A Commentary by John Stott
2 Thessalonians 1:5-10. 2). A defence of God’s justice.
Paul sees in the Thessalonians, he says, not only evidence of God’s grace in their lives, but also ‘evidence of the righteous judgment of God’ (5, RSV). But what is it in the Thessalonian situation which Paul perceives as an *endeigma*, a ‘manifest token’ (AV), a ‘plain indication’ (BAGD), *that God’s judgment is right* or ‘just’? Is it the very fact that the Thessalonians are suffering for Christ? Or is it the faith, love and endurance which they are displaying in the midst of their suffering? I think it is both.
On the one hand, Jesus had taught that suffering was the unavoidable path to glory, both for himself and for his followers (E.g. Mk.8:31ff.; Lk.24:26; Jn. 12:24ff.). Similarly, Paul had insisted that it is only through many tribulations that we can enter God’s kingdom (Acts 14:22), and that only if we share in Christ’s sufferings will we ever share in his glory (Rom.8:17). So suffering and glory, tribulation and the kingdom, belong inseparably to one another. Therefore, since God was allowing the Thessalonians to suffer, they could know that he was preparing them for glory. Their suffering was itself evidence of the justice of God, because it was the first part of the equation which guaranteed that the second part (glory) would follow.
On the other hand, although God was allowing the persecutors some rope, it was evidently in the Thessalonians that he was especially at work. He was on their side, sustaining and sanctifying them (Cf. Phil.1:28). He was using their persecutions as a means through which to develop their faith, love and perseverance, in contrast to the prejudice, anger and bitterness of their persecutors, and so was preparing them for his eternal kingdom. By these qualities they were not ‘made worthy’ (RSV) of the kingdom, in the sense of deserving it, but they were *counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which they were suffering* (5). As Bishop Lightfoot wrote, the verb *axioo* ‘never signifies “to make worthy”, but always “to account worthy”’. Similarly, according to Leon Morris, ‘the meaning is declaratory’; they were ‘deemed’ or perhaps ‘shown to be’ worthy. God’s transforming grace was fitting them for their heavenly inheritance.
Indeed, because *God is just*, he will vindicate them publicly one day. He will reverse the fortunes of both groups, the persecutors and the persecuted, when Christ comes. *He will pay back trouble* to the trouble-makers (6), and will *give relief* (from affliction) to those who have been afflicted, including the apostles (7a). Of course it takes spiritual discernment to see in a situation of injustice (like the persecution of the innocent) evidence of the just judgment of God. Our habit is to see only the surface appearance, and so make only superficial comments. We see the malice, cruelty, power and arrogance of the evil men who persecute. We see also the sufferings of the people of God, who are opposed, ridiculed, boycotted, harassed, imprisoned, tortured and killed. In other words, what we see is injustice – the wicked flourishing and the righteous suffering. It seems completely topsy-turvy. We are tempted to inveigh against God and against the miscarriage of justice. ‘Why doesn’t God do something?’ we complain indignantly. And the answer is that he *is* doing something and will go on doing it. He is allowing his people to suffer, in order to qualify them for his heavenly kingdom. He is allowing the wicked to triumph temporarily, but his just judgment will fall upon them in the end. Thus Paul sees *evidence that God’s judgment is right* in the very situation in which we might see nothing but injustice.
We need the same spiritual discernment and godly perspective as Paul had. In the Thessalonians’ success, instead of flattering them, he thanked God for the evidence of his grace. In their sufferings, instead of complaining, he thanked God for the evidence of his justice.
Paul’s assurance of the righteousness of God’s future judgment naturally prompts three questions: (1) When will it happen? (2) Who will be punished? (3) What form will the punishment take?
Tomorrow: 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10. 2). A defence of God’s justice (continued).
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|