One of the things that I enjoy most is teaching a Young Adult Sunday School Class at my local church. My students are 18-30 years old. The authors of the Sunday School book that we use have recently done a new thing that I love. They are now writing the lessons so that entire books of the Bible are covered.
This quarter we are studying I and II Thessalonians. In preparation for this series of lessons, I reviewed the life of Apostle Paul in the Book of Acts, chapters 9-17 so that my students would get a good understanding of who he was and how God used him, particularly in the salvation of the Gentiles. This material is foundational for the lessons that we will study over the next seven weeks. In addition, I am including a brief summary of the Old and New Testaments which may be new information to some and review for others.
Since the Sunday School lesson is international in scope, perhaps others who follow my blog will benefit from the review. For that reason, I am posting it here on this blog. Comments and questions are welcomed. My references are chiefly from the Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible and the Life in the Spirit Study Bible, KJV of course.
Good morning students. For the next seven weeks or so we are going to be studying the two letters that were written by the Apostle Paul to the church at Thessalonica. But before we get into the first ten verses of the first letter or epistle you need to have some background material about who Paul was, why he wrote the letters, and the impact that the letters had on the recipients and on the entire church world, even today.
Since we have several new students this is also an opportunity to make sure that the structure of our Bible is understood so that’s where we will begin. As you may know, the Bible is divided into two major sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The OT speaks mainly about a Holy God’s selective revelation of Himself, His creation, The beginning of human history, His selection, deliverance and covenant with the Jewish people. It tells of the Jewish people’s history, their successes, their frequent disobediences, and failures. It also speaks of God’s mighty acts of love, healing, and miracles. The OT promises that a deliverer or Messiah would come at a future time who would cause all men to have an opportunity to be saved.
The Old Testament is composed of 39 books, has more than 40 authors and was written over 1500 years. Its first 5 books are the Pentateuch or the Law, followed by 12 History books, 5 books of Poetry, and 17 Books of the Prophets. There is a period of 400 years that were considered the silent years between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Intertestamental time is a period where there was no word from God.
The New Testament deals with the rise of Christianity and how it spread across the world. It is composed of 27 books that include four gospels, a Book called Acts or Acts of the Apostles, 21 letters or epistles, and a final book called Revelation. The first three of the gospels are called the synoptic gospels in that they tell essentially the same stories, but with varying points of view. The presentation of the fourth gospel, the Gospel of John is unique. It is helpful to read about a story in each of the synoptic gospels to get the best information because they enhance each other.
The Book of Acts or Acts of the Apostles is written by Dr. Luke, author of the third gospel and companion of Apostle Paul. He was an excellent historian, physician, and writer. Acts is an essential link between the gospels and the epistles.
The epistles or letters were written by devout men of God to the various churches and some select people as they were inspired by the Holy Ghost. The final book of the New Testament, Revelation, was written by Apostle John and is called the Apocalypse. It is the prophetic revelation of the destruction of evil and the institution of the messianic kingdom.
And that brings us to Apostle Paul and why we’ re talking about him today. The Apostle Paul was God’s chosen apostle to the Gentiles (which were any people who were not Jews) and he wrote approximately one half of the New Testament. He is credited with writing the 13 following books:
Galatians (AD 47);
I and II Thessalonians (AD 49-51);
I and II Corinthians and Romans (AD 52-56);
Ephesians, Philemon, Colossians, and Philippians (AD 60-62, during his first Roman imprisonment)
and 1 Timothy and Titus (AD 62).
He wrote 2 Timothy (AD 63-64, during his second imprisonment).
Although Paul penned or dictated the letters we can rest assured that he was inspired by the Holy Ghost.
Now let us briefly review Paul’s conversion. In the Book of Acts 9:1 – 31 Paul’s conversion is chronicled. Before his conversion, he used his Hebrew name, Saul, at that time and he was on his way to Damascus to persecute the Saints.
Basically, Saul was of Jewish heritage, born in the city of Tarsus. He was zealous, and a well-educated man, even before his conversion to Christianity. He had gone to the High Priest and requested papers to authorize him to bind up Christian men and women and take them to Jerusalem to be thrown in jail for their belief in Christ. But Saul had a personal experience with Jesus on the Damascus road when a blinding light shone round about him from heaven. As he fell to the earth he heard a voice ask him a question, “Saul, Saul, why persecuteth thou me?” Paul asked, “Who art thou Lord?” Jesus answered, “I am Jesus, whom thou persecute: it is hard for thee to kick against the prick”. Acts:9:3-5. (A prick was a goad used to steer oxen). From that experience on Saul was “all-in” for Jesus. It was sometime after that that he started to use his Roman name, Paul.
Paul began to preach pretty soon after his conversion. It’s generally accepted that Paul went on three major missionary journeys. Acts chapter 13 speaks of a journey to Cyprus and Southern Asia Minor; Acts 16 presents Southern Asia Minor and Macedonia, primarily Corinth and Acts 19 presents Asia Minor and Macedonia again, primarily Ephesus. But when you read the life of Paul you see that he went on many smaller missionary journeys as well.
Paul’s first missionary journey was with Barnabus. His second missionary journey was with Silas and Timothy. It was in the 16th chapter of Acts that Paul and Silas were beaten and cast into a Philippian jail for casting the devil out of a woman who was bringing gain to her masters using the spirit of divination. Paul and Silas sang and praised God and God shook the earth and all of the doors were opened. The jailer wanted to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. The jailer and his whole house were saved as a result of the experience.
Next, Paul, Silas, and Timothy went to Thessalonica which brings us closer to our lesson today. Angry Jews rose up against them in Thessalonica but many of the Gentiles were saved and a church was established in Thessalonica. The brethren of Thessalonica sent Paul and Silas out of the city, unto Berea, a better city, because they feared for the lives of the missionaries. But when the evil Jews of Thessalonica found out that they were being successful in Berea they went to that city and stirred up the devil. Paul then went on to Athens where Silas and Timothy were to join Paul at once.
Well, while Paul waited for Silas and Timothy, he couldn’t be still because he saw so much idolatry in the city of Athens. It was during this time that the Mars Hill message was preached by Paul concerning their UNKNOWN God. (Click on this link to read the post: Apostle Paul and His Mars’ Hill Message. )Some were saved during that message. Paul then moved on to Corinth and Silas and Timothy joined him there.
It was in the city of Corinth that Paul wrote his letter to the Thessalonian church. He had heard from Timothy that the Thessalonian church was doing exceptionally well and Paul was ecstatic. Now let’s look at what he said in the first ten verses of his letter to the Thessalonians, known to us as 1 Thessalonians.
Lesson Number 1, A New Loyalty, begins at this point. Hope this introduction will prove to be helpful as you study the International Sunday School lessons this quarter. God bless.