Benjamin hurried down the narrow street toward home as dusk fell over Thessalonica. It wasn’t safe for a Christian Jew alone. Suddenly he sensed he wasn’t. A glance behind was met with fists assaulting his face and back. Kicks to his legs felled him. On the ground the punching persisted. He couldn’t defend himself against four men. “Blasphemer! Traitor! Jesus is not Messiah!” Then, as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. Benjamin was left on his back, bleeding and alone, his money-purse gone. The cost of believing in Jesus Messiah had intensified in the last months.
Why does pain come with following his Son? Why do the “bad guys” win and the “good guys” lose? Should we just throw up our hands in defeat and admit “life is unfair”? Makes you want to “get even”, to pay back the perps pain-for-pain.
Of course, I don’t suffer like Benjamin. My enemy is a chronic illness, a disability. It, like Benjamin’s beaters, tests my faith. Life isn’t fair. I want to take revenge. But on whom?
One way or other many of us occasionally feel a burning desire to “get even”. Yet, the Lord forbids us: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
But Paul has more to say. In today’s text, he announces a coming “payback” day . . .
“Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:4-12).
Evidence of God’s Payback
“This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God . . . ” What’s the evidence? Paul presents two pieces of proof. #1— The Thessalonians’ steadfast faith in the face of persecution cries out for justice to the righteous God. #2—“God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you and to grant relief to you who are afflicted”. The evidence supports the promise: God will judge with justice. Which brings us to the . . .
Ground of God’s Payback
God is righteous. Twice Paul reminds us. “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God . . . ” and “God considers it just . . . ” Both words translate the Greek dikaiosunay—“morally right, upright, just, fair”. Payback day’s ground is rock solid. The solid rock is not changing circumstances. Not fallen man’s idea of justice. But the righteous nature of God himself that demands judgment.
Anticipation of God’s Payback
For what are these Christians suffering persecution? Why has Benjamin been beaten and bloodied on an empty street? ” . . .that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God for which you are suffering . . . “. They are suffering “for the kingdom of God”. They are suffering so when Jesus returns and consummates his kingdom, they may be considered worthy of it.
“Worthy” translates the Greek kataxio-o—“to be considered worthy or deserving.” This is not worth-by-sinlessness but worth-by-faithfulness. If they faithfully endure the persecution, they will reign with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12). “To those who win the victory I will give the right to sit beside me on my throne, just as I have been victorious and now sit by my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3:21).
Christians, then, are a people looking forward to Christ’s kingdom while being beaten down in the kingdoms of this world.
Two Parts to God’s Payback
” . . .repay with affliction those who afflict you.” “Repay” is the Greek antapodidomai, “to give back as an equivalent, repay, return.” As the persecutors have afflicted Christians, so they will likewise be afflicted. The bullies don’t win in the end. Yet worse will come for them . . .
” . . .inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might . . . ” Not just the persecutors will be judged. Those disobedient to the gospel and who, therefore, do not know God (this will include the persecutors, of course) will be driven from the Lord’s presence and his glorious power. Justice will be served and the punishment will be more than the guilty can bear.
” . . .to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us . . . ” “Relief” is the Greek anesis—literally, “mitigation, freedom”; figuratively, “rest, relaxation, relief.” To the afflicted the Lord will give freedom and rest from all affliction. A permanent oasis in the desert. A secure fortress in war never to be breached.
” . . . to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.” The Lord Jesus will come with all his holy ones; that is, the sinner’s justified and sanctified. ” . . . may [he] establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13). “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). ” . . . provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17). Christ will be glorified in us and we in him!
The Time of God’s Payback
God will repay “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire and when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed”. When that will be no one knows but the Father (Matthew 24:36). But it will come!
* * * * *
So, bleeding Benjamin lying broken in the street, guilty of nothing but acknowledging Jesus as Messiah, silence that rising roar for revenge. Vengeance is the Lord’s. He will repay. Remember Jesus: crucified for no guilt of his own. But vindicated on the third day. Raised to reign.
He’s coming again. And he will raise you up, Benjamin. He will take vengeance on your enemies, who are, in fact, his enemies, because you are his. Then, justice will reign forever. Wrongs will be righted. Because our God is a God of righteousness and justice!
Jesus is coming!
“Afflict” translates the Greek thibo—literally, “press hard, rub together”; figuratively, “oppress, cause trouble to”. “Affliction” is trying to stand on a mobbed subway car, hanging on to the strap for dear life, while the jostling of the train slams people into you and you into people from every direction. “Affliction” in persecution is a mob threatening your life because of your faith.