During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.
Wednesday, 9 December 2020 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
1. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy: to the Thessalonian church in our Father God and Lord Jesus Messiah.
2. Grace and peace to you from God our father and the Lord Jesus Messiah.
3. We owe it to God to give thanks for you, brothers and sisters, which is proper, because your faith thrives and the love you have for each other always increases.
4. We ourselves brag to the churches of God about your patience and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions you endure,
5. evidence of the righteous judgment of God to consider you worthy to suffer for the Kingdom of God.
6. Since it is righteous to God to repay with afflictions those afflicting you,
7. and to relieve your affliction along with ours at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels
8. coming in fiery flames punishing those who have not known God and those not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
9. Whoever these people are being punished, they will pay with eternal doom from the face of the Lord – from the glory of his strength.
10. When he shall come, he will be glorified among his saints and marveled at by all those believing, because our testimony about you was believed on that day.
11. Our prayer always for you is that you might be worthy of the calling of our God and desire goodness and faithful work in power.
12. So that the name of our Lord Jesus might be glorified among you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Messiah.
The same three who were behind the first letter have written this second one. After spending a couple of verses (3-4) rehashing how great a church they are and how all the churches know about them, Paul moves on to the subject at hand: Judgment.
Jesus is coming to settle the score, to ‘afflict those afflicting you.’ This sentiment is not something we generally associate with Christian motivation, but revenge is certainly involved. It should call to mind the wonderful verse we often quote, “vengeance is mine, says the Lord” from its original context in Torah, Deuteronomy 32:35 and repeated by Paul himself in Romans 12, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” Paul is spelling it out here–this is exactly how he will repay. When Jesus returns he is going to do some serious smoking of those who have harassed, harmed, and hurt his people, his church. Vengeance is not bad, what is bad is when we seek revenge because we can’t do it without the problem of our own sin and guilt. The Lord however has no such hindrance and he is able to dish it out. This is a part of eternal justice.
The scene is like something from a science fiction movie. Jesus returns from heaven surround by the host of angels. Try as I might, my imagination cannot grab what that would look like. I feel it in my heart, but I can’t creatively work it out. But the scene is accompanied with fire.
Out of this free comes punishment. The punishment is for two distinct kinds of people. First, those who do not know God. This term feels nebulous to me and woefully unspecific. I would prefer here if Paul, Silvanus, or Timothy would have spelled it out that it is those who do not know Jesus as Lord. God is a looser term and may mean something less than the specificity we often give. The second kind of people he is after are those who do not obey the gospel of Jesus. This is more specific, but not enough to provide comfort. The gospel of Jesus, the good news of Jesus, in this context might mean the good news Jesus preached about repentance, kindness, and love. As a Baptist, I would really like for this to be about believing in the gospel, but it is not. It is about obedience. That means, as uncomfortable as I may be, some who do not know or believe could be obedient to the essence of the gospel while those of us who do believe, and know, may yet still be found disobedient.
I am no universalist, but in the depth of my soul I am certain we will all be surprised by who the Lord accepts and whom he rejects at his great day. That Paul feels this urgency is apparent in verse 11 — “our prayer is that you might be worth” — Yeah, when the stuff comes down, Paul is praying that the church might not be the ones receiving this judgment. Let that sink in a moment.
The punishment is a separation from the face of the Lord, from his presence into ‘eternal doom.’ A question we have to ask is this: is the doom one that lastings for eternity, or is the doom such that it has eternal consequences.
You’re on your own as you grapple with that.
Questions For Application
- Verse three indicates Thanksgiving is owed to God, like a payment, or honor, or worship. What thanks do you owe to God?
- Who is afflicting you, and do you want them punished by God? Now turn that around — are you afflicting someone else, and how exactly does God feel about that?
- Can you imagine the scene of Jesus’ return?
- I was once scolded by a parishioner for preaching about ‘doom’ — I was told that message was positive enough. Do you agree with that parishioner, that doom(ed) topics should be avoided or do you think folks should know all the possibilities?