The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

“Ready for His Righteous Repayment” - Tribulation Purpose: God’s Righteous Repayment - 2 Thessalonians 1

As we mentioned in the introduction, the main topic of 1 Thessalonians was Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians to be ready for the return of Jesus at the Rapture. 2 Thessalonians is another inspired exhortation from Paul to the Thessalonians. This time he further aims at getting them ready for the return of Jesus by providing them with more details about the end times as they relate to the return of Jesus.

Apparently false teachers had crept into the church fold at Thessalonica and taught that the persecution coming upon the Thessalonians was evidence that the final latter days seven year Tribulation had begun and the Thessalonian Christians had been left behind and missed the Rapture. Paul writes this second letter to the Thessalonians to straighten out and clarify that that wasn’t the case and he does this by explaining what the latter days would actually be like in terms of the unfolding of prophetic events. That makes 2 Thessalonians important to us because we too need to have a handle on what to expect in the latter days leading up to the rapture of the church and Second Coming of Christ.


Judgment on those who Reach a Point of No Return


The first chapter of 2 Thessalonians speaks of the righteous judgment of God. There are a number of ways people of faith look at the idea of the judgment of God. Some relish and even rejoice in the idea of sinners getting “payback” in retribution for their sin and the pain it causes. Their mantra is “turn or burn baby.” Others look at the idea of God’s judgment sentimentally feeling judgment is not compatible with a God of love.  Finally, there are those who adopt a Biblical perspective on both God and His revelation of a coming righteous judgment on all humanity. This last group understands that Jesus has suffered the just wrath of God for the sins of the world in His crucifixion. Anyone who puts their faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord will be forgiven their sins and given Jesus’ righteousness by the grace of God. This last group sees God in a balanced scriptural way as equally just and loving. This author is in that final group. The aim of this study is to transfer more people into this final group of Biblically informed balanced believers in Jesus.


People have difficulty sometimes with what the Bible has to say about judgment. They recoil at the thought of eternal punishment and final judgment. Admittedly this is a very challenging and serious topic of scripture. But it is a reality. It is going to happen. It is going to have eternal permanent consequences for those who persist in sin and reject Jesus as their Savior and Lord.


But judgment becomes more understandable and acceptable when we understand it is righteous judgment. This is not a worldly judgment where injustice is so often part of the mix. God is Holy (Isaiah 6). He is just (Psalm 18:2). He is impartial and fair (Romans 2:11).  He is merciful (e.g. Gen. 18:25). God prohibits the perversion of justice and fairness (Deut. 24:17; 27:19). Moses said the following of God in his song: “He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He” (Deut. 32:4). In Psalms it states, “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD” (Psalm 33:5). God assures justice comes to the weak so that the powerful do not impose injustice on them (Psalm 72:4; 82:3). Righteousness, justice, mercy and truth are foundational to God’s throne: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face” (Psalm 89:14).


God has gone stupendously out of His way to establish His justice in His plan of redemption and justification. God has established a righteous Law to govern humanity and steer them along a way of abundant life. But humanity has broken such law and kicked against the disciplinary goads of God. God’s response? Did He annihilate humanity, scrap us and start over? No, instead He sent His own Son Jesus to pay the just price of consequence for our sin through His atoning death on the cross and then offer redemption freely by His grace to be received only by faith Humanity was and is guilty as sin. We are hopelessly lost in sin, doomed to and headed for eternity in hell. But God has reached down in Jesus and made a way for us to be righteously and justly forgiven through faith in Jesus (cf. Romans 1-5; 6:23). Incredibly the Bible states, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them” (2 Cor. 5:19). And He did this because He loved us (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). Humanity is inexcusably guilty of rebelling against their Creator. We are hopelessly lost in sin. But God Himself has provided a just solution to our sin through Jesus Christ. Then he offers that just solution and forgiveness of sin freely as a gift of His grace through faith in Jesus. How’s that for justice!


