“Thessalonica was a bustling seaport city at the head of the Thermaic Gulf. It was an important communication and trade center, located at the junction of the great Egnatian Way and the road leading north to the Danube. Its population numbered about 200,000, making it the largest city in Macedonia” (Thessalonica: The City and the Church, p. 1722). The Apostle Paul was only in Thessalonica briefly and left abruptly after some unbelieving Jews “took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason” (Acts 17:5), the man Paul and his companions were staying with. Paul’s accusers said of his evangelical ministry, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Cesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7).
The primary topic Paul chose for his letters to the Thessalonians was the second coming of Christ, which may have been motivated by the intense persecution they were experiencing. Paul was explaining his abrupt departure and lengthy absence from Thessalonica when he said, “But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us” (Thessalonians 2:17-18). The Greek word he used that is translated hindered, egkopto indicated that Satan had put a roadblock in Paul’s way in order to keep him from returning to Thessalonica. Although Paul didn’t specifically state what the roadblock was, he may have been referring to the nonbelieving Jews that followed him when he left Thessalonica. Because they caused a riot in Berea (Acts 17:13), Paul had to leave immediately. Afterward, he sailed down to Athens, approximately 200 miles away.
As a result of his abrupt departure, Paul may have left the Thessalonians with the impression that he wasn’t concerned about their welfare. In his first letter to them, Paul went to great lengths to assure the Thessalonians that they were constantly on his mind and mentioned in his prayers (1 Thessalonians 1:2, 3:10). Paul described the Thessalonians as his crown of rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2:19). What he probably meant by that was that the Thessalonians were a great tribute to the power of the Holy Spirit to save even the basest of sinners. The difference between the great multitude of Greeks that believed Paul’s gospel message (Acts 17:4) and the unbelieving Jews that followed him to Berea and caused a riot (Acts 17:13) was that their faith caused the Thessalonians to eagerly await the return of Christ. Paul praised the Thessalonians for their continued faith in spite of persecution (1 Thessalonians 1:6) and singled them out as model believers (1 Thessalonians 1:7). Prior to becoming Christians, the Thessalonians were idol worshippers. Paul used their afflictions as a testimony to the Thessalonians commitment to follow Christ and said of them, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).