By Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.
It often boggles my mind how I can read a translation of a verse or two and simply take for granted my own interpretation. However, upon closer, critical analysis, what I thought was there is not there at all.
A recent brother from Italy was asking me some questions concerning 2 Thessalonians 1.7,8 and wondering if this was in reference to 70 AD and the war of the Romans against Judea. First off, let’s read a sampling of translations:
“And to you who are troubled rest with us, 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” (King James Version).
“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” (English Standard Version).
“and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels” (New International Version).
“and to you who are troubled — rest with us in the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven, with messengers of his power” (Young’s Literal).
“and to grant rest along with us to you who are undergoing afflictions, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his mighty angels” (New American Bible).
This is enough to show me, as one that reads Greek, that something is going on. So upon reading the Greek text Paul is not saying anything that relates to 70 AD, a Second Coming, or anything like that at all.
First, the Thessalonikans were undergoing “persecution and affliction” from their “fellow country men” as Paul noted. This is a “judgment of God” (1.5) in that those who are being troubled for the Gospel of Jesus are being “counted worthy” of the Kingdom (1.5). They are not being judged, but, instead, are being refined. Those troubling them, however, are being judged.
“For it is a righteous thing with God to repay…” (1.6). Repay who? The Dative Case follows, “to the ones afflicting you” (1.6). Now, God’s “repayment” does not stop with them. Rather, the Dative Case also includes the Thessalonikans: “and to you (1.7) the ones being afflicted, rest…” In other words, God is repaying those who are doing the afflicting, and he is repaying those who are being afflicted with rest (anesis in Greek, and here in the Accusative Case, the object of the Infinitive, “to repay”). This is not something that is going to happen, but is happening.
Now, the text does not stop with anesis, but describes the source of this rest that they have. “And to you, the ones being afflicted, rest with us in the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with angels of his power in flaming fire.” Now, this is where the translations get sideways. “en te apokalupsei” is translated, amazingly, as “when the Lord Jesus is revealed.” But, as one can see, “in the revelation of the Lord Jesus” is a prepositional phrase. There is no verb here. Jesus has already been revealed as to Who He Is. They are to find “rest” and “comfort” in the fact of the revelation of Jesus Christ from heaven, who is with his angels in flaming fire!
Now, in my studies in Daniel, that phrase “flaming fire” caught my eye, because I have seen it before. In Daniel 7.10 the Ancient of Days’ throne is described in the Greek Version of the Hebrew Bible (the Septuagint, used by the Apostles) as “a flaming fire”. The words there are the same here. In Daniel 7.13-14 we have been noting that the son of man, the Lord Jesus Christ, with the angels, is presented “with them” before the Ancient of days. It is now revealed who this son of man person is. This is the One that made the Gospel they preached, and the Thessalonikans believed, liable to suffering and persecution.
Jesus, the son of man, is “in heaven”, and “from heaven” it has been revealed (“revelation”) that he is with the angels in flaming fire. Paul is saying to them, “yes, you are being troubled for this revelation. But, this is a judgment from the Throne to them, and to you, find rest in that you know the revelation of Jesus Christ who among the angels in flames of fire.” Jaw dropping.
But, we are not finished. Jesus, in heaven with the angels in flaming fire, “is giving full vengeance to the ones not knowing God and to the ones not obeying the Gospel” (1.8). This is not someting going to happen. It was happening (and still does, for the Lord Jesus repays from heaven from heaven those who trouble his people – marking them, while all they yet refining through tribulation those that are his: conforming them to his image).
What is the future of those who do not repent at his repayments of judgment? “…who, justice, they will suffer, eternal destruction from the face of the Lord…” (1.9). And when is this? Well, the indefinite subjunctive is used with an aorist subjunctive: “when he comes to be glorified in his saints, to be adored in all the ones who have believed the testimony of us to you – in that day” (1.10). That is, when “all” stand before Him in that day, the last day. Paul gives no hint at all as to “when” – in calendar times – that happens. It wasn’t 70 AD.
Therefore, Paul is saying to those being persecuted, and to us as well, that Jesus, the son of man in heaven with the angels in fiery flames, before the throne of God, repays those who persecute the faithful in all generations. That, as believers in the revelation of Jesus Christ, that he is before the Father, that he is the Son of Man, the Son of God in heaven, we should find rest and comfort in this, knowing that if those who create trouble for the Church do not repent, they will be judged when Jesus comes to be glorified in all the saints who have believed, ever. On that day they will be given eternal destruction, but the saints will be glorified in Him, eternal life. Such wonderful encouragement to the faithful who still believes the Gospel of the Apostles.