When we look at what God has done in Christ we come to see how wonderful His plan of redemption is. When we take into account His Genesis through Revelation plan of justice and redemption and the possibility of a personal eternal loving relationship with our Creator God of the Universe, it makes rejecting such a gracious offer that much more abhorrent and depraved. The sentence of eternal damnation is commensurate and appropriate for the offense (cf. Revelation 20-22). If we don’t’ see that the problem is with us not God.


When we look a little deeper and closer at those who resist the idea of God’s judgment what we find is not really a concern that God will judge unjustly, what we find is simply people who want to break God’s law take advantage and harm others through sin and not be held accountable for it. That is the real problem. People want to sin and do what they want to do with no thought of recompense or consequence for their behavior. That is really what motivates resistance to God’s judgment. And that is the perfect description of the unrighteousness and sin of those who rebel against God. 


The apostle John spoke of the deadening effects of continued willful resistance to the gracious outreach of the Spirit. John commented on such a condition when he stated, “But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: ‘Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them’” (John 12:37-40). It’s not that God prevents them from believing. It’s that God enforces the principle of reaping and sowing (Gal. 6:6-9). [1] They got to a point where they could not believe because they so persistently rejected God’s offer to believe. They could not believe because they would not believe. God solidified their decision.


When you reject the overtures of the Lord you don’t stay the same, you become harder, more calloused and calcified, deadened, desensitized to receive further offers and urgings to repent and turn to the Lord for forgiveness. And if the sinner persists in resisting the Spirit, a time evidently comes where they reach a point of no return; they lose the capacity to repent.


The following poem "The Hidden Line (The Destiny of Men)" by Joseph Addison Alexander (1809-1860) illustrates a point of no return where those who could once repent reach a depth of hardness of heart where they lose the capacity to repent or believe.


The Hidden Line

There is a time, we know not when,
A point we know not where,
That marks the destiny of men
To glory or despair.

There is a line by us unseen,
That crosses every path;
The hidden boundary between
God’s patience and his wrath.

To pass that limit is to die–
To die as if by stealth;
It does not quench the beaming eye
Or pale the glow of health.

The conscience may be still at ease,
The spirit lithe and gay;
That which pleases still may please,
And care be thrust away

But on that forehead God has set,
Indelibly a mark
Unseen by men, for men as yet
Are blind and in the dark

And yet doomed, man’s path below
May bloom as Eden bloomed;
He did not, does not, will not know,
Or feel that he is doomed

He knows, he feels that all is well,
And every fear is calmed;
He lives, he dies, he wakes in hell,
Not only doomed, but damned.

Oh, where is this mysterious bourn
By which our path is crossed;
Beyond which God himself hath sworn,
That he who goes is lost.

How far may we go on in sin?
How long will God forbear?
Where does hope end, and where begin
The confines of despair?

An answer from the skies is sent,
"Ye that from God depart,
While it is called today, repent,
And harden not your heart."

- Joseph Addison Alexander -


That’s a sobering poem. It speaks of a point of no return for those who persistently resist and rebel against the loving outstretched hand of God. It speaks of those who, because of persistent decision to harden themselves against God are going down a broad road to eternal destruction. God will finally pronounce judgment and sentence the sinner to hell for eternity, but it is the sinner who has chosen that path and is all to blame for such a sentence.


Have you repented and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ? Have you received forgiveness for your sins? If not, don’t put it off. This may be your last opportunity to do so. Today, right now is the time to turn from your sin to God through faith in Christ to be forgiven your sins and experience your second birth; a spiritual birth as the Holy Spirit indwells you.


Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul opens his letter by expressing the equality of “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” There is no mention of any inferior position of Jesus. Jesus is simply joined to the Father in the introduction. This is evidence again of Jesus’ deity.

Paul traditionally opens his letters with an invocation of grace and peace. He never puts peace before grace and that is intentional. You can’t experience the peace of God until you receive the grace of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Grace always precedes peace.

