Faithful to the Finish: Overview of 1 and 2 Thessalonians

The author of 1 and 2 Thessalonians is Paul (1 Thess 1:1; 2:18; 2 Thess 1:1; 3:17) who wrote both of these letters during his during his 18 months in Corinth (cf. Acts 18:1–18a, esp. 18:11). In hearing of their welfare from Timothy (cf. 1 Thess 3:1–10), Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians. Paul then wrote 2 Thessalonians, perhaps after the courier of 1 Thessalonians returned and told Paul of how they continued to fare.

A snapshot summary of each book is given below and a survey of each book’s contents as well.1

The Message of 1 Thessalonians: If you are truly converted (1:2–2:12), even when you suffer (2:13–16), you will live as Christians (4:1–5:22) and persevere (2:17–3:13; cf. 5:23–24), knowing that the day of the Lord is coming (5:1–11). This is an apostolic message for all Christians today (cf. 1:1; 5:25–28).

1 Thessalonians was written to encourage believers concerning…

Conversion (1:1–10): Paul thanked God that the Thessalonians were truly converted (1:2–5) and that it was widely known because of it occurred in persecution and involved rejecting idols (1:6–10).

Criticism (2:1–12): Paul answered criticisms of error, impurity, deception, man-pleasing, etc. with the fact that he was like a parent who worked to serve his children.

Calamity (2:13–16): the Thessalonians were experiencing the same afflictions as the Jews in Judea, and their persecutors would be judged.

Continuing (2:17–3:13): Paul wanted to see them but was hindered (2:17–20). He sent Timothy and heard that they were persevering in spite of persecution (3:1–10). He prayed that they would continue in the faith and stand in perfection before the Father when Christ comes again (3:11–13).

Conduct (4:1–5:22): They were to abstain from immorality (4:1–8), keep to themselves, and work hard (4:9–12). They could be encouraged that the living and heaven-dwelling saints would be reunited at the Lord’s coming (4:13–18). The day of the Lord would come quickly, and they were live for salvation from this wrath (5:1–11). They were to honor pastors, be at peace, work with the struggling, do good in all things, rejoice, pray, give thanks, and hear when the Spirit speaks (5:12–22).

Conclusion (5:23–28): Paul prayed for them to conclude their lives by standing perfect before God (5:23–24) and gave his own request for prayer (5:25), a greeting (5:26), a command to read (5:27), and final prayer (5:28).

The Message of 2 Thessalonians: God will comfort you in suffering (1:1–12), especially if you are thinking correctly about the end (2:1–17) and living in light of that day (3:1–18).

2 Thessalonians was written to…

Comfort the discouraged (1:1–12): After introducing the letter (1:1–2), Paul thanked God for their growing faith and even spoke of boasting of their perseverance in suffering (1:3–4). Their suffering was for sanctification, and their persecutors would suffer when the Lord came again (1:5–10). Paul prayed that their faith and God’s power would be at work in them to glorify the name of Jesus (1:11–12).

Correct the deceived (2:1–17): Paul told them to remember his end-times teaching and to reject forged letters and false prophecies—the day of the Lord has not come because neither has the antichrist and the apostasy (2:1–5). The antichrist is presently restrained but will be revealed, deceive many, and be destroyed by Christ at His coming (2:7–12). In contrast to such a dismal picture, Paul thanks God for choosing and calling of the Thessalonians to salvation and thus prays for God to comfort and establish them in their faith (2:13–17).

Confront the disobedient (3:1–18): Having prayed for them and asking for prayer (2:16–3:5), whoever was still being a lazy busybody was to be excluded yet admonished as a brother (3:6–15). Paul prayed for the Lord’s peace, presence, and grace, and clarified that the handwriting present was indeed his own (3:16–18).

  1. For a helpful look at both the text and some helpful notes for 1 and 2 Thessalonians, see John MacArthur, One Faithful Life (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2019), 119-44. []

The Power of the Spirit in Conversion

We have a guest speaker this Sunday at my church. He’ll be preaching from 1 Thessalonians 1, and this is a blurb I’ve pulled from my dissertation and added to our bulletin to complement his sermon.

Paul reminded to the Thessalonians that “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess 1:5). Four phrases in 1 Thess 1:5 describe the manner of how Paul and his companions preached (“in word,” “in power,” “in the Holy Spirit,” and “with full conviction”).1 Paul’s “not only . . . but also” construction emphasizes that what is described in the latter three phrases bolstered his confidence in God’s choice of the Thessalonians more than what is described in the first phrase, that the gospel came to them “in word.”2 The parallelism of the latter three phrases indicates that one is not subordinate to the other.3 This being the case, that the “gospel came . . . in the Holy Spirit” likely means something in addition to how the gospel came “in power”4 or “with full conviction.” In context, Paul is describing how his company preached; “in the Holy Spirit” thus describes the empowering source of their preaching.5

The Spirit also works in the listener in the work of conversion as well. Paul did not rely on “plausible words of wisdom” to convince his listeners that the content of his preaching was true (1 Cor 2:4).6 The “demonstration”7 of truthfulness to his listeners was by the Spirit whose demonstrative work was an exertion of the power of God (1 Cor 2:4).8 The Spirit worked through Paul as the Spirit worked through those who heard the Word. And once the Spirit enabled them to see the spiritual truth of the gospel, the listener accepted them and was gloriously converted (1 Cor 2:14; cf. 2:12–13).

In short, as the gospel is given, the Spirit works through both preacher and listener, and a sinner may come to Christ. What an amazing work of God!

  1. D. Michael Martin, 1, 2 Thessalonians (NAC 33; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 58. []
  2. Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 79. []
  3. Cf. Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians (PNTC; Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 2002), 96. []
  4. Ibid. []
  5. Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 35. []
  6. Timothy H. Lim, “‘Not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and power’ (I Cor. 2:4),” NovT 9 (1987): 146. []
  7. Lim, “‘Not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and power’ (I Cor. 2:4),” 147, defines “demonstration” (ἀπόδειξις) as “. . . a technical term in rhetoric which means a demonstration or cogent proof of argument from commonly agreed premises.” []
  8. Paul’s emphasis on his own weakness in 1 Cor 2:3 likely rules out the Spirit’s means of convincing the Corinthians through miracles as in Rom 15:18–19 (cf. 2 Cor 12:12). See Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 95. For a survey of suggestions as to what Paul’s trembling and weakness may have been, see David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 85–86. []