COMMENTARY ON SECOND THESSALONIANS
2 Thess 1:5 " 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: 6 Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you" (2 Thess 1:5-6)
Throughout history, men have pondered WHY those who believe in God suffer. One of the first charges Satan made of those who trust in God was this: "But stretch out Your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face . . . But stretch out Your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse You to Your face" NIV (Job 1:11; 2:5). In the realm of darkness, the thought prevails that godly people will buckle beneath suffering. When, it is conceived, their goods or their persons are touched adversely, their religion will dissipate, and they will curse God. This, of course, is Satan's notion. He promotes this view through his messengers, working tirelessly whenever given an opportunity to make suffering the cause for spiritual decline. For this reason, considerable revelation, particularly through the Apostles, has been given concerning hardship. Jesus informed His disciples, "In the world ye shall have tribulation . . . If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (John 16:33; 15:20). When Paul and Barnabas "confirmed the souls of the disciples," they reminded them "that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). However, the Lord does not allow the matter to end there. He also reveals WHY suffering comes, and the things that are accomplished by it. All of this is done to enable the believing one to stand, and not to fall under oppression - even when it is unusually difficult. The text before us provides such an explanation, and a gracious one it is! These are not just lovely sounding words, but are the truth of God. When believed, they will buoy up the soul, enabling the believer to stand to the glory of God.
A MANIFEST TOKEN OF RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT
" 5a Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God . . . " There are things to be seen, or comprehended, in the Kingdom of God. They have been made known by God for our benefit. However, even though they have been made known, they also are to be declared, for they are not evident to the "mind of the flesh." Those who are anchored to the world cannot see these things, even though they have been revealed. However, when they are declared, or affirmed, to those who live by faith, they suddenly appear plain, refreshing the soul and strengthening our spiritual sinews. The abnormalities (and often the normalities) of life cause obscuring clouds to rise before the believer. They hide the things that are required to survive difficulty and keep the faith. However, when the mind of the Lord is articulated, and embraced by the hearer, it drives those obscuring clouds away, revealing the gracious purposes of God. That is the kind of text that is now before us.
MANIFEST TOKEN. Other versions read "manifest evidence," NKJV "plain indication," NASB "this is evidence," NIV and "a clear sign." BBE Here we are not dealing with laws regulating the conduct of men - matters of moral law. This is not something we ought to do, but something God is doing. A "manifest token" turns the spotlight away from what is happening to us, shining it upon what the Lord is doing in and with us. That is a critical distinction! In order to survive the attacks of the wicked one, the believers must be brought to the point where they ponder what the Lord is doing rather than what is happening to them.
"Which." The text begins with the word "which," a reference to WHAT constitutes a "manifest token." Other versions refer to this circumstance as "This is," NASB or "All this." NIV And what is it that is the "plain indication"? It is an experiential coin that has two sides. The first is the fact that the Thessalonians were suffering at the hands of wicked men. That is the bottom side. The second is that they were conducting themselves honorably in that suffering, having "patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure." v4 That is the upper side of the coin, and is the particular focus of this verse. It is as though the verse read, "The fact that you are continuing to press toward the mark and believe God in your tribulation reveals something that God has determined for you."
Manifest. Something that is "manifest" is made known by God Himself. He often does it through His children, but it is He that makes things known, revealing them. When a thing is "manifest," it is made plain, or understandable. The truth is made evident to the soul in order that it can be grasped by faith, for truth that is not perceived will elude the soul.
Token. A "token" is a sign, or indication, of something higher than itself. The point is not the "token" itself, but what it points to. Thus the rainbow was God's "token of the covenant" God made with Noah to never again destroy all flesh by water (Gen 9:13). When Noah saw that bow in the sky, he was reminded of a truth far greater than the bow itself. It became an undeniable indication of the promise of God. When God established a covenant with Abraham, He gave him a "token of the covenant" in circumcision (Gen 17:11). Circumcision was not the point, but a token, or evidence, of the point. Rahab the harlot hid two spies from Israel when they were preparing to enter the promised land. When they told her the city would be destroyed, she asked them for a "true token" that would ensure her safety. They told her to tie the scarlet cord by which she lowered them to the ground in her window. When the Israelites came to devastate the city, that cord would save her life. It was her "token" (John 2:12-18).
