The apostle Paul’s two letters to the Christians at Thessalonica are borne out of his deep affection for the congregants who had so quickly received the gospel not only “in word . . . but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with full assurance.” (1 Thes 1:5) Paul, along with Silas and Timothy, had spent three Sabbaths with the Thessalonians, reasoning “from the Scriptures” the necessity and acuity of Jesus’s death and resurrection, sparking a remarkable spiritual awakening. (Acts 17:2–4) So great was the Holy Spirit’s influence on them that the Thessalonians “became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” (1 Thes 1:6) Word spread rapidly of the Thessalonians’ reception of the apostle’s doctrine; and, just as rapidly, opposition besieged this newly-formed congregation.
Moved by an insipid hatred and envy of the apostle’s success, a riot is stirred in the city, consisting of a mob of jealous Jews and “wicked men.” (Acts 17:5) The rioters search the streets for Paul and his team, endeavoring to bring them before the “public assembly.” (Acts 17:5) They do not find them, however, as the uproar forces Paul and his companions to flee Thessalonica prematurely (1 Thes 2:17; Acts 17:10), leaving the newborn believers in jeopardy as the opposers run amok, assailing their newfound faith. In lieu of the missionaries, the rioters drag “Jason and some of the brothers before the city officials,” openly persuading them of the absurdity of the apostle’s doctrine and publicly charging them with insurrection against Caesar. (Acts 17:6–7)
The inopportune backdrop that framed the Thessalonians’ spiritual arousal moves the apostle Paul to situate the Thessalonian believers in the larger narrative framework of the gospel. (1 Thes 1:9; 2:14–15) Their afflictions were not strong enough to thwart the advance of God’s good news among them. Paul reminds them that their strength and comfort in the midst of this commotion is found in the fact that as they suffer for the sake of the gospel, they are, likewise, integrated into the larger narrative of God’s cosmological reconciliation, which is accomplished through suffering. (1 Thes 3:3–5) “By this emphasis on their place in the people of God and their links with the apostolic mission,” J. W. Simpson asserts, “Paul gives the Thessalonian Christians a way of thinking about themselves that will enable them to stand with certainty in the adversity they are experiencing.”1
The pandemonium which accompanied the movement of the Spirit in Thessalonica was not enough to squash their resolve. The Thessalonians received the gospel “with joy from the Holy Spirit,” notwithstanding the “severe persecution” that materialized and threatened their infant faith. (1 Thes 1:6) Such is the cause for Paul’s rejoicing when he hears Timothy’s report of their steadfastness. (1 Thes 3:1–7) Such, too, is the reason for his intimate appeal of the Thessalonians throughout his first letter to them. (1 Thes 1:8–12) Paul’s paternal care for this novel church is abundantly evident, as he refers to the Thessalonians as his own “brothers and sisters” (1 Thes 1:4; 2:1, 14, 17; 3:7), “imitators” (1 Thes 1:6; 2:14), and his own “children.” (1 Thes 2:6, 11) “Indeed you are our glory and joy!” he even exclaims. (1 Thes 2:20) In the Thessalonians’ Spirit-filled determination to “stand firm in the Lord” under duress (1 Thes 3:8), they were, therefore, evidencing the irrefutable work and word of Christ as not only the Champion of their faith but also the ever-present Companion of those who suffer.
J. W. Simpson Jr., “Letters to the Thessalonians,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 933.