Hope in God's Justice (Words of Hope 2 Th - Part 2)
Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 1:5–1:12
Words of Hope Part 2: Hope in God’s Justice
(2 Thessalonians 1:5-12)
1900 years ago, a young church in Thessalonica faced persecution because they believed the gospel. As we talked about last week, this persecution sprang up so quickly that Paul and Silas had to leave town before the church could be properly discipled. Out of great concern for them, he sent Timothy to them to continue the work among them. Timothy’s report was encouraging because this young church’s faith had already grown strong. On the other hand, it was troubling because the persecution had not relented.
Paul, desiring to encourage this young church, sent them two letters. Especially in the second letter, he wrote to give them hope in the midst of their situation. Last week, he encouraged them to find hope in God’s grace, this week as we continue our series, to hope in God’s justice.
Finding hope in God’s justice can be a difficult thing when you look at the world today. Just in this past week, the headlines have been very discouraging. Revenge upon revenge leading to more strife between Israel and Palestine. A man in Texas has killed six family members. There is a civil war going on in Ukraine.
There are other stories that strangely don’t appear in any mainstream news. Like the pastor and family who were attacked by a mob in Sri Lanka. The 17 kids who were killed for being Christian by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Persecution against Christians is so real that a survey conducted in 2010 by Religious Freedom World Report concluded that 75% of all cases of religious persecution in the world is directed toward Christians.
The world is so full of evil and injustice that the question is begged: What is God doing about it? An Atheist friend objecting to the goodness of God asked me “If God is good, why is there still evil in the world? When will God just come and set right all the wrongs in the world?”
It is a valid question and I believe we find some answers in 2 Thessalonians as Paul sought to give hope to a young church suffering for the gospel. Basically, God has already done something, and it’s a good thing he has because otherwise no one would escape what He is going to do next.
Our focus today is on the fact that God is just and He is now doing something about all the evil in the world, including the persecution of his saints. He has a plan that has already begun and will someday be fulfilled. Like the Thessalonians back in Paul’s time, there are four reasons for us to hope in God’s justice.
The first reason to hope in God’s justice is actually the fact that God is merciful. God’s plan to bring justice to the world began with an offer of mercy in Jesus.
1. God has offered mercy before judgment.
Throughout the bible there is an expectation of the Day of the Lord when God will come to judge once and for all. Where do we all stand in this judgment? Psalm 14 gives us a clear and disturbing picture:
1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
there is none who does good.
2 The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.
3 They have all turned aside;
together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.
In the light of Psalm 14, it is clear that apart from some miracle, the Day of the Lord will not be a good day for anyone. In great contrast to this, we find that the Thessalonian believers, as all believers, have a completely different standing in regard to God’s judgment. Let’s read 2Thessalonians v.5:
5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you have been counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—
In v.5 Paul said that the evidence of the righteous judgment of God was the growing faith, increasing love, and steadfast endurance of persecution that was apparent among the Thessalonian Christians. As we talked about last week, God was showing them favor because He had already counted them worthy of His Kingdom.
This raises a big question: How can anyone counted worthy of God’s Kingdom? We find the answer in verses 8 and 10. Verse 8 tells us that those who will be punished in the final judgment have not obeyed the gospel and verse 10 tells us that Jesus will be glorified among all who believe when he returns.
The point is that God has given everyone an opportunity for mercy by faith in Jesus. He did this by issuing a command that overcomes all other commands. The command is to believe that Jesus has saved you from the consequences of your sin by fully paying your penalty himself. Now that Jesus has come, the only way to Hell is to refuse to believe in him. Likewise, the only way to be saved from Hell is to obey the gospel by believing in Jesus. This command has one limitation: time.
Right now we are living in the age of the Lord’s favor when it is possible to believe the gospel and receive God’s grace. This age will not last forever. It will come to an end when Jesus returns, no longer offering mercy, but to judge. All humanity has been called upon to surrender to God and receive His grace before Jesus returns in judgment.
The Thessalonians were counted worthy of God’s Kingdom by faith in Jesus. Not because they were such great people, but because they believed and obeyed the gospel. This was proven by the evidence of God’s favor among them. They had been saved.
How does this help us hope in God’s justice? I think the wonderful truth here is that God is a merciful judge. Not in the sense that he lets people get away with evil, because then He would not be just. God’s mercy came at a great cost that only He could pay: The death of His Son Jesus. We, like the Thessalonians can gain a lot of hope from the fact that God went to such great lengths to have mercy on us. All we have to do to receive this offer of mercy is obey the gospel; believe in Jesus.
Now, we know this and the Thessalonians knew this. But how will God address the persecution and injustice they were facing? How will He address the suffering of Christians around the world today?
Paul addressed this question in the next section of today’s text which deals with God’s final judgment of the world. To keep context, we will begin in verse 5. Let’s read verses 5-8:
5 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— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 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 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
Once again we find that Jesus is the agent of God’s plan for justice in the world. We also see that the singular event of his return will mean two very different outcomes depending entirely on whether people have accepted God’s terms of peace, or not.
