Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Glenn's Tricky Scripture

2 Thessalonians 1 : 6 - 10
Background .....
Paul wrote this letter to the Thessalonian saints about the middle of the first century AD, either in the year 50 or 51, only a short time after he had written his previous letter to them.
These saints were clearly under great stress due to "religious" persecution from non-Christian Jews (verse 4 and Acts 17) and were being encouraged by the promise of  relief and a just end-result (verse 6).

The tricky verses .....
Here is the NIV translation of these verses, amended to reflect a more literal rendering of the underlying Greek text.

God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.
This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his powerful messengers in blazing fire.
He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
They will be punished with age-lasting ruin and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed.
This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.

Explanation of amendments .....
Messengers (verse 7).
The Greek word here is 'aggelos' and is most often transliterated as 'angel' rather than translated as 'messenger' or 'agent.'  Not using 'angel' is wise as sometimes the messenger or agent is not a celestial courier, but a human one (for example, John the Baptist).  In the case here, the text does not reveal what type of messenger is meant.
Age-lasting ruin (verse 9).
The Greek word here is 'aionion.'  It is the adjectival form of the noun 'aion.'  Aion is 'age' or 'eon' in English, an unspecified period of time which has a beginning and an end, so 'aionion' must be related to an 'age' or 'eon' in some way.  It should never be translated as 'eternal' as 'eternity' is the timeless realm, having no beginning or end.  Unfortunately, most popular, volume-selling English Bibles translate 'aionion' as 'eternal' in order to give strength to the theological position of their translators and publishers, and of their potential church market.

My Comments .....
The events discussed in these verses had great relevance to the Thessalonian saints, and of course, to all other saints of that era who were being persecuted by the Jews.
The relief promised would have been in their lifetime or would have been of little comfort to them.  Indeed Jesus confirmed this timeline to his disciples when he said, "Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom [or sovereignty]." [ Matthew 16 : 28 ]
It wasn't suggested that the relief would come when they died and left this planet and moved into the peaceful presence of God; it would come when the Jesus-empowered agents came and took away their enemies in blazing fire.
This fits the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish centre of religion by fire in AD70 by the Romans, who were Jesus' agents of the fiery judgement that had been predicted by Jesus and several OT prophets.  Indeed Jesus warns the Jewish leaders about this fiery future judgement quite often, using the fire of Gehenna as his illustration.

So, although many in mainstream Christianity see this passage as dealing with yet future events, I don't agree.  Persecuted Thessalonian saints of the first century would hardly be comforted by promises to Christians living thousands of years later.

The punishment administered to the Jews would be their ruin or destruction as God's chosen people through whom the nations would be brought to God, and would last until the end of the next age.  Jesus had earlier confirmed this when he said to their chief priests and elders, " ..... the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit." [Matthew 21 : 43]
Consequently, the Jews will not enjoy God's presence or his powerful rule in the kingdom age.  Anyone reading Matthew's Gospel can't miss the constant references to the kingdom in many of Jesus' parables and his repeated warnings that Israel would miss out on the kingdom age if they refused to change their ways.  The parable of the weeds in Matthew 13 is probably one of the best known.  

(Nevertheless, Israel will be all saved after this age, as Paul reveals in Romans 11 : 25 - 26.)

So, although many in mainstream Christianity see this passage as forecasting the eternal, future destruction of all unbelievers of all ages at the end of time, I don't agree.  The age-lasting fate of Jewish persecutors of first century followers of Jesus is the focus here.

Please do not hesitate to offer any of the C's to this post - comment, clarification, correction, criticism, challenge, cross-examination - as the discovery of truth is the name of the game for me.

Blessings, Barry

1 comment:

  1. Hi Barry and Glenn,

    Thanks for the thought you have put into the above post Barry, and thank you Glenn for your question. I look forward to your other questions once this particular verse is put to rest satisfactorily.

    I don't think I can add anything to what Barry has said above. It is a very important point made on how Jesus' many references to Gehenna fit very well with the judgment that was coming on the city ~AD70.

    So much of what Jesus said had a strong Old Covenant flavour to it as he was often speaking in the Old Covenant context as it was not over till he died.

    Cheers, Roger


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