2 Thessalonians 1: 1 – 12 Thanksgiving and prayer
Paul, Silas and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.
All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: he will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this 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.
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First, an apology to those who read my blog regularly. I’m sorry not to post yesterday. I spent hours grappling with the passage, but I struggle with eschatological theology and found nothing encouraging I could write. That’s my fault, of course, as there’s plenty of encouragement to be found in the passage. I pray that God will help me to understand things better today, so that I may draw closer to Jesus.
And while I’m specifically addressing my readers, may I ask for feedback in the comments section, please? Positive, negative or just friendly, they would all be encouraging. I am sure that other people have insights that would be helpful to the understanding of us all.
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“God is just: he will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.”
Is this actually correct? Suppose one of those troubling the Thessalonians repents of doing so; will he be paid back with trouble? I don’t think he will, because his repentance will be met with forgiveness. God forgives the sins of everyone who repents and follows Jesus; that’s a key insight of our faith, isn’t it?
But perhaps this only applies to those who have failed to repent before the second coming of Jesus?
“This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.”
While that interpretation fits the words, it still means that recompense to the Thessalonians in terms of punishment of their persecutors will be incomplete.
“He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed.”
Punishment is a difficult topic.
It doesn’t seem to deter, or be effective in changing people’s behaviour.
You might take the view that certain acts justify punishment by their nature, and for that you could look, perhaps, at Mosaic law.
But how would you decide guilt? What level of mental competence is required for someone to be guilty of murder, for example? Or, turning the question around, what level of mental competence is required to accept Jesus and be saved?
Punishment can have a function in society by placing the right to vengeance for a crime in the hands of society, thereby minimising personal revenge and vendetta. This seems to be how Paul is considering it in this passage. But how does this align with “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39)? And with “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matthew 5: 39)? And with “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Romans 12: 14)?
It seems to me there are difficulties in the concept of a wrathful God.
Am I suggesting that God doesn’t care about sin?
Sin always has consequences, and they are often drastic. All human beings are prone to sin, and it takes the grace of God for us to improve.
I suggest that we need to start from the premise that God is love. Imagine a parent’s love, but perfect. Imagine the passion with which God experiences that love, wanting above anything else to save every one of his created children from the consequences of their mistakes and rebellion. In the ten commandments, he has given us laws that teach us how to avoid the worst of the damage to each other. However, he knows that laws can only reduce bad actions, not nurture good ones.
To nurture good actions requires love to be active in the world. To do this, God gave us Jesus, the example of supreme love, and he calls each one of us to follow Jesus in loving our fellow human beings. Is it not the case that the great insight of Christianity is that our motivation matters?
St Paul, in a different letter, wrote:
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13: 1 – 3)
I believe this is a far more accurate picture of God than the picture of a wrathful God painted by Paul in 2 Thessalonians.
Thank you that you love us so very much. Thank you that we are your sons and daughters. Thank you for being close to me and guiding my thoughts today.
In Jesus’ name, Amen