The church in Thessalonica was birthed during Paul's second missionary journey. After leaving Philippi, he traveled approximately 90 miles southwest to Thessalonica, where over several weeks he entered into the synagogue and preached. Paul's message to the Thessalonians was like they had never heard before, as he argued that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, not just the mere carpenter's son from Nazareth. This Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah that had been written about in Scripture.
The Thessalonians received the message of the gospel readily. Many Jews were converted to Christianity, and many Gentiles turned from idol worship to the living God. Even many prominent women in the Thessalonian society responded to Paul's message of salvation and deliverance. However, many other Jews did not so eagerly embrace Christianity.
There were a large number of zealous Jews who were not happy that those who had previously attended synagogue were being lured away. Those converted to Christianity were calling Jesus their Lord, a title that the Zealots believed was to be reserved only for the emperor. Their opposition to Paul's ministry in Thessalonica caused a civil uproar, and they attempted to find Paul to arrest him. Paul's companion, Jason, was arrested instead. After posting bail, he was released, but the Zealots still posed a threat to Paul. During the night, he left with Silas and headed for Berea, a city 60 miles southwest of Thessalonica.
Unfortunately, the Zealots pursued him there, stirring up the crowds against Paul, making his message nearly ineffective. Paul' ministry in all three European cities, Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea, were cut short because of tremendous opposition. But Paul's concern for the infant churches remained strong. After two failed attempts to return to the church in Thessalonica, Paul finally sent Timothy to check on their spiritual well-being. Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians was his response to the report that Timothy brought back.
The mood of Paul's letter was that of relief, knowing that the faith of the Thessalonians was strong, despite his absence. They also had expressed a genuine concern for his welfare, given his abrupt exile that he had experienced. Paul was encouraged by their steadfastness and spiritual growth, and he encouraged them to follow the example of Christ more and more in return. He exhorted them in areas such as sexual purity, support of spiritual leaders, brotherly love, and the like.
As for doctrinal instruction, many of the Thessalonians had questions regarding Christians who had died and whether they would miss out on Christ's return. With incredible love and insight, Paul walked the Thessalonians through the revelation that the dead in Christ will be the first to be raised. Then the Christians who are still alive will rise to meet the Lord in the air. Paul's outline of the gathering together not only offered hope to the Thessalonians in that day, but also provides incredible doctrinal instruction for believers today.
The book of 1 Thessalonians was chronologically the first book written in the New Testament, even having been written before the Gospels. Although his time there was brief, Paul's impact on the Thessalonians proved to be incredibly fruitful. Even with tremendous opposition and persecution, Christians there were able to stand strong in their faith, bringing joy and peace to Paul, their spiritual father.