God always does what is right.
I have to admit that when I first read this chapter, it sounded sort of scary. If this was the only passage of Scripture a person had at their disposal, the picture of God one might glean would sound an awful lot like . . . well, the picture of God that many Christians present. Haven’t you heard at least one person express anticipation for the coming of the Lord because that’s when they know all their enemies are gonna “get it”?
But is that what Paul was saying? Let’s look at the passage: “Your sufferings prove that God’s judgment is right! The result: your sufferings have made you worthy—worthy of the kingdom of God, which is the very reason why you are suffering in the first place! God does what is right and will allow trouble to come to those who are making it hard for you, and He will give relief to all of you who are still bandaging your wounds, as well as to all the rest of us. On that day—when the clouds draw back displaying His powerful heavenly messengers in a fiery blaze, Jesus the Lord will appear from heaven with perfect justice for anyone who doesn't know God and anyone who disobeys the good news of our Lord Jesus.” (vs 5-8)
Depending on which translation you read this passage in, it can make God sound like many shades of vindictive. In fact, most versions use the term “vengeance” instead of “justice” in verse 8. To our modern English ears, “vengeance” sounds like revenge and retribution. It sounds like the punitive torture of an angry God—gleefully destroying those who have chosen to reject Him.
But those are simply connotations we now bring to that word. The original Greek word—ekdikesis—has absolutely no connotations of vindictiveness. It does not smack of revenge or retribution. Instead, it has its roots in the same word translated “right” or “righteous”—dikaios. Instead of connoting a punitive suffering, it conjures the idea of unwavering justice.
And who doesn't want God to be just?
This justice (or doing what’s right) is for everyone. God does what’s right for the wicked just as much as He does what’s right for the righteous. He appears from heaven with perfect justice for anyone who doesn't know God . . . and He also appears from heaven with perfect justice for everyone who does know God.
Justice isn't some sort of buzz word for a punishment that God gives to His enemies. Justice is what God gives to all His creatures—because He does what’s right for all His creatures. To do anything other than what is right would be completely foreign to His nature, because He is righteous.
When God does what is right for you and God does what is right for me, there may be very different results. If I am wicked and the right thing for God to do is to give me up to the consequences of my choices, the result may be awful. But whatever I suffer won’t be some vindictive punishment at the hands of God. In the same way, if I am righteous and the right thing for God to do is to surrender me to the consequences of my choices, the result may be abundant life. But whatever I receive won’t be some glorious reward at the hands of God. In either case, the result would be justice, allowing me to reap the blessings or curses of my choices.
So, for those who are waiting for God to come back and “give it” to their enemies, they may be surprised to discover that everyone is going to get “it.” God doesn't give something to the wicked that He doesn't give to the righteous, and vice versa. He gives us all the freedom to determine our eternal destinies, and then He surrenders Himself (and us) to the consequences of our choices.
He does that for everyone because it’s right, and God always does what’s right.
God wants you to know your place.
I think this is one of the most fascinating chapters in the Bible, because it spells out in great detail the efforts of a single person to set himself up as God: “That day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God.” (vs 3-4)
Doesn't this sound familiar? This is the very attitude of Satan himself—aspiring to be something he can’t be, demanding homage for a position he can’t hold. This is what God said about that through the prophet Isaiah: “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly. . . I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’” (Isa 14:12-14)
And this wasn't anything new for Satan. Even in the Garden of Eden, he was tempting Adam and Eve to believe that they could be gods, and when he encountered Jesus in the wilderness, he brazenly asked his God to kneel down and worship him. This is ultimately what Satan wants. This is always what Satan has wanted—to be God.
And it’s the one thing Satan can’t have.
It’s not because God is jealous for His own position or power hungry or fearful of competition. It’s because no person can escape the reality of their nature. And in a universe with a Creator, there are only two available natures: created and uncreated.
God is uncreated. He didn’t “come from” anywhere. He has always been here, from eternity past, and He will always be here, through eternity future. He just is, by His very nature.
Find that hard to comprehend? I do. And there’s a good reason for that—because you and I and everyone else besides God are created. We haven’t always just been here. We had a beginning. We “came from” somewhere. We may be here through eternity future, but we haven’t been here from eternity past.
Thus, at the core of Satan’s desire to be God is really this: He, a created being, wants to be an uncreated being. That’s impossible. Not because God says so, but because Satan’s own nature forbids it.
So then, the question becomes, what are the consequences of acting contrary to one’s own inherent nature? Paul answers that in this chapter. The consequences are destruction. For if a created being is intent on acting as though he were uncreated and, in the process, determines to separate himself from the Creator, the only life-sustaining power (by nature) in the universe, what will be the result?
That is the only result of a created being separating himself from his Creator. The fact that we are created means that, by nature, we do not have life within us. Thus, if we are determined to disassociate ourselves with the only uncreated being in the universe—even to the point of trying to kill Him because we want to set ourselves up as God—we will “pull our own plug” in the process.
This is why God wants you to know your place. Not because He is interested in lording His place over anyone or because He feels threatened by a challenge to His authority, but because stepping outside of the reality of our place only leads to destruction.
There is no other god but God.
That’s just the way it is.
God values work.
In this chapter, Paul gives instruction to the Christians in Thessalonica that might sound a little foreign to our progressive ears: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’ We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.” (vs 10-12)
Apparently, there were a few moochers among the Thessalonians—people who realized that living in a community with generous people willing to share could lead to a life of ease and idleness. So, instead of contributing to the community by doing their part, they were more than happy to sit back and enjoy the fruits of other people’s labor.
There are more than a few people in our world today who share this tendency. And, unfortunately, there are more than a few people in our world today who are eager to enable those who have this tendency. After all, we would reason, is it right to withhold food from someone who is unwilling to work? Isn’t it right to feed the hungry?
Apparently not if they’re hungry because they’re lazy.
Please note: Paul is talking about people who are unwilling to work, not people who are unable to work. Those are two very different things. There are some people who are so disabled that they cannot physically do any work at all, but they are certainly the exception. What about the rest? Why would Paul make this rule for this early Christian community?
Perhaps it is because God values work!
That’s right. Just as it was not good for man to be alone in the beginning, it also apparently isn't good for man to not have work—some sort of active purpose to carry out. The first reason Paul gives is because it keeps us from mischief. Idle people don’t actually do nothing. As Paul said, “They are not busy; they are busybodies.” In other words, people whose lives are not enriched by work often become troublemakers.
More importantly, though, as a result of our own societal experiments, we can see that allowing people to regularly receive that which they did not work to earn is degrading to them. It creates a false reality for them and, ultimately, strips them of their dignity.
Work isn't sinful. On the contrary, before sin entered this world, God commanded Adam and Eve to work, and the Bible says that command was actually a blessing: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” (Gen 1:28)
There are many who have come to equate work with drudgery, either because they don’t really like the job they’re doing or because work has become synonymous with getting a paycheck. But work is something God intends for everyone. Everyone can do something. Everyone can train their minds, their energies, and their efforts toward some worthy goal. Everyone has a unique contribution to make to their community and the world.
And that’s why God values work.