The apostle Paul, being more especially the minister of the uncircumcision, and preacher of the Gentiles, in his progress through their cities and countries comes to Thessalonica, a chief city in Macedonia, for thither he was called in a vision, Act_16:9, A man of Macedonia prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. In obedience to which he loosed from Troas, and came to Samothracia, from thence to Neapolis, and from thence to Philippi, where he abode certain days, Phi_1:12; and after passing through Amphipolis and Apollonia, came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews, Act_17:1, whither, as his manner was, he went, and preached that Jesus was the Christ. Whereupon some believed, and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few. But the Jews which believed not raised a persecution against him, whereupon the brethren sent him and Silas away to Berea, 1Th_1:10, where he also went and preached in the Jews' synagogue. But the unbelieving Jews of Thessalonica following him to Berea, he was conducted thence to Athens; and from thence, it is thought by some, he writes this Epistle to the Thessalonians, as is asserted in the postscript. Wherein he gives account of the great success of his preaching among them, for which he gives thanks to God, and makes an honourable mention of them in several places. But because they were new converts, and met with persecution from their own countrymen for the gospel's sake, the apostle was the more solicitous for them, to confirm them in the faith they had received. Whereupon he endeavoured once and again to come to them himself, but some way or other was hindered by Satan, as he tells them, 1Th_2:18. And therefore he sends to them Timothy in his room, to know their faith, and to establish them in it; who bringing an account thereof to him, and of their state, he writes this Epistle to them, according to the account he received by Timothy, and his own observation and knowledge while he was amongst them. Particularly:
1. He gives thanks for the eminency and operation of the graces of God in them, for the special presence of the Holy Ghost in his ministry amongst them, for their exemplary faith and conversation, 1Th_1:1.
2. He puts them in mind of his ministerial labours and personal conversation among them, of the malicious carriage of the Jews both against Christ and his apostles, and particularly against himself, whereof he knew they themselves were eye-witnesses; and declares his present rejoicing and glorying in them, 1Th_2:1-20.
3. He next gives the reason of his sending Timothy to them, and speaks of the good account he gave of them, and the great refreshing and comfort he received thereby; and that he was greatly desirous to see their face; and prays that they might increase in love, and be established in holiness, 1Th_3:1-13.
4. He then proceeds to exhort them about their personal walking, according to the directions and commandments he had given them from the Lord Jesus. And he instanceth in marriage chastity, righteousness in dealing, brotherly love, peaceable carriage, minding their callings, and diligence therein; and not to mourn inordinately for them that die in Jesus, as knowing that they shall rise from the dead, and meet the Lord in the air, as well and as early as those that shall be found alive at his coming, 1Th_4:1-18.
5. He next describes the manner of Christ's coming, that it will be sudden and unexpected, whereby many will be surprised in their security; and therefore exhorts these Thessalonians to be watchful, sober, and armed for that day, which will be to them a day of salvation which they had been appointed to. And then he exhorts them to duties belonging to their church state, and communion; to have a high esteem for their guides and teachers; to warn, support, and comfort one another; not to retaliate evil for evil, &c. And so, in the close of the Epistle, recommends them to God in prayer, begging they would also pray for him, and salute one another, and communicate this Epistle to all the brethren; and so concludes with his usual salutation.
This is the substance of the Epistle.
As to the place whence it was written, we need not inquire, whether it was, as is expressed in the postscript, from Athens; or from Corinth, as Grotius and others imagine.
As to the time, it was surely not long after Paul's coming from Thessalonica; for indeed the present state of the Thessalonians did require that he should not long delay it, as his secret affection to them would not suffer it neither.
And as to the order of the Epistle, that that which is called the Second Epistle should be really the first, and by some carelessness misnamed and misplaced, is a bold, groundless conjecture of Grotius, and needs no confutation.
But this is more probable, that it was the first Epistle that the apostle wrote to any church, though other Epistles are in order set before it. The gospel was more early preached here than at Corinth or Rome, as appears in the Acts of the Apostles, and the success of it was more sudden and eminent than in any other city, and their persecutions more, whereby they might obtain an Epistle from the apostle before any other church.