God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you.2 Thessalonians 1:6-7 NIV
Most of us have been “done wrong” at one time or another and, more than likely, have at least toyed with the idea of revenge. No doubt, the idea of making someone suffer for our suffering is sometimes tempting, but God clearly states in Deuteronomy 32:35 that vengeance is His and His alone.
Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
for the time when their foot shall slip;
for the day of their calamity is at hand,
and their doom comes swiftly.Deuteronomy 32:35
No matter how tempting it is, we should not try to take things into our own hands. We must wait. God’s vengeance may not always be when we’d like, but it is always just, and it is always final. Eventually, God will ensure that there will be no rest for the wicked.
God the Balancer
At first glance, God’s vengeance may seem harsh, but the more we know God and understand His character, the more we begin to be thankful that He has our backs and is our avenger.
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines vengeance as “the infliction of pain on another, in return for an injury or offense.” It goes on to distinguish between vengeance and revenge. It says of vengeance, “Such infliction, when it proceeds from malice or mere resentment, and is not necessary for the purposes of justice, is revenge, and a most heinous crime.” However, when “such infliction proceeds from a mere love of justice, and the necessity of punishing offenders for the support of the laws, it is vengeance and it is warrantable and just.”
There is a fine line between vengeance and revenge. That line is determined by what is in a man’s heart. Yet, a man’s heart cannot be trusted; it is deceitful above all else (Jeremiah 17:9). God is not a man; there is no deceit in Him. His vengeance is about justice, not about malice or mere resentment. Vengeance is best left to God, whose heart is pure and whose intentions are good.
A world without justice wouldn’t make sense. Justice balances the scales between right and wrong. The human heart needs to know that there will be justice in the end. When you think about it, ultimately, God will repay and judge all evil, whether that repayment is at the Cross or in Hell. If you are a believer, that is reassuring; if you aren’t, that is a warning.
God the Refiner
In 2 Thessalonians, Paul acknowledges the Thessalonians’ perseverance and faith in the persecutions and trials they are undergoing (2 Thess. 1: 4). He reassures them that God can and will use their trials for His glory. First, God will use their trials to refine them and make them worthy of His kingdom (2 Thess 1:5). Much like fire purifies gold, trials refine us, separating what is pure in us from what is impure, making us worthy of God’s calling and more like Jesus. Second of all, their persecution will not go unpunished. God will show His justice by paying back trouble to those who trouble them (2 Thess. 1:6). Sometimes, all it takes to keep going and to keep persevering is knowing that what we are going through is not in vain and is not without purpose.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.Hebrews 10:23 NIV
God the Relief
Paul also reassured the Thessalonians that God would grant them relief (2 Thess. 1:7). The Greek word for relief is anesis, defined as a loosening or relaxation. This same word is used by Paul in 2 Corinthians when he is talking about relief from poverty (2 Cor. 8:13) and relief from anxiety (2 Cor. 2:13). When we go to court before a judge, we petition the judge for relief from whatever wrong has been perpetrated against us. The judge hopefully will grant us relief by punishing the perpetrator. Here, Paul informs the Thessalonians that Jesus, the Judge, will grant them, along with all those who have been “done wrong” relief: those responsible for their persecution will be punished. In the following few verses, Paul tells them how God will do this.
God the Fire
Jesus will be revealed from Heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels (2 Thess. 1:7). Jesus’ Return will be glorious and hard to ignore. It will be like when the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Ex. 3:2) or when Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, and the Lord descended on it as fire (Ex. 19:16). Jesus described how He would come back in this way: ” For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matt 16:27 ESV). Not only will His Return be glorious, but at last, evil will be judged, and justice will be served.
God the Judge
When Jesus is revealed from Heaven, He comes to bring judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus (2 Thess. 1:8). The punishment of the wicked should not come as a surprise. Throughout the Old Testament, God warns us what will happen to sinners who refuse to obey God (Isa 1:28, Jere 10:25). He says in Isaiah 1:28,
But rebels and sinners will both be broken,
and those who forsake the Lord will perish.
Paul groups the wicked into two categories: those who don’t know God and those who refuse to obey the Good News.
Those Who Don’t Know God
“Knowing” God doesn’t mean knowing about God. God has made himself evident to everyone in one way or another. No one is without excuse (Romans 1:20). You can believe God exists and still not know Him. The Greek word for know is eido which in this passage means a knowing that can perceive and grasp the spiritual truth about God. Those who don’t know God are unbelievers who refuse to open their hearts to God and receive the spiritual truth of His Word. For their refusal to open their hearts and minds to God, they will be judged.
Those Who Refuse to Obey the Good News
Then there are those who live only for themselves and refuse to obey the truth. They may have at one time recognized the truth, but when presented with a choice between taking the path of the wicked and the path of the righteous, they chose to follow the way of the wicked (Romans 2:8). For their wickedness, they will be judged.
Those who don’t know God and those who refuse to obey God’s judgment will “be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thess. 1: 9). This judgment seems tough – but remember, God is a God of justice. In the end, God balances the scales, which is a good thing.
God the Justice Giver
Everyone deserves God’s wrath and His judgment. However, because God is merciful, He offers everyone a way out, His Son. Those who accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior are spared. Those who are hard-hearted and reject Jesus are eternally punished. In Revelation, the Apostle John gives us a glimpse of the hard-hearted. God gave them every opportunity to repent. He tried to get their attention through a series of judgments, including raining huge hailstones down on them, but instead of repenting, they cursed God – their hearts were hard (Rev. 16:28). Don’t forget, we once were like them. We must do all we can to lead them to the Cross.
At Jesus’ Second Coming, God’s glory will be displayed in those who believe. Those who accept God’s gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, will get to step up on the podium and receive our gold medal. No doubt, our acceptance speech will praise God and give all honor and glory to Him.
Paul ends the Chapter praying that God makes the Thessalonians worthy of their calling and that Jesus Christ’s name be glorified in them. This is a prayer worth reading over and over again. Here it is:
“So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12”
We live in a fallen world. There are wicked people. We will eventually encounter them. We will, in time, be “done wrong.” We can rest in knowing that God will avenge us and that there will be no rest for the wicked.