GOD IS JUST 2 Thessalonians 1
“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” (2 Thes. 1:6–7).A wishy-washy God is a fiction that appeals to the guilty, not the godly.
Paul praised perseverance (1:1–4), and promised that those who persecute believers will be punished when Jesus returns (vv. 5–10). Paul prayed that till then the Thessalonians would live to glorify God (vv. 11–12).
Understanding the Text
“Your faith is growing more and more” 2 Thes. 1:3.
“Faith” seems to be a rather hard thing to measure in normal circumstances. It remains quite invisible—quite “inside.” Even when others are living by faith, what they say and do may seem quite ordinary to us. Only if we could look deep inside would we see what it costs them to maintain an ordinary life. Don’t be discouraged if others don’t realize how much of your life is lived by faith. God knows and will reward you. “Love . . . is increasing” 2 Thes. 1:3. Unlike faith, love is visible in the most ordinary of situations. When Paul said, “The love every one of you has for each other is increasing,” he was talking about something that can be seen and measured. We see love in the smile of welcome when friends meet. We see it in the phone call, just to say, “I’m thinking about you. How are you doing?” We see love when a friend says to the harried mom of preschoolers, “Let me stay with your kids today. You need a break.” We see love when the snow is shoveled from an older person’s walk, and in the time spent with a shut-in. We see love in listening, in reaching out a hand to touch, in a comforting hug, a heartfelt prayer. While faith is hidden in ordinary life, it is through the ordinary things of life that love is most clearly revealed. “Perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring” 2 Thes. 1:4. Faith, invisible in ordinary life, is clearly revealed in persecutions and trials. The Christian family in rural Colombia that refuses to grow plants that the cartel will turn into drugs—and suffers not only economic loss but also threats of death from the drug lords, displays faith. The Protestant pastor in Rumania, who defied an order to be silent and stimulated the revolt that overthrew the Communist regime in December of 1989, displayed faith. The Christian in the mental institution in Russia, who refuses to stop witnessing, or the parents there who see their children’s hope of higher education lost because they stand fast in their commitment to Christ, display faith. When trials come, and Christians remain committed to Christ, then the invisible becomes visible, and the world sees that Christian faith is real. When your turn comes, through personal tragedy or national disaster, stand firm, and hold the banner of your faith high. “Evidence that God’s judgment is right” 2 Thes. 1:5. God has declared all who believe in Jesus righteous in His sight. He has declared us citizens of His kingdom, brothers and sisters of His Son. When we persevere in our faith, despite persecutions, we vindicate God’s declaration of innocence. We show that knowing Christ does make a difference; that God has made us “new creations” indeed (2 Cor. 5:17). Our suffering for His kingdom’s sake is evidence, not to God, but to the world. And throughout church history, the willingness of believers to suffer and even die painful deaths for Jesus’ sake has moved many to believe in Him. It has been said, and often proven, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you” 2 Thes. 1:6–7. The justice of God is displayed in two ways. One is in His balancing of the moral books by “paying back” those who do evil. This, Paul said, will happen when Jesus returns. The other is in His balancing the moral books by taking on Himself the punishment due those who do evil. This has already happened, and God’s willingness to suffer for us has been displayed on Calvary. Whether an individual is in the group to whom payment is due, or in the group for whom payment has already been made, is not up to God. It’s up to the individual. In Christ, God has been more than fair to the wicked. Now it is up to each man or woman to choose to take advantage of God’s unfair provision of salvation, or to demand fair treatment—and be condemned (see DEVOTIONAL). “To be glorified in His holy people” 2 Thes. 1:10. While punishment of sin is associated with Christ’s second coming, Paul did not say Jesus will return in order to punish. Instead, Jesus will return “to be glorified in His holy people.” One peculiar feature of diamonds is that, in the rough, they look like dull, ordinary stones. One might pick them up, look at them, and throw them away as valueless. But when cut by a master jeweler, a brilliant stone is revealed. Held to the light, it reflects splendor from every facet. The world places very little value on Christians. To others we often seem dull, ordinary, valueless. In fact, the more committed to Christ we are, the less we seem to fit into the world’s scheme of things, and the less value we seem to have to people of the world. But when Jesus returns, He will hold us up to His light, and suddenly the facets that trials and persecution have carved will flash with scintillating light. This is why Jesus will return: to hold us up and “be glorified in His holy people.” And to be “marveled at among all those who have believed.” “We pray constantly for you” 2 Thes. 1:11–12. This is another of those prayers of Paul which teach us how to pray for others. This prayer focuses on “follow-through.” Christians often have good intentions. We’re often moved by a desire to help, to act, to accomplish something special for Jesus or His people. But that desire often fades just as quickly, and our good intentions are forgotten. Paul asked, and we can pray, that God may fulfill “every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.” Just think. If every Christian’s good intentions were translated into action, how greatly God would be glorified in our lives.
God Is (Not) Nice(2 Thes. 1:5–10)
You won’t find it in the Bible. I don’t know of a single text that says, “God is nice.” Particularly when we define “nice” in terms of its synonyms—agreeable, congenial, favorable, and pleasant. God is gracious, yes. And compassionate. But nice? Never. Some folks, however, want to think of God as being nice. Much too nice to get angry or upset at people. Much too nice to punish sin. Maybe the “God of the Old Testament” was harsh. But, they say, the “God of the New Testament” is loving. And what they mean by loving is “nice.” He’s candy-sweet, and all too innocuous to fear. Second Thessalonians 1:5–10 must come as a shock to the proponents of “God is nice” theology. What’s this about Jesus coming “in blazing fire and with His powerful angels” to “punish those who do not know God”? What’s this about being “punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord”? Why, that doesn’t sound nice at all! It isn’t nice. But it is just, and it is right. And most of all, it’s coming. God the loving is also God the Judge. God the tender is God the tough. God the compassionate is God the severe. And when Jesus comes, those who have accepted the Gospel and those who have not will display these desperate aspects of the character of our God. Then we will shout that God is gracious. And others will confess that God is just. But no one will assume that “God is nice.”
Maintain your respect for God: don’t fall into the trap of dismissing Him as “nice.”
“The demand that God should forgive such a [sinful] man while he remains what he is, is based on a confusion between condoning and forgiving. To condone an evil is simply to ignore it, to treat it as if it were good. But forgiveness needs to be accepted as well as offered if it is to be complete: and a man who admits no guilt can accept no forgiveness. “In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell, is itself a question: ‘What are you asking God to do?’ To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does.”—C.S. Lewis