Devotional # 186. 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10

Devotional # 186. 4/18/16. 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10.

Intro. This whole section today is about God’s righteous judgment. I’ve done my best to break it down for us to understand but I must acknowledge that it’s meant to be taken as a unified explanation for us to understand Gods righteous justice. As I mentioned last week in 2 Thessalonians 1:1-3 (Devotional # 185) we’ll look at verse 4 and following to see how the “faith” and “love” that has grown affects other churches (verse 4) and is evidence of “the righteous judgment of God” (verse 5). In fact, for all of the important prophesy of the future that Paul gives us we’ll see him tie it all back to the persecutions we currently face and the faith and love that continues to grow. Finally, I will wrap up with a special application about groups that call themselves “Christian” but don’t believe in hell.

vv. 4-5. Paul, Silas and Timothy tell other churches about the Thessalonians “patience and faith” in all of the trials and tribulations they go through. In 1 Thessalonians 3:2-5 (Devotional # 179) we talked about how Paul and the others had “sent Timothy” to check in with the Thessalonians since they were going through such difficult persecution. There, as he does here, Paul contrasts the difficulties with the “faith” they have in the Lord. Make no mistake, most of us do not go through the kind of persecution that the early Church went through but that doesn’t mean God won’t take care of us in our spiritual difficulties. Is it possible that God is helping us grow our faith through these trials?

One of the most important things Paul draws our attention to here is that enduring “persecutions and tribulations” is “manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God.” So often people ask, ‘God, if you’re real, why are You letting me go through this?’ They become so focused on themselves that they don’t see His bigger plan and the positive affect it can have on others. Paul tells us in Romans that we will be considered brothers and sisters with Jesus, “if indeed we suffer with Him…” (Romans 8:17). So our longsuffering through trials is actually preparing us for heaven and is ultimately “evidence” for God’s righteous judgment. But how? Let’s keep reading to find out…

vv. 6-10. We often think of God’s judgment as scary wrath (which is true, as we’ll see in a minute) but it is more importantly “justice”. God’s justice is unquestionably fair and impartial. What Paul is talking about here is the Final Judgment. So the evil people who are persecuting the Thessalonians will be dealt with justly by God. God will give the Christians “rest” (v. 7) but also pay back the evil persecutors (v. 6). This gives us the right mindset that we shouldn’t seek or expect justice while we’re alive on earth, instead God alone is righteous and He will “repay” on His own timeline.

What does His timeline look like? Well, after the Millennium of peace Satan must be briefly released (Revelation 20:7), then he mounts a final assault (20:8) but then “fire [will come] down from God out of heaven and [devour] them” (20:9). This is followed by Satan’s final imprisonment in the “lake of fire” (Revelation 20:10) and God’s White Thrown Judgment (20:11-15). Here in 2 Thessalonians 1:7 when it says, “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels” as if they are a “flaming fire”, I believe that this “fire” is His glory coming down from heaven in Revelation 20:9*. We’ve seen God appear this way in the bush with Moses (Exodus 3:2) giving of the Law (Exodus 19:18) which is “symbolizing His own bright glory and His consuming vengeance against His foes (Hbr 10:27, 12:29; 2Pe 3:7, 10)” (Source 1).

In verse 9 we move into what that punishment will look like: “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” You’ve probably heard it said that the worst thing about hell is being separated from God, and I would agree. Remember in 1 Thessalonians when we realized that the “coming” of Jesus at the Rapture could be translated the “presence” of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 3:13, Devotional # 179)? For how incredible it will be to be in the presence of our Lord it will be equally awful to be excluded from that presence. So, yes, the separation from God will probably be the worst thing about hell, but the rest doesn’t sound like a picnic either! Did you notice it says, “everlasting destruction”? I’ve never really thought about it but this is unimaginable to our finite minds. By definition when something is “destroyed” it’s gone. It’s finished and ended. But somehow in hell non-believers will be “destroyed” over and over and over forever. That sounds absolutely horrifying to me.

Paul finishes up this section by bringing this to its logical end: Jesus bringing right justice and judgment will drive us Christians to glorify and admire Him (v. 10). Not only that but Paul masterfully ties this all back to the Thessalonians (and our) present afflictions.