3 We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other,

Paul had spent a good portion of his first epistle to the Thessalonians exhorting them to “abound in love to one another and to all” (1 Thess. 3:12). These Thessalonian Christians are growing in their faith and it is “fitting” for Paul to acknowledge and positively affirm that encouraging them to still more growth. They have been obedient and applied what he had instructed them to do previously.

But unlike his greeting in 1 Thessalonians, Paul leaves out the phrase “patience of hope” (compare 1 Thess. 1:3). Paul mentions the faith and love of the Thessalonians in the second letter, but leaves our mention of their hope. Why this omission by Paul? The issue which prompted Paul’s writing this second epistle to the Thessalonian church was that false teachers had come to the church and were teaching that the Tribulation had occurred and apparently the Thessalonian Christians had been left behind at the Rapture. The thought of this would have destroyed the hope of the believers to be removed from this world prior to the Tribulation when God would pour out His righteous wrath on a Christ rejecting world. Hope is faith that the future holds good. When you omit the Rapture you undermine hope. In His good plan God will remove His people and not pour His wrath out upon them along with the sinful world. God will, like He did with Lot at Sodom, remove His people before he pours out His wrath. It would not be righteous for God to pour out His wrath on His people along with the unrighteous. We are righteous in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21) and God’s promise is that we are saved from His just wrath (e.g. Romans 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10).

In this second epistle Paul will clear up the confusion left by the false teaching that the Tribulation has already come by pointing out certain things that must occur before the Tribulation begins. The Rapture is imminent and can occur at any time; there are no events that have to precede it. But the Tribulation includes a number of events and developments that identify it clearly.

4 so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, 5 which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer;

Boasting about yourself is carnal and sinful. But boasting about others as a means of encouraging them is a healthy use of boasting. When was the last time you selflessly boasted about your spouses or your children’s or some other believer’s devotion to Jesus and growth in the Lord? There is a ministry of encouragement and we all should be partaking in it.

Here Paul is boasting about the Thessalonians’ “patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure.” When Christians overcome trials we should affirm them and encourage them by recognizing their endurance and faith.

Notice that the patient endurance through trials by these saints is “manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God.” In other words, even though the enemies of God have persecuted and tried to destroy God’s people and His plans, that they have not been able to do so is evidence of God’s power and His righteous judgment. God’s judgment is always righteous. We will see how the Tribulation period is a period of God’s righteous judgment and outpoured wrath. Some define God in a way that carves away any idea or mention of His righteous wrath or righteous judgment. But God would not be just if He did not recompense those who victimize the helpless or act in unjust ways such a homicide or genocide.

But being persecuted is also evidence that we are walking a godly path. Granted, sometimes Christians bring on persecution or negative reactions from others because of their obnoxious behavior. But the bible states that those who seek to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12).

6 since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you,

The idea that God actually would repay those who trouble His people is not a popular idea in our day. People want to eliminate any parameters of righteousness laid forth in scripture. They insert themselves amongst God’s people on their own terms in deference to God’s terms. In doing so they attempt to relegate God to little more than a lifeless idol. But God is not an idol. God is real and He is sovereign and He will define and uphold His definition of right and wrong. Those who persist in resisting and rebel against God will incur His righteous judgment. That is the message here. A person ignores Gods Holy Word at their own peril.

7 and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels,

Part of the purpose for the return of Jesus is to give rest and relief to God’s people who will be persecuted at the time of His return. This tells us that Christians in the latter days can expect persecution. It also tells us we can count on Jesus being “revealed” or returning in the clouds accompanied by the “mighty angels.” When Jesus comes back He is going to make a gigantic statement to this world.

The rapture of the church is the removal of those who are genuinely saved and spiritual born again from this world prior to the outpouring of God’s righteous judgment on a Christ rejecting world. Peter was inspired to write that “God knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the Day of Judgment” (2 Peter 2:9). “Out of” in this verse is a translation of the Greek preposition ek which “does not mean ‘to protect them while they are going through it.’ It means “to be taken out completely.” [2] this is what God did in the case of Lot, his family and God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18).

