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2 Thessalonians 1, Tribulation, and Wrath


Ron Wallace talked about the Thessalonian church undergoing great affliction at the present time from a group of persecutors who are quite severe in their attacks on these believers. In fact, the affliction is so great that it resembles very closely the quality of persecution that will exist during the time of great affliction (tribulation) that Jesus taught about.

The word for affliction here and for tribulation in Matthew 24:9 and 21 is the same word in the Greek, the noun – thlipsis; and the verb thlibo. At the time of writing to the Thessalonians, the world conditions are such that the events leading up to the Day-of-the-Lord return of Jesus could begin to take place at any time. In other words, the time of affliction that they are going through, could very easily escalate into the great affliction. If that were to happen, then they need to know that Jesus promised them deliverance from the severity of that time so that the vast majority of His believing brethren (the elect, church age believers, Hebrews 2:10-11) would not undergo the death blows from the beast. For he will try to kill all believers in Jesus (Revelation 12:17; 13:7, 15; Daniel 7:25), but will not totally succeed because the time of his oppression will be cut short (Matthew 24:22) by the return of Jesus.

And that promise is exactly what Paul reaffirms to them in this letter.

A very important point of introduction is to recognize that there is only ONE second coming. That is, what Jesus taught about His coming (the coming of the Son of Man) and what the apostles taught about His coming all refer to the one and the same return of Jesus in the clouds of the sky. At that time, the resurrection of ALL believers who have died since Adam will occur, and the resurrection of all living believers will occur; and all of these will meet with Jesus in the sky, and will be escorted to heaven where they will begin preparation for their home and function in God’s plan for eternity. This passage before us is key to understanding that when Jesus comes back to gather His saints to Himself, as described at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, it will be a visible, physical and glorious revelation of God’s glory, accompanied by His angels, just as Jesus taught at every recorded mention of the event.

This chapter is vital and pivotal for establishing the UNITY of all the second coming passages that occur in the New Testament.

Concerning these believers, as indicated at 2thes 1:4, Paul often spoke about “your endurance and faith in the midst of your persecutions and afflictions which you are tolerating.”

At verses 5-6, he wrote about God’s judgment upon the persecutors. He said, It is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment . . . since indeed, it is just for God to repay with affliction. He also mentioned the RESULT of faithful endurance. Continuing at verse 6 – with the result that you are considered worthy of the kingdom of God, on behalf of which also you are suffering.

This experience of affliction from those who are rejecters of God and of God’s plan of salvation, is simply evidence that God is righteous and just in judging them. It is their own actions that condemn them.

And at the same time it vindicates the faithfulness of the believers because it demonstrates that they are walking worthy of their place in the family of God. As the believer endures such persecution and affliction, he testifies to the reality of his salvation relationship with God.

This faithful consistency in the face of tribulation (thlipsis) is a testimonial beacon to the believer’s status as a child of God, and to God’s GRACE provision for the believer, which is the basis for that believer’s faithful devotion and endurance.

Continuing at verse 6 – Since indeed, it is just for God to repay with affliction those who are afflicting you, the construction, “since indeed,” is eiper, which is a particle of recognized reality. Paul states here the certainty of God’s repayment to those who are the persecutors of believers. The word, repay, means to give back to someone in recompense for actions or service rendered. The verb has two objects and two indirect objects (actually 3, including “us as well”). On the one hand God is paying back something to the persecutors, and on the other hand, he is paying back something to the believers.

Both paybacks will be initiated by the same event of Christ’s glorious descent from heaven in the clouds of the sky. At that time, He will give rest to the believers by removing them out from the affliction, and he will give affliction to the unbelievers by pouring out his wrath upon the world. This truth is taught by language of principle rather than a specific promise to the Thessalonians that it will indeed occur in their lifetime. This language of principle is the same thing that Jesus used when He gave the promise to the disciples at John 14:1-3, for the promise that He would come again and receive them to Himself never occurred in their lifetime. But it could have, and indeed will in the lifetime of a future generation of believers.

