Obviously, today we start with a new book of the Bible—the second letter of Paul to the Thessalonians. Like the first letter, it is written clarify what is going to happen in the future.
Having just finished NT Wright’s Surprised By Hope, I am particularly mindful that this hope is not that we will fly away to some spiritualized heaven, but that we will be resurrected to a new heaven and a new earth.
In other words, though transformed by the life giving power of God’s Spirit, earth will continue to exist. That’s why early Christians were so ready to suffer persecution and affliction in the here and now. They realized this world, and the people in it, mattered. They realized that following Jesus wasn’t just about escaping this world with their free pass to heaven, but doing their part in redemptive history by working with the Spirit towards the day when this new heaven and new earth are realized.
In these verses, after Paul writes his normal thanksgivings he goes on to write about divine retribution and eternal punishment. These words were meant to reassure and hearten the Thessalonians—though they were presently being persecuted for their faith, justice is on the way. There will be a second coming when “the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven” and God will judge. Though life may not be fair now, and evil does sometimes prosper, the day is coming when God will set things right.
Still, these are hard words for many of us to read—words of God “punishing” (TNIV), “inflicting vengeance (NRSV), or “evening up the score (The Message). The reality of hell, and that this appears to be a very possibility for those who resist God and work again Him and his purposes, is quite disturbing.
But that, I think, is exactly the point. Bono, of the band U2, talks about social justice on one of his albums and says, “Am I bugging you yet?” Well, this passage is meant to “bug” us. It’s meant to bug us enough that we do something about it. It’s meant to bug us enough that we will allow God to “make us worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in us, and us in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ (verses 11-12).
How have you and I resolved to help build God’s kingdom in very real and practical ways? What concrete works of faith are being manifested in your life and in mine? These are the practical applications of the Bible’s teaching about eternity. Who can ignore them?