The Sunday of Last Judgment
November 6, 2022
2 Thessalonians 1:5-10
The Last Judgment Will Bring Both Relief and Punishment!
All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 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. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Have you ever been treated unfairly? Have you ever been criticized for doing what you knew was the right thing to do? Have you ever gotten in trouble at school or disciplined at work for something you did not do? How do you react? Do you protest and say, “It’s not fair!” Do you shake your head in resignation because you think that there isn’t much you can do to change the situation? Do you hope that someday you can turn the tables and get back at the person who has wronged you?
Just as it is not unusual to find ourselves in situations like this in our ordinary everyday lives, so also it is not unusual to find ourselves in this type of situation because of our connection to Jesus. You may recall how Jesus Himself warned His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:18, 20).
The hatred and the persecution that we experience at the hands of the unbelieving world could be overwhelming— but only if we allow it to be. Today as we gather together to celebrate The Sunday of Last Judgment our goal is to look past all the hardships and all the difficulties we endure as we strive to both live and proclaim “the truth” we heard about last Sunday (John 8:31-36). When we look past all of the difficulties and all of the hardships that we endure in this world we will be strengthened by this truth: The Last Judgment Will Bring Both Relief and Punishment!
In order for us to properly understand our text for today I think it is necessary to look at what Paul says to the Thessalonian Christians in the verses preceding our text. In 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 Paul writes, “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.”
The Christians in Thessalonica were experiencing precisely what Jesus had predicted! Their faith and trust in Jesus coupled together with their faithfulness in sharing Jesus with others brought “persecution and trials” and “hatred” into their lives. And while the unbelievers’ goal was to harm the faith of these Christians, while the unbelievers’ goal was to destroy the fellowship that existed between these children of God— the result was the exactly opposite! The persecutions resulted in their faith “growing more and more”! The trials resulted in their “love for each other increasing”!
Paul then points to the growing faith and the increasing love of the Thessalonians— in the face of all these persecutions and trials they were enduring— by saying, “All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.” In a way that goes beyond earthly explanation, Jesus’ disciples rejoiced at the opportunity of suffering for the sake of their Savior! For example, when the apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin and ordered to stop teaching in Jesus’ name— they refused! When the disciples were flogged for their refusal to stop teaching in Jesus’ name, we’re told, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).
In addition to assuring the Thessalonians that their perseverance and faith in the face of persecutions and trials is “evidence” that they are “judged” by God to be “worthy” of His “kingdom,” Paul also points the Thessalonians ahead to the Day of Last Judgment and assures them that the Day of Last Judgment will bring them “relief.” Look once again at what Paul tells them, “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus Christ is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.”
“Relief.” That word takes on tremendous significance when we realize that the word which is translated here as “trouble” paints the picture of being “pressed in a narrow space,” or, “being pressed by inner and outer difficulties.” You know this kind of “pressure,” don’t you. It’s the “pressure” that you feel when you boldly stand up for “the truth” of God’s holy Word. It’s the “pressure” that you feel when people try to convince you to “loosen up” a little and “enjoy” the sinful pleasures this world has to offer. It’s the “pressure” that you feel to re-prioritize your life so that worship, Bible study and prayer don’t “interfere” with sports or recreation or work. It’s the “pressure” that you feel when your faithfulness to Him (Pointing to the cross) makes you feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Whenever you are feeling this “pressure” you long for “relief.” Your old sinful nature will try to convince you that you can find some “relief” by simply giving in and going along with the crowd. While this might indeed give you some degree of “relief,” deep down in your soul you know that this kind of “relief” will be temporary— at best!
A far better option is to follow the example of the Thessalonians. Whenever you are being “pressured” by persecutions, whenever you are feeling trapped in a narrow space by “trials”— double down on growing your faith with God’s holy Word and God’s holy Sacrament! Reach out to the family of believers and ask them for help! As your faith grows “more and more,” as your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ “increases” your perseverance will serve as evidence that God Himself counts you as being “worthy” of His eternal Kingdom! As your faith grows “more and more,” as your love for your fellow Christians “increases” you can help each other stay focused on the fact that the Day of Last Judgment will bring you “relief”— perfect, lasting, complete “relief”!
While the Day of Last Judgment will most certainly bring “relief” to the faithful, it will also bring punishment to the unfaithful. Look at what Paul says here in our text, “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 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.”
These words once again remind us that from God’s perspective— which is the only perspective that counts!— all people fall into one of two categories. There are believers and unbelievers. There are those who know who the true God is and what He has done for them (Pointing to the cross) and those who do not. There are those who “obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus,” that is, those who have been given the faith that allows them to “listen” to the message of the Gospel, and those who “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” because they do not have the faith that enables them to “listen” to the Good News the Gospel proclaims.
On the Day of Last Judgment those who do not believe in Jesus as this world’s only Savior from sin will experience “everlasting destruction.” Their punishment will be to spend eternity in hell where “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48; Isaiah 66:24). Their punishment will include being “shut out from the presence of the Lord.” They will be forever banished from the presence of God. They will be forever cut off from even the “fringe benefits” of God’s grace which they enjoyed here on this earth— such as sunshine and rain, friendship and rest.
Their “everlasting destruction” will also mean that they will be “shut out from…the majesty of his power.” This means that they will not be allowed to see and to appreciate the unparalleled majestic power that surrounds the Almighty God as He sits on His throne in His heavenly Kingdom surrounded by all the saints and by millions upon millions of powerful angels. This means that they will not experience the majestic power that transforms lowly mortal bodies into glorious immortal bodies. Their punishment of “everlasting destruction” does not end there, however.
The worst part of their punishment is that they will know. They will know that it didn’t have to be this way! They will know that when the Bible said, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” — this included them! They will know that when Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished!” “I have reached my goal!” “Your sins are forgiven!” — this included their sins too! They will know that their refusal to “listen” to the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, their rejection of what the one and only living God had so graciously done for them— that is the only reason they are enduring “everlasting destruction.”
Paul then ends our text on an extremely positive note. When the Day of Last Judgment arrives what will we experience? What will we see for all of eternity? We will see our Savior “glorified in his holy people”! We will experience our Savior being “marveled at among all those who have believed”! On the Day of Last Judgment we will understand like never before that purely by God’s power and purely by God’s grace we are God’s “holy people”— people who perfectly reflect God’s “glory,” people who will bring Him the “glory” and the praise that He so rightfully deserves! On the Day of Last Judgment we will understand like never before that purely by God’s power and purely by God’s grace we will “marvel”— for all of eternity! We will “marvel” at who our God is! We will “marvel” at what our God has done for us! We will “marvel” at what our God has so freely and so graciously given to us!
While the Day of Last Judgment is not a topic that a lot of people like to focus on there is a reason as to why we celebrate this Sunday near the end of each and every church year. That reason is very simply this: The Day of Last Judgment is coming and we need to be prepared for it! Whether it is the day of a person’s death or the day on which the “Lord Jesus Christ is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels,” we know that this day will result in one of two things for all people: either punishment or relief. May God grant that we will always stay close to Him now so that we can “marvel” at Him for all of eternity!
To God be the glory!