Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 317 - October 1882
2 Thessalonians 1:5-8
It would seem that the Thessalonian saints had been engrossed with the day of the Lord, as indeed it occupies a large part, and is the grand issue, of Old Testament prophecy. If grace, righteousness, and blessing characterise that day, there can be no doubt that darkness, trouble, change and judgments beyond all previous experience are to usher it in. Hence the apostle felt the need of preparing the way for his correction of this special error foisted on them, by a just determination of its true nature. This he proceeds to set before them that they might be clear in what was indisputable, and so the better able to judge the delusion.
Their endurance and faith in all their persecutions and the distresses they were then enduring had been already treated as to him and those likeminded an object of glorying in them among the assemblies of God. He adds now: a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, to the end that ye be counted worthy of the kingdom of God for which ye also suffer; if so be that it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to those who trouble you, and to you that are troubled rest with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance on those that know not God and those that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus." (ver. 5-8.)
This moral dealing with their troubles was of the deepest moment. For even, saints easily miss their way in the prophetic word: but God abides and cannot deny Himself, as these saints ought not to have forgotten. Now they might be to the uttermost tried; and evil in unrighteousness, deceit, or oppression might prosper for awhile; but even so the faithful are called to trust confidently and rejoice exceedingly, reaping better blessings far than if all ran smoothly as the heart could wish. But the righteous judgment of God is unshaken, and faith rests on it without wavering, but with a solemn sense of what is at hand for violence no less than corruption, and especially for the hatred which cannot endure the objects of God's love in en evil world, where they, however unwelcome, are seen as lights, holding forth the word of life, not overcome of evil but overcoming it with good, and so much the more intolerable to the evil heart of unbelief which either rejects God or departs from Him.
Does God then regard with indifference His children's persecutions and distresses? On the contrary their patience and faith in all they are enduring is a demonstration of the just judgment of God; who, if He tries the righteous, loves righteousness, beholds the upright, and will surely rain fire and brimstone, and a tempest of burning on the wicked. If he sees mischief, it is to requite it with His own hand. But His children meanwhile are being disciplined in the ways of Christ; and as faith perseveres without a sign, it may be, so patience must have its perfect work, that they may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. And is it not well worth while? "To the end that ye be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which also ye suffer." So it is His good and holy will: through many tribulations we must enter into that kingdom. It was Christ's way; it is or should be ours. In that day the darkness will pass for the world. All will be plain that is now obscure: uncertainty and complication will be no more. For us the darkness passes away and the true light now shineth; and we who were once darkness are light in the Lord. Then for the world, and especially for that portion of it which is now darkest and most embittered, the light will have come-and the glory of Jehovah be risen there.
But the very contrariety of the world now to God and to His children only the more proves that the righteous Lord will surely intervene and vindicate in that day all that looks tangled now. One understands easily that, if Satan is as God calls him the god of this age, it can only be in the age to come when the Lord Jesus governs publicly and in power, that as the rule the wicked shall be put down and the righteous prosper. The unbeliever is hardened at the sight of the just man perishing in his righteousness, and of a wicked man prolόnging his life in his wickedness. The believer awaits the kingdom of God and suffers for its sake. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore, the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." Unto the sons of God it is given in the behalf of Christ not only to believe on him but to suffer for Him. When the day comes all will be changed.
If so be [it is] a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to those that trouble you, and to you that are troubled rest with us." This none can dispute who believes that God is, and that He is a rewarder of those that seek Him out, and an avenger of all wrong against God and man. He is now dealing in grace; in that day He will judge the habitable world (and the dead also in due time) in righteousness by the Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance to all men in that He hath raised Him from the dead. In that day, as even a godly Jew did know, He will be merciful to His land and to His people, as surely as He will render vengeance to His enemies and reward then that hate Him. What then will be His attitude towards the persecutors of His children and to those of them who thus suffered? He will dispense to such as troubled them tribulation, and rest to His now troubled children—rest with Paul and His companions in loving service for their sakes.
