2 Thessalonians 1-3 The punishment of eternal destruction

From 2 Thessalonians 1-3

Paul the apostle Today’s passage is one of the few which speaks about the eternal punishment of the wicked.

This post is part of my bible in a year series.

Passage and Comments

4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. 5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering  (2 Thes 1.4-5)

The context of the passage is quite interesting, because Paul didn’t write it to justify the doctrine of Hell and eternal punishment.

He wrote it to comfort people who were being afflicted. The Thessalonians are enduring persecution for being Christians. In part this is a good thing, because it is a sign they are worthy of the Kingdom. With steadfastness and faith, Paul thinks they can boast about their persecution. Its a strange to think of persecution this way.

6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, (2 Thes 1.6)

But now we see that their affliction is really a two edged sword. Those who afflict them will be afflicted. It is not good to curse the people of God. God will curse them in turn (Gen 12.3).

7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, (2 Thes 1.7a)

God will give relief to his people who are being afflicted. God is one of justice and comfort. Paul turns again to the punishment of those who persecute them. Their punishment is not light. Its severe.

when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thes 1.7b-10)

Paul divides the punishment on two types of people;

  • Those who do not know God, and
  • Those who do not obey the gospel of Lord Jesus

Both of these will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord.

This sounds fairly severe, but remember the context. The Thessalonians are being persecuted and afflicted by these people. This is God’s judgment on those who afflict his people.

It strikes me in this passage Paul is angry. He is angry because God’s people and people under his care are being persecuted.

Paul anger seems to overflow to others as well. There are two types of people who receive the punishment. Those who afflict God’s people and those who have not.

This second group, they have not afflicted God’s people, but they have no knowledge of God, neither have they obeyed the gospel – they too will suffer God’s wrath.

If this is the case Paul does not explain why or express any concern. Its this aspect that I struggle with in this passage.

Paul doesn’t seem to care about their fate.

Its possible Paul’s anger and statements are because they rejected his gospel. Jesus is the judge (Rom 2.16; 2 Cor 5.10; Rom 14.10-12) and they have rejected him as their King. He is rightfully angry at their disrespect. Paul was probably rebuffed many times and its possible here he is expressing their fate.

Paul turn back to the Thessalonians.

11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, (2 Thes 1.11)

With the final judgment in view, Paul prays God will make them worthy of his calling. In Paul’s mind people will be judged by the good and evil they have done (Rom 2.6-11; 2 Cor 5.10). Same with Jesus (e.g. Jn 5.29; Mt 12.33-37; 13.47-50).

12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thes 1.12)

When they are vindicated in the final judgment God is the one who will be glorified because he is the one who by his power and grace made them like this.

For Believers

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

It goes without saying everyone needs to hear the gospel. The gospel announces the future judgment (Acts 10.34-43; 17.31; Rom 2.16; 1 Cor 15.24-25).

I suspect Paul mostly directed his comments to those who were afflicting the Thessalonians and who had rejected his gospel. Remember the Jews many times tried to kill Paul after rejecting his gospel. So his anger at these is not surprising. Paul does not express grief at their fate. He dosn’t persue reconciliation or forgiveness for these people. Only judgment and wrath seem to be on his mind.

We on the other hand should be thinking about those ‘who don’t know God’ because they have never heard about him or Jesus. With this judgment in mind lets take advantage of the opportunities God gives us to share the hope we have.

Secondly, with a view to our own judgment lets resolve to do the good God has set out in advance for us to do (2 Thes 1.11).

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