 8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When Jesus returns He will return to avenge the injustices perpetrated on His people. He will take vengeance on those “who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Failure or really refusal to know God who has made Himself known and knowable through Jesus Christ puts people in a position to be justly dealt with by Jesus. And disobedience to the gospel will be judged at the return of Jesus. Do you know God? Have you obeyed the gospel of Jesus?

9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,

The punishment that will be implemented by Jesus on the unbeliever is described as “everlasting destruction” (Greek olethron aionian). “Everlasting” (Greek aionian) means everlasting, non-stopping, without end. It is the same word used to describe “eternal life” or “everlasting life” (John 3:15-16; Romans 6:23; Titus 1:2).

“Destruction” (Greek olethron) means ruin, death, destruction. It is a sudden loss of life and possessions. It is a loss of all that is dear or valuable. It is ruination; and existence characterized by ruin. Ruin is the spoiling and permanent damage of something valuable. A ruinous existence would be an existence where everything valuable and worth living for is lost, ruined.

Therefore the idea of “everlasting destruction” is an never ending existence where that existence would be described by uselessness, purposelessness, meaninglessness, that leads to emptiness and a sense of worthlessness, no value or goals to attain, a state of utter hopelessness where improvement and good are not possible. That is what the unredeemed sinner has to look forward to.

“Destruction” is not annihilation or that the unrepentant sinner will cease to exist. No, those who are justly punished with “everlasting destruction” experience a never ending loss of meaningful existence and all they hold valuable.

Probably the most dire and punitive consequence of such an eternal destruction is the sinner’s removal “from the presence of the Lord.” This is the opposite of what Paul had mentioned in his first epistle to the Thessalonians when he said we don’t grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). As Christians we look forward to an eternity in the presence of the Lord or as Paul was inspired to write it, “And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (cf. 1Thess. 4:17). Since it is in the presence of the Lord where fullness of joy is found, this judgment of the sinner is one of eternal joylessness (cf. Psalm 16:11). There is nothing good about eternity in hell. There are no goals, no purpose for existence, no hope for change for the better. There is only an existence of eternal punishment. And there is no end to it. There will be no hope of a commutation of sentence or early release. There will be no release. By refusing Jesus they missed out on the blessing of “the glory of His power” meant to save them from the consequences of their sins.


Death is a Door to Two Eternal Destinies, not Annihilation


In the book of Job the question is asked, “If a man dies, will he live again?” (Job 14:14). Asking the question is easy, but the difficult part is finding someone to answer the question with authority and experience. Death is the great equalizer. Everyone dies: men and women, rich, poor, educated and uneducated, everyone.


People often fear death. “The ancient philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BC) recognized that the fear of death was present in everybody and therefore he sought a way to remove that fear. Epicurus taught that humanity not need fear death because human beings are nothing more than a composition of atoms which at death simply disperse and that is the end of things. Epicurus didn’t believe there were any gods to fear or anything to face once a person breathed their last. His teaching of maximum pleasure in this life with minimum pain and suffering dictated that everything ends when death occurred.” The Epicureans believed, “When the dust has soaked up a person’s blood, once he is dead, there is no resurrection.” Maybe that’s the way you look at death. There’s an alternative for you to consider. 


Some people deal with death by simply saying death is the end of our existence. They say in one form or the other that death leads to an annihilation of a person’s existence and that we simply end.


Some “Christian” oriented people claim a conditional immortality, that those who are unrighteous and die in their sins without having accepted Jesus as Savior aren’t destined to spend eternity in a place called hell but will simply be annihilated. They say that only those saved from sin spend an eternal life with God. But God’s word uses the same words for an “eternal” or “everlasting” existence for those destined to either heaven or hell. There are restorationists who believe that the wicked are given a second chance to receive Jesus as Savior after they die and only those who persist in rejecting Christ are then annihilated. Then there are those who view that suffering in hell for the wicked will be limited and that after their just punishment they are annihilated. [3]


