“We ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:
“Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God” (II Thes. 1:4,5).
In 32 years of pastoral ministry, this writer has had the privilege to officiate at many a wedding ceremony. When it comes time for the groom to say “I do,” we initiate this response by asking him, “Do you give your ring, and accept your bride’s ring, as a token that you will keep the pledge and perform the vows that you have made this day?” Since the word token has been defined as “something that serves as an indication or an expression of something else,” we then conclude the ring ceremony by saying, “These gold rings will serve as continual reminders of the lasting and imperishable faith that you have pledged to one another this day.”
In the Bible, we read that God gave the rainbow as a “token” of His promise to never again destroy the world with a universal flood (Gen. 9:11-13). Similarly, circumcision is said to be a “token” of the covenant God made with Abraham (Gen. 17:11), and the blood of the Passover lamb was said to be a “token” of God’s promise to Israel to spare their firstborn (Ex. 12:13).
Here in our text, the apostle Paul says that the patient manner in which the Thessalonians were enduring persecution was “a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God.” That is, their patient endurance of tribulation was a sign that, when God finally does judge the world, “He will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31), for He will be paying the world back for persecuting His people. As Paul goes on to say in the verse that follows our text,
“Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you” (II Thes. 1:6).
You see, when a Christian is persecuted for his faith, an injustice has taken place; an unrighteous thing has occurred. In God’s perfect system of justice, which can leave the debt of no sin unsettled, this injustice must be paid for, and God solemnly vows to right this wrong “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels,
“In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
“Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (II Thes. 1:7-9).
Here God vows that He will someday avenge the Thessalonians for the tribulations given to them by their persecutors, beginning with the destruction that He will bring upon the world at His Second Coming. Of course, God knows that He will be charged with unrighteousness, as He always is when He is forced to sit in judgment upon men. This is why the Book of Revelation is sprinkled with affirmations that God’s Tribulation judgments are not unrighteous, that they are rather “just and true” (Rev. 15:3), and “righteous” (16:5-7; 19:2). Similarly, here in our text, Paul is defending the righteousness of the Lord’s Second
Next, Paul says that the righteous judgment of God on these persecutors of God’s people will then continue in the Lake of Fire, the “everlasting destruction” of which he goes on to speak of here in II Thessalonians 1:9. Here we see clear evidence that all those in any age who reject God’s provision for their sins will die in their sins (cf. John 8:24), and must themselves be made to pay for their sins.
Of course, the Thessalonians themselves could have retaliated against their persecutors, and forced them to pay for the crimes they committed against them. Surely there were times when they felt like evening the score. However, had they done so, it would then be unrighteous for God to someday recompense tribulation to their persecutors, and God will not be guilty of double jeopardy. As it was, Paul was able to tell the Thessalonians that the “patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure…is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God.” If the world should someday ask why God is troubling them, He can reply, “Well, you used to trouble My people, so now, by the same token, I am troubling you!”
There is a lesson that we can learn from this. If we take vengeance on those who trouble us, that means God can’t. What an incentive to leave vengeance to the One whose judgments are always fair and equitable! When we take vengeance, we often retaliate too little, leaving our sense of justice feeling unsatisfied. Or we retaliate too much, creating an additional imbalance of justice that leaves our adversary feeling a need to strike at us again. “But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things” (Rom. 2:2). God will judge all men fairly, for His judgment will be according to truth. No wonder Judgment Day is called “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (2:5).
Are you a token grace believer? Is your patient endurance of those who trouble you a token that, when God judges your persecutors, He will do so in righteousness? None of us would ever knowingly and purposely take something away from God that He says belongs to Him, and yet this is what we do when we take vengeance away from the One who has said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay” (Rom. 12:19). If you are thinking of making someone pay for what they did to you, why not determine right now to leave it all with Him?
To the Reader:
Some of our Two Minutes articles were written many years ago by Pastor C. R. Stam for publication in newspapers. When many of these articles were later compiled in book form, Pastor Stam wrote this word of explanation in the Preface:
"It should be borne in mind that the newspaper column, Two Minutes With the Bible, has now been published for many years, so that local, national and international events are discussed as if they occurred only recently. Rather than rewrite or date such articles, we have left them just as they were when first published. This, we felt, would add to the interest, especially since our readers understand that they first appeared as newspaper articles."
To this we would add that the same is true for the articles written by others that we continue to add, on a regular basis, to the Two Minutes library. We hope that you'll agree that while some of the references in these articles are dated, the spiritual truths taught therein are timeless.
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