Vol. XI — No. 48 November 29, 1970
2 Thessalonians 1:3-10
We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.
In Christ Jesus, who shall come again to divide all mankind, even as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats, Fellow Redeemed:
“Surely I come quickly. Amen.” With that promise from the mouth of the Lord St. John brought his book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ to a close—but not without including the responsive prayer of the saints of God: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Children of God of every age are always “advent” children—waiting for the coming of the Lord. The Old Testament believers waited for the fulfillment of the promise of the first coming of the Lord. On his death-bed Jacob interrupted himself while speaking his prophetic blessing upon his children with the advent cry: “I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord.” Gen. 49:18. The New Testament believer has been taught by his Lord to pray, “Thy kingdom come.” That is a prayer for the daily coming of the kingdom in grace, but it is also a prayer for the final coming of the kingdom in glory. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”
The Lord has delayed His coming for almost two thousand years. It is easy for us to dismiss His second coming from our minds. We can quite mechanically confess Sunday after Sunday the words of the Apostolic Creed, “From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead,” without really believing that this final event in world’s history, the consummation of our age, can and may take place in our lifetime, today yet. We need to be reminded that our Lord’s coming again is as certain as any event in the past. As He once came in lowliness, so He shall come again in glory. Paul speaks of that day when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire…” When He came the first time as a Babe born of the virgin Mary, angels announced His coming to shepherds in the fields about Bethlehem. When He comes again in glory, angels shall accompany Him as part of His glorious entourage. The description of that coming “in flaming fire” recalls the revelation of the Lord in the flaming bush that burned not. The language is from the 104th Psalm (v.4) which describes the angels of the Lord as “His ministers, a flaming fire.”
What shall be the purpose of His coming again? In our creed we confess that He shall come again to judge the quick, the living, and the dead. That is true, as our Lord taught so clearly in the parable of the final judgment. But that judgment shall result in a division, a final and irreversible division of all mankind. In this life there are many things that divide people—race, nationality, political beliefs, educational and economic levels, religious beliefs, and so on and on. On the last day when the Lord comes again, all mankind, from the first to the last, shall be gathered in one undivided group before the Lord. And then He shall make the last, final division of mankind from which there can be no appeal. Paul speaks of that final division in our text, describing each group and stating what their eternal fate shall be. Let us hear again and learn that—
Who are His own? Who shall receive rest together with the Apostle Paul and all the saints of God “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in Flaming fire…” In the verses preceding Paul gives us a description of such people who are the Lord’s.
Paul begins the body of his letter in this way: “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth.” Paul has reason to thank God for the Thessalonians. Why? Because of the fruit of the Gospel in their lives! Because of the effect of the Holy Spirit upon them! Just what had the Spirit achieved in them through the Gospel? Their faith had grown exceedingly and their love was abounding towards each other. So then, a person who belongs to the Lord is one who has faith in Jesus Christ and love towards others. Does that description fit us? Do you realize that every day you sin and that each individual sin is sufficient to condemn you to eternal perdition? Do you realize that the best that you can produce in the line of moral effort or moral conduct is as filthy rags in the sight of God? Do you realize that of yourself you cannot even begin to fear or love or trust God? Do you realize that God had to take the initiative and God had to carry out and complete our salvation, yours and mine? That He has done! Christ lived for you and so fulfilled all righteousness as your substitute. Christ died for you and so removed all your guilt. He rose again in evidence that His life and death for you were acceptable. In raising His Son God justified the whole world, including you and me. Has the Spirit of God worked faith, this faith in your hearts…that you are justified by grace for Christ’s sake? If so, you belong to the Lord. But remember, faith is an organic thing, a living organism. It either grows or withers away and dies. Paul thanked God because the faith of the Thessalonians grew exceedingly, Could he thank God for the same thing in you?
The complement of faith is love. The love of the Thessalonians abounded toward each other. Is that true of your love and mine…over against the members of our own family, towards our brethren in the faith, and towards anyone in need? If your love is absent, your faith is dead. Then you are not the Lord’s and will not find yourself in that group that will be receiving rest on the last day.
What are the marks or characteristics of those who belong to the Lord and who sha11 receive rest? Besides faith and love, there is perseverance and faith in the face of persecutions. Paul was proud of the Thessalonians. He writes, “We ourselves glory in you in the churches of God.” Why? What was the cause of that glorying? “For your patience—per severance—and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure.” When you read the account of the founding of the congregation at Thessalonica, you learn that the unbelieving Jews caused an uproar in the city. One can imagine the social, economic, and political pressure that was brought to bear upon the Christians, to say nothing of the danger to their property and lives. The Thessalonian: Christians didn’t fold up, turn tail and run, deny the Lord under these pressures. No, they persevered! Those that belong to the Lord take up His cross and follow after Him.”