Both of these outcomes would have given hope to the Thessalonians as they faced persecution. First of all, in the knowledge that God was going to come and set right the wrongs, and second that they would be glorified in Jesus.
The second reason for hope in God’s justice is the expectation that..
2. Jesus will right all wrongs when he returns
In v.6 of the text Paul was talking specifically about those who persecute Christians. “God will repay with affliction those who afflict you.” But in verse 8, the category is expanded. He said that Jesus will inflict vengeance on “those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel.” The persecutors of the church will be swept away and receive the same repayment as the rest of Jesus’ enemies.
It might surprise some of us that Jesus is described like this. Verse 8 describes Jesus as coming with mighty angels in flaming fire and inflicting vengeance. How do we reconcile this with the Jesus we know from the gospels who teaches us to love our enemies and who even said that he had not come to judge?
The answer is twofold. First we must realize that there actually is no incongruency. Jesus talked about hell and judgment more than anyone else in the bible and he never minced words. Second, once again, is the time. The first time Jesus came, he offered grace to sinners. The simple command was to repent and believe in him. The second time he comes, the offer of grace will expire and Jesus will be the judge. In other words, same Jesus, different purpose.
There is a lot of controversy today about the idea of God’s wrath against sinners. The problem people have is how God can be love and also have wrath. I would argue that a God without wrath is also a God without love and without justice. You see, there are situations in which love demands that we be angry. There are situations where love demands justice.
Take human trafficking for example. People are bought, sold, and illegally transported like products. Very often this is against their will, very often they have been misled about where they are going and what they will be made to do. Very often these people become sex slaves. The worst part of it all is that this is one of the biggest money making enterprises in the world today. Put that in context with the laws of supply and demand. The only reason this is such big money in this sick industry is that there are so many people willing to pay.
Should we not be angry about this? Should we not, because of love, demand justice for the people who are been bought and sold? Would God be love if this did not make Him burn with anger? Should He not repay the traffickers for what they are doing? This is just one example of the myriad things people do that God must be angry about if He truly is love.
God is wrathful because He is love, and He will have the last word. There is a short but powerful description of the vengeance that Jesus will pour out on all who have not obeyed the gospel in verse 9:
9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,
First in this terrifying description of Hell is the fact that it is punishment. It is the proper result of wrong doing. Second are the words eternal destruction. The word destruction here does not mean gone from existence, but rather that something is no longer able to fulfill its purpose. The same word is used of the lost coin in Jesus’ parable. Being lost, it could not be used.
The punishment therefore is to be eternally unable to fulfill the purpose for which one was created. According to scripture, we were all created in God’s image in order to display His glory. What I understand this to mean then is that the image of God and therefore the ability to display His glory is permanently removed.
Finally, the punishment will also include being eternally separated from the presence and glory of God. When people reject the gospel, they are essentially saying that they do not want God’s mercy and they do not want God. As the God of justice, He will honor that decision forever.
I think C.S. Lewis put it best when he said that if we truly understood what Hell is we would not wish it on even our worst enemy. Yet, Paul set the punishment of sinners in the context of things that were meant to give the Thessalonians hope.
I am quite certain that Paul did not mean for them or us to look forward to the punishment of unbelievers. Rather, that they should look forward to the relief of all causes of sin being removed forever. After the Day of Judgment, there will be no more persecutions, no more injustices, and no more evil whatsoever in the world. The hope for them and us is that Jesus is coming to right the wrongs in the world.
The third reason to hope in God’s justice is…
3. Jesus will be glorified in his saints
Let’s read v.10
10 …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.
Just for clarity, the word saints in the bible does not mean special people or perfect people, but is always used to refer to normal believers. Also, and this is especially important following our last point, you will notice that Paul does not say that Jesus will be glorified in the good people, or the righteous people, but among all those who have believed.
As Christians we must always bear in our hearts the truth that God did not choose us because we were better than other people. Apart from the grace of God, we are just as sinful and lost as the rest of humanity. God literally did all the work for us. He died on the cross to make the way. He drew us to faith. He caused us to be born again. There is no merit that we can claim. Those in Christ escape the judgment by receiving God’s unearned favor.
The result of that favor is what we see in v.10. The contrast between verses 9 and 10 is really striking. In verse 9 Jesus will come in vengeance, but in verse 10 he will come to be glorified in his saints. The reason given for this extreme contrast is that they believed the gospel. Instead of eternal destruction apart from God’s presence, there will be eternal glory in his presence.
I think that one of the best and most complete visions of this eternal glory in God’s presence is found at the end of the Revelation of John
Revelation of John 21:1-5
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 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.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
At the time that 2 Thessalonians was written, there wast not yet a book called John’s Revelation. In that way, we have the advantage of a somewhat clearer picture of what God’s Kingdom will be like. No more sin, no more tears, no mourning, no pain. Only the glorification of Jesus in his people for eternity. That is the justice of God for all those who accept his terms and surrender.
