Lesson 5 of 6
In Progress

Theological Themes in 1 Thessalonians


The authors frequently mention hope and its basis (1:3; 2:19; 4:13; 5:8). This idea of hope is closely and specifically connected to the expectation of Jesus’ coming and to the promise of believers’ own resurrection from the dead.


The first two chapters of the letter speak of imitating the behavior and example of other Christians. Imitation is a common theme in Paul’s writings.

Jesus’ second coming

Four times (2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23) the authors make reference to Jesus’ coming (parousia in Greek). This future event gives a foundation for Christian hope and calls believers to be alert and to live a life consistent with God’s holiness.

Familial imagery

The letter employs a number of familial terms and metaphors to describe the relationship between the Thessalonians and the letter’s authors (2:1, 7-12, 17). While this was not an unusual way to use such language in that ancient context, it nevertheless supports the letter’s intimate tone and the idea that the church exists as a distinctive, alternate society.

Holiness (Sanctification)

The English words “holiness” and “sanctification” both translate the Greek word hagiosmos and its cognates, which appear in this letter (3:13; 4:3, 7). Holiness has less to do with moral purity and more to do with God’s identity as One “set apart” from ordinary or common things. Paul understands the church as a collection of people manifesting divine holiness while they navigate everyday living situated in this world. Likewise, the church consists of saints (holy ones) who receive God’s Holy Spirit (3:13; 4:8).

Divine faithfulness

While the letter is nothing like a treatise on God’s trustworthiness, divine faithfulness is nevertheless a prominent theme in 1 Thessalonians, especially when the discussion turns to Christ’s return and the church’s collective holiness. Several other Pauline letters discuss how people come to peace with God through Jesus Christ and explore notions of justification, reconciliation, and new creation, yet this letter is relatively silent about salvation’s details. The letter proceeds from the conviction that salvation comes through Christ (see 5:9-10), but its attention stays mostly on the expectation that God can be trusted to bring things eventually to completion.