C0OMMENTARY ON SECOND THESSALONIANS
2 Thess 1:7 "And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, 8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thess 1:7-8)
How are we to speak to believers who are being troubled in this world? What solace can we bring to them? Is there some sure thing in the future to which we can point them? Our text will answer these questions, showing us the manner of the Kingdom. Those in Christ Jesus are not being oriented to this world, and thus their solace cannot come from it. They are being fitted for an eternal realm in which no trouble exists. Therefore they cannot derive their strength and confidence from the cursed domain. Because they "have no confidence in the flesh" (Phil 3:3), no lasting benefit can be given to them from that realm. If you would help the suffering saints of God, you must assist them in lifting their heads heavenward. They must be brought to consider things that are not impacted by trouble - things that are superior to this world, and certain beyond all question. It is not at all common for those who wear the name of Christ to be told such things. This is an era of pragmatism, when answers are sought from those who are wise in the ways of the world. It is a time of fleshly practicality, when Christians are tempted to seek for ultimate benefits here and now, without regard to the fact that both here and now are in a state of Divinely imposed deterioration. You will notice a total absence of such a frame of mind in our text. Moved along by the Holy Spirit of God, Paul did not draw attention to the troubles of the Thessalonians, but to the Divinely determined resolution to them. He will remind them of certain events that have been appointed by the God of heaven - things that will surely come to pass. He will shine the jewel of redemption, and point to the star of hope. We do well to hear his words.
YOU WHO ARE TROUBLED
" 7a And to you who are troubled rest with us . . . " This verse is a completion of the prior one, so that the whole thought reads like this. "Since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us." NKJV Other versions read, "it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well," NASB and "He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well." NIV The statement, then, is that it is a righteous thing for God to pay back with trouble those who have troubled His people, AND to give rest to those who are troubled. Paul also includes himself in this, for he too was suffering trouble: "and to us as well."
The point is that God's righteousness is at stake in this matter. If it is righteous for Him to give relief to those who are troubled because of their affiliation with Him through Christ, then it would be unrighteous for Him not to do so. And, "there is no unrighteousness in Him" (Psa 92:15). Thus, believers are put into the posture of waiting on the Lord. While they wait, He will renew their strength, making them superior to those who trouble them, as well as to the trouble itself. They are being called to live by faith, assured that God will take care of their enemies, and them as well. Their situation is not unknown to Him. It is only a matter of time until all accounts will be righteously settled.
YOU WHO ARE TROUBLED. Other versions read, "you who are afflicted," NASB "you who are undergoing afflictions," NAB "you who are being persecuted," NLT and "you who are now suffering hardship." NJB The word "troubled" means suffering tribulation. It literally means to "press hard upon," like pressing grapes in a winepress. This "trouble" occurs when pressure is put upon us by the world. It is when the enemies of Christ appear to have the upper hand, bringing affliction upon those who trust in God. "Trouble" is not mere inconvenience, like the car not working, or the furnace failing. It is not things common to men, like famines, pestilence, and storm. These are afflictions brought on by faith, when the world retaliates against those who speak and live for God. It is when Jeremiah is thrown into a pit, Elijah is hounded by Jezebel, and David is chased by Saul. It is when Herod beheads John the Baptist, Peter and John are beaten, and the Jewish council stones Stephen.
Twice Paul says he was "troubled on every side" (2 Cor 4:8; 7:5). Misery of body and affliction of soul were brought upon him by the ungodly. Many a godly soul has cried out with Jeremiah, "Our necks are under persecution: we labor, and have no rest" (Lam 5:5). While it is true that this condition can occur as a chastisement for sins, that is not always the case. It certainly was not why the Thessalonians were being "troubled." Early on, Saul of Tarsus instigated a fierce persecution against the church (Acts 8:1). There was also a persecution "that arose over Stephen" (Acts 11:19). The Jews "raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas" (Acts 13:50). Indeed, the Spirit declares, "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" NKJV (2 Tim 3:12). Faith will bring repercussions from the world! Whether or not you, as a believer, endure trouble or affliction, is not the question. It is how you respond to it that is the point. Our text is providing a Divine perspective of things to assist us in glorifying God in our response to the difficulties brought on by our faith.
God is demonstrating something in our "trouble." He is confirming that we are not of the world, but have been chosen out of the world (John 15:19). He is also corroborating how wicked the world really is, in that it fiercely and consistently opposes those who do not belong to its order. Additionally, the Lord is, in our trouble, putting a distance between us and things He has determined will pass away. If you are "troubled," this word is for you!
