The Second Coming of Christ

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2 Thessalonians 1:5–10 (NRSV) The Judgment at Christ’s Coming

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering. For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 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. These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

The church in Thessalonica was undergoing persecution and hostility from those around them – both Jews and Gentiles.  (1 Thes. 1:6; 2:14) Paul is worried whether they will keep their faith.  (1 Thes. 3:5) In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote that they had stood firm in their faith, love, and hope (1:3; 3:6-8).  After Paul had written the situation deteriorated and persecution intensified.  In addition, there was a false teaching that arose about the Second Coming of Christ.  Paul wrote to give the Thessalonians additional teaching concerning the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Days.

In vv. 3, 4, Paul gives thanks for the Thessalonian church.  The church is undergoing severe persecution, which had intensified since Paul had written in his last letter (1 Thess.).   In vv. 5-10, Paul writes about the Second Coming to encourage the believers during this persecution.  God will relieve their suffering and judge their persecutors.

Actually 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10 is one long sentence in the original Gteek.  The Thessalonians are seeking to participate in the Kingdom of God (v. 5).  The Kingdom of God is less prominent in Paul’s letters than in the Gospels.  This can be explained in that all of Paul’s letters are occasional letters.  That is, they are written for a specific occasion and circumstance.  So Paul brings up different topics in his letters based on his response to the circumstance which he is addressing in the letters.

The Kingdom of God is both a present reality (Rom. 14:17) and a future event (1 Thes. 1:5-10).  Jesus preached, “The Kingdom of God is already among you.”  (Mark 1:14)  Throughout the New Testament (NT), there is a sense of both fulfillment and not yet in the teachings about the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God is in us through the Spirit of Christ living in us, but not everything is fulfilled.  Christ has come, but Christ will come again (Acts 1:11).

The believers in Thessalonica were suffering persecution, not in order to gain the Kingdom of God, but on behalf of the Kingdom of God.  Suffering does not earn us a place in the Kingdom.  We receive a place in the Kingdom of God as a gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone (Eph. 2:4-6).  But suffering and persecution were prophesied by Christ.  Jesus said in the Beatitudes:  “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.  Be happy about it!  Be very glad!  For a great reward awaits you in heaven.  And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”  (Matt. 3:11, 12)

The first followers of Jesus were persecuted by hostile Jewish leaders and by the pagan Gentiles among whom they lived.  Doing right by associating with Jesus’ new and authoritative revelation has always been a source of persecution.  If they crucified our Lord, then how much more will they not persecute those who follow him.  Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me.”  (Matt. 16:24)  For many followers of Christ, this has been a literal cross.  Even today, hundreds of Christians are martyred each year for their faith.

Our confidence rests in the character of God.  God’s judgment is right, because God is just.  And because God is just, God will judge the wicked.  Some persons like to deny the coming judgment.  I suppose this is because they don’t like the idea of God judging people and sending them to eternal destruction (v. 9).  But from the perspective of those who are being persecuted and suffering as a result of the wickedness of evil persons, judgment is not only appropriate but necessary.  If God is just, then a just God calls for justice in the world.

The problem of evil in the world is not that the wicked suffer, but that innocent people suffer.  The suffering of the innocent requires that God will enact justice in the universe.  So in the Revelation, the righteous martyrs cry out beneath the altar of God, “How long must wait before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?”  (Rev. 6:10)  Ernest Best explains, “The persecuted will have peace and the persecutors will be punished – because God is righteous.  In the final issue this (God’s judgment) results form the nature of God and not from their (the righteous) achievement…any other result wour entail an immoral universe.”

In Christ’s second coming, he will put things right.  He will bring judgment upon those who don’t know God and refuse to obey the Good News about Jesus Christ.  The basis of their judgment is not only that they have persecuted the godly, but more, it is based upon their response to the Good News.  So in the discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus says, “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him.  But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.  And the judgment is based on this fact.  God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.”  Their evil actions merely confirm their rejection of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the central figure in the coming revelation.  He appears form heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels, and comes to execute God’s judgment (Isa. 2:10; 19, 21).  Fire is often a sign of divine manifestation.  On the one hand, the persecutors will be punished, but those who were persecuted will share in his glory.

God will ultimately judge and punish evil in the world.  The principle is “A person reaps what one sows.”  (Gal. 6:7)  And God’s judgment is just, because God is just.  John Stott has said, “For the horror of this will not be so much the pain which may accompany it as the tragedy which is inherent in it, namely, that human beings made by God, like God, should spend eternity without God, irrevocably banished from his presence… Instead of being fulfilled or ‘glorified,’ their humanity will shrink and shrivel and be destroyed.  Instead of shining with the glory of Christ, their light will be extinguished in outer darkness.”

Paul closes by mentioning that the Thessalonians will surely be included in the great throng of worshipers.  They belong because they have believed (v. 10).

Lord, help those who are struggling and in need of your comfort, especially those who are undergoing persecution for their faith.  Help us to remember that you will bring to justice all those who evil and have persecuted the innocent and thee oppressor.  And Lord, for those who have not confessed Jesus as their Lord and Savior, give them the grace to believe, so that they may share also in the shining glory of Christ.  Amen.

 

 

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