*Fire from heaven: I believe Revelation 20:9 is Jesus and His angels coming down from heaven. However, since the word for “fire” (pyr, Source 2) can translated as literal and/or figurative I can certainly see where it could be both literal fire AND a description of Jesus coming down (2 Thessalonians 1:8). I don’t think it’s ONLY literal fire because it says that it “devoured them” and since the “them” here is Satan and his armies we know they are not truly “devoured” (as in “dead”) but more properly “defeated.”(Greek katesthio, Source 3). As far as I can tell it’s impossible to be dogmatic.

A Special Application for 2016

Did you know that there are people who call themselves Christians but don’t believer in hell or that God will judge with wrath? Places in the Bible like Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24-25) and Korah’s rebellion (Numbers 16:31-35) are not conclusive enough for them. It’s important to note that as Christians who believe that hell is real and that God is just it is not because we want to see people go to hell or because we’re cruel but because it justice is simply who God is and because the Bible tells us it’s true. How God defines justice is up to him not us. Brian Broderson says there are two main reasons that people reject the idea of the wrath of God: 1. Because we don’t fully grasp the holiness of God and 2. Because we don’t understand how sinful we are (Source 4).

In his chapter asking how can a loving God could torture people in hell, former atheist and legal editor for the Chicago Tribune, Lee Strobel, quotes renowned atheist Bertrand Russell. Russell says, “There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that he believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment” (Source 5). Isn’t it interesting that an atheist like Russell can clearly see that Jesus believed in hell and yet, regardless of whether Russell’s conclusion is true or not, these supposedly Christian groups deny that Jesus believed in hell.

Pray for the people who do not trust God at His word or have been misled into believing that what we humans think is right should somehow govern what God determines as right. In essence, although these groups will not acknowledge it, that is what they are doing. They are allowing thinkers like Bertrand Russell and cultural ideas and opinion outweigh God’s truth. Pray that they would not allow culture and emotion to trump God, but that instead they would look deeper at why God said what He said then whether they think a loving God couldn’t create hell. I have taken pains to be ambiguous and not specifically call out the different groups that think they are Christians but don’t believe in hell or “eternal destruction.” You can look up that information on your own and I encourage you to have conversations with your friends and family that may believe this way. Just know that I’ve tried to debate and persuade them with the Bible and I personally haven’t seen that work. What I have seen work is praying for them and allowing Jesus’ love overcome them.

Conclusion. Paul started off talking about “faith”, “love” and persecution and ended up talking about persecutions. Did you miss it? While giving us prophetic descriptions of the future Paul also builds our faith in telling us God will take care of perfect justice at the Great White Thrown Judgment! I pray that you start praying for your friends and family who don’t know or are unwilling to admit that hell is a real place and God’s judgment is final and just. The next time you feel called to share Jesus with someone consider the “eternal destruction” that they are facing if they don’t hear the gospel.

 

References.

Source 1: Jamieson, Fausset & Brown (https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/jfb/2Th/2Th_001.cfm?a=1117001

Source 2: pyr, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4442&t=KJV

Source 3: katesthiohttps://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2719&t=KJV

Source 4: Brian Broderson in a message given 4/17/16.

Source 5: Bertrand Russel quoted by Lee Strobel in his book The Case for Faith, Zondervan, p. 235.

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Devotional # 107. Ephesians 5:6-14

Devotional # 107. 10/20/14. Ephesians 5:6-14.

Intro. Last week we started chapter 5 and talked about how to “walk” as a Christian. We discussed how there are three “walk” commands in this chapter and how the first one (v. 2) was to “walk in love.” This week we’ll see the second “walk command” and the differences between spiritual “light” and “darkness.”

vv. 6-7. Another way to read this is “Don’t listen to anybody who says things that seem spiritual but end up being worthless. God will punish not just the people who speak like this but the ones who listen too.”

