How Does God Grant Vengeance in Flaming Fire?

TODAY’S READING: 2 THESSALONIANS

“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 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.” (2 Thessalonians 1.6-9)

Here again we find a passage of scripture that is used as proof that God is going to punish unbelievers with eternal conscious torment in a burning lake of fire. However, when you examine the actual Greek in the light of the life of Jesus, you find that this translation has been influenced by a belief in hell and eternal conscious torment of unbelievers.

Ironically, this translation and this understanding of the passage reveal those that do not know God and do not obey the gospel.

Jesus revealed God as the one who suffers and dies for and forgives his enemies in the midst of his own suffering and dying. This is the gospel. And, you know God when you see him in Jesus on the cross.

Jesus, and therefore God, suffered the greatest affliction ever on the cross. Yet, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23.34)

This statement from Jesus shows that until our Father in heaven reveals himself to us, until we understand by the spirit instead of the carnal mind, we know nothing of how God repays anyone and God’s “vengeance.”

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.” (Matthew 5.38-39)

The Old Testament law was based on retributive justice. You were punished with the same thing you did to someone else. If you caused someone to lose their, then you lost their eye too. According to the law, justice was served.

If we believe that style of justice to be the truth about God, then 2 Thessalonians 1.6-9 would prove God to be far more evil and monstrous that even retributive justice.

Why?

Because he would be repaying an individual with eternal, as in forever, conscious torment in a burning lake of fire for an evil, an affliction, they caused to another that was merely temporal. A punishment that lasts forever does not equally pay back a crime that was momentary. This would be a punishment that grossly outweighs the crime. It would be like electrocuting someone for jaywalking on an empty street.

Further, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5.43-44)

Paul and Peter pick up on these two statements from Jesus in their letters. Romans 12.17 says, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.” First Thessalonians 5.15 says, “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” First Peter 3.9 says, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”

We would not be called to respond this way if this was not how God himself responds to evil. For, if we are to follow Christ, then we are to pick up our own cross, suffering and dying to bring new life.

So, how would I read 1 Thessalonians 1.6-9?

Since with a just God to repay affliction to those afflicting you and rest to you, as well as us, being afflicted in the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his mighty angels, granting vengeance in flaming fire to those not knowing God and to those not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus, who will pay justice, eternal destruction, from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

While I believe this is a better understanding of what Paul said, we still need to dig a little deeper.

Let’s start with eternal destruction.

The Greek word for eternal, aionios, does not mean lasting forever. It was said to be coined by Plato to mean that which only can be of or from God. The word has to do with the nature of a thing and nothing to do with time. Therefore, whatever this destruction is, it is something that only can be of and from God.

The Greek word for destruction is olethros. This is not the more common word for destruction in the New Testament, apollymi. Apollymi means to destroy fully, to destroy utterly, to kill, to demolish, to lay waste. So, whatever olethros means, it does mean exactly the same thing as apollymi.

Olethros is means ruin, punishment, or death. It is found just four times in the New Testament.

First Timothy 6.9 says, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin [olethros] and destruction.” Here we see that is our own harmful desires that bring about our ruin.

First Corinthians 5.5 says, “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction [olethros] of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” Here we see that destruction comes to the flesh, but for the purpose of saving the individual at Jesus’ return.

First Thessalonians 5.3 says, “While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction [olethros] will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” I wrote about sudden destruction yesterday. Here we see that sudden destruction is compared with birth pains, which ultimately result in new life.

Therefore, in 2 Thessalonians 1.9, we know that eternal destruction is meant for the flesh for the purpose of saving the spirit to bring about new life. This eternal destruction is equated to justice.

Who pays it?

Those that are causing affliction pay eternal destruction, pay justice.

God merely repays. God grants, not inflicts as several translations say, vengeance. While it is subtle there is a difference. Note the actual definitions of inflict and grant.

To inflict means

  1. to give by or as if by striking
  2. to cause (something unpleasant) to be endured.

To grant means

  1. to consent to carry out for a person: allow fulfillment of (grant a request)
  2. to permit as right, privilege, or favor (luggage allowances granted to passengers)
  3. to bestow or transfer formally (grant a scholarship to a student)
  4. to be willing to concede
  5. to assume to be true (granting that you are correct)

When God grants vengeance he becomes willing to concede. But, he does not cause it. This is because sin contains within it its own punishment. As I wrote yesterday, our own snares and evil plans come back on our heads. We reap what we sow. God need not do anything but concede to this. So God’s granting vengeance is us paying eternal destruction, justice.

In 2 Thessalonians 1.9, it says “eternal destruction, away from [apo] the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”

Other translations translate the Greek apo as “shut out from,” “separated from,” and “forever separated from.” Apo means none of those things. Apo is used 628 times in the New Testament. Of those uses, it is translated from 413 times, of 61 times, and by 20 times. Given that the destruction that is to be paid is eternal, of the nature of God and only God, it makes far more sense to say “eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord.” From is describing the origin of the eternal destruction not where it sends you.

Indeed, even to say “from the presence of the Lord” does not give us the best understanding of where eternal destruction comes from. The Greek word translated presence is prosopon. It used 75 times in the New Testament and is translated face 44 of those times. Interestingly, it is translated “before your eyes” one time.

Why is “before your eyes” interesting, and why should it be translated “face” in 2 Thessalonians 1.9?

Well, how is God granting vengeance?

“In flaming fire?”

Where do we see “flaming fire” in regards to Jesus?

Revelation 1.14 says, “His eyes were like a flame of fire.”

Revelation 2.18 says, “The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire.”

Revelation 19.12 says, “His eyes are like a flame of fire.”

God grants, concedes to, vengeance, eternal destruction, “in flaming fire.” This vengeance, this eternal destruction, comes from the face, from the eyes, of Jesus. When Jesus returns it will be the look in his eyes, the flaming fire, that destroys all of our false eyes ideas in him. That look, those eyes of flaming fire, will destroy our flesh but save our spirit. That look, those eyes of flaming fire, will destroy us suddenly but give us new life ultimately.

Do we see an example of this in scripture?

Jesus told Peter that Satan had asked to sift Peter like wheat. Peter told Jesus that he was ready to go prison and to death with him. But, Jesus told Peter that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed.

“But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about.’ And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22.60-62)

Peter said he would follow Jesus to death but instead denied he even knew Jesus three times, just as Jesus said he would. In those denials, Peter consented to afflicting Jesus.

What do you think Peter saw when the Lord turned and looked at him after the third denial?

I think Peter saw those eyes of flaming fire from which come eternal destruction, sudden destruction that brings new life, destruction of the flesh but saving of the spirit.

Do you think that was painful for Peter?

“He went out and wept bitterly.”

Just from that one look of Jesus.

Jesus’ eyes of flaming fire destroyed Peter. To say that you would follow the Lord to death and not even a day later deny even knowing him three times. How crushing that must have been to Peter.

But, the result wasn’t eternal conscious torment forever for Peter. No, his flesh was destroyed, but his spirit was saved. He received new life. He delivered the first sermon in church history that saved 3,000 people.

See, God doesn’t repay evil for evil.

God’s vengeance, God’s justice is not retributive. God is not trying to get even with anyone, even his enemies.

God’s vengeance, God’s justice, Jesus’ eyes of flaming fire, restore.

This eternal destruction does not send us away from God or forever separate us from God or shut us out from God’s presence.

God’s eternal destruction, Jesus’ eyes of flaming fire, destroys our flesh to draws us towards and into God’s presence.

“That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (2 Corinthians 5.19)

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