REST WITH US. This is not an exhortation to "rest" with Paul. Rather, it is an affirmation that it is a righteous thing with God to give ultimate rest to those who endure trouble for His name. God can give us rest now, in this -present world. As it is written, "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified" (Acts 9:31). However. That was not a permanent rest, but a Divinely imposed cessation of trouble for a season. In Acts the twelfth chapter "Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword" (Acts 12:1-2). The "rest" came to a grinding halt. Trouble came again and continued throughout the book of Acts. The "rest" of our text will be associated with the coming of the Lord. His coming will bring the complete termination of all "trouble" for the people of God. It is "righteous" for God to bring our trouble to a conclusion. It is further comely on our part to look forward to that time, not being distracted by our afflictions. Our Lord will come and save us, delivering us from all suffering and hardship, whether it is Paul, the Thessalonians, or you!
WHEN JESUS IS REVEALED FROM HEAVEN
" 7b . . . when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels." The Spirit carefully points us forward - all the way to the revelation of the Lord from heaven. He will not condone our vision focusing on "the here and now," or even on the immediate future, as men conceive of things. Our hope is not in temporal deliverance or rest, and we must not conduct our lives as though it was!
Notice, our attention is drawn to "the Lord Jesus Christ." The more prominent He becomes in our thinking, the less emphasis we will place upon our troubles for His sake. Trouble ceases to be a disheartening burden when the Lord Jesus is in our eye. As this text will affirm, it is not what we will or will not do that is to be the center of our attention, but what the Lord Jesus Christ will do. Things begin and end with Him.
REVEALED FROM HEAVEN. This revelation will be of the fulness of Christ. It will not be a veiled revelation, as when He first entered into the world. Then, "the world knew Him not" (John 1:10). It will not be like His post-resurrection appearance to the two on the road to Emmaus, whose "eyes were holden that they should not know Him" (Lk 24:16). Nor, indeed, will it be a partial revelation, as when He spoke with His disciples for forty days concerning things related to the Kingdom (Acts 1:3). This will be a full and undeniable disclosure of the glorified Christ. Then, "every eye shall see Him" (Rev 1:7).
Jesus will be revealed from heaven "in His glory" - "in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels" (Matt 25:31; Lk 9:26). The awesome glory that was revealed at Sinai was only a faint reflection of the glory that will be seen when the Lord Jesus is "revealed from heaven." This is when the Father will "show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords" (1 Tim 6:15). The earth and the heaven will flee away from the face of the Son in all of His glory (Rev 20:11). The "Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God" (1 Thess 4:16). By saying "Himself," the Spirit means He will come in all of His glory and splendor, with no part of His Person hidden or left subject to the interpretation of men. Then He will come "with power and great glory," driving away the mists of obscurity and convincing everyone of His Person (Matt 24:30).
This revelation will be a time of unprecedented joy for the people of God. As it is written, "that when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy" (1 Pet 4:13). Presently, the Lord Jesus is our "Master in heaven" (Col 4:1). But we are eagerly looking for Him to come "from" heaven to receive us unto Himself, that where He is, there we may be also (Phil 3:20; John 14:3). Now, the saints are in the posture of waiting - waiting with anxious anticipation. As it is written, we "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven" (1 Thess 1:10). Then we will experience the "rest" that remains "for the people of God" (Heb 4:9). Good ministers put the people of God in remembrance of this, thereby enabling them to bear up under their troubles.
WITH HIS MIGHTY ANGELS. The vastness of the angelic hosts is staggering to consider. The "mighty angels" are also called "an innumerable company of angels" (Heb 12:22). ALL of them will accompany the glorified Christ when He is "revealed from heaven." As it is written, "the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him" (Matt 25:31). They will "gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity" (Matt 13:41). They will precisely and thoroughly gather "together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them" (Matt 13:30).
As the appointed reapers, they will "gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matt 24:31), and "from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven" (Mark 13:27). It is they who will facilitate our "gathering together unto Him" (2 Thess 2:1).
The holy angels who are "all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Heb 1:14), will be seen by those to whom they have faithfully ministered. They will gather together those for whom they have cared, whom they oft delivered and succored in ways unperceived.
When the Lord is "revealed from heaven," the earth will at last be "reaped" (Rev 14:16). The "vine of the earth" will be pulled out in its entirety (Rev 14:18-19), and the "wheat" of Christ will be forever gathered into His "barn" (Matt 13:30).
