A Commentary by John Stott
2 Thessalonians 1:8-9. c). Those who reject Christ will be
excluded from his glory.
‘Vengeance’ in verse 8 is an unfortunate translation, whether ‘taking vengeance’ (AV) or ‘inflicting vengeance’ (RSV). For the English word sounds harsh and vindictive, whereas the Greek original (*ekdikesis*) has no such overtones. It speaks only of justice, and of a judicial punishment.
What, then, will be the fate of Christ-rejectors? it is not meant to be understood as twofold (‘eternal destruction and exclusion’, RSV), but as a single destiny of being destroyed by being excluded and disqualified from ‘the presence of the Lord and the glory of his might’ (RSV). For the horror of this end will not be so much the pain which may accompany it as the tragedy which is inherent in it, namely that human beings made by God, like God, and for God, should spend eternity without God, irrevocably banished from his presence. Jesus himself had spoken of this dreadful expulsion, and of the ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ which would accompany it (E.g. Mt.7:23; 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; 41, 46). Moreover, by being separated from the glory of Christ, the condemned will be alienated from their own true identity as human beings. Instead of being fulfilled or ‘glorified’, their humanity will shrink and shrivel and be destroyed. Instead of shining with the glory of Christ, their light will be extinguished in outer darkness.
Here, then, is the solemn alternative which Paul once set before the Thessalonians and now sets before us. Heaven is to be ‘with the Lord for ever’ (1 Thess.4:17); hell is to be excluded from the Lord for ever (9). Heaven is sharing in Christ’s glory as he is glorified in us; hell is a total non-participation in his transforming glory. Those in whom Christ is glorified thereby find themselves and the fullness of their humanity; those excluded from the glory of Christ thereby lose themselves in total irrecoverable ruin.
d). Meanwhile Jesus Christ must begin to be glorified in us
We have seen how Paul, immediately after stating the stark alternative between participation and non-participation in the glory of Christ, went on to pray that through God’s powerful work within the Thessalonians ‘the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in’ them, and they in him (12). The very same word for ‘glorified’ is used in verse 12 as in verse 10. For the glorification of Jesus in his people, and their consequent glorification, are not a transformation which is entirely reserved for the last day. The process begins now. Indeed, it *must* begin now if it is to be brought to its proper end when Christ comes. That day will not suddenly reverse the processes which are going on now; it will rather confirm and complete them.
Jesus seems to have taught this same progression in the Upper Room. He prayed that he might be glorified by means of his death and resurrection and that his own people might see his glory in heaven (Jn. 17:5, 24). But between these two termini he could make the astonishing statement ‘I am glorified in them’ (Jn.17:10, RSV; cf.17:22).
Tomorrow: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17 The rebellion of the Antichrist.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.