The word of hope for the Thessalonians was don’t lose heart! Jesus will return to set things right and make you able to fulfill your created purpose of bringing glory to him! Hope in God’s justice because Jesus will not come in judgment against you who believe in him, he will come in glory.
The final reason to hope in God’s justice is the fact that..
4. God’s Mercy is Apparent in the lives of his people
For adherents to the majority religion of this region, there is never any assurance of entering paradise. The reason being that only God knows what a deed, good or bad, is worth. It is their understanding that only on the day of judgment will anyone find out if they have made it or not. So they go through life trying to stack up enough good deeds to outweigh their bad deeds.
In reality, God has not left his people to wonder about this. For one thing, Christian salvation is much simpler. It says whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but will have eternal life. For another thing, there is evidence of God’s presence in the life of a believer. Last week we talked about the evidence displayed among the Thessalonian believers: Increasing faith, increasing love, and steadfast endurance of persecution.
The word of hope for the Thessalonians here was that whatever was happening around and to them, whatever persecutions they faced, there was already evidence that God had judged in their favor and against their persecutors.
In verse 11, we are introduced to another way that God’s mercy is apparent in the lives of believers:
11 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, 12 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.
It was Paul’s prayer that God make them worthy. This is very interesting in light of verse 5 where they have already been counted worthy. It takes us back to the truth that when God saves someone by faith in Jesus, His work does not end there. Once you have been counted worthy, God then begins a process of reforming you to actually make you worthy of His Kingdom.
Now look at what Paul prayed for next: “that God may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power.” The truth is that even though we try to good and we try to be devoted to God, our good works always come up short because we struggle against the evil intentions and desires that still linger in our hearts.
The wonderful and amazing thing is that God takes our deed and devotion and fulfills them. That is he makes them useful for His Kingdom. The result of this is that we begin fulfilling our created purpose now as Jesus is glorified in us and we are glorified in him. Furthermore this gives us hope again that we are living under God’s mercy because it is already visible in our lives.
It is true that the world is a very troubling place, especially for Christians. It is also true that Jesus himself promised us that we would have to endure persecution for his name. The great hope that we have is that God has offered mercy ahead of the day of judgment, and when that day comes He will set all to rights once and for all. In the meantime, God has confirmed his justification of us by enabling us to fulfill our created purpose and sealing us with the marks of his favor.
What does hoping in God’s justice look like in our lives today? I would like to close by looking at the application of hope in God’s justice to four things: Faith, revenge, peace, and reconciliation. First is faith. If you are here today and have not trusted in Jesus, then I imagine that some of the things I have said today have offended you, or perhaps frightened you. It is true that the only way to escape God’s judgment of your sin is to accept His terms of peace and believe that Jesus’ death has paid the price of your sin.
Second is revenge. Did you notice in all that we read today the number of times that Paul called upon the Thessalonian Christians to resist or take revenge on their persecutors? It was exactly zero. The inescapable truth is that the authority to repay people for sin rests only in hands of God. This is precisely because only he is wise and just enough for that job. We could never handle judgment properly so we are forbidden from even trying. “Revenge is mine says the Lord, I will repay.”
Third is peace. When will this happen? When will Jesus return and right all the wrongs? This is one of the few questions that God actively denies us an answer to. The fact is we don’t know when that will be. No one knows except for God. If anyone says they know or have figured it out, they are either lying or simply wrong. What we are meant to take from this is the fact that Jesus will come when the time is right, he will right the wrongs, and he will take us into glory. This hope should help us find peace in the midst of all that is happening around us, because the world will not be like this forever.
Finally, let’s talk about the ministry of reconciliation. If Hell is something we would not wish even on our worst enemies, would it not stand to reason that we need to take advantage of all the time God has given us to proclaim the good news? Revenge is not our territory, but the ministry of reconciliation is. God opened this age of salvation which we are still living in. During this age, he has made us the ambassadors of his kingdom. We are the ones to proclaim God’s mercy that can only be found by faith in Jesus. We have work to do.
On that note, I would like to leave you with one final challenge: Look at where we live. This is the center of the least gospel penetration in the world. The UAE is the one place in the world where you will find people from all nations in one place. Could there be a better opportunity for the gospel? Is there anything more important right now than proclaiming the one way for people change from enemies of Jesus to saints of Jesus? Is there any more strategic place to for people to be saved from the terror of God’s justice so that they can hope in God’s justice instead? We have a unique opportunity here, let’s not waste it.
More in Words of Hope from 2 Thessalonians
August 1, 2014Hope Applied in the Church (Words of Hope 2 Th - Part 5)
July 25, 2014Hope in God's Work (Words of Hope 2 Th - Part 4)
July 18, 2014Hope in God's Supremacy (Words of Hope 2 Th - Part 3)