Persecution is a horrible thing! Suffering under the hands of wicked men who scorn and despise the cause of Christ, whom a believer represents, is not pleasant. To be pressed in on every side so that our place in this world becomes so small we can barely function is not joyous but grievous.
This was happening to the Thessalonian believers. They were suffering persecutions and tribulations. The apostle Paul writes this letter in order to encourage and strengthen them in their sufferings.
We consider today II Thessalonians 1:7-10: “To you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.”
A passage of Scripture is not always easy to study, but this one expresses a reality of which every believer ought to be aware. That reality is summarized in the words of a verse out of Philippians 1: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” You see, the wicked world hates Christ’s church. Throughout history that hatred has revealed itself at times in fierce persecution.
We are told that this will happen just prior to Christ’s return as well. There will be great tribulation, during which time the Antichrist will attempt to destroy the church. Yet, as we await such a time, you and I are greatly comforted by Scripture. Though such troubles are never desired, though they may be grievous, nevertheless they produce wonderful fruits in the life of the child of God. Affliction yields the peaceable fruits of righteousness. The child of God grows exceedingly in his faith, abounds in his love, and with patience endures.
This is the encouragement Paul gives the believers in Thessalonica. In the verses we consider in our broadcast today the believer is encouraged to endure persecution. When Christ comes, we need not fear that it will not be worth the suffering. In the day of the Lord’s return we will see the wicked punished with everlasting destruction. Christ will level His vengeance upon the enemies of His church who showed such cruel hatred toward God’s saints. But also in that day, Christ will be glorified in us and we will receive rest unto our souls. This we consider today as we look for the second coming of Jesus in the new year. Christ comes and is soon to be revealed!
I. The Glorious Revelation
Almost 2000 years ago God sent forth His Son to be born into our flesh. That coming of Jesus Christ into our flesh in His advent was His first coming. Some 33 years later, just before Christ’s death, He made to His church this promise in John 14:2 and 3: I am going to heaven to prepare a place for you there, but I will come again to receive you to myself, that where I am you may be also. This promise of our Savior was confirmed by the angels in Acts 1:11 who stood with the disciples as they gazed into heaven while Jesus ascended: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen him go into heaven.”
Ever since that time, the church of Jesus Christ has looked for the second coming of Jesus from heaven. It is that second coming of Jesus on the clouds of glory that Paul speaks of in the verses we consider. They speak of the events that will take place at the second coming of Jesus.
There are a number of events set forth in this passage that surround the second coming of our Lord. In the first place, we are told in verse 7 that the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven. At the time of Christ’s ascension, He bodily left this earth and took up His residence in heaven. There He has continued ever since for the interest of the church. In heaven He has ruled over all the events of this earth and there also prepares a place for His children. But that means, of course, that since Christ is in heaven according to His human nature, He is not physically present with us. According to His humanity, Christ is in heaven, and for that reason He promises us that He will come again a second time from heaven in order to usher in the new heavens and the new earth. That will take place at the end of time. Christ will return from heaven for us. That in the first place.
In the second place, we learn that Christ will appear bodily! Upon Christ’s return He shall be revealed from heaven! And that term “revealed” here in verse 7 speaks of Christ’s appearance! Christ will appear bodily for all to see! This in itself will be miraculous, of course! How will everyone on the earth be able to see Him? But it will indeed take place. He shall appear for all to see. Yet, there is more involved in this term “revealed.” It refers to making known that which was at one time hidden. You see, for two thousand years now Christ has dwelt in heaven. Man has not seem him. The church has preached about His coming and warned men about His imminent return, but Christ has not yet appeared. Christ’s return is yet hidden, so to speak. Because of this, the wicked scoff at the church and mock the church—they have not seen Christ return as the church proclaims they will. Men even within the church itself debate about the appearance of Christ and what will happen at His return. There is yet so much that is hidden. But when Christ returns it will be the revelation of what yet remains such a mystery to us. When Christ returns we will see Him face to face. In our flesh we will see our Lord of glory. He will be there for us and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is the Lord from heaven who has returned as He promised.
