That Great Day
Topic: Expository Passage: 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10
2 Thessalonians 1:8-10 | That Great Day
Good morning! Welcome to Sunday school! Please turn in your Bibles to 2 Thessalonians 1. And once you get there, let’s read vv. 3-10.
We’ve discussed the fact that one of the primary themes in Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians is eschatology. I don’t know about you, but with all the teaching on eschatology that we’ve had around here over the past several months, I feel like those doctrines are beginning to take root in my soul a little bit more. I’ve still got a long way to go in that area, but it’s been encouraging to notice the change. I hope that you have noticed some of the same growth in your own life, as well.
I’ve entitled this lesson, “That Great Day.” First, let’s talk about the reality of that Day.
The Reality of that Day
In the Greek, the last phrase in v. 10 is, “in that Day,” which has an obvious connection to the Day of the Lord, which we discussed back in 1 Thessalonians 5. The phrase feels almost a little tacked-on at the end of v. 10, but it appears that Paul placed it there for emphasis. The phrase “that Day” is describing the climax of human history–the final installment in a series of events referred to elsewhere as “the Day of the Lord,” the Second Coming of Christ!
Paul refers to this same event in v. 7 as “the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven.” Christ has been hidden in heaven for two thousand years; but on this great day, He will finally be revealed! His glory will no longer be veiled, as it was in His first coming! He will shine like He did on the Mount of Transfiguration! And the people of the earth will respond in one of two ways to Him: either they will mourn, as it says in Matthew 24:30, or they will rejoice. Either they will mourn at the sight of their judge, or they will rejoice at the sight of their Savior. Jesus will be the same glorious person either way, but their response to Him will speak volumes about the condition of their hearts.
Paul says that in that Day, Jesus will be revealed from heaven “with His mighty angels.” The LORD of Hosts will appear with His armies! He will also appear in flaming fire (vv. 7-8). Commentators have debated what the phrase “in flaming fire” modifies. Is that Jesus is revealed from heaven in flaming fire or that he takes vengeance on those who do not know God in flaming fire? What do you think? Does Jesus return with fire, or does He judge His enemies with fire? The answer is, “yes.”
Turn with me to Isaiah 66:15-16. Paul alludes to this chapter several times throughout 2 Thessalonians 1. So let’s see what Isaiah has to say about flaming fire (Isa 66:15-16, 24). Fire plays a pretty big role in Isaiah 66, doesn’t it? Isaiah says that the LORD will come with fire, He will judge His enemies with fire, and eternal fire will be the destiny of the wicked. And based on Paul’s repeated references to Isaiah 66 in 2 Thessalonians 1, it is safe to assume that he has all three of these ideas in mind when he refers to flaming fire in 2 Thessalonians 1:8.
Jesus will return from heaven with fire. What will that look like? We don’t know exactly, but in his famous description of the Second Coming in Revelation 19:12, John says, “His eyes were like a flame of fire.” What a fearsome picture!
Not only will Jesus return with fire, He will also judge His enemies with fire, and fire will be the ultimate fate of the wicked. Jesus said in Matthew 25:31, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him [sound familiar?], then He will sit on the throne of His glory.” Skip down to v. 41. Jesus continues, “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” Jesus will say that. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? But we must not forget that the same little baby who was born in the manger, the same lamb who died on the cross, is also a fearsome judge! And He will judge the lost with fire.
Before we move on, one other ramification of Paul’s references to Isaiah 66 in this passage is that in Isaiah 66, it is the LORD who returns in glory and judges His enemies. But in 2 Thessalonians 1, who is it? It’s “the Lord Jesus”! Now you tell me, what does that mean? It means that Jesus is the LORD! He is Yahweh of the Old Testament! Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the Bible never says that Jesus is God. That truth is written all over the New Testament!
Jesus is coming again in glory, amen? What a glorious Day that will be. Let’s talk next about the results of that Day.
The Results of that Day
For the Unsaved
Let’s talk first about the results for the unsaved. First, let’s take a look at Paul’s description of the unsaved in v. 8 (v. 8).
So Paul gives a two-fold description of the unsaved in this verse. First, they are “those who do not know God.” Now, at first, that sounds rather innocuous, doesn’t it? It’s kind of like, “Do you know that person?” “No, I don’t know him.” “Okay, no big deal.” Right? It’s not necessarily a sin not to know somebody!
However, when the Bible uses this description of the lost, it is not talking about the fact that they do not know that God exists. Rather, it’s referring to the fact that they do not have a personal relationship with God, and that is always construed as their fault; never God’s.
For instance, in John 8:54-55, Jesus says to a group of Jews, “…It is My Father who honors Me, of whom you say that He is your God. Yet you have not known Him….” That is intended to be a rebuke. Why is it a rebuke? Because those Jews had every opportunity to know God and they thought that they knew Him; but in fact, they did not!