While you experience trouble, you can contemplate the "great and notable day of the Lord." Then you will behold in His fulness the One who has reconciled you unto God and put you at variance with "this present evil world." That consideration will sustain you.
IN FLAMING FIRE, TAKING VENGEANCE
" 8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." When Jesus is "revealed from heaven," there will be nothing about it that is secret or undetected. That revelation is the time "when" the saints will be granted "rest" by the Lord - and it will be granted righteously. But that is not all that will take place. The Lord will then confront with vengeance those who have caused trouble for His people - those who have maligned and persecuted them!
IN FLAMING FIRE. "Flaming fire" is devouring fire that consumes the adversaries of the Lord (Isa 29:6; 30:30). As it is written, "a fire shall devour before Him" (Psa 50:3), and "A fire goeth before Him, and burneth up His enemies round about" (Psa 97:3). This is the fire that consumes those aligned against Him, "For our God is a consuming fire" (Heb 12:29). Solemnly, the Spirit warns those wearing the name of Christ not to sin willfully, or deliberately. Such a posture of life destroys all hope, moving one into "a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries" (Heb 10:27).
Now, in this "day of salvation," the "word of reconciliation" is being declared, offering men full amnesty and deliverance (2 Cor 5:19). Those who receive this word have nothing to fear when Jesus is "revealed from heaven." But for those who spurn His "great salvation," they have everything to fear!
I understand this "flaming fire" to be nothing less than the glory of the Lord. It is the fullness of His Person, unveiled and fully disclosed. That glory will transform and glorify those who are living by faith (1 John 3:2), but it will consume those who are not.
TAKING VENGEANCE. God has declared He will take vengeance. He has revealed, "To me belongeth vengeance, and recompense" (Deut 32:35). He is the "LORD God, to whom vengeance belongeth" (Psa 94:1). Lest some entertain the juvenile notion that this is an Old Testament view of God, it is written, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Rom 12:19), and "Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord" (Heb 10:30), and "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb 10:31). Now, God is "waiting to be gracious" (Isa 30:18). But when Jesus is "revealed from heaven," that waiting will come to abrupt halt, and He will take vengeance upon the wicked. Keep in mind, this is "a righteous thing" with the Lord (verse 6).
And, upon whom will the Lord take vengeance? For whom will His coming be dreadful? One might imagine the Spirit would cite the morally depraved, which will surely be subject to Divine wrath (Col 3:5-6). Perhaps He will accentuate the sins of maliciousness such souls have committed against the Lord in opposing and even killing His people. However, this is not the case. In this text, the Spirit goes more to the heart of the matter. He goes to the root of sin, not its branches. Those He identifies as subjects of His vengeance will startle lazy Christians - lethargic souls who insist on walking by sight and not by faith.
THEM THAT KNOW NOT GOD. Ponder the magnitude of this expression: "know not God!" Such are ignorant of His ways and unfamiliar with His Person. They have no ears to hear Him, and think contrary to Him. These are excluded from the New Covenant, for within that covenant, it is written, "they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them" (Jer 31:34). Such have not acquainted themselves with God, thereby gaining peace for the soul (Job 22:21). Such people do not love the Lord because they do not know Him. They do not serve Him because they do not know Him! They neglect His Word because they do not know Him! If knowing God is "life eternal" (John 17:3), then not knowing God is the very essence of death and alienation. To be unacquainted with God, ignorant of His ways, and at variance with His mind will bring the vengeance of the Lord upon the individual. When one considers the predominant ignorance of God in the professed church, this is a most alarming contemplation.
THEM THAT OBEY NOT THE GOSPEL. Those who do not know the Lord do not obey the Gospel, for the Gospel reveals the Person and purpose of God. To "obey the Gospel" is to believe "the report" of the Gospel (Rom 10:16). That belief constrains the individual to do anything and everything the Lord requires. To such people, the Gospel becomes the most vital and central message of all. Those who do not "obey" that Gospel push it from themselves in disdain, choosing some other emphasis. There is no hope of salvation for those who, by thrusting the Gospel away, judge themselves "unworthy of everlasting life" (Acts 13:46). Such have offended Christ and stirred up His indignation. When men do not believe, they are "condemned already," And the wrath of God "abides" on them (John 3:18,36). For such, the revelation of Christ from heaven will be a day of dreadful vengeance!