In the third place we learn that when Christ returns He will be accompanied by the angels. God’s angels are those heavenly beings created by God to be ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for us who are the heirs of salvation. They will be there when Christ returns. Their function will be to gather God’s elect people scattered throughout the earth unto their place in heavenly glory.
But what stands on the foreground in this passage in the fourth place is the glory of it all! Christ returns as Lord! Paul tells us that the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven! Christ will appear as King of kings and Lord of lords. He will be arrayed in splendor and girded round with might! That is what glory is all about, after all! It is the magnificence, excellency, the dignity that exudes from Christ’s being that brings honor and praise to Him. Everyone will look upon Christ as He descends in the sky, and they will bow the knee to Him! They will confess that He has issued forth the decree that brings all things to this end. Even the wicked will be forced to confess that Christ is Lord! And this glory of Christ will be manifested in His great power and might revealed in that day.
Verse 9 speaks of the power of Christ’s glory! Christ will in His might bring about all that takes place in that day of His second coming. No one will be able to resist Him. All His enemies, including Satan himself, will be exposed as the puny, weak, powerless creatures that they really are. They might in comparison to you and me be powerful forces we cannot resist. But not so with Christ. He is Lord. There is no creature great or small that will be able to stand in His way in that great and dreadful day of the Lord!
That might of Christ is His by virtue of who He is. It is an inherent power. It belongs to Christ first of all because He is the Son of God! All that takes place at this coming is brought about by Christ Himself as God. But there is another reason this power is Christ’s. He earned that power by means of His death and resurrection! By means of His death Christ has overcome the power of sin and Satan. He has crushed them under His feet! By His resurrection Christ has destroyed the power of death and the grave! For that reason, God has given Christ a place at His right hand. At the right hand of God Christ has all power to issue forth God’s decrees that bring about the end!
This might and power of Christ will be revealed in two ways at the time of His coming. First of all, it will be revealed in the angels. Verse 7 speaks of mighty angels. The might of the angels is not their own. It is Christ’s, but when He sends forth those angels, they will perform His command. And they will, in performing that command, show forth the inherent power of Christ. Everyone will see in those angels the power of Christ Himself.
Christ’s power will reveal itself in a second way too. Although the phrase “in flaming fire” at the beginning of verse 8 of our text appears to be connected with the vengeance Christ takes on the wicked, it should not be read that way. Rather, we should read it in connection with verse 7: “the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire!!!” Christ and His angels come in flaming fire! This is reference, you understand, to the burning of the universe. God will destroy, not just the earth, but the universe at the time of Christ’s coming with fire and brimstone! Amidst that fire Christ shall be revealed in all His power! Every creature shall know that Christ in His power has sent this fire to purge the world of its sin and of sinful man who has corrupted this universe! Christ shall heap fire upon those who have troubled the saints and who have rejected God! They will be destroyed in the fire of Christ’s wrath both temporally and eternally!
II. The Double Purpose
That leads us to the point that Paul now makes in verses 8, 9, and 10 of our text, that is, the twofold purpose of God in the coming of Christ. That double purpose is to glorify Himself in the salvation of the saints and to do so as well in the destruction of the wicked. Both of these will take place when Christ returns. This passage does not speak of several different returns of Christ by which He accomplishes this. It speaks of Christ’s coming as one, last, final coming during which Christ will glorify Himself in His saints and punish the wicked. That is clear enough from the Word of God before us today.
The positive purpose in Christ’s coming according to verse 10 is to be glorified in His saints and admired in all them that believe. Christ comes to glorify Himself in His saints or among His saints. In the last day, the day of Christ’s return, He will call His saints to His side. They will surround Him as He glorifies Himself. He will send forth His angels throughout this world to gather to Him in the air all of His saints. These will be gathered together with Christ, and with the saints Christ will also have raised from the dead. All will be gathered around Him as He gloriously takes them with Him to heaven—that one grand and beautiful bride of Christ adorned for her bridegroom! Beautiful! Christ, the bridegroom, decked in honor and power and praise, together with those whom He has cleansed in His blood—the saints, those whom He has sanctified and perfected, those set apart for Him. Those saints will shine in the beauty of the salvation Christ has earned for them, and as that one body of Christ is taken to the new heavens and new earth, Christ will be glorified in them.
