Paul and Silas had been at Philippi by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They had been there for a while when they cast a demon out of the young girl who was fortune telling. They were subsequently beaten and imprisoned. The town officials wanted Paul to just go away quietly after they found out he was a Roman citizen. It was illegal to punish a citizen of Rome without a hearing or judgment against him. So, they wanted Paul to agree to go away. They let him out of prison and asked him to leave.
After staying with Lydia for a time and encouraging the saints, Paul went on his way. He traveled about 80 miles through Amphipolis and Apollonia, basically bypassing these cities to come to Thessalonica. This is detailed in Acts 17. Paul's approach was the same he used in many other cities. He went to the synagogue where he was allowed to teach. He taught there for three Sabbaths, reasoning with them using the scripture. Paul showed these Jews in the synagogue that Jesus was their long awaited messiah. Some people believed but it wasn't long that the other Jews were stirred up against him.
They didn't like Paul's message, he was upsetting things so they incited a mob with the intent to at least run these guys off if not kill them. The mob couldn't find Paul and Silas so they dragged some of the other Christians before the rulers of the town. They grabbed Jason, apparently that's who Paul and Silas were staying with, and they took him before the town leaders and said, "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus."
Isn't this amazing? We have the testimony of the most devout and religious group of that day, the Jews, testifying that the disciple of Jesus had the reputation of 'those who turned the world upside down.' The message of this Jesus had been brought to their town by these men who turned the world upside down. But they liked their world the way it was. They didn't need these Jesus Freaks messing things up.
Paul left Thessalonica so he wouldn't cause further problems for the believers due to the mob action. We know the names of a few of the new believers he left behind, we know Jason was one of them. Another was a guy by the name of Aristarchus. When Paul came to Thessalonica, Aristarchus heard the gospel and was saved. We don't know anything about the life of Aristarchus before Paul came to town but we know quite a bit about him after. His world was turned upside when he believed and his life was changed.
This name, Aristarchus, should sound familiar if you've studied the book of Colossians recently. There it says that he was in chains with Paul in Rome. His adventure and walk with the Lord started right there in Thessalonica amidst all this chaos. Aristarchus believed and right off the bat the believers are being hunted down by a mob. Aristarchus may have been nabbed in this riot.
We know that later, while traveling with Paul, he got thumped in the riot in Ephesus. And after that, he went on the ship with Paul to Rome and was shipwrecked. And, of course, he ended up in prison with him in Rome. Aristarchus may well have made himself a slave to Paul so he could remain with him throughout his travels.
After shaking things up in Thessalonica by bringing the gospel message, we know Paul left there and went on to Berea. We don't know if Aristarchus was with him at that point or not. After a few stops Paul ended up in Corinth. In the meantime, Timothy had gone back to Thessalonica. When Timothy and Silas returned to Paul in Corinth they brought news of their travels. Timothy told Paul all about the Thessalonian Christians.
Timothy gave a good report on what was going on there. And Paul wrote to encourage the church and answer some of their questions. We'll see a wide array of topics addressed in the 5 chapters of this book. These were Christians, young in their faith, yet living in a time of persecution. And any time the elect of God are seeking him, there will be tests and trials. All these serve to build us up on our faith but they also generate concerns and questions. Satan is quick to use these concerns and question to try to cast doubts and strike fear in the hearts of believers. Paul is going to teach them and us in this letter in an effort to calm fears and build faith while answering questions and quieting the concerns of the believers.
Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia. This city existed for over 4000 years under numerous names. In 315 BC King Cassander of Macedonia founded the city and named it after his wife, Thessalonica. Thessalonica was the half-sister of Alexander the Great.
This city was on a main east-west highway called the via Egnatia. This made it a hub of political and commercial activity. It was connected to the world in many ways. And with all these connections it was a melting pot of spirituality.
Thessalonica was the largest city of Macedonia and had a population of 200,000. It made a perfect place for a new church because as a cultural hub with tentacles reaching throughout the world it was a great place from which to spread the gospel. With the fame of Thessalonica and the importance of the city it became known as the Mother of Macedonia.
In Paul's day of 51 AD, it had the status of a "free city" which means it was ruled by its own citizens instead of a Roman politician. So, this city and its leaders were not seen as a threat to Rome. That's the setting of the story and some history of Thessalonica.
Now Paul was in Corinth spreading the gospel there when he wrote this letter. Up to this point in Paul's life he had traveled quite a bit and started several churches. Many were started after just a short visit just like Thessalonica. The book of Acts said he only taught in the synagogue 3 weeks before the Jews were running him out of town. He may have been there longer than 3 weeks but it probably wasn't too much longer.
You can imagine Paul sitting in Corinth, he had to be somewhat concerned about these young churches surviving in these places that started riots, beat Christians, threw them in jail or ran them out of town. How could a church survive there? As the excitement of these new believers settled into a day by day walk of faith could they hold on?
We can imagine Paul's excitement when he received good news from Timothy about the believers and the new church in Thessalonica. They were doing well. In his excitement of receiving this good news, Paul sat to write a letter to this church. This is either the first or second of Paul's epistles he wrote. They know the date of 1 Thessalonians pretty firmly but the letter to the Galatians may have been first, depending on how it is dated. That letter is a little harder to date. So, 1 Thessalonians is either the first or second letter written by Paul that was preserved by the Holy Spirit for the bible.
So Paul was sitting in the immoral cesspool of Corinth. We know all about the city of Corinth and all that was going on there, those things had to be on was on Paul's mind as he wrote. But first on his mind was always the message that turned the world upside down. It was this message of Jesus Christ; the son of God who came and died for the sins of men. The hope found in Jesus Christ was always on his mind. With that, we know Paul's heart and where he is sitting and we know the setting and a few of the people in Thessalonica. Paul put his pen to the parchment and wrote this letter to the church in Thessalonica.