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Text - 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12
So what's going on Thessalonica? Every manner of persecution you can imagine, people have been run out of town, they've been mocked, they've been banished, they've had to pay weird and imaginative taxes, at least a few of them have been killed, and now there is even spiritual persecution that someone has written them a letter that pretty much says they've missed out on Heaven.
Do you think God cares when his saints are afflicted? Of course he does, and that's what we're going to look at today, what he's going to do about it.
First though, is there a benefit to this persecution that Thessalonica is facing? Yes. What is it? Let's read verse 3 and 4.
2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.
What's another church that was persecuted and came out ahead? Smyrna. Persecution is a great way to have a pure church, and here in Thessalonica we have a pure church. But it is in danger because now they think they're suffering for Christ and they're missing Heaven. Paul's words that this "light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison." (2 Corinthians 4:17) are meaningless because they don't think the affliction they are suffering comes with Heaven.
So Paul has two problems to address in this letter, first what God is going to do to avenge his saints, and second to reassure them that they haven't missed Heaven. We're going to talk mostly about what God is going to do to avenge his saints today, we'll be on this letter for the rest of the summer and will see what sorts of events have to transpire before Christ returns; and it hasn't happened yet.
What we're about to read is the only place where Paul explicitly talks about Hell. He mentions it in many other places, but he only goes into detail here. Some people think the reason he spoke much more about Heaven than Hell is because he was called up to Heaven momentarily in about AD 43; what year was Second Thessalonians written? AD 52. Paul saw that the glory of Heaven and the inheritance of Christ was so wonderful that he preached more on it than on the terrors of Hell. Some think, and I agree, that this passage in 2 Thessalonians is here just so that Paul couldn't be accused of denying the existence of Hell, but he definitely mentions Hell in his other letters. So let's read the passage.
2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on thosewho do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment ofeternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
So we see that God is not ignorant of their pain, and he does care. God will indeed repay those who afflict his saints, and their affliction will be bigger than the affliction we receive, because when you pick on a Christian, who are you ultimately picking on? Let's read what Jesus said to Paul when Paul was persecuting Christians.
Acts 9:4-5 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."
But God is waiting, why? Doesn't he know it hurts? Three reasons.
1. The persecution is a cleansing method for his church; suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:3)
2. Because of their hard and impenitent hearts they are storing up wrath for themselves on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:5) There are going to be no lack of sins for them to give an account for, because God let them keep going and going, digging themselves deeper and deeper. How many sins does it take to send you to Hell? 1. But God is letting them fill up the full measure of their sins so that they know they will certainly deserve it.
3. The riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience is meant to lead them to repentance. (Romans 2:4)
When will God repay them? Right here Paul affirms that the Second Coming of Christ hasn't happened yet, for he says, "when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance..." This is synonymous with Judgment Day, with the Day of Wrath, and with the Day of Christ. On that day, those who have died will be resurrected;
John 5:28-29 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
So who's going to be on God's side on that day, and who won't be? Paul tells us that Jesus will inflict vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Jesus said those who have done good will be resurrected to eternal life, who has done good? Jesus said nobody. Uh-oh.
What's the solution? The gospel. What's the gospel? It is the good news that Jesus Christ, God manifest in the flesh, died on a cross paying for the evil we've done so that we can inherit his goodness, because he never sinned and was and is forever perfect. What is the response to the Gospel? How do you be obedient to the Gospel? As Jesus said, "Repent and believe." Turn from your sins, turn to God, trust in him and him alone that Christ's payment on Calvary's cross was entirely sufficient to pay your way into Heaven.
Jesus will inflict vengeance on those who do not obey the gospel, who will not repent and believe, those who refuse to submit themselves to God so that he will adopt them into his family.
v.9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might...
Hell. The eternal destruction is a destroying that lasts forever, an eternity of dying.
Luke 16:23-24 And in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.'
Matthew 13:40-42 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Revelation 14:11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, theseworshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.
Hell is hot, and forever, and terrible. A man named Dante summed it all up in one statement, what he considered would be a good sign to put above the gates of Hell. "Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here."
One of the reasons it is so bad is because God is Love, and Paul says that Hell is eternal separation from God, therefore there is no love in Hell, and since every good thing comes from God, if he is not there, then there is no good thing.
The second reason it is so bad is because God is furiously angry.
Psalm 7:11 God is angry with the wicked every day.
Matthew 25:41 Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'
God hates sin and sinners with a vengeance. Sin has caused every manner of death and suffering on this planet and God hates it. But people love sin, going so far as to do everything they can to get God out of their lives. The worse thing that can happen to you is God says, "Fine, have it your way."
In Hell, the niceties and fun we had in this world will fade away like dreams. When we got back from camp, I started to prepare the Sunday School lesson, then took a nap, while napping I dreamt I finished the lesson, it was a nice feeling when I woke up, until I realized that there was indeed no lesson. Have you ever had a really nice dream that you didn't want to wake up from? Then afterwards you try to tell someone about it and all of the niceness is gone, you think, "I'm pretty sure it was a nice dream, but now I can't really remember." That's how Hell will be, people will think, "I'm pretty sure it was a nice life...I think I had fun, I think there was love, I think there was joy, but now I can't really remember."
