5 f.; 2 Thessalonians 1:7 f.; 2 Thessalonians 2:11 f.; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:14 f.) and serves in a negative way to mark the boundary between those who belong to the Christian community and those who do not, thereby encouraging the new Christian identity. Similarly, the language of belonging is also prominent in the Thessalonian correspondence (1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 2:6 [sic], 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15;2 Thessalonians 3:16)." [Note: Wanamaker, p. 16.]

Paul’s description of God as living does not simply mean that He is alive; it means that He is also active. He is the true (genuine, Gr. alethinos) God as opposed to false, unreal gods.

Verse 10

They were also awaiting the return of God’s Son "out of the heavens" (Gr. ek ton ouranon). This is the only place in 1 and 2 Thessalonians where Paul called Jesus God’s Son. Their action was the evidence of their hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3). Jesus’ resurrection is indisputable proof of His deity and the prerequisite to His return.

"To the extent that the Thessalonians accepted the resurrection as an act of God, it would give them confidence in the prospect of Christ’s coming in power." [Note: Ibid., p. 87.]

"Believers live anticipating a coronation (2 Timothy 4:8) rather than a condemnation." [Note: Martin, p. 66.]

"Wrath is the holy revulsion of God’s being against that which is the contradiction of his holiness." [Note: John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans , 1:35.]

When Paul spoke of "the wrath to come" did he have in mind the general outpouring of God’s wrath on unbelievers in eternal damnation? Or did he mean a specific instance of God outpouring His wrath at a particular time in history yet future? The commentators, regardless of their eschatological positions, take both positions on this question. For example, some amillennialists believe Paul was speaking generally. [Note: E.g., William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of I and II Thessalonians, p. 57.] However other amillennialists believe Paul referred to a specific event, namely, the judgment associated with the second coming of Christ. [Note: E.g., Morris, The Epistles . . ., pp. 40-41, and idem, The First . . ., p. 64.] In the amillennial scheme of things this judgment will end the present age. Premillennialists also disagree with one another on this point. For example, some take Paul’s words as a general reference. [Note: E.g., John F. Walvoord, The Thessalonian Epistles, p. 17; and David A. Hubbard, "The First Epistle to the Thessalonians," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1350, who was a premillennial posttribulationist.] Others believe Paul had in mind the Tribulation, which for a pretribulationist is the next great outpouring of God’s wrath in history. [Note: E.g., D. Edmond Hiebert, The Thessalonian Epistles, p. 71.]

If this was the only reference to "the wrath to come" in this epistle, we might conclude that Paul was probably referring to the outpouring of God’s wrath on unbelievers generally. There is no specific reference to a particular judgment here. However, later he spent considerable space writing about the outpouring of God’s wrath in the Tribulation (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11). Therefore it seems to me that this is the first reference to that outpouring of wrath in the epistle (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:9). The biblical revelation about the relationship of church saints to the wrath of God strongly implies a pretribulation rapture of the church. [Note: See Renald E. Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord, Come! A Definitive Study of the Rapture of the Church, pp. 192-222; and Gerald B. Stanton, Kept from the Hour, pp. 25-50.]

". . . the choice of erchomene [’come’] rather than mellousa [’come’] . . . may have been determined by the fact that Paul purposes to express not so much the certainty . . . as the nearness of the judgment. Nearness involves certainty but certainty does not necessarily involve nearness." [Note: James E. Frame, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, p. 89.]

The outpouring of God’s wrath occurs at many times in history. One of these judgments is the Tribulation (Matthew 24:21; Revelation 7:14) that will come upon the whole earth in the future (Revelation 3:10). Another is the great white throne judgment at the end of the Millennium (Revelation 20:11-15).

"Used technically, as it so frequently is in the NT, ’wrath’ (orges) is a title for the period just before Messiah’s kingdom on earth, when God will afflict earth’s inhabitants with an unparalleled series of physical torments because of their rejection of His will [i.e., the Tribulation] (Matthew 3:7; Matthew 24:21; Luke 21:23; Revelation 6:16-17)." [Note: Thomas, p. 248.]

The Greek preposition ek, translated "from," can mean either "away from" or "out of." Other passages teach that believers will not experience any of God’s wrath (e.g., John 3:36; John 5:24; Romans 5:1; Romans 8:1; Romans 8:34; et al.). Consequently "away from" seems to be the idea Paul intended here. [Note: See Daniel B. Wallace, "A Textual Problem in 1 Thessalonians 1:10: ’Ek tes ’Orges vs ’Apo tes ’Orges," Bibliotheca Sacra 147:588 (October-December 1990):470-79.]

How will God keep believers "away from" His wrath as He pours it out during the Tribulation? Pretribulationists say He will do so by taking us to heaven before the Tribulation begins. [Note: John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question, p. 72. Cf. Revelation 3:10.] Midtribulationists say we will enter the Tribulation, but God will take us to heaven before the outpouring of His wrath that will occur only during the second half of the Tribulation. [Note: Harold John Ockenga, "Will the Church Go Through the Tribulation? Yes," Christian Life (February 1955), pp. 22, 66.] Posttribulationists believe we will go through the entire Tribulation and God will protect us from the outpouring of His wrath during that time. [Note: George E. Ladd, The Blessed Hope, p. 121-22; J. Barton Payne, The Imminent Appearing of Christ, p. 143; Arthur D. Katterjohn, The Tribulation People, p. 98; William R. Kimball, The Rapture: A Question of Timing, p. 70; and Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ, p. 226.] 1 Thessalonians 1:10 does not state exactly how God will deliver us "away from" His wrath when He will pour it out in the Tribulation. Other passages in 1 Thessalonians, however, point to a pretribulational deliverance (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-10).

Preservation from the wrath of God is part of the believer’s hope. This chapter, like all the others in this epistle, closes with a reference to Jesus Christ’s return (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:23).

"That attitude of expectation is the bloom, as it were, of the Christian character. Without it there is something lacking; the Christian who does not look upward and onward wants one mark of perfection." [Note: James Denney, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, p. 59.]

"To wait for him has ethical implications; those who wait are bound to live holy lives so as to be ready to meet him (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8; 1 Thessalonians 5:23)." [Note: Bruce, p. 19.]

"In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 the Thessalonian believers are pictured as waiting for the return of Christ. The clear implication is that they had a hope of His imminent return. If they had been taught that the great tribulation, in whole or in part, must first run its course, it is difficult to see how they could be described as expectantly awaiting Christ’s return. Then they should rather have been described as bracing themselves for the great tribulation and the painful events connected with it." [Note: Hiebert, p. 205. Cf. Bruce, p. 18; Stanton, pp. 108-37; Wayne A. Brindle, "Biblical Evidence for the Imminence of the Rapture," Bibliotheca Sacra 158:630 (April-June 2001):142-44. ]

Imminent means likely, not certain, to happen without delay: impending. Other passages that teach the imminency of the Lord’s return include 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Philippians 3:20; Philippians 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2; Titus 2:13; James 5:7-9; 1 John 2:28; and Revelation 3:11; Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:12; Revelation 22:17; Revelation 22:20. [Note: See Earl D. Radmacher, "The Imminent Return of the Lord," in Issues in Dispensationalism, pp. 247-67; and Showers, pp. 127-53.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/1-thessalonians-1.html. 2012.
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