Paul comments more on their persevering in faith under the pressure of persecutions and tribulations. He calls their experiences “a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer.” We are inclined to look upon any suffering for our faith’s sake as a grievous burden, almost as though the Lord were being unfair to us in permitting us to be treated in this way. Paul calls it an indication of the righteous judgment of God. And His judgment upon those that persevere amidst persecutions is that they are worthy of His kingdom—here in the sense of His reign in glory in heaven.
Many people who call themselves Christians want no part of any suffering or persecution for Christ’s sake. They don’t want to suffer loss of friendship, loss of property rights in some church cemetery, loss of investments that they have made in some church property through their past contributions. In brief, they want to be Christians without taking up the cross of Christ and carrying it after Him. They don’t want to suffer for the Kingdom of God. If such is the case, how can the Lord count them worthy of the Kingdom of God?
Here on earth believers and unbelievers, believers and hypocrites, believers who cling to all of the Word of the Lord and those who embrace or tolerate perversions of the Word of the Lord dwell together as fellow citizens, fellow church members, members of a family and a community. But when the Lord appears again, the division will take place. Those who grew in faith, abounded in love, and persevered under persecution will be acknowledged as the Lord’s own and will receive eternal rest. But for the other group the Lord will come—
Paul had spoken of the Thessalonians as those who persevered in faith under the burden of persecutions. But what of their persecutors? Paul has a word for them. He says that “it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you.” In this life it may appear as though the persecutors carry on their devilish work unchallenged. They mock the child of God. They may harass him in his business or work. They may go out of their way to make his life miserable. They may violate his property and harm his body. The Lord sees all this. He observes. And one day He will “recompense tribulation to them that trouble” His own.
He will take or render “vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Two groups of people come before Paul’s eye—the Gentiles who knew not the true God and the Jews who had the opportunity of hearing and receiving the Gospel but who were disobedient to it.
Who are those two groups today? The people who know not God are the idolators. They are the people who think that saying, “I believe in God” will automatically give them a ticket to heaven. Such a confession can very well be nothing more than a reflection of the natural knowledge of God with which every person is born. The question always is “Who is your God?” Anyone who rejects Jesus Christ as the Son of God, who is true God, does not know God. He is deceiving himself. He may talk much of God, pray to God, worship God, trust in God—but if he does not accept Jesus Christ as God, he has not God at all. He sha11 find himself the object of the Lord’s vengeance on the last day.
The other group are those that “obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The name of Jesus Christ is well known in this country. Churches of all kinds refer to Him and His teachings. They praise Him, sing of Him, and regard Him very highly. But the question is whether or not they are obedient to his Gospel. Scripture speaks of faith as obedience, here and elsewhere. When the Gospel offers full and complete salvation to man—without any conditions at all, it is appealing for obedience, that is, for acceptance as it is given. The person who says, “I accept Christ,” but I want credit for having made the decision to accept Him is disobedient, for the very accepting of Christ is a gift of the Gospel. The person who claims to have accepted Christ but does not want Christ to interfere with his associations with unChristian organizations and who thinks he can divide his loyalty between Christ and antichrist is not obedient to the Gospel, for the Gospels tolerates no split loyalties. The person who says so piously, “I accept Christ,” but then preaches and teaches and acts as though following some churchprescribed form of behavior in respect to food and drink as necessary for salvation is disobedient to the Gospel, for the Gospel gives full salvation. Not every one that says, “Lord, Lord,” shall find himself among those that shall have eternal rest. To some of those the Lord shall say, “I never knew you. Depart from Me.”
The division on the last day shall be final. Those who know not God by respecting His Son and those who are disobedient to the Gospel, also by rejecting Christ as their one and only and all-sufficient Savior “shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.” There is one word in this passage that should send shudders up and down our spines—everlasting. If anything should deter us from disobedience to the Gospel, disloyalty to our Savior, lack of faith and love, unwillingness to suffer for Christ’s sake, it should be that word—everlasting. Hell is everlasting torment, everlasting destruction, everlasting banishment from the presence of the Lord. Heaven is everlasting rest, everlasting peace, everlasting joy. May God in His mercy spare us the former and preserve us unto the latter. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.