2 Kings 1; 2 Thessalonians 1; Daniel 5; Psalms 110–111
I ONCE HEARD A PASTOR PREACH THROUGH 2 Thessalonians 1 under the following outline:
A good church going through a rough time (2 Thess. 1:3–4)
A good God waiting for the right time (2 Thess. 1:5–10)
A good man praying in the meantime (2 Thess. 1:11–12)
Today I wish to reflect a little on the second point.
(1) Paul can speak of the Thessalonians being "worthy" of the kingdom of God that will come in consummated power when Jesus returns (2 Thess. 1:5, 11). The context shows that Paul is not supposing that somehow they become worthy enough to be accepted by God in the first place. The idea, rather, is that, having become Christians, they are manifesting Christian faith and love (2 Thess. 1:3–4), and are persevering in the Christian way despite suffering and trials (2 Thess. 1:4–5). This continued display of grace under fire, this perseverance, is evidence of what is going on in their lives, and "as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom." In other words, genuine Christians, by God's grace, persevere in the Gospel, and this marks out their fitness for the consummation. In this sense they prove "worthy."
(2) "God is just" (2 Thess. 1:6). Therefore there will be payback time for those who have cruelly opposed his people (2 Thess. 1:7) and ignored his Word (2 Thess. 1:8). When Christ returns he "will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (2 Thess. 1:8). What is presupposed is that the perfections of God's justice are not manifest until Jesus returns. Some outworking of his justice is displayed in this broken world, but let's face it: in this world, many evil people seem to get away with a lot, and many people of extraordinary goodness suffer a lot. Wise parents often tell their children, "Life isn't fair. Don't expect it to be." Yet at the same time, God is "fair"; he is perfectly just. But do not expect his justice to be manifested in instantaneous rewards and retribution. His time scale is not ours. Life isn't fair on our time scale. When Jesus returns, however, not only will justice be done, it will be seen to be done.
(3) At that time, Christ himself, and not any of us individuals, is the center of everything. Because of Christ's centrality, punishment is almost defined in terms of being "shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power," thereby being "punished with everlasting destruction" (2 Thess. 1:9). Conversely, among his saints, his "holy people," that same Lord Jesus will be "glorified" and "marveled at among all those who have believed" (2 Thess. 1:10). If Christ were not there, heaven would be hell.