Those who hold to annihilationism because they do not believe eternal punishment is in harmony with the God of love (e.g. 1 John 4:8). They rely on scriptures that appear to support their position such as Psalm 73:27 which states, “For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry.” They state that Jesus spoke of the broad gate that leads to “destruction” (Matthew 7:13). They define the Greek term aion which is translated as “eternal” in the Bible as not referring to being an everlasting time but only an age or period of time. They point to scriptures that speak of the end of evil and equate the perpetuaity of evil in hell, even that it is eternally punished, and say it is still an evil that exists and therefore contradicts verses that speak of evil’s end (cf. Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:20). Lastly they say that if there is a never ending place of torment it is only reserved for the devil, his demons, antichrist and false prophet (e.g. Rev. 20:10).


The people who justify the idea of annihilationism do so based on a skewed view of the nature of God. They say it would be unloving for God to punish anyone eternally. But God is loving and just. It is a huge error to project on God a worldly definition of “love” that is not just. Justice is getting what a person deserves in terms of punishment for sin. Granted God is merciful so that people do not get what they justly deserved but only based on the just payment for sin made by Jesus on the cross (2 Cor. 5:21). God is even gracious; He gives us what we don’t deserve. But the sinner who rejects God’s offer of mercy and grace will only have God’s just recompense to look forward to in eternity. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked and their judgment that follows, but there is a judgment that follows for the wicked (e.g. Ezekiel 33:11).


Throughout the Bible death involves the desolving of the body but the human spirit continues in existence (cf. 2 Thess. 1:9). The prospect of eternal life and not eternal punishment is part of the incentive and “good news” of the gospel (cf. Romans 5:21). The Bible speaks of eternal life for those who believe in Jesus (John 3:16) and it speaks graphically of a never ending punishment for those who die in their sins – “And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed Me, for their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24; quoted by Jesus in Mark 9:44).  


Annihilationists have a shallow unscriptural definition of the justice of God only surpassed by their superficial understanding of the seriousness of sin. Therefore they misplace mercy toward guilty sinners who lived a life of constant rejection of God and willful ignorance to the countless offers of salvation made by God’s grace. All one has to do to view the seriousness of rejecting Jesus and that to do so warrants eternal punishment is to look at the cross. Jesus bore the sins of the world and the separation that sin works (Isaiah 59:1-2). Jesus was brutalized, beaten, scourged and crucified all to pay the debt of sin for any and all sinners who trust in Him as Savior. To reject Jesus’ atoning death on the cross is an offense deserving of an eternal punishment. To think anything less is a view that fails to grasp the depth of Jesus love and sacrifice.


Lastly, the idea that those who don’t go to heaven will be annihilated based on the idea that heaven could not be tearless (Rev. 21:4) if those there were aware of loved ones who were sentenced to hell for eternity. The argument goes that even if we are in 100% agreement with God’s justice we would be heartbroken eternally for their loss. But if God is able to wipe out the earthly memory of Amalek (e.g. Exodus 17:14; Deut. 25:19), of His unrighteous people (Deut. 9:14), of “those who do evil” (Psalm 34:16), and of the unmerciful (Psalm 109:14-16) why might He not be able to do the same eternally? Couldn’t God remove our memory of those He has justly removed from the book of Life? (Psalm 69:28;  Rev. 3:5). Perhaps there are no tears in heaven because God has blotted out the memory of those who are eternally punished for having rejected His Son and Gospel.

There is frequently great fear and uncertainty about death. Job says death is the “king of terrors” (Job 18:14). In the movie the Bucket List, a movie about coming to grips with death, one of the dying characters state, “We all want to go on forever, don’t we? We fear the unknown. Everybody goes to that wall. Yet nobody knows what’s on the other side. That’s why we fear death.”


There is One Person who has gone to that wall, passed to the other side and has returned to tell us what to expect. That Person is Jesus Christ. No credible scholar doubts that Jesus was an actual historical figure. Scholars also accept Jesus performed miracles. There is universal agreement Jesus was crucified and died. But it is the resurrection that makes Jesus the expert Who can answer our questions about death and if there is an afterlife.