That glory will come to Him by way of the saints’ admiration of Christ. God’s saints are believers. Those saints, those believers in the day that Christ is revealed at the end of time, will admire that Lord! When their eyes shall behold their Lord face to face, they will marvel at His glory! They will bow before Him in worship and humbly admire Him for His gracious work of salvation—a salvation begun in their hearts and now brought to its perfect end through Christ’s coming! Such is the purpose of Christ’s coming, first of all.
But there is a flip side to all of this. Not all men are saints. Not all men believe on Jesus Christ. There are those, to use the words of Paul in our text, verse 8, who “know not God neither obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Those who have faith are those who know God and Jesus Christ. But there is no work of saving faith in unbelievers. For that reason such men reject the testimony of Scripture. They hear the gospel proclaimed to them, and they turn their backs on Christ and salvation. Those who know not God are offended when they hear about their sin and their need for salvation. Or they simply do not care when told of it. They see no need for the crucified Christ. They despise the Christ of the Scriptures and refuse to heed the call of the gospel to repent and believe! These were exactly those who were troubling God’s people in Thessalonica. The wicked of this earth always trouble God’s saints, if not with threats and mockings, then with temptation. And for their unbelief and disobedience God will recompense tribulation to them.
In the day Christ returns He personally will take vengeance on our enemies. When our enemies hurt us and despitefully use us, we need to bear it patiently. Christ comes again, and He carries His reward with Him. That reward for the wicked is punishment. Christ will take vengeance on His and our enemies. Christ comes to avenge those who were persecuted for His sake. That will happen when He punishes the wicked and disobedient with everlasting destruction.
Destruction. Christ will punish the wicked by alienating them totally from the light of God’s countenance. They will be cast out into darkness, far from the presence of the light and favor of God. That is what we learn in verse 9, where Paul writes, “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” The punishment of the wicked will be destruction away from the presence of the Lord and His blessed kingdom of joy and peace. They will be destroyed by being cast out of the blessed glory that is found at the right hand of power. All joy, peace, security, comfort, and so on will be taken from them. They will be destroyed in an everlasting realm of bitterness, depression, sorrow, and pain! They will languish in torment unto all eternity. Forevermore they will be cast away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power! There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Frightening, is it not?
III. The Blessed End
According to this Word of God before us today, that is the twofold purpose of God in the coming of Christ at the end of time. In that day, the wicked shall perish, but God’s saints will share in the glory of their Lord. That shows us what their blessed end will be. They will be given rest. Paul writes at the outset of verse 7, “To you who are troubled rest with us.”
Beloved believer and saint, are you troubled? I know that the trouble referred to in this passage is that caused by persecution. But are there not troubles we confront now too—some of them in a roundabout way due to the wicked around us? Are you troubled? Perplexed? Persecuted? Cast down? Are there sorrows you are called upon to bear? Then know this, Christ is coming! That is our hope in a new year. We need not doubt that Christ comes. His coming is a certainty! Everything we have been taught in this Word of God shall come to pass.
The end of it all is this: rest—blessed, wonderful rest! Ah, that sounds so good, doesn’t it? To rest! When we are tired from a long day of toilsome labor, rest sounds like the best thing in the world. When we are surrounded by the toils and burdens of this life, when we are weary from the labor found in our struggle against sin, when we are troubled with persecution—then the rest of eternal glory sounds good. Well, Paul says, come rest with us. We will rest together. That rest will be ours when we reach glory. There will be no more sin and no more pain. We will be at perfect peace with God! And we will work the works of the Lord unto all eternity.
But that rest is not ours only in the future. That rest is ours right now. Paul tells the Thessalonian believers to rest right now! We do. No matter what the troubles of this life may be, we leave them at the foot of the cross and we rest there! What blessed peace dwells in our hearts at the cross of Jesus Christ! And what glory awaits you and me when He returns!