The principle then, of – “it is just for God to repay . . ,” applies to whatever group of believers are alive on the earth at the time that Jesus returns. At the time of writing, the affliction or tribulation, that is being endured by the Thessalonians, and indeed, by other believers in other locations (including Paul, 2 Thes. 3:2; 1 Thes. 3:3-4) is not THE tribulation that Jesus taught about (Matthew 24:9-22), but it could possibly escalate into that period of time if the man of lawlessness were to be revealed. In such a case, the principle stated in verses 6 and 7, would be applied and Jesus would return to give relief – that is to deliver the believers out from the world, and to render affliction on the unbelievers left in the world.

The adjective, dikaios, and the preposition, para, indicates something that is just, righteous, fair BESIDE God, that is, in his presence or sight. This indicates that the absolute standards of divine justice are in play and nothing can refute or discredit the administration of that justice to those who are deserving of either judgment OR blessing. Although the translation, “just for God,” is clear enough, it does not reflect for us the application of divine standards that the preposition para does, but at the same time, I suggest that ANY English translation will require additional explanation even while adequately indicating that God is justified in what He does. The action of God here is to repay with affliction: This is the word, thlipsis, and is often translated as tribulation.

The thing that is being repaid is tribulation. That is, pressure and trouble, of an equal quality as what these unbelievers were inflicting upon the believers.
The recipients of this affliction from God are “those who are afflicting you.” This is a present active participle of thlibo and indicates that Paul has in mind the present persecution and affliction that the Thessalonians are encountering. It does not see these persecutors as ones who (once) afflicted them, but those who RIGHT NOW are afflicting them.

However, because there is the possibility that THAT present time frame for the church might progress to the revealing and reign of the man of lawlessness (the beast), the affliction that they are presently encountering, might advance into the affliction administered by the beast. In that case, the “repay with affliction” will be directed on the beast and his kingdom through the trumpet and bowl judgments as the book of the Revelation teaches. The possibility of this being the case is indicated by the fact that Paul speaks of deliverance from this affliction by the revelation of Jesus from heaven.
The possibility of this happening is not going to be a matter of guesswork by any particular generation of the church, for both Jesus and Paul taught that there would be indicators to portend the coming of the Lord.

Jesus taught that when the SIGNS of the tribulation period occur, it is then that His second coming would be near – even though the exact day or hour would be unknown (Matthew 24:32-44).

And at 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, Paul teaches that the COMING of the Lord would not occur until after the man of lawlessness is revealed and the subsequent moral and religious apostasy of many would occur in connection with this man’s activity.

Verse 7 continues with the second object and indirect object governed by the verb, repay: “and (repay) relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire.

The word relief indicates that the Thessalonian believers are going to receive something that is directly opposite to what they were presently encountering.
The Greek noun is anesis and only occurs 4 other times in the New Testament: Acts 24:23; 2 Cor. 2:13; 2 Corinthians 7:5;2 Corinthians 8:12-14.
In each case the use of the word indicates immediate relief from some kind of affliction.

The objects of this relief are you who are being afflicted: This is a present active participle of the verb, thlibo, and is used to indicate the present and immediate affliction that they are enduring. This of course, confirms what was already established by the present active participle of the verb at the end of verse 6. “Those who are presently afflicting you.”

Thlibo is the verb from which comes thlipsis – tribulation.

I could invent a word here – those who are tribulating you.

Next, Paul adds – And to us as well: He includes himself here, and by way of application, all believers who are alive at that time. This indicates that the deliverance that Paul has in mind when Jesus returns, is something that will be universal for all believers who are alive on the earth. This of course is what the other rapture passages teach, and there is PERFECT consistency between all of them.

The time when this deliverance or RELIEF will be given to the afflicted believers is at the revelation of the Lord Jesus.

The word, revelation is apokalupsis. Concerning the translation in the NASB, KJV, NRSV, and the NIV, which reads, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed,” is inaccurate and does not represent the literal Greek. This makes a significant difference. Regardless of the reasoning and rationale of the various translators who insist on translating this as a temporal clause (when . . . revealed), it does not change the fact that the literal translation is clear and precise, and points significantly back to the four other places where the noun occurs, as noted above. William Hendriksen at least acknowledges the correct literal translation before he goes on to rationalize agreement with the usual rendering (New Testament Commentary, page 158). A. T. Robertson translates it correctly and describes it as the “unveiling of the Messiah,” and identifies it with the same revelation as is mentioned at 1 Corinthians 1:7 and 1 Peter 1:7. (Word Pictures, Vol. IV, page 43).

