Revealed from Heaven in Blazing Fire

Judgment and eternal destruction. Those are not user friendly topics, and thus they tend to be ignored in a consumer-centered theology. But in 2 Thessalonians 1:6–10, as well as elsewhere, the Bible makes clear that they are very real. Paul’s focus is not primarily on an event, but on a person — Jesus Christ, returning in glory.

The Lord Jesus will be revealed in blazing fire! Your Lord will be revealed as the Judge. History is not an endless cycle. It is not meaningless It is moving towards a goal. God’s righteous judgment will be revealed in the day of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is important for the Thessalonians, who were persevering through persecution and trials. “Apocalypse” is not just the name of a movie. It refers to the awe-filled appearing, unexpected unveiling of the Lord from heaven. The Day of the Lord is coming! Notice the Old Testament imagery Paul piles up: Psalm 79:6; Isaiah 66:15,16; Jeremiah 10:25 all speak of judgment. Joel 2:1, 2 and Zepheniah 1:14–16 describe this as the day of the Lord.

That will be terrible day, for the disobedient will be shut out from the presence of the Lord. The punishment will be eternal. That does not mean an annihilation that lasts forever (and thus is eternal), but rather an ongoing punishment. Eternal is associated with the age to come, as Vos points out, and thus carries with it the idea of continuing. We may cringe at eternal judgment, but remember that God is just. Think of terrible, cruel crimes. Recognize that without judgment, without retribution, this would be an impossible, a meaningless universe. The worst thing about hell is not the fire or brimstone, but the separation from God, the experiencing of only his wrath. The fact that Christ is coming as Judge means that you do not have to take matters into your own hands.

“The idea of the Antichrist in general and that of the apostasy in particular reminds us that we may not expect an uninterrupted progress of the Christianization of the world until the parousia. As the reign of truth will be extended, so the forces of evil will gather strength, especially toward the end. The universal sway of the kingdom of God cannot be expected from missionary effort alone: it requires the eschatological interposition of God.”

Geerhardus Vos. “Eschatology of the New Testament,” Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, p. 41

Marvel at Christ’s coming. He will be glorified in you. The coming of Christ is not only to vindicate his justice, though his coming does validate and fully establish his kingdom. The Thessalonians had focused on Christ’s return, but in a near-sighted way, 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5. He also comes to be marveled at by his people. Picture yourself looking at the Judge in that day, and saying, he humbled himself to be my Savior!

“It is specifically Christ who is appointed by the Father to bring about the end of the history of humankind and the world. And he is appointed to this role because he is the Savior, the perfect Savior. The work he completed on earth is only a part of the great work of redemption he has taken upon himself. And the time he spent here is only a small part of the centuries over which h is appointed as Lord and King. Anointed by the Father from all eternity, he began to engage in his prophetic, priestly, and royal activity immediately after sin came into the world. He continued that activity throughout all the revolving centuries since. And one day, at the end of the times, he will complete it…. [T]he return of Christ unto judgment is not an arbitrary addition that can be isolated from his preceding work and viewed by itself…. It is the last and highest step in the state of his exaltation.”

Herman Ridderbos, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, p. 685

Continue to trust and obey! The ones who will be marveling in that day (instead of calling on the rocks to fall and cover them) will be those who, like the Thessalonians, believed the message the Apostle proclaimed. The coming of your Judge means that you can live with a peaceful heart, even in persecution. You don’t have to get even. The Lord sets all straight. Your obedient life today begins the process of marveling at the majesty, power, and glory of the coming Judge.

Judgment and eternal punishment may be unpopular topics, but ignoring them does not make them disappear. Prepare for the Day of the Lord by fleeing to and trusting in the One who will certainly be your Judge.