What are “empty words”? In the Greek “empty” is kenos (G#2756) and the literal meaning is “vain” and “devoid of truth”. An example would be of a vessel (like pottery) which contains nothing. The metaphorical meaning is “destitute of spiritual wealth, of one who boasts of his faith as a transcendent possession, yet is without the fruits of faith” (Source 1). Guzik reminds us that the context here are the sins previously mentioned such as “fornication”, “all uncleanness”, “foolish talking” and “course jesting”, etc. Since that’s the case, “We cannot allow ‘empty words’ to excuse or minimize the judgment due to the practice of these sins” (Source 2).

The “wrath of God” is no more clearly laid out then in Revelation. Specifically Rev. 14:18-20 which is the “Sickle Judgment” where God pours out His wrath on those who chose to disobey and rebel against Him. I believe Revelation chapter 16 (the “Bowl Judgments”) is a detailed view of the grapes of wrath from the end of Rev. 14. Read these to get a picture of the type of wrath God pours out.

I was interested in the phrase “sons of disobedience.” In the Greek “sons” means “children” but it can also be a “pupil” or “student” (Source 3). This makes sense that in this context we aren’t supposed to be taught by people who hide sin in a godly covering. We’ll see this idea tied in several times in this section, especially in vv. 8-10 where we “find out” (or are taught) what is “acceptable to the Lord.”

Not being partakers with them” means “Don’t participate in the things these people do” (NLT). Guzik states, “Paul assumes that Christians will not have their lives habitually marked by fornication, uncleanness or covetousness. But we should not even occasionally be ‘partakers with them’ who are” (Source 2).

So we see that the people who stand against God have sinful characteristics that are habits. God will give them what they want: they will be punished. As Christians we shouldn’t have these sins as habits and more than that we shouldn’t even occasionally join people in these sins. For example, it’s not enough to only get drunk once every 6 months, you shouldn’t be getting drunk at all.

vv. 8-10. Interestingly it doesn’t say, “you were once IN darkness” but that you “were darkness” (and the same for “light“). It’s as if our biological structure was made up of sin (“darkness“) but now we’re composed of the opposite (“light“). We come to our second “walk” command in this chapter. This one is to “walk as children of light” but what does the word “light” mean? In the Greek it’s phos (G#5457) meaning light like from a lamp or torch but metaphorically it can be “truth and its knowledge” and “understanding” as in “moral and spiritual truth” (Source 4). And understanding this and with Paul’s explanation that those who are made of “light” will produce “goodness, righteousness, and truth” we are promised that we will find “out what is acceptable to the Lord.” Did you notice the focus on “truth” in all of this? The false teachers that preach “empty words” don’t have the truth, and I for one don’t have time for lies cleverly wrapped in just a little bit of truth. I want the WHOLE truth, so help me God!

vv. 11-13. The context of fellowship with God and with other believers is in contrast to the command to not have “fellowship” with people who are spiritually “dark.” Because fruit of darkness is actually unfruitful and has no beneficial results we are to take no part in them “but instead, positively, expose them”. We may not want to do this but we can’t help it because this is just what light does. Besides that “evil deeds deserve to be exposed, that is, to be unmasked and rebuked, for it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret” (Source 5, p. 200). I hope that this hasn’t depressed you. It’s important that we’re always checking ourselves to see if we’re doing what God wants us to do. But here is a little encouragement: Paul encouraged and comforted the church in Thessalonica that Jesus would come for us (“the Rapture”, (1 Thessalonians 4:16) and that we don’t have to worry about being startled by The Great Tribulation (1 Thess. 5:4) or God’s wrath being poured out on us (1 Thess. 5:9) because “we are all children of light and children of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober” (1 Thess. 5:4-6).
Conclusion. The unity of Christians that has been a theme through Ephesians is apparent in today’s devotional. We exist in “light” and shine truth to others. We’ll close with Matthew 5:13-16, “You are the world’s seasoning, to make it tolerable. If you lose your flavor, what will happen to the world? And you yourselves will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the world’s light—a city on a hill, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father” (TLB Translation).

References

Source 1: http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2756&t=KJV

Source 2: Guzik, https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Eph/Eph_5.cfm?a=1102001

Source 3: http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G5207&t=KJV

Source 4: http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G5457&t=KJV

Source 5: John R.W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 1979.