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. []