The danger is of allowing in this day of grace a judicial spirit, and this not only in our own minds like the sons of Zebedee who would have called down fire from heaven to consume the adversaries, but also in our interpretation of God's dealings with others if not with ourselves: The apostle would have the saints bright in their severest troubles, joyfully anticipating the day of requital when the sufferings of the saints shall be swallowed up in the glorious rest of the saints, the rest of God we may add, while their troublers become the objects of His unsparing judgment. For it will be the day of God's righteous award, in reversal of this day when Satan blinds princes and peoples, as .he did when they crucified the Lord of glory.
This being so, persecutions and trouble were no indications of the day of the Lord; rather were they proofs that that day had not yet dawned and that grace still calls and would arm the saints unto all endurance with joyfulness. Hew different it will be for saints and for sinners when that day of the Lord is really come! How solemn yet blessed the change when the wicked fall into the hands of the living God, who is not unrighteous to forget the work of faith and the labour of love on the part of His children mean while called as they are to endure a great fight of afflictions!
For in that day of righteous judgment it will be a "revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with angels of His power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to those that know not God, and to those that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus."
It will be observed that not a word here hints that this is the moment when the Lord comes to gather the saints to Himself. It is not the action of sovereign grace which translates the saints waiting for Him to heaven, but the display of judicial righteousness by the Lord when He appears in glory. Then, and not till then, will be the day of divinely apportioned trouble to the troublers, and of rest to the troubled who suffered for Christ's sake and for righteousness. How unsuitable to be revealed "in flaming fire with angels of power " to receive unto Himself the children of God, His bride, and to present them with Himself in the Father's house!
Here it is a question of rendering vengeance not to unbelievers distinguished by two marks, as Calvin says, but to two distinct objects of judgment, to those that know not God, the Gentiles, described thus expressly in 1 Thess. iv. 5, and in substance throughout Scripture; and to those who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus, as the Jews might well be regarded, who, outwardly owning the true God and boasting of His law, were now the most resolute, whether vehement or sullen, in disobeying the gospel.
God is never indifferent to good or evil, and His children learn this and bow to it in His word now, knowing that, if they suffer with Christ, they shall also reign together. Their adversaries despise, hate, and persecute His unwelcome witnesses of grace and truth who seek to adorn the teaching of their Saviour God in all things. Is this day of grace to go on indefinitely? Not so; that day hastens when His judgment will be revealed, and as glory, honour and peace will be the portion of every soul that does good, so tribulation and anguish upon every one that doeth evil, to Jew and Gentile, for there is no respect of persons: evil will be treated as nothing but evil when the Lord arises to judge, and this in the most manifest way before the universe.
Hence the importance, not only that sovereign grace should take to heaven the saints that are awaiting Him, but that righteous judgment should be displayed at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with angels of His power in flaming fire. For the day will then have come to render vengeance to His and their enemies, whether they be Gentiles that know not God or they be Jews, who (if not so ignorant as the nations) cannot deny that they obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus. As a man cannot shake off his responsibility according to what he once knew of God (Rom. i. 19-21) and his conscience also as well as the law (Rom. ii. 12-15), so he must then be made to feel the guilt of his unbelief in his in subjection of God's glad tidings concerning his Son. And this suitably comes into manifestation before the world when Christ is no longer hidden in God but revealed in heaven, in order 'to bring out and display the government of God in power and righteousness and peace; as all the prophets bore witness from early days, and now the New, Testament (so-called) sets its seal to the Old.
Thus was the balance of truth readjusted in the souls of the Thessalonians who had been led to fear that their grievous troubles were the beginning of the day of the Lord. They were now to learn that this could not possibly be true from the essential character of that day, as one of rest to the troubled saints and of retributive trouble to their foes; for as it will be the time of divine recompense, so infallibly the Judge of all the earth will do right. It is not that the saints might not individually go to be with Christ meanwhile, nor even that He might not previously come for our gathering together unto Him; but there will be no public display of their righteously awarded rest and of vengeance on their adversaries till He is revealed thus in flaming fire. Such is the solemn fact, and this the distinctive principle therein, and the result of the revelation of the Lord from heaven, as here made known to the agitated saints in Thessalonica. The apostle too knew what tribulation was, and looked for this rest with them, as they were entitled to expect it with him, in that day which was still before them all; for as yet he and they were exposed to pass through trouble, and their persecutors were for the present in honour and ease and power without God. In that day the tables will be turned, His friends at rest and His enemies in trouble. It will be the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven in judgment of the quick.