God’s Reward or Hell’s Eternal Wrath? (2 Thessalonians 1:5-12)

Welcome back, fellow travelers! We’re sailing through a study of 1&2 Thessalonians and our ship just launched into the waters of Paul’s second letter to the new believers at Thessalonica. His first letter focused on the fact that Jesus will rescue His church (believers in Jesus Christ) from the wrath that is to come…namely, the tribulation. However, an imposter followed Paul’s first letter with a letter of his own, trying to convince the Thessalonian believers that the rapture had already occurred and the severe trials and affliction they were living through was actually the tribulation. Thus, Paul wrote his second letter (2 Thessalonians) about a year after the first, in order to set the record straight, and to encourage those believers as they faced extreme difficulties.

Yesterday, we studied 2 Thessalonians 1:1-5, so it you missed it, check out Do You Feel Beaten Down? Today, we begin our study in verse 5, but I encourage you to read the entire chapter for context. In the first 4 verses, Paul thanked God for their growing faith and love. Now he moves immediately into some pretty tough teaching regarding those who afflicted them. He is about to clearly delineate the grace of God, leading to life, and the rebellion of those who will ultimately spend eternity in hell.

Encouragement in Promises (verses 5-10)
Have you noticed…the Christian life can be tough! In this chapter, Paul encourages the readers first by promises, and later by prayer. The first promise to his beloved friends who were enduring persecution and affliction is found in verse 5. It is that God’s righteous judgment produces rewards.

  • In verse 5, can you identify the reward of those who suffer unrighteous affliction?
  • The “rewards” also work in the negative, however. Read Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:14. How does that strike you? Is Paul out-of-line in saying such a thing?
  • When you think of God’s righteous judgment, what do you think it means?
  • Though the opposition we face may be unrighteous, and may bring punishment upon the ones inflicting it, God also uses those trials to strengthen our faith. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

We often judge ourselves based on our intentions, while we judge others based on their actions. God’s judgment is always right. According to verses 6 and 9:

  • How does God respond to the ungodly?
  • Do you believe God takes pleasure in such punishment?
  • What does 2 Peter 3:9 tell us about God’s desire, even for the unrighteous?
  • Isaiah 57 is a treatise on God’s patience, even with the unrighteous. Read the entire chapter, if you can. But if not, at least read verses 3-5 and 18. What does this passage tell us about the longsuffering of God?

God is love, but for love to exist, there must also be holiness. God cannot love that which is unholy, thus there must be perfect recompense (payment) for it. What was that perfect recompense for our sin (unholiness)? Find the answer in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21.

Often, in the midst of affliction, we forget that God is absolutely righteous and just. Of course, we like to forget about it when we’re the one afflicting others. The reality is that God will avenge it one way or another. Thankfully, in salvation, God sent His Son to become sin for us (as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:21) so that we might become the righteousness of Christ. That’s unbelievable grace! He paid our debt.

But for those who do not receive the free gift of salvation, punishment awaits. 2 Thessalonians 1:8 describes it. There, we discover God takes vengeance (retribution) on two types of people. Can you identify them?

  1. Those who do not know God. These are people who willfully and literally reject Him. Perhaps they have heard of Jesus, or read their Bibles and attend church…but they reject His offer of salvation.
  2. Those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These are people who try to get to heaven some other way. They may try to earn their way to heaven by good works, or perhaps they believe they will go to heaven because they were “born into” a particular religion. Cults offer false promises of heaven. (Have you ever noticed that in some form or fashion, every cult and false religion denies the deity of Jesus Christ, denies the grace of God and denies the existence of hell.)

The Bible says there is one way, and one way only, to get to heaven. It also tells us that the wrath of God will fall upon those who suppress the truth.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.

~John 14:6

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.

~Romans 1:18-20

Now, back to 2 Thessalonians 1. Notice this: we skipped verse 7 intentionally, and now we will go back to it, and on to verse 10. Verse 7 is a parenthetical insert, meaning a thought or idea inserted into a different idea. If you read verses 6 and 8 (skipping verse 7) it makes perfect sense! Try it! But we view verse 7 differently because Paul slipped it in there as an encouragement to the Thessalonian believers who were concerned about missing the rapture and living in the tribulation! Read the verse carefully.

  • Paul talks about relief or rest. To whom?
  • When will the relief come?
  • When will the Lord Jesus be revealed from heaven?

Friends, in verses 7 and 10, Paul is encouraging believers that the rapture will rescue them from the wrath that is to come, though those who do not know God or who do not obey the gospel will incur flaming fire! That flaming fire occurs at Jesus’s Second Coming…at the end of the tribulation. (Find a similar reference in Matthew 24:27.) He is drawing a contrast between the promise of God in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and 1 Thessalonians 5:9 (deliverance from the wrath to come) and the Second Coming, when He returns to judge those who do not know Him or obey His gospel!

What incredible encouragement in promises to believers in Jesus Christ!

Encouragement in Prayer (verses 11-12)
Paul goes on to encourage the Thessalonian believers by praying for them. He prays for their worthiness, their walk and their witness.

  • Trials build character, and they were being made worthy of His calling. Undoubtedly, he prayed they would be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:36)
  • Paul prayed for their walk. Earlier, in verse 3, Paul linked their faith to their love. Now he links endurance (verse 4) to power (verse 11), encouraging them to live it out.
  • According to verse 12, Paul knew how the Christian witness was made known: according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. For that, he prayed.

Today, if you feel beaten down, rest upon the promises and prayers in which Paul encouraged the afflicted, beaten down believers at Thessalonica. If you take nothing more from today’s lesson, know this:

“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” 

~Luke 12:32

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 

~Romans 8:18

Hang in there, friends! Paul is about to describe what occurs before the rapture! We’ll pick it up in chapter 2 tomorrow!

PS: If you do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, all is not yet lost for you. Today is the day of salvation and Jesus loves you right where you are. We are all sinners in need of God’s saving grace, and the only difference is some of us have received the gift of salvation. You can too! Click here. Eternity is a long time, and I pray you join us, united with God forever!

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