What is quite interesting to me is how John Walvoord seems to arbitrarily assign the use of this noun (revelation), to the rapture and then elsewhere to a subsequent second coming. Dwight Pentecost agrees with this as he quotes on page 159 in Things to Come:

“A survey of those passages in which the word is used in relation to Christ demonstrates that in a number of instances it is used of the second coming of Christ (1 Peter 4:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; Luke 17:30). . . In other passages, however, it is clearly used in reference to the coming of Christ in the air for His church (1 Cor. 1:7; Col. 3:4; 1 Peter 1:7, 13).”

This is simply not a consistent interpretation.

On what logical basis does one apply 1 Peter 4:13 to a revelation of Jesus that is different from the one mentioned a few verses earlier at 1 Peter 1:7 and 13?
An objective analysis of this noun produces only one second coming at which time, not only will Jesus deliver His elect (give relief to you who are being afflicted), but also begin a judgment on those who are left on the earth. This is confirmed by this passage, for the promise proclaimed here is clearly given to church age believers concerning an immediate relief from ongoing affliction at the revelation of Jesus from heaven.

The word apokalupsis, is used by the apostles four other times for the 2nd coming of Jesus to gather the church to Himself, and the verb (apokalupto) is used one time by Jesus as is recorded at Luke 17:30; 1Corinthians 1:7, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ; 1Peter 1:7, that the proof of your faith, {being} more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise & glory & honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 1Peter 1:13, Therefore, having prepared your minds for action, being in control, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 1Peter 4:13, but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.

These passages taken together and compared with 2 Thessalonians 1:7, make it irrefutable that they all refer to the very same arrival of Jesus at which time He will be revealed IN GLORY to the world of unbelievers. And at which time He will gather to Himself all the living and dead believers. And surely there is no basis for making this REVELATION of Jesus any different than the one He talks about at Luke 17:30, where the verb, apokalupto is used.
“It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.”

Furthermore, Luke 17:34-35 makes a direct correlation between this revelation in glory and the supernatural removal of believers from the earth. These will then be gathered (paralambano, taken) to the side of Jesus, just as He promised would happen at John 14:1-3. “I will come again and take (receive) you to Myself.”

“I tell you, on that night there will be two men in one bed;
one will be taken, and the other will be left.
There will be two women grinding at the same place;
one will be taken, and the other will be left.”

So, at 2 Tthes. 1:7, we have the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven: Of course Jesus comes down from heaven, where he is presently located, sitting at the right hand of the Father. This is perfectly consistent with all of the other second coming passages and does not require any amplification. Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Thes. 1:10; 4:16.

When Jesus returns it will be with His mighty angels in flaming fire: This, of course, is what poses such a problem for the pre-trib rapture position, for they cannot harmonize this coming with angels in power and glory with the arrival of Jesus to rapture His church. They are thus required to take this very vivid church promise away from the church and make the relief that is in view, totally meaningless to those who are going through the afflictions. And the revelation that is mentioned, they claim to be separate from His revelation at the rapture.

However, since it is contextually obvious that this promise is for church age believers, then it is just as obvious that when Jesus comes back to rescue the living believers from the earth, He will come with His mighty angels. And this is exactly what several other passages teach. In fact, the rapture passage at 1 Thessalonians 4:16, clearly indicates the presence of at least one angel, with the phrase, “the voice of the archangel,” who is Michael.

Now since this promise is clearly given to LIVING believers who will be delivered (given rest) from a present experience of affliction, and since this will occur at the Revelation of Jesus WITH His mighty angels, then there is perfect harmony with the other 2nd coming passages such as:

Matthew 16:27, “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and WILL THEN RECOMPENSE EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS.”; Matthew 24:31 “And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.”; Matthew 25:31, “when the Son of man comes in His glory and all the angels with Him.”
Thus as we have seen, the idea that Jesus comes back with His holy and mighty angels is totally consistent with what the Bible teaches elsewhere for the Day of the Lord arrival of the Messiah.

