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24 July 2019

Revelation of Jesus from Heaven

Synopsis - The coming of Jesus at the end of the age will mean vindication for the righteous but everlasting loss for the wicked - 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10.

Olympic Revelation - Photo by Stephen Kraakmo on Unsplash
Stephen Kraakmo on Unsplash
The second letter by Paul to the Christians at Thessalonica was written in the months following his first letter and departure. The first epistle was positive and expressed his joy at the receipt of good news that the Thessalonians were persevering despite persecution. In this second letter, three main issues are addressed - Persecution, church members who refuse to work, and questions related to the “arrival” of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2:14-16, 3:2-4, 4:13-18, 5:1-11).

In the time since his first epistle, persecution had increased and idle church members had become a bigger problem. The problem with idleness was due, in part, to excitement and confusion about the "coming of Jesus." The focus in the first chapter of this letter is on persecution and what it means in the light of the end of the age.  Paul also sets the stage for the discussion in Chapter 2 of why the “day of the Lord” has not yet arrived.
  • We ought to be thanking God at all times concerning you, brothers, according as is fitting, because your faith is greatly increasing and the love of each of you all is abounding to one another, so that we ourselves are boasting in you among all the assemblies of God on account of your endurance and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations, which you are enduring” (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4).
Paul declared it fitting to thank God always for the faithful perseverance of the Thessalonian believers, which set the tone for the next paragraph. He referred to “persecutions,” plural, indicating there was a hostile environment for some period of time. The word translated “tribulations” is also plural. This is the same Greek word used elsewhere in the New Testament for the "Great Tribulation" (Matthew 24:21Revelation 1:97:14See also Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:19, 13:24).

The use of "tribulation" here does not mean the "tribulations" of the Thessalonians were identical with the predicted final “great tribulation.” However, the term does demonstrate that Paul did NOT believe that Christians were destined to avoid “tribulation” (cp. 1 Thessalonians 1:63:33:7, 2 Thessalonians 1:6).
  • (2 Thessalonians 1:5-7) - “Evidence of the just judgment of God, so that you be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, on behalf of which also you are suffering, since [it is] just for God to requite affliction to those afflicting you, and relief to you, to those being afflicted with us; at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his angels of power.”
The persecution of the Thessalonians and their perseverance constituted “evidence” of the just judgment of God on their behalf. Judgment means a decision in favor of or against someone - It results in vindication or condemnation.

It is not clear whether “evidence” refers to their endurance, persecution, or to both.  If the former, then perseverance is proof of the rightness of God’s decision for the believers in Thessalonica to inherit His kingdom.  If the latter, then the persecuting activities by their opponents validates His sentence against them.  Considering Verse 6, probably both options are intended.

Requite” translates the Greek verb antapodidōmi, “to give back, repay, requite, give in return.”  The emphasis is on equal payback, to recompense someone what he or she has earned. Here, the verb refers to recompense by God for two different groups:  To the persecutors and to the Thessalonian Christians.  To the former, God will repay “affliction,” to the latter, “rest.”

The persecutors will be repaid “tribulation” or “trouble.”  The Thessalonians, on the other hand, will receive “rest with us.” This “rest” will come at a specific time, “the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven.”  The word translated “revelation” is apokalypsis, meaning, a “revealing, uncovering, disclosure, unveiling.”  It is used often elsewhere in the New Testament for the "coming" of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:71 Peter 1:71:13).

This “revelation” will occur when Jesus arrives “from heaven.” This is precisely the same clause Paul used in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 to describe how Jesus will “descend from heaven with a shout” to raise the righteous dead and gather his saints. In that earlier passage, Paul labeled this coming as the “arrival” or parousia of Jesus.  This shows him applying both Greek terms, parousia and apokalypsis, to the same event - The terms are used interchangeably.
  • (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9) - “In flaming fire giving vengeance to those who know not God and to those not hearkening to the gospel of our Lord Jesus, who will pay a penalty, everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”
In flaming fire” may go with the “revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his angels of power in flaming fire.” More likely, the clause refers to the “fire” of destruction that will befall the wicked (In flaming fire giving vengeance to those who know not God”). The clause alludes to a passage from the book of Isaiah:
  • (Isaiah 66:15) - Yahweh comes with fire and like a storm-wind are his chariots, to render with fury his anger and his rebuke with flames of fire.”
The vengeance of God will come upon those who do not know Him and who do not hearken to the Gospel. “Hearkening” translates a Greek compound verb, hupakouō, with the sense, “hearken, submit, yield, obey.”  This refers to a conscious refusal to submit, not just to a failure to hear. In other words, the refusal to obey “the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”

Those who refuse to obey receive “everlasting destruction.” This is set in apposition to “penalty” - Everlasting destruction is the penalty they will pay. “Everlasting” (aiōnion) refers to the length of time the results of the destruction last.  There will be no appeal or reprieve.

Destruction” translates the noun olethros or “ruin, destruction, undoing,” the same Greek word Paul used in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 for the “unexpected destruction” that will come upon the unprepared on that day.  This parallels the portrayal by Jesus of the judgment of the nations (Matthew 25:46).

This verse likely alludes to Obadiah 12-13 (Septuagint):
  • You should not have looked on the day of your brother in the day of strangers; nor should you have rejoiced against the children of Judah in the day of their destruction [olethrosneither should you have boasted in the day of tribulation [thlipsis]. Neither should you have gone into the gates of the people in the day of their troubles.”
In the book of Obadiah, this was a judicial pronouncement against Edom for its treachery against Israel. It is now applied to the wicked men at Thessalonica who persecuted the church. The “everlasting destruction” cannot refer to a tribulation period before the end since it will be “everlasting” and the punishment coincides with the "revelation of Jesus from heaven" (seeMatthew 7:2322:1325:41Luke 13:27).

Those who oppose the Gospel will be excluded from the presence of the Lord and the “glory of his might.”  This alludes to a saying of Jesus:
  • (Matthew 24:29-31) - “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming [parousia] on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
  • (2 Thessalonians 1:10) - “Whenever he shall come to be made all-glorious in his saints and to be marveled at in all who believed, because our witness to you was believed, in that day.”
In this section, Paul declares that one’s reward or punishment will be received “whenever he comes,” here using the Greek verb erchomai or “come.” The same verb is used several times elsewhere for the “coming” of Jesus (Matthew 24:3024:42-46, 25:31, Mark 13:26, 13:35-36Luke 21:27).
When Jesus is "revealed from heaven," his faithful saints will be gathered before him to glorify and admire him. Nothing is said about his bringing the saints with him from heaven; both believers and unbelievers are presented before him when he arrives from heaven.
Throughout this passage, the future vindication of faithful believers is contrasted with the condemnation of the wicked.  Both occur at the same time, “on that day,” a reference to the “Day of the Lord," which will be discussed in the next chapter of the letter.

The purpose of Paul is to encourage the Thessalonian church to persevere through persecution and “tribulation.”  He does so by emphasizing what awaits faithful believers when Jesus comes in contrast to what awaits the disobedient.

Vindication of the righteous and condemnation of the wicked are not separate events that require separate and distinct “comings” of Jesus. His "arrival" will result in the vindication of some, and the punishment of others. Both occur at his one “revelation from heaven.”

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