This epistle bears the distinction of being the first in the order of time of the letters written by the Apostle Paul which have been preserved. Indeed it is the earliest of any of the epistolary Books of the New Testament, the beginning of that body of writing to which the churches are so much indebted. It was written at least five or six years before the great doctrinal and ecclesiastical treatises known as the Roman, Galatian, and the Corinthian Letters, and with the Second Letter to the Thessalonians which followed it by only a few months, it shares the distinction of being the only epistles that came into existence before the beginning of Paul's third great Missionary journey. These epistles, so long antedating the others, differ also from them in character. Written only a short time after the church at Thessalonica was founded, and called forth by the trials and needs of a young congregation which he felt it in his heart to visit again, but was prevented, they illustrate the apostolic instruction given to a newly organized church, composed of Gentiles, suffering under the persecution of both Jewish and heathen adversaries. They are fresh in allusion to the experiences of Paul while among them, and reveal his deep solicitude when forced away.
It is interesting to know that this church, honored with the first of the apostolic epistles, long continued to enjoy a glorious history. It was afterwards visited by the apostle more than once; and is often mentioned in the history of the church. Though for more than four hundred years under the sway of the Turk, the majority of its population has always continued to profess the religion of Christ. The city is still great and flourishing, in point of commerce the third in the Turkish empire, possessing a population estimated all the way from 75,000 to 100,000. Of these about one-half are Greek Christians, and the remainder nearly equally divided between Mohammedans and Jews. The excellence of the harbor makes it a constant object of eastern diplomacy, and at this time one of the obstacles in the way of settling the "Eastern Question" is to determine what power shall be awarded Thessalonica.
As to the date of the epistle, it can be nearly determined. About A. D. 52, the church here was planted. From thence the apostle went to Berea and Athens. From the latter, probably several months after leaving Thessalonica, he sent Timothy back. Several months more would intervene before Timothy could return at Corinth. It is therefore probable that the letter was written in A. D. 53, perhaps at least a year after the planting of the church. It was not written at Athens, as an unauthorized addition in the Common Version states.