As Paul opens his second letter to the church in Thessalonica, he points to the faithfulness of the believers as well as the promise of the judgment of God on the lost. I have some thoughts here, but I want to include the section for you to read with its context.
2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 – 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— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, 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. 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, 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.
My thoughts here are about the judgment of God. Particularly, I am thinking about God’s judgment in contrast with the way that many followers of God speak of his wrath. I believe, as I read this passage, that many of us, if we are not careful, are in danger of speaking of the wrath of the Almighty in a way that is inconsistent with biblical language and biblical emotion.
In verse 5, note that Paul speaks of “the righteous judgment of God.” In verse 6, Paul says, “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you.” Then, after a discussion of the judgment of God in verses 8-9, Paul speaks of how this all should motivate us to obedience. But the motivation is not because we fear being judged in a similar way. Never biblically is the Christian called to fear the fiery judgment of Christ on the lost. No, we are called to obey because we see that God’s justice will be done and our afflictions will be repaid.
Go back to verses 8-9. There we see the fiery judgment of God that will accompany the return of the Lord Jesus. There is nothing in these words of Scripture to soften the picture of God’s wrath. We see a reference to flaming fire (v. 8), to the Lord Jesus inflicting vengeance (v. 8), and the punishment of eternal destruction (v. 9). In all this, we see that it points to the glory of Christ (v. 10) and he pours out the judgment of God on those who are guilty of not knowing God or obeying the gospel (v. 8).
Also, as we read this section, we should see that the Lord gave these words to a persecuted church for their comfort. God wanted the church to understand that his reward for their faith and faithfulness is real. God also wanted them to see that his proper justice for the evils of the world around them is equally real and equally good.
Now, here is the challenge for us all. How are we to feel about these words? Do you regret them? Do they embarrass you as a believer? Do you wish they were not there? Do you tolerate them like you have to tolerate having dental work done? Do you welcome them into the house the way you welcome in that one relative that you would always prefer not to see but whom you have to invite over for a cookout from time to time?
Here is where I think we need biblical help. Our emotions need to mirror the feel of the Scripture. And while we know that the Lord himself tells us he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11), the Lord also makes it clear to us that his justice, even is wrath for those who refuse his gospel, is good; it is to his glory.
Christian, I would never call you to celebrate and laugh over another’s destruction. But, Christian, do not be ashamed of the judgment of God. Do not act as though god is a little lesser in your eyes for the existence of hell. Do not pretend that god is good in general, but if he really did things right, he would not judge.
Our god is holy. Our God sees evil with a clarity that you and I can never grasp before our ultimate and final sanctification leading to glorification. Until the Lord removes all your sin from you, you will never see just how ugly sin is nor how righteous and perfect is the Lord’s wrath.
But, even now, even before you can see with clarity the goodness of the Lord’s judgment, strive to embrace all that the Lord does as good, genuinely, beautifully, perfectly good. As heaven is good, so too is hell. Were this not so, God would not have made either. The Lord, his ways are perfect. Always, always remember this. And when you read of his love and mercy, rejoice. And when you read of his right wrath, ask the Lord to help you see this as his goodness too.