After leaving Philippi, Paul and his missionary partners “passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue” (Acts 17:1). There wasn’t a synagogue in Philippi but there was in Thessalonica where there was apparently a sizeable Jewish population. Thessalonica, the capital of Roman Macedonia, was a thriving port city strategically located on a major east-west trade route.
“Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and rise from the dead: ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.’ ” (Acts 17:2–4). Miraculously, there was a great evangelistic harvest, and in the span of just twenty-one days, a church blossomed into life.
I can imagine that Paul and Silas spent every waking moment telling the stories of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and teaching the important doctrines of Scripture. Surely the Apostle mentored and discipled Thessalonica’s young leaders, those who would soon become pastors and deacons.
Sadly, the Jews who refused to receive God’s offer of abundant grace in Jesus “became jealous, and they brought together some wicked men from the marketplace, formed a mob, and started a riot in the city” (Acts 17:5). Barely escaping with his life, Paul left Thessalonica.
Within a few weeks, and with the heart of a loving pastor, Paul wrote to the fledgling church. “We always thank God for all of you, making mention of you constantly in our prayers. We recall … your work produced by faith, your labor motivated by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:2–3). “When you received the word of God that you heard from us, you welcomed it not as a human message, but as it truly is, the word of God, which also works effectively in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
Paul assured them of his continued prayers on their behalf. “Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you. And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone, just as we do for you. May he make your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. Amen” (1 Thessalonians 3:11–13).
It's apparent that many of Paul’s epistles were written in response to various theological inquiries. Obviously, you can’t teach Scripture’s full scope in just three weeks. One of Thessalonica’s questions must have concerned the rapture of the church because Paul responded, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters… The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God… Then we who are still alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–17).
Shortly after penning the first letter, Paul wrote Second Thessalonians. Our “Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command. May the Lord direct your hearts and… May the Lord of peace himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with all of you… The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (2 Thessalonians 3:3-5, 16-18).