2 Thessalonians 1:6-9
6 For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,
Looking at verse 6, we can first think that God will rain judgment upon those who have done evil. Admittedly, it helps us to feel vindicated when someone wrongs us. Ever hear the phrase, “what goes around, comes around?” This is the kind of justice we seek. However, I think we sometimes confuse what the bible means by “just.” After all, if he was “fair,” we would ALL be condemned to eternity separated from God, wouldn’t we? Rather, the reference to “just” is more that God will keep true to His word. This verse is related to what God promised the Israelites all the way back in Exodus 23, “22 But if you truly obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.” Being “just” in God’s eyes means holding true to your word, and He sets this example for us throughout the scriptures. What He is just in, Paul articulates in verse 7. Notice that this will happen in full upon Christ’s return.
I think sometimes we get caught up in wanting “swift justice.” Being a student of criminal justice, I’ve learned firsthand that our nation thrives on revenge, retribution, and swift and harsh punishment. I believe, however, that this mentality even blurs the point that Paul makes next. Verses 8-9 actually seem like punishments. If you’ve ever looked at the book of Revelation, we will see that the repayment or retribution is not one of punishment, but rather of consequence. We must always deal with the consequences of our actions, and the eternal life of our souls is no different. You see, the “eternal destruction” here we usually picture as a river of fire that those who do not believe just float in for eternity…at least that’s how I’ve pictured it as a child. That’s not what Paul is talking about here; rather he is trying to explain an eternity separated from God. Yes, throughout the bible, the opposite of heaven is referred to as a lake of fire, but quite honestly, that’s not the bad part!!! The bad part is that being in that place, the consequence of what Paul calls those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus, is eternity without the presence or influence of God. People think the world is in disarray now, imagine what hell will be like! I’m pretty sure when Adam and Eve became separated from God, it was the lowest feeling they ever had! Quite honestly, I’d rather burn forever than be outside of the presence of God.
I think the appeal of a lake of fire, eternal burning, etc. is in some part, a sensationalism of the end of days and imagery for what eternity without God is like. I believe sometimes it is used to “scare” others into believing (although it doesn’t work). We focus too much on the bad things instead of the good. We look at the devastation instead of the blessings. A quick glance of any news outlet shows how addicted we are to destruction yet we skip over that which illuminates this world.
What kind of justice are you seeking today? Have you been bullied, did someone try to scare you into believing? Have you tried to scare someone into believing? Are you thankful we have a just God instead of a fair God? Why or why not? If Christ returns today, will you spend eternity with Him?