Final judgment makes us all uncomfortable. For some, it’s cliché medievalism. For others, it’s an unresolved theological matter. For others, it’s a scare tactic. It seems that very few understand its full meaning. Jesus’ return and God’s final judgment was a primary matter for Paul the apostle, but probably not for the reasons you think.
Read 2 Thessalonians 1:1–12. Reflect on 2 Thessalonians 1:9–10:
“They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you” (NIV).
As persecuted Christians, the Thessalonians regularly struggled. Paul writes these words to comfort them. He ensures them that Jesus indeed will return and bring ultimate justice. Those who refuse to believe in Jesus will experience the full wrath of their life choices that oppose God’s ways—their sins. They will experience permanent separation from the presence of God (compare John 3:17–21).
But those who have chosen the light of Christ over the darkness will experience Jesus’ glory and eternal reign. This belief is more than mere intellectual assent. The Thessalonians took action for Christ—they practiced their faith, despite opposition (2 Thessalonians 1:4). It is in light of this that Paul promises the Thessalonian believers that they will experience the wonder of Jesus’ reign.
For Paul, Jesus’ return—and the final judgment of God—was a cause of celebration. It was also a cry of urgency. It demanded action for Jesus, sharing his message with others who are yet to believe.
There isn’t a separation for Paul between an apocalyptic gospel—with final judgment in mind—and the gospel of grace he proclaimed. They were one in the same. Likewise, there should not be a separation for us.
Deeply rooted in the apocalyptic framework of Paul is first and foremost hope. There is hope in Jesus’ return. There is hope that Jesus will make all things right. There is hope in eternal relationship with Jesus. There is hope.
Does reframing Jesus’ second coming as a message of hope, rather than despair, offer hope to any situations you face today? What currently feels “out of control” that you can trust God with—to ultimately handle?
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