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© Rosemary Bardsley 2023

Paul’s two letters to the church in Thessalonica were both written not very long after his evangelistic/church planting mission there, most likely sometime during 50 or 51 AD.


Paul’s mission to Thessalonica is reported in Acts 17:1 – 9. Paul and Silas had been forced to leave the newly established church in Philippi, after having been falsely accused, mistreated and imprisoned there (Acts 16:11 – 40; 1Thessalonians 2:2). They had arrived at Thessalonica with that experience still fresh in their minds.

Read Acts 17:1 – 9, and answer these questions:

Where did Paul preach, and when?

What was the basis of his preaching? (verse 2)

What was his central message? (verse 3)


Who were persuaded by his message and became believers? (verse 4)


How did this impact other Jews? (verse 5)

What did they do? (verses 5 to 9)


What happened to Paul and Silas? (verse 10; 1Thessalonians 2:17)


Bible teachers disagree about how long Paul and Silas were in Thessalonica. Some think it was only about three weeks, because 17:2 says that Paul preached in the synagogue on three Sabbath days. Others suggest that after those three Sabbaths, Paul may no longer have been welcome in the synagogue, because of Jewish opposition, but continued to preach and teach elsewhere in the city. This may have been in Jason’s house (see 17:5). Certainly Paul says some things in his letters that may imply that he was there for more than three weeks – for example, he worked to earn money, so as not to be a financial burden (1Thessalonians 2:9; 2Thessalonians 3:6 – 10). Whether only three weeks, or some time longer, Paul was not there for an extended period. Because of the intense opposition focused on Paul and Silas the new believers sent Paul and Silas away by night after a riot stirred up by trouble-makers hired by the Jews (17:10).

Having had to leave Thessalonica and its new believers abruptly (1Thessalonians 2:17), Paul was concerned about them, and sent Timothy to encourage them and to find out how they and their new faith were going (1Thessalonians 3:1 – 5) in the context of significant opposition. His first letter was sent after Timothy had come back, and then the second letter some time not long after that. [It is thought that Paul was most likely in Corinth when he wrote these letters, having preached the gospel in Berea, where quite a number believed before he was forced to move on (Acts 17:12 - 15) and Athens, where only a few believed (Acts 17:34.]



Scattered through Paul’s two letters are comments about the Christians in the newly established church in Thessalonica. We get a clear idea that Paul was quite impressed by their faith.

What does Paul say about the Thessalonian believers in these verses from his first letter?
1:2 – 3










4:9, 10

From the above verses, what picture do you get of:
Their faith?

Their love?

Their hope?

Their attitude to the word of God?

How important they are to Paul?

1Thessalonians 1:9 summarizes the conversion of the Thessalonians: ‘you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God’. This summary indicates that many of the believers were previously idol-worshippers.



This vibrant faith of the Thessalonians began and grew in the context of persecution. The first hint we get of this is in 1:3 in the first letter. There Paul refers to the believers’ ‘endurance’ – a quality that is worthy of note only where there are difficulties that make it difficult to endure. Then in verse six, Paul says ‘in spite of severe suffering you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit’. This seems to indicate that even simply listening to Paul’s preaching attracted opposition to those listening. The ‘severe suffering’ because of the message was certainly there before they acknowledged Christ – but this did not deter them from welcoming the message with joy. This is a really amazing beginning.

This presence of opposition even as the message was being proclaimed is confirmed in 2:2, where Paul says that ‘with God’s help we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition’. These Thessalonians listened to the message even though the messengers were experiencing strong opposition as they preached.

In 2:14 – 16 Paul draws a similarity between the Thessalonian Christians’ persecution and the Judean Christians’ persecution – both suffered at the hands of their own countrymen. And in 3:3, 4 he reminded them that he had told them that those who believe in Christ are ‘destined’ for trials and persecution. This fact made him anxious about these very young Christians, whom he had not been able to spend much time teaching.

The persecution of the Thessalonian believers was still happening when Paul wrote his second letter: he commended them for their perseverance and faith “in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring’ – 1:4; they ‘were suffering’ for the kingdom of God – 1:4.

Some questions:
How difficult do you think it would have been to believe a message when those who preached the message were being persecuted?

What is the possibility that anyone would make a false response in such circumstances?

Read 1Thessalonians 1:5. How does this explain how and why these Thessalonians believed the Gospel despite the trouble it would bring?



From Acts 17 and from these two letters we are given some insights into how Paul went about his mission in Thessalonica.

His message explained and proved that Jesus is the Christ, and that he had to suffer and rise from the dead – Acts 17:3.

The gospel came to them ‘not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction’ – 1Th 1:5. It was not just a man speaking, but the convicting power of the Holy Spirit worked in and through Paul’s words. (Check John 16:7 – 11 for Jesus’ teaching on what the Spirit would do when he came to believers.) See also 2:13.

The way Paul and his associates lived was a demonstration and model of how followers of Christ should live – 1Th 1:5b, 6a; 2:10.

It is easy to think of Paul as strong and confident, but that is not the case. Having just suffered serious opposition and insult in Philippi, Paul obviously felt less than confident to preach and teach in Thessalonica. He refers to this in 1Thessalonians 2:2 and says ‘but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.’

Paul also refers to his motives in preaching, which he says were not based on error or deception, nor on flattery or greed or a personal need for praise. He saw himself as entrusted with the gospel by God, approved by God to preach the gospel – 1Th 2:3 – 6.

He was gentle and caring towards them – like a mother caring for her little children, like a father dealing with his own children – 1Th 2:7, 11, 12 – ‘encouraging, comforting and urging them to live lives worthy of God’. He shared his life with them because they had become dear to him – 2:8.

He worked hard to earn money, so as not to be a financial burden on the believers – 1Th 2:9; 2Th 3:6 – 10. [There were at that time itinerant religious teachers who were simply ‘in it for the money’.

Paul defends himself against accusations of being like that.]

He instructed them how to live in order to please God – 1Th 4:1, 2.

Even after he was forced to leave them his love and concern for them continued – 1Th 2:17 – 3:5. He continued to pray for them – 1Th 1:2,3; 3:10 – 13; 2Th 1:11,12.

He always thanked God for them – 1Th 1:2; 2Th 1:3; 2:13.

What has impressed you most about the way Paul went about his ministry?


What enabled Paul to continue like this, even in the context of strong opposition?


If you are engaged in ministry of some kind, how does Paul’s example encourage you or challenge you?


What strong impressions do you get about the church in Thessalonica?


How does the example of Paul and the Thessalonians instruct us about living in the context of opposition?


How relevant is it today to understand how to live as a marginalized group within an unbelieving and sometimes antagonistic culture?


What evidence of opposition to the word of God is present in your culture today?