The Gentiles are often referred to in Scripture as those who do not know God (c.f. 1 Thess 4:5). However, according to Paul in Romans 1:21, there is also a sense in which the Gentiles do know their Creator! That is, they have an innate knowledge of Him, but they willingly suppress that truth! They know of God, but they refuse to know Him. Do you see the difference there?
Brothers and sisters, we ought not to take for granted our relationship with God just because we have a certain amount of head knowledge or because we do or say certain things. Jesus said, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Mat 7:22-23). Do you merely know about God, or do you truly know Him?
The first description of the lost from this passage is that they are “those who do not know God.” The second description of the unsaved from this passage is that they are “those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8).
What strikes you about Paul’s use of the words “obey” and “gospel” in that verse? We often emphasize the fact that the gospel is a message to be believed. And that is true. But the gospel also includes within it a command that must be obeyed.
What does that mean for us? First, it means that when we share the gospel, we must not only tell people that Jesus died for their sins and that He wants to save them, but also that He is coming again and will judge them if they refuse to repent! Both of those messages were essential parts of the gospel message preached by Jesus and the apostles.
Second, when examining ourselves, we must ask the question, “Am I living a life of ever-increasing obedience to the demands of Christ in the gospel?” What was Jesus condemnation of that group of people in Mathew 7:22-23? He said, “Depart from Me, you who practice” what? (lawlessness) The people in that group had done a lot of ministry, even to the point of casting out demons and performing miracles! But their hearts were not characterized by repentance toward God! They were still among those who do not obey the gospel. What about you?
So we’ve seen Paul’s description of the unsaved. Now let’s look at the destiny of the unsaved (vv. 8-9). You may not find a more compact description of the judgment of the lost than v. 9 anywhere else in Scripture. So let’s break that down a little. What is the destiny of the unsaved?
1. Jesus Will Take Vengeance on Them.
When you and I hear the word “vengeance,” we probably tend to think of something sinful; but that is not at all what Paul intended to communicate in this context! Christ’s judgment, while not impassionate, is never cruel or unfair! Rather, it is that perfect poetic justice that we talked about last week.
2. They Will Pay the Penalty of Everlasting Destruction (v. 9).
The Greek verb for “punished” is sadly under translated in the NKJV. A better translation of the first part of v. 9 would be, “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction….” You say, “Why is that significant?” Well, because again, it points to the absolutely just nature of this punishment! Jesus is not just arbitrarily issuing judgments based upon His emotions! No, rather, He is meting out a penalty that is totally righteous and fitting.
So what is the penalty? Well, what does the verse say? It is the penalty of “everlasting destruction.” Now, what does that mean? Could it mean annihilation–these people cease to exist; thus, they are eternally destroyed? (Many Christians believe that!) Turn with me to Matthew 25:46. This is just one passage of many that we could go to in order to defend the doctrine of a literal hell (Mat 25:46). Notice that in this verse, the same word used to describe eternal punishment is also used to describe eternal life. Do you see the implication? If hell is not eternal, then neither is heaven. But if you want to believe in an eternal heaven, you must also believe in an eternal hell.
Here is another argument (and again, these are just two among many): the Bible teaches very clearly that both the saved and the unsaved will be resurrected in the future. Now, why would God raise unbelievers at all if not for bodily punishment? If annihilation satisfies the demands of God’s justice, then why raise the unsaved at all?
The fact is that although many Christians do not like this doctrine and try to wriggle around it, the Bible clearly teaches the existence of a literal hell that is, as this passage describes it, a form of “living death.”
You say, “That isn’t fair! No one deserves that!” What would you say to that? Here are a couple of considerations for those who would press that argument. First, the Bible teaches that every sin is against an infinite God. Therefore, it deserves an infinite judgment. If we do not think that hell is just, then we do fully appreciate one of two concepts: the greatness of God or the badness of sin. Second, we must submit our ideas about what is just to God, who knows much better than we do. We ultimately have to trust Him!
Now, there are other considerations, as well. And we could easily get very philosophical and have a long conversation about this. But those are the main two responses to that objection, and if you have any more questions, please come and see me later.
As Christians, the doctrine of hell should sober us, and it should change the way we view the lost. We do not envy them, nor do we rage against them, even when they persecute us. Instead, we pity them and we seek to share Christ with them before it is too late.
Hell is indeed a place of physical torment, but that is not the worst thing about it. The third thing I want you to see about the destiny of the unsaved is that they will be banished from God’s presence and from His glorious power.
3. They Will Be Banished from God’s Presence and from His Glorious Power (v. 9).
We often emphasize with our children that the best part about heaven is not the streets of gold; it’s being with Jesus. The opposite is true of hell. The worst part about hell is not the pain; it is the eternal separation from Jesus. Verse 9 says that the lost will be punished with eternal destruction “from [or that could also be translated, “away from”] the presence of the Lord.” Again, we are reminded of those chilling words from Matthew 7:23: “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’’ “Depart from Me!” The worst part about hell is hearing those words and experiencing the results of those words for all of eternity.
