2 Thessalonians 1:5-10
5 This is evidence of God’s righteous verdict that resulted in your being counted worthy of God’s kingdom, for which you also suffer. 6 Certainly, it is right for God to repay trouble to those who trouble you, 7 and to give relief to you, who are troubled along with us. When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his powerful angels, 8 he will exercise vengeance in flaming fire on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 Such people will receive a just penalty: eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from his glorious strength, 10 on that day when he comes to be glorified among his saints, and to be marveled at among all those who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (EHV)
Six weeks ago, our epistle reading consisted of the verses before and after our epistle text today. At the time, I wondered why they skipped these verses so I searched and discovered that in our updated lectionary those verses were the reading for this Sunday. When I prepared my sermon on those other verses, I knew that today I would have the opportunity to preach on this middle section of 2 Thessalonians 1, and tie all these verses together.
In the first verses of the chapter, Paul explained that we have been declared worthy of the kingdom through faith in Christ. In the verses after our text, Paul urged us to live in a manner worthy of our calling. But in the middle—this section—he encouraged the persecuted and troubled Christians in Thessalonica, and us, to remember that when life seems unfair, we can completely count on God to make it all come out in the end because He is indeed fair. God is just.
This Sunday, the second last Sunday in the church year, we are contemplating Christ’s final return as Judge. Both for the Thessalonians and for us, it ought to be an encouragement to remember that not only is God fair, but that one day that it will finally be clear to everyone that God is fair, when He finally meets out Divine Justice, Justice for God’s Enemies and Justice for God’s People.
Justice For God’s Enemies
What is Justice? It’s almost hard to tell since there’s so much Injustice all around. Lavrentiy Beria, the most ruthless and longest-serving secret police chief in Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror in Russia and Eastern Europe, bragged that he could prove criminal conduct on anyone, even the innocent. “Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime” was Beria’s infamous boast. He served as deputy premier from 1941 until Stalin’s death in 1953, supervising the expansion of the gulags and other secret detention facilities for political prisoners.
Law being applied unevenly due to people’s political views is injustice and sadly such practices hardly died with the demise of Mr. Beria or the Soviet Union. We see injustice in our country by looking at the huge number of unsolved crimes. “The Murder Accountability Project,” a volunteer-run, nonprofit organization, has gathered data from the FBI and police departments around the country, and the numbers illustrate the disparate outcomes of unsolved murders. …If you live in Washington, D.C., barely 1 of 3 homicides have been solved. … Nationally, the solved-murder rate has fallen from 79 percent in 1976 to 69 percent in 2019 and even further by 2022.
And even when justice is finally served, it is often Delayed Justice: Think of all the paintings and treasures stolen from Jews during the holocaust that were finally returned, but they weren’t given to the original owners since they’re dead. They have to be restored to heirs. How just is Delayed Justice? Sometimes a murder is finally solved after the perpetrator has been on the lam for 20 years and the victim is long since gone. How just is that?
And then there is Skewed Justice. There’s a new study out about the success rates of ‘beautiful people.’ Turns out, that the beautiful students who always got better grades than their more homely classmates didn’t get such good grades when they had to take classes on Zoom during the pandemic. Apparently when the professor couldn’t see how handsome or beautiful they were, he or she simply graded them on their actual achievements.
You see how hard it is to ever achieve True Justice ever in this world?
And then there is the totally unjust and unjustifiable persecution of Christians throughout the ages—and right now, too. Remember our Epistle lesson from last Sunday from Hebrews 11? Some “were tortured …. 36 Still others experienced mocking and lashes, in addition to chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were tempted; they were killed with the sword; they went around in sheepskins and goatskins, needy, afflicted, and mistreated. 38 The world was not worthy of them as they wandered in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. 39 All of these were commended in Scripture by faith, yet they did not receive what was promised, 40 because God had planned something better for us, namely, that they would not reach the goal apart from us” (vv. 35–40).
It’s still going on. Ali rejected Islam and had been searching for the one true God since he was 15. A friend provided him with a Bible, and through God’s Word, Ali found what he was looking for: “I don’t know very much about Jesus, but I enjoy His presence every day, and I won’t give Him up for anything in the world!” he says. The Taliban have since identified Ali as a convert, which they consider a crime worthy of death, and have started searching for him. When Ali learned this, he fled. Neighbors told him that shortly after he left, armed Taliban soldiers arrived looking for him. Ali says he has had many opportunities to flee to a safer country but that he will remain because he wants to be a witness to his fellow Afghans. “I believe Jesus is alive and can protect me from all danger and hardships,” Ali said.
