PMW 2020-025 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

A reader contacted me with this question:

“Why do you think 2 Thessalonians 1:7 is referring to the final return while denying the doctrine of the imminent return of Christ? That is, if 2 Thessalonians 1:7 is not the AD 70 coming but the final return, then didn’t Paul believe the final return could happen in his day since he wrote to the believers in his day, ‘and to grant relief to you.’ Just wondering how you deal with that?”

My response:

Thanks for reading my materials and for thinking through the issues. I will offer a brief answer. I hope that in the future I will have time to provide a fuller analysis of this passage. But in brief, note:

Paul’s General Purpose

To understand Paul’s statement in v. 7, we must first recognize his general purpose in writing this letter (2 Thessalonians). His purpose is to encourage long-term faithfulness to Christ in all circumstances. Thus, he opens this letter by praising the Thessalonians for their “perseverance,” which is being demonstrated despite their suffering:

“We ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance [Gk., hupomone, i.e., “perseverance”] and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure” (2 Thess. 1:4).

Then later he begins closing this letter by declaring his confidence that they will continue to persevere: “We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness [Gk., hupomone, i.e., perseverance] of Christ” (2 Thess. 3:4–5).

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And he finally closes with a benedictory prayer to this end: “now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance” (2 Thess. 3:16). Thus, he closes his letter by praying that God will grant the Thessalonians peace in “every circumstance.” That is, in every circumstance whether good or bad — even in such circumstances as in the “persecutions and afflictions” which they are in fact currently enduring (cf. 2 Thess. 1:4).

In all this, Paul aligns his praise for these suffering believers with his expectations elsewhere. For he warns that suffering awaits the followers of Christ:

“Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

“No one should be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this” (1 Thess. 3:3).

“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).

But now let us consider:

Paul’s Specific Encouragement

In 2 Thessalonians 1 Paul encourages these believers by noting their need to persevere in the faith is not without hope of resolution. Our text reads:

“This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire” (2 Thess. 1:5–7).

Note that he does not leave them wondering if their persecutors will be let off without punishment. Or if God will reward the faithful believers at Thessalonica for their steadfastness. Rather, he is encouraging them in the long haul by noting that, despite their current, ongoing persecutional suffering (v. 5), one day in the future God will: (1) not only repay those who persecute them (v. 6) but (2) grant ultimate, glorious relief to these faithful believers who are suffering in history (v. 7a).

But then he notes when this relief will be granted: “when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven” (v. 7b). That is, “at the revelation of the Lord Jesus [Gk., en te apokalupsei tou kuriou Iesou].”
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Here we must note that there is no date suggested for this relief. Thus, there is no statement that it will be “soon.” Paul presents the ultimate hope for eternal resolution for all parties involved: for the Thessalonians, there will be full and final relief in the final estate; for the persecutors there will be a full payment for their evil at the judgment that Christ will bring about when he is revealed from heaven (v. 6).

Thus, in keeping with the purpose of his letter in encouraging long-term faithfulness despite opposition, the Thessalonians must continue to endure. This passage is similar to Paul’s statement to the Philippians, which encourages their “standing firm” and not being “alarmed” by those opponents who will endure “destruction” from God:

“Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God” (Phil. 1:27–28).

It has already been 2000 years since Paul wrote these word. This shows that the “imminence” of Christ’s coming is not the issue. Rather, the issue is the eschatological fact of God’s fully repaying the persecutors and fully rewarding the faithful . See Rev. 20:11–15 for the full , complete, and final expression of these rewards.

In the meantime, the Thessalonians must recognize their suffering is not in vain. For as Paul says elsewhere: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58; cp. Phil. 2:16).

Paul’s Broader Hope

In addition, Paul’s words to the Thessalonians remain for us still today: we must remain steadfast, knowing that our labor is not in vain, and that God will recompense. His particular encouragement to the Thessalonians is the foundation for our general encouragement as Christians.

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6 thoughts on “2 THESSALONIANS 1:7 AND “RELIEF”

  1. Fred V. Squillante March 31, 2020 at 9:47 am

    Dr. Gentry, Because, as you say, in 2 Thessalonians 1:7 there is “no date suggested,” that does not necessarily mean that it is referring to Christ’s “final return.” I’m unclear as to the purpose of a final return, if not to “end history” as some suggest. If that is the case, why do so many spend so much time “there” trying to figure that out? This is all still rather subjective. Somehow, we seem to put ourselves in the middle of it all.

  2. Kenneth Gentry March 31, 2020 at 10:16 am

    I am not arguing that the lack of a predicted date proves he is speaking of the Second Advent (at the end of history). I am simply saying that one cannot on the basis of this passage say that he must have been speaking of something that the Thessalonians would experience soon. I do believe history has an end, with the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment. I do not believe God will endure a sinful universe forever and ever and ever. I don’t understand part of your question: “If that is the case, why do so many spend so much time “there” trying to figure that out?” Biblical eschatology is objective in that it is recorded in Scripture rather than guessed at in history.

  3. Fred V. Squillante March 31, 2020 at 1:49 pm

    I agree that Paul was not speaking about something that “must” have been imminent any more than it must have been about the final judgment; and that’s what makes it subjective. However, the events of 70AD satisfy what he wrote so why place the meaning elsewhere? “There” is things like that, or a final judgment, or anything else that people believe are in the future.

  4. Kenneth Gentry March 31, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    But the events of the Second Advent/Final Judgment satisfy the wording even better. AD 70 is a pointer to the Final Judgment. It is theologically related to it as type is to anti-type. The Final Judgment is revealed in Scripture and is a definitive element in the historic, corporate, public, universal, systematic Christian faith, unlike the notion of an eternally existing world where sin is never finally removed.

  5. Fred V. Squillante March 31, 2020 at 6:13 pm

    It’s still subjective. I don’t advocate for an eternally existing world, but if sin is finally removed at the Second Advent, then what?

  6. Kenneth Gentry March 31, 2020 at 9:13 pm

    A transformation of the universe to establish the final, consummate order in which righteou8sness will dwell and from which all sin will be removed. A heaven-on-earth, if you will. We are not angelic spirits living in heaven; we will be physically-resurrected and transformed redeemed vessels of mercy who will dwell on a re-created, physical new earth.

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