Around AD 51, Paul, Silas and Timothy brought the message about Jesus the Messiah to the city of Thessalonica. Many people became believers, but there was a riot when Paul and Silas were accused of defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus (see Acts 17:1-9). They narrowly escaped with their lives and had to flee.
A little later Paul became concerned that the believers in Thessalonica might fall away from the faith due to the opposition they were facing. So he sent Timothy to encourage them (as a Greek he could make the trip more safely). When Timothy returned to Achaia with the welcome news that the Thessalonians had remained faithful, Paul wrote to express his joy.
In this short letter, Paul first recalls his time in Thessalonica and gives thanks for their continuing faith, despite trials and challenges. He teaches them to avoid sexual immorality, to love one another sincerely, and to work hard to earn their own living.
Paul then addresses a key pastoral question: What is the Christian hope for those who have died? He explains that believers who die before the royal appearance of the Messiah are not lost, but will surely be raised from the dead when he comes. He reminds the Thessalonians that Jesus will appear suddenly and unexpectedly. They should therefore live in such a way that they would be unashamed to greet him. Throughout the letter Paul’s basic message is, “Keep up the good work!”