The faith and patience of the Thessalonians was their "token" - their rainbow, their circumcision, their scarlet cord - that spoke to them of coming deliverance and favor. It was the means by which they could KNOW that God was for them, and not against them. It was their proof that eventually all would be well with them.
RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT. The meaning is this: the faith and patience of the godly during tribulation clearly shows that God will someday judge the world. This is a most remarkable revelation! Yet, it makes no sense whatsoever unless it is seen correctly. The point is that God is righteous, and does not overlook those who harm His people. His eyes are upon the righteous, and He will "avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them" (Lk 18:7). Thus, they are able to endure because of the strength given to them by God in prospect of the coming judgment. If there was no day of judgment, God would instantly strike down the wicked for persecuting His people. But, for now, He does not do so. Through their wickedness He is perfecting His people. He is also giving the wicked "space to repent" (Rev 2:21). But eventually, and make no mistake about this, "righteous judgment" will be executed. Faith and patience is the token of that!
COUNTED WORTH OF THE KINGDOM
" 5b . . . that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer." There is a "purpose" into which we have been called by the grace of God. Scripture refers to believers as "those who are the called according to His purpose" (Rom 8:28). That glorious purpose means nothing about the faith-life, particularly suffering, is mere happenstance. There are Divine objectives that determine what happens to us. This is not mere fate, as men would have it, suggesting that we disengage our hearts and minds in life, and simply float with the tide of circumstance. Statements like our text are made in order to help us see things from the proper perspective, and not be deluded by circumstance, particularly difficult occurrences like suffering. When the saints experience unjust treatment and debilitating hardship, they are not sent to the world for counsel. Rather a word is sent to them by He whose name is "Wonderful Counselor" (Isa 9:6). Here is such a word.
COUNTED WORTHY. There is a theology that will not allow such words to be spoken. Those who embrace such a view cannot conceive of the redeemed of the Lord being "counted worthy." To them, those words speak of human merit, and belong to the order of Law. Other versions read, "considered worthy," NASB "make you worthy," NRSV and "found worthy." NJB There are at least two things revealed in this expression.
First, that there is a sense in which we are not yet worthy. Here is an area in which we can advance. We are admonished to "walk worthy" (Eph 4:1; Col 1:10; 1 Thess 2:12), living in such a manner as to glorify God and not bring disgrace to His name by fainting in the way. There are things that must yet be purged from us, and suffering is instrumental in accomplishing that purpose. Jesus described such souls as those who "shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead" (Lk 20:35).
Second, that worthiness is demanded by the God of heaven. In a higher sense, God has "made us meet [qualified] to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col 1:12). The reason for justification and the remission of sins is that God cannot receive into His fellowship those who are defiled. That is also the reason for chastening, which tends to boil out of us things that cannot transport to glory. As it is written, "But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor 11:32).
Thus, in our sufferings, particularly the oppositions of ungodly men, we are actually being readied for glory. The conflict of our spirit with that of the world proves we are no longer like the world, for "the world would love its own" (John 15:19). Further, as we live by faith, the conflict revealed by persecution will actually produce a greater distance between the believer and "this present evil world." In that sense, we are being "counted worthy" - or being fashioned to fit into the eternal order. When we have faith and patience, afflictions move us to renounce this world, and embrace the world to come.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD. This is the kingdom that is to be inherited. As it is written, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt 25:34). Those aligned with this world "cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9-10). It is also true that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God" (1 Cor 15:50). This view of "the kingdom of God" equates to "the greater weight of glory" that sufferings accomplish for us (2 Cor 4:17). It speaks of the fulness of glory, as compared with the first fruits that we are now experiencing.
We have been called "into His Kingdom and glory" (1 Thess 2:12). While it is true that we presently enjoy countless benefits because we have been translated into that Kingdom (Col 1:13), the fulness is yet to come. Our participation will not be complete until that Kingdom appears, or is made fully known. As it is written, Christ will "will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom" NKJV (2 Tim 4:1). That appearing is the goal of life, and the ultimate reason for continuing to believe and persevere.
FOR WHICH YOU SUFFER. It is our involvement with, and anticipation of, the Kingdom of God that has brought on our sufferings. Now we suffer because we have chosen and prefer that Kingdom, seeking it "first" (Matt 6:33). We endure those sufferings because we are not willing to forfeit our participation in its glories. The saints are described as "heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him?" (James 2:5). Now we taste of the preliminary fruits of the Kingdom, "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14:17). The world despises us because of these things, but we are not willing to let them go. We will continue to set our affection on things above, not on things of the earth, even though it brings the wrath of the world upon us (Col 3:1-3). We do this knowing that God is, in our sufferings, shaping us like temple stones to fit into the "temple which is in heaven" (Rev 14:17; 16:17).