Jesus tells us three things about life after death:


  1. Jesus tells us there is life (eternal life) after death.
  2. Jesus tells us that when a person dies there are two possible eternal destinies a person can experience; one negative; one positive; one to be avoided at all costs; one to be sought at all cost.
  3. Jesus tells us there is a way to assure and ensure that we experience a positive eternal destiny.
    First, that Jesus taught there was existence after death is seen in the following verses. The Sadducees denied the resurrection but Jesus said to them: “He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.” (Mark 12:26-27). Jesus states that those who died in the past still have an existence. Jesus comforted His disciples by saying He was going away “to prepare a place for you” (cf. John 14:1-4). Jesus spoke of those who would “live forever” (John 6:58). This proves Jesus taught at least that righteous believers have an afterlife destiny to look forward to.

    Secondly, Jesus taught there were two eternal destinies. Jesus, in His account of a beggar named Lazarus and the rich man who died stated they each had an eternal existence but two very different destinies; one good; the other bad (Luke 16:22-23).  He speaks again of two eternal destines when He states:


  • Matthew 25:46 - And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”


In Matthew 25:46 Jesus uses the same term for “everlasting” and “eternal” which is the Greek aionian. Both punishment and life are non-ending, perpetual, forever and ever. If one says punishment is not everlasting then the consequence is that life also would not be eternal. Jesus by using forms of the same word in speaking of punishment and life as eternal was indicating He viewed both as eternal. Jesus never taught that the unrighteous who die would be annihilated in any way. This is further confirmed in other parts of the New Testament (cf. Acts 24:15; Rev. 2:11).


In another passage Jesus said:


  • John 5:25-29 - Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, 27 and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth— those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

Here Jesus speaks jointly of the “resurrection of life” and the “resurrection of condemnation.” Again He equates the two destinies in the same afterlife destiny.


These verses point to an afterlife and eternal existence for both the righteous and the wicked.


Finally, is it possible to determine our eternal destiny? Is it possible to avoid hell and secure heaven? The answer to this question is a clear YES! In Hebrews it states: “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, (Hebrews 9:27). At death a person will be judged as to their eternal destiny. Upon death there is an initial determination of where a person goes to heaven or hell. The final sentence will be enforced later (cf. Rev. 20). In Luke 16 we see the reality of these afterlife destinies. The beggar is in the arms of Abraham and the rich man is in a place of torment. Both these places are real but temporary until the culmination and establishment of God’s final order as seen at the end of Revelation (cf. Revelation 21-22).


In John chapter 3 Jesus had a very down to earth conversation with a religious Pharisee named Nicodemus. You might think a religious man like Nicodemus would have a confident understanding about the afterlife but he did not. This shows us being religious does not secure heaven in the afterlife.


What did Jesus say was necessary to secure heaven in the afterlife? Jesus said a person must be “ born again” (John 3:1-18). The person who turns from their sins to God (repents) and receives Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, the afterlife will consist of an eternity spent with God.

But for those who reject this good news of the Gospel, their destiny will be spent in an eternity separated from God’s presence.


In Hebrews it states, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews9:27). When a person dies they will face judgment. This life is our only opportunity to be saved from our sins and receive eternal life so we can spend eternity with Jesus. But once a person dies they will receive their eternal destination based on the decision they made concerning Jesus in this life. This is why Jesus warned: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Mat. 7:13-14).  


The most important decision a person will ever make in this life is whether or not they receive Jesus as Savior and Lord so that they can spend eternity with Him in the next life. Discussing death and the judgment it leads to may be frightening to some. It doesn’t have to cause fear in us. Listen to what one commentator states:


“G. B. Hardy, a Canadian Scientist, once said, "I have only two questions to ask. One, has anyone ever defeated death? Two, did he make a way for me to do it also?" The answer to both of Hardy’s questions is “yes.” One Person has both defeated death and provided a way for everyone who puts their trust in Him to overcome it as well. Epicurus may have believed that everyone fears death, but the truth is no one who trusts in Christ needs to be afraid. Rejoicing in this fact, the Apostle Paul wrote, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’" (1 Corinthians 15:54–55).[4]


“If a man die, will he live again?” Our answer is “Yes.” But the next answer is even more important and challenging – “Where will you spend your afterlife?”

