Paul’s words to the church at Thessalonica are both a source of comfort to saints and a reason to dread for sinners. Let’s talk it out…
2Thessalonians 1:7 And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
To persecuted saints Paul has words of comfort: Jesus is coming back. In the first Thessalonian letter, Jesus’ return was discussed in the context of departed loved ones (1 Thessalonians 4). Here the context is different, as Paul is discussing persecution. Still, the result is the same: Jesus is coming back.
Paul invites those who are “troubled” (afflicted) to rest with “us” (he and his fellow brethren). The “rest” he speaks of is spiritual relief, not physical. Physically there is no relief because our enemies attack the outer man. But spiritually, the inner man can find peace and relief alongside Paul and fellow faithful brethren.
The relief he speaks of is not immediate, which is why our persecution works “patience” and “hope” (two things which concern the future). Instead our relief will come when Jesus will be revealed from Heaven with His mighty angels. In the previous letter Paul mentioned that Jesus would return alongside the voice of the archangel. Here he tells us that many angels will accompany the Lord. The sight of Jesus’ return will bring with it a sigh of relief for His people, while also bringing terror to His enemies.
2Thessalonians 1:8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Jesus will not just return to relieve the oppressed of His people. He will return in flaming fire in order to take vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the Gospel. There are two parts to this verse. First Paul tells us how the Lord will take vengeance, and second he tells us on whom the Lord will take vengeance.
First Jesus will take vengeance with flaming fire. What kind of fire are we talking about here? Is this hellfire for the condemned? Is this something like the chariots of fire such as Elisha saw (2 Kings 6)? The details are not made known to us, only the visuals.
Second Jesus will take vengeance on those who “know not God” and who “obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The first group of people concerns those who are ignorant of God’s mercy. They have no knowledge of God. They have sinned against God and thus—like all of us—deserve condemnation, but they were ignorant of God’s method of salvation. The Gospel is to be preached to all of the world, but some will never hear the Gospel in their lifetime. Are they still accountable? Yes, and their end will be a tragic—but not unjust—one.
The other group of people refers to those who have heard the Gospel. They know what they are (sinners), they know what they need to do (obey) and they know what God offers (salvation), but they refuse. They hear and know but do not act. On them will fall God’s vengeance.
2Thessalonians 1:9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
Those two groups of people mentioned in the previous verse will be “punished” (literally “to pay a price”) with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord. There are those argue that Hell is not eternal, but Paul is very clear when he states the what, the when and the why.
The what is “destruction, ” a word which means “ruin.”
The when is “everlasting,” which means the ruin will never end.
The why is implied in the phrase “from the presence of the Lord.” That is what Hell is; it is the place removed from God’s presence. It is the one place where God is not. And for that reason, we can know Hell is eternal. If God has removed Himself from that place, then God is not able—by His design—to hear the cries of its residents. Those in Hell who will cry and beg for mercy will have no way of being heard by Divine ears.
The condemned will be cut off, not only from the presence of the Lord but also from the glory of His power. God alone would have the power to release them from Hell, but God will cut off the citizen of Hell from that power. It is therefore impossible to leave Hell once you are condemned there.
2Thessalonians 1:10 When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.
Hell and condemnation is not all that is on Paul’s mind. What about the saints who know God and who obeyed His Gospel? They will have a different reaction to the sight of Jesus’ coming. To them Paul says, the Lord is coming for two reasons: First, He is coming to be glorified in His saints. Second, He is coming to be admired in all them that believe.
The first phrase speaks to the external reaction of God’s children to persecution: They glorify God. Like Paul when he and Silas sang songs while in prison (Acts 16), when a child of God suffers he does not retaliate against his enemies, he glorifies God and thanks the Lord that he gets to suffer as Jesus did (Acts 5:41).
The second phrase speaks to the internal reaction of God’s children to persecution: They believe. In other words, when the going gets tough the tough in Christ don’t give up, they continue having faith in God. They continue trusting that God is on their side and that He will one day relieve them of their pain. That day will be the second coming, the day when those who have obeyed the Gospel will receive Heaven as their reward and the disobedient who rejected God will receive Hell as theirs.