A RIGHTEOUS THING WITH GOD
" 6 Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you." While there may be some small application of this statement to temporal judgments inflicted upon those who trouble the saints, the larger reference is to the day of judgment. The people of God cannot sustain their faith in hopes that God will strike down their enemies in this world. It should not require extended thought to see this. Men such as John the Baptist, Stephen, James, Paul, and Antipas never did see Divine justice exacted upon their persecutors. It would have been futile for them to live expecting the Lord to punish their oppressors while they remained in the body. The Herod's of this world are not always stricken by angels in the midst of their pride. Nor, indeed, are the Nebuchadnezzar's always favored with seven year punishments to make them more sensitive to the Lord. Such temporal judgments have always been the exception, and never the rule.
This is why Solomon wrote, "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Eccl 8:11). The delay of judgment is an occasion for faith to show its superiority. It also provides an occasion for the wicked to show how truly evil they are. However, God "hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness" (Acts 17:31). That is the time to which our text refers.
SEEING. The statement before us is one of the pillars of spiritually solid reasoning. Sound thought is based upon unwavering realities. Other versions read, "Since it is," NKJV "For after all it is only," NASB and "For it is indeed." NRSV The people of God are a thinking people. They are moved to faithfulness by their meditations and cogitations. The Spirit will now show us one of the considerations that moves them to keep the faith and persevere.
A RIGHTEOUS THING. Other versions read, "it is only just for God," NASB "God is just," NIV and "God deems it just." RSV It is fashionable these days for those living at a distance from God to speak often of His love. And, indeed, "God IS love" (1 John 4:8,16). However, any view of God that views Him as tolerant of the abuse of His people is flawed at its very foundation. God is also impeccably righteous. He is not only righteous in acquitting those who believe the record He has given of His Son, He is also righteous in His response to those who oppose and persecute His people. This is a most sobering consideration! It touches those oppressed by friends, employers, government, religion, and even their own families. This is something to be grasped by those whose heart is tender toward God.
RECOMPENSE TRIBULATION. Other versions read, "to repay with tribulation," NKJV "to repay with affliction," NASB "He will pay back trouble," NIV and "God to give back to those." YLT Admittedly, this is not a common perception. Yet, it is both true and needful. God does not allow His children to "pay back evil for evil to anyone" NASB (Rom 12:17). They are not permitted to avenge themselves (Rom 12:19). This is because "the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God" NKJV (James 1:20). But do not imagine this means there are no penalties for oppressing the people of God - eternal penalties! God has declared vengeance belongs to Him, and that He "WILL repay" (Heb 10:30).
The "tribulation" of reference is not some temporal discomfort. It is of an eternal order, and is paralleled with the glory and honor that will be given to the faithful. "Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil . . . But glory, honor, and peace, to every man that worketh good" (Rom 2:9-10). It is said of the wicked, "they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind" (Hos 8:7). It is righteous for God to punish those who persecute His people. That means it would be unrighteous for them to go unpunished, unless they repent. Because their punishment is just, and because they are not protected by the salvation of Christ, it will be inflicted upon them.
THEM THAT TROUBLE YOU. Other versions say, "those who afflict you." NASB/NRSV Trouble goes beyond bloody persecution, oppositions, and oppressive insults. The Galatians were "troubled" with false teaching (Gal 1:7). Israel was "troubled" by the sin of Aachan (Josh 7:25). King Ahab "troubled" Israel by forsaking "the commandments of the Lord" (1 Kgs 18:18). Those who "trouble" the saints make life more difficult for them. They create a heavier burden for them, and cause grief to spring up in them. Sorrow grows because of these troublers, and saints are tempted to despair. Such people agitate the waters of life, causing trouble in both the mind and body of the believers. They disturb the saints by waging war against them in both word and deed. But it has not gone unnoticed! It is righteous for God to persecute them. In this life, He can "persecute them with [His] tempest, and make them afraid with [His] storm" (Psa 83:15). In the end, He will "persecute and destroy them" (Lam 3:66), and it is righteous for Him to do so! Armed with this knowledge, we can be patient!