10 when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.

Paul points out that Jesus will be glorified and admired by believers when in the latter days He returns, and this is the result of those who believed at the initial time of this writing and them passing on the truth of God generation to generation.


11 Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, 12 that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.


Paul concludes the first chapter of this epistle with reference to his prayers for them. Paul prayed that “God would” or for God’s work to be fulfilled in the Thessalonians. The five things which follow in Paul’s prayer are a product of God’s working in and through the Thessalonians not them struggling and straining in their own strength to do something. the Thessalonians needed to live their lives in surrender to the Lord. That was their only hope of realizing spiritual success and heavenly reward. God must empower them to do what He called them to do. All we are and all we do begin with God.


What were the five things Paul prayed God would do in the Thessalonians?


First, Paul prayed “That our God would count you worthy of this calling” (1:11a). Paul’s prayer is God centered. He is praying for the Thessalonians but His focus is on God. His prayer is that when God looks at and assesses these believers that he “would count you worthy of this calling.” We are all called by God to live and do various things in this life. This prayer will help us discover our calling from God no matter the station in life He has sovereignly placed us. Wherever we are and whatever we do, it is a God ordained platform to fulfill His calling in our lives. Fulfilling our calling will happen if we cooperate in the rest of Paul’s prayer to these Thessalonians.


Second, Paul prayed that God would “fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness” (1:11b). Why do we do what we do? Is it to create a feeling of satisfaction in us? Is it to gain a feeling of accomplishment by achieving goals? Those may be present  but they are only peripheral. Our objective and purpose in all we do in the name of Jesus is to “fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness.” We need to seek God’s will and what His good plan and purpose is. Only when God’s “good pleasure of His goodness” is sought, only with that motivation in what we do, can we hope to be successful in a holy way.


Third, Paul prayed that God would fulfill “the work of faith with power” (1:11c). When you combine God and faith in work the result is powerful. We can’t work and our faith will be weak if we don’t rely on God and in particular the work of the Holy Spirit. That is the message and testimony in the book of Acts (Acts 1:8 and its fulfillment in Acts 2 and the rest of the book of Acts). Paul prayed for the practical application in life of God’s work in the Thessalonians.


Fourth, Paul prayed “that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him,” (1:12a). That Jesus would be glorified is the ultimate objective of all God desires to do. In all that we do we should seek to glorify Jesus (e.g. 1 Cor. 10:31). It’s not about us it is about Him. We can’t do this in our own strength but we can do it by God’s grace.


Fifth, Paul prayed that all of this would be accomplished “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:12b). Paul wrote the Corinthians that all that he was and all that he could do was attributable to the grace of God working in him (1 Cor. 15:10). He wrote to the church in Rome that God’s grace was always more abundant that any sinful obstacle in their lives (Romans 5). Paul opened all his letters with a mention of the grace of God, including the ones written to the Thessalonians. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that Paul references God’s grace in his prayer on behalf of the Thessalonians here.


As you consider this prayer what does it reveal to you? Are you relying on God; are you surrendered to His work in and through you? Are you answering and living for His call on your life? Is “the good pleasure of His goodness” your prime objective? Would you describe your work in faith as powerful? Are you seeking to glorify Jesus? Are you relying on the grace of God for all of this to happen in your life? Take some time. Answer these questions. They are important questions. Answering them correctly and surrendering yourself to God in light of them will lead to a life of blessing in this life and the next.


[1] Like with Pharaoh of Egypt who willfully chose to harden his heart and resist the commands of God, each success time of resistance his heart was hardened by God in line with his decision (compare statements of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart [Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17] and Pharaoh hardening his own heart [Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:34] ).
[2] Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (p. 1352). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
[4] – “Is There an Afterlife?”

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