Psalm 73:18-20 Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
Psalm 21:8-9 Your hand will find out all your enemies; your right hand will find out those who hate you. You will make them as a blazing oven when you appear. The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them.
Who goes to Hell?
Revelation 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
God is serious about this. His perfect justice requires a perfect punishment, a sin against an infinite God requires an infinite retribution. Surely many will be terrified and hate Christ's appearing, there is even some evidence that people will continue to curse God in Hell forever, refusing to repent even as they die forever.
But, some will not hate his appearing.
v.10 [All this will happen] when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
Why can we be happy that Jesus is returning if he is going to require payment for sins on that day?
Our sins are already paid for; he paid for them 2000 years ago on the cross. When we look at Christ's crucifixion, we see his physical appearance marred beyond semblance of a human being; you couldn't even tell he was a man when Herod and Pilate got done with him, but that external punishment was piddly in comparison to the wrath poured out on him by his Father. It pleased God to crush him, because Jesus was made our vicarious sin, and God held nothing back and our payment was paid by the God-man Jesus Christ dying in our place.
Consider this story which Kirk Cameron likes to tell, "I told him a story of a tribal Chief on an island. The Chief was a good man. He was physically strong, morally uncompromising in Justice, and loved his family and tribe greatly. The chief loved his tribe so much that his penalty for anyone who violated the law was severe, which resulted in very little crime and ensured safety for the tribe. One day, some men reported to the Chief that food had been stolen, causing another family to go hungry. The penalty for such a crime was 50 lashes. The Chief ordered that the criminal be found and publicly disciplined. Two days later, the men told the Chief that the thief had not been found, but instead, had stolen again, causing another family to go without food. The Chief commanded the tribe to search the island until they found the thief, and then bring him immediately to the place where he would be publicly punished with his sentence of 100 lashings. The tribe searched until they found the thief, and brought him to the Chief. When the Chief looked at the captured criminal, he was shocked as he recognized the man to be his very own son. All the tribe gathered around the place where the man would be punished, and they waited with great concern to see what the Chief would do. Would he uphold Justice and have his own son whipped with 100 lashings, surely causing him to die, or would he compromise Justice and overlook his son’s crimes. With tears in his eyes, the Chief knew that his son must be tied to the tree and his 100 lashes must be given. The boy was strapped to the wood, and as the man with the rock studded whips raised his massive arms to tear into the back of the young thief, The Chief stepped forward, removed his robe, and wrapped his own arms around his son’s body. With his bare back exposed to the executioner, hiding his son’s tender flesh beneath him, the Chief said, “Begin the lashings.” And the Chief took all 100 lashings, allowing his own blood to be shed to save his son. The Chief upheld Justice—the punishment was given--and at the same time, he demonstrated his great love for his precious son."
Do you know why Hell will last forever? Because it will take eternity to pay the infinite fine accrued against God. But Jesus paid that whole fine on the cross, when he ransomed us, he suffered more at the hands of his Father than any sinner ever will in Hell.
So we hope in him, that he has given us grace, granted us to repent and believe in his gospel, to know him and be known by him; for this is eternal life, that we might know God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.
God will be glorified in one of two ways by our life, we really don't have any say in whether we will glorify God, because we will. We will either glorify his perfect justice as he judges us guilty of sinning against him and casts us into perfect punishment for eternity, or we will glorify his grace, that while we deserved Hell, Christ died for us, so that we can go to Heaven on his goodness and his mercy.
But how do we know that God accepted Jesus' payment? If he just died and didn't come back, then maybe he was just a loony who thought he was God. But he did come back, he defeated death three days later, the tomb is empty. Death is swallowed up in victory; as Paul writes, O Death, where is thy victory, O Death, where is thy sting? For the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
After Jesus defeated death, he did something astonishing, he approached the Gates of Heaven. No-one in history had done that, for in order to approach them, you must have clean hands and a pure heart, and no-one ever in history was qualified to come to these gates. Let's look at my favorite verse; the setting is the gates of Heaven, a man stands without, and here is what he says.
Psalm 24:7-10 Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
The Angel of the Gate, whose duty it is to keep men and sin out of Heaven challenges,
Who is this King of glory?
And Jesus answers,
The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
And the Angel challenges again,
Who is this King of glory?
And Jesus answers,
The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory! Selah
And beloved, you better believe those gates were opened up.
Revelation 21:4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
In Hell there is no hope, in Heaven there are no tears. Beloved, this King of Glory is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to him, those who will obey the gospel by repenting and trusting in his sacrifice.
v.11-12 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
To this end Paul prays, that all will repent and believe, that all will be made worthy in Christ, walking in the truth, so that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in us, and him in us by saving sinners such as us, redeeming us when we were without hope.
Oh beloved, repent and believe the Gospel, flee from the wrath to come, seek the Saviour who suffered eternity for you and died to ransom you and deliver you into his kingdom forevermore. This God-man who stepped out of Heaven so that through his resurrection he could open to you the Gates of Heaven; he is the King of Glory.