When Jesus comes back, arriving in the clouds of the sky, the attendance of ALL the holy angels will bring Him great glory. He will then use the angels who attend Him to gather together His elect ones from all over the world (Matthew 24:31; Mark 13:27). These join with Jesus for a meeting with Him in the sky (1 Thess. 4:17), and share in the MANIFESTATION of His glory (Colossians 3:4).

Then, the believers will be escorted by the angels into heaven for the evaluation of their works.

Returning to the judgment phase of His second coming, Paul wrote, 2 Thess. 1:8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. This clause indicates that when Jesus returns and delivers His people out from the tribulation (the affliction), He will begin to administer judgment upon the unbelievers who are left on the earth. This “judgment” or retribution is the Greek word, ekdikesis. It occurs 9 times and means an administration of justice. It comes from the word group, dikaios, which means just or righteous.

This administration of justice is described as an expression of God’s anger (orge) and wrath (thumos) in a variety of passages, and refers to the DAY-OF-THE-LORD judgments through the trumpets and bowls. This passage then establishes the fact that the second coming of Jesus is both visible and spectacular, and is attended by events which are elsewhere identified with the term, “Day of the LORD,” which occurs in both testaments. The key to making this identification is based primarily on two passages, (1Thes. 5:2 and 2Peter 3:10) and then on comparison with all the “day of the Lord” passages.

At verse 9, Paul amplifies the nature of God’s judgment. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power. This describes the 2nd aspect of divine judgment that will be administered upon the unbelievers. This judgment is the result of the last judgment which is described at Revelation 20:11-15, and which will occur at the end of the earthly reign of the Messiah.

Paying the penalty refers to experiencing the right and proper expression of divine justice. The word for penalty, is di ke, and refers to the perpetuation of spiritual death (Romans 6:23a; Ephesians 2:1) beyond physical death and into the lake of fire for all eternity. It is described as eternal destruction. The word, eternal, is aionios, and indicates a perpetual or “everlasting” experience. However, the word, “destruction,” is misleading and has led to the false doctrine of the annihilation of souls. The word is olethros, and means destruction only in the sense of RUIN; that is, a total ruination of one’s existence.

This is what existence in the lake of fire amounts to. Proof that there is no annihilation of the souls is found at Revelation 14:10-11.

And the smoke Of their torment goes up Forever And they do not have Rest Day or night.

At 2Thes. 1:10, The TIME of Christ’s initial arrival is stated again when He comes to be glorified by His holy ones on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed – for our testimony to you was believed. The WHEN of this verse refers to the inception of these events, and not the casting into the lake of fire. The occasion for the inception of these expressions of justice will be the visible and physical return of Jesus as already clarified in verse 7, AT the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven. At that time – He will bring RELIEF to the living believers by removing them out of the world through the rapture. AND He will begin to pour out His judgments upon the unbelievers who remain behind through the trumpets and bowls. And the ultimate destiny of these unbelievers who are judged will be the lake of fire, which will not be meted out to them until after the earthly reign of Jesus.

Paul concludes this summary of Christ’s return by restating what he already wrote.
1. He will come WITH His angels
2. And He will come FOR the believers – His elect ones.

When He comes: He will be glorified by His holy ones. These are the angels mentioned at verse 7, with His mighty angels. And He will be marveled at among all those who believe. These are the believers who are in tribulation, who are given rest and express great wonder and praise at Christ’s arrival.
When He comes there will be two classes of creatures involved. He will come with His angels (holy ones) and be glorified “in” and “by” them. At the same time, the believers who see Him coming will marvel at His presence. It seems most reasonable that the “holy ones” are different from “those who believe.”

And finally Paul expresses his desire and his prayer that the believers who read this letter might remain consistent in their testimonial impact.

And I leave you today with my desire that all of us might remain focused on love and righteousness and as John wrote at 1John 2:28, that we all might continue to abide in Him so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.
Have a great day and may God richly bless you all.

For a detailed commentary on this section see: http://biblefragrances.com/studies/2thes1.html

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