Story after story like Ali’s happen every day around the world. Unjust persecution is a fact of life for many Christians, and there’s no guarantee of freedom of religion continuing in our own country. Two months ago, the FBI used a major show of force to arrest 48-year old pro-life Christian Mark Houck at his home in in Bucks County, PA. Despite putting his hands up and willingly cooperating, multiple agents pointed guns in Mark’s face as his family – including his seven children – were forced to watch their dad “shackled” and taken away….” His crime? Exercising his Christian faith by publicly witnessing near an abortion clinic and protecting his young son from a crazed abortion protester shouting the “F” word in the boy’s face.
There is Injustice, Delayed Justice, Skewed Justice, and Unjust Persecutionin this world. But there is also still such a thing as True Justice, when people reap the results of what they do or say or refuse to do. Every now and again you see it happen that crime leads to just punishment quickly. It’s rare. But it’s sweet! And God says to us today, True Justice is coming and will take over!
Certainly, it is right for God to repay trouble to those who trouble you, 7 and to give relief to you, who are troubled along with us. When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his powerful angels, 8 he will exercise vengeance in flaming fire on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 Such people will receive a just penalty: eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from his glorious strength….
It’s not like we’ll be rubbing our hands together in glee watching people suffer what they deserve. But we will be rejoicing that True Justice has finally been served; balance and harmony has been restored; the guilty have been arrested, taken off the streets and made to serve their time. There will be no bail-free release, no opportunity to harm others ever again. There will finally be consequences for blaspheming God and taunting His followers.
There will literally ‘be hell to pay.’
Justice for God’s People
The flip side is that God will also give us, His people, Divine Justice. God is just, but He is also merciful. Therefore, He sent a Substitute to stand-in for us when it came time for just punishment. He sent His Son Jesus to pay for all our own unjust acts, and through faith in Him God has declared us innocent. Now He promises that we who are penitent will receive just recompense. We are now actually crime free, so it is actually divinely just for us to get off scot-free,
Verse 5, the first verse of our text was also part of our previous text on 2 Thessalonians 1, and it’s repeated here. It’s actually the key verse of the whole section and bears repeating again and again as it describes God’s verdict of righteousness over believers for Christ’s sake. Paul wrote, 5 [Persecution] is evidence of God’s righteous verdict that resulted in your being counted worthy of God’s kingdom, for which you also suffer. Christ has made us worthy of God’s kingdom. As this same inspired apostle explains in Romans 3 (21–26): But now, completely apart from the law, a righteousness from God has been made known. … 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all and over all who believe. In fact, there is no difference, 23 because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God publicly displayed as the atonement seat through faith in his blood. God did this to demonstrate his justice… so that he would be both just and the one who justifies the person who has faith in Jesus.
God has declared a verdict of not guilty over us who place our trust in Christ. And as Paul says here in 2 Thessalonians 1, Persecution is Proof of that fact. It’s easy enough to avoid persecution. Just live like an unbeliever, act like a pagan, refuse to admit publicly you’re a Christian, go along with the world! But if we do that it, at the very least, it casts serious doubt on whether we’re believers anymore and still under God’s verdict of “not guilty.” On the other hand, If we are faithful to Christ we will be persecuted, whether subtly or openly.
But persecution will end once and for all when Divine Justice comes to its fulfillment. That is God’s promise to us in our text. God’s righteous verdict … resulted in your being counted worthy of God’s kingdom, for which you also suffer. 6 Certainly, it is right for God …to give relief to you… [w]hen the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his powerful angels, …on that day when he comes to be glorified among his saints, and to be marveled at among all those who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
We will see Him coming in the clouds as Judge. We who believe will not be afraid of Jesus, our Divine Judge, because He’s already told us He will condemn the criminals but declare in front of them all what He’s already told us in Scripture, namely that He has given us a verdict of not guilty. He has declared us saints through faith in Christ Jesus. He has promised us heaven into which He has already gone ahead to prepare a place for us. The day we see Him coming we will know that all those preparations are complete.
We who believe will finally see total Divine Justice! What relief He will give to us; Justice no longer delayed; Justice that is complete and eternal. We will live from that day forward in perfect, crime-free peace with Christ and all the saints. We will see only perfection and holiness. The “bad guys” will all be gone! The new world will be the “home of righteousness.” Look forward to that day! Rejoice when you see Jesus return as judge. Divine Justice is coming! Listen to the summary of what awaits us on that day, written by the poet 900 years ago:
1 Day of wrath, O Day of mourning!
See fulfilled the prophets’ warning:
heav’n and earth in ashes burning.
2 Death is struck and nature quaking;
all creation is awaking,
to its judge an answer making.
3 See, the book, exactly worded,
wherein all has been recorded;
thus shall judgment be awarded.
4 What shall I in awe be pleading,
who for me be interceding
when your mercy I am needing?
5 King of majesty tremendous,
who such grace have freely sent us,
fount of pity, then befriend us.
6 Think, good Jesus, my salvation
caused your wondrous incarnation,
made you suffer my damnation!
7 On the cross your dying spared me;
just and righteous you declared me;
I await the joy prepared me. (CW 485)