But there’s more here that I want you to see. The last half of v. 9 is probably an allusion to Isaiah 2. Isaiah 2 is connected to 2 Thessalonians 1 in that both passages pertain to the Day of the Lord. And there is a repeated refrain that shows up in Isaiah 2.
“Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust,
From the terror of the Lord
And the glory of His majesty” (Isaiah 2:10).
“They shall go into the holes of the rocks,
And into the caves of the earth,
From the terror of the Lord
And the glory of His majesty,
When He arises to shake the earth mightily” (Isaiah 2:19).
“To go into the clefts of the rocks,
And into the crags of the rugged rocks,
From the terror of the Lord
And the glory of His majesty,
When He arises to shake the earth mightily” (Isaiah 2:21).
The unbelievers in this passage respond to God by running and hiding. I want to step away from the text just a little bit for a minute to make a theological connection. Isaiah 2 reminds us that unbelievers run from God. Now, let’s see if you can make the connection. According to 2 Thessalonians 1:9, what is the just penalty meted out to those who, rather than repenting, choose to run and hide from God? They are separated from God forever. In other words, they get what they desire.
We see a microcosm of this with Adam and Eve in Genesis. Prior to their sin, Adam and Eve walked with God. But after they had sinned, what did they do? They hid themselves! Instead of repenting, they ran away! Same as Jonah! And part of their punishment was continued separation. Now, we know that for them, that separation was not final. I expect that we will meet Adam and Eve in heaven someday. But for those who continually reject God throughout their lives, that separation will indeed be final! I read this past week that there are only two types of people in the world: those who say to God, “Your will be done” and those to whom God says, “Your will be done.” That’s a fascinating thing to think about.
When Jesus comes, He will punish the unsaved with eternal destruction away from His presence and His glorious power. But what will be the results of that Day for the saved?
For the Saved
First, let’s look at Paul’s description of the saved from v. 10 (v. 10). So what are the two descriptions of the saved from this verse? They are called “His saints,” and they are called, “those who believe.” Let’s talk first about the word “saints.”
Do you know what the word “saints” means? It means “holy ones”! This word is a reminder that people who are saved have been set apart or consecrated for special service to God. We have a high calling! (We’ll see this concept again in v. 11). But this word also reminds us that we as believers are commanded to be holy. We are told to be growing increasingly less like the world and more like our Savior.
So Christians are holy. Does that mean my salvation is based on my holiness–is based on what I do? No! How do you know? What description of Christians from v. 10 tells you that your salvation is not based upon your own works? Christians are “those who believe.” Those who believe what? “Our testimony among you.” In other words, the message that Paul, Silas, and Timothy had preached when they were in Thessalonica. In other words, the gospel!
Christlike character is the fruit of your salvation; not the basis of your salvation. It is very important that you get that straight. You cannot suffer well enough to earn yourself a place in God’s kingdom. The fact that you are suffering well may be an indication that you are a citizen of the kingdom; but that citizenship is yours by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Does that make sense?
That means that if you examine yourself and determine, “I am not the kind of person described in this verse (like we talked about last week)–I know about God, but I do not know Him”–then the answer is not for you to work harder. What’s the answer? The answer is for you to repent and believe the gospel.
What a glorious truth it is that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
What is the destiny of the saints who have believed the gospel?
There is basically one destiny of the saved that Paul mentions in this verse, and that is that Jesus will be glorified/admired among us (v. 10).
The phrase “in His saints” probably means “among His saints.” When Jesus returns, He will be glorified among His saints and admired among all those who believe. This truth has two implications.
First, we will be with Him. This is the opposite of the punishment that the unsaved, isn’t it? They are banished from His presence, but we will be right there with Him.
If the idea of being with Jesus for all of eternity does not thrill your soul, then there is something wrong. 1 Peter says that we are the kind of people who, although we have never seen Jesus, we love Him and look forward to His return. Do you look forward to His Coming?
The second implication of the truth that we will be with Jesus when He returns in glory is that we too will be glorified. We will share in His glory! We are doing that even now, 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, as we grow in Christlikeness. But one day, we will be totally like Him, when we see Him as He is.
Much more could be said on the topic of glorification, but we are about out of time, so I’d like to conclude with three applications.
- Do not envy the unsaved or be frustrated at them. Rather, pity them, witness to them, and pray for them.
- Hope! Lift up your eyes! Think about what God has planned for you when He returns, and let your persistent gaze at the future change you in the here and now.
- (And this is the main point of the passage) Persevere in faithful suffering. There is a lot we can learn from this passage, but let’s not forget that Paul’s primary purpose in writing this was to encourage persecuted Christians in the church at Thessalonica to endure.
For the Christian, all suffering is temporary. One day, God will bring relief. And when He does, He will also punish those who have afflicted us. So we can put up with the pain for the time being, because we know that we have been called to a glorious destiny.