Friday, September 19, 2014

THE GREAT DIVORCE (2 Thessalonians Chapter 1)

2 Thessalonians 1:7b-10, “…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, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”

Several years ago we had a regular attender who decided that the doctrine of “hell” was a delusion and that a loving God would never allow people to go to such a place.  He was so adamant in his false belief that he purposed to share what he had “discovered” with others in the church.  Members of the church lovingly admonished him, but he held on to his view and eventually decided to leave our church. 

Such thinking is nothing new.  Years ago C. S. Lewis wrote his classic fiction, “The Great Divorce,” in part to respond to a fellow who had written a book entitled “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.”  That man supposed that “everything is good and everywhere is heaven.”  Dismissing the truth or relevance of the doctrine of hell is not uncommon (e.g. Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived”).

The reality is that two distinct destinies await two different groups of people.  This passage is of particular relevance to this matter as it puts forth the two alternatives in clear and concise fashion.  Unbelievers are destined to a place of “eternal destruction” called hell.  Believers are destined for the glory of heaven.

Those who will suffer “eternal destruction” are those who “do not know God” and “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8).  There is but one way to avoid God’s righteous judgment of sin and that is to “obey the gospel” (Cf. 1 Peter 1:22; John 6:29; Romans 3:23, 6:23).  It is through faith in Christ that a person receives the eternal life which constitutes knowing Him (Cf. John 17:3; 1 John 5:11-12).  Religious credentials—even if they include a proper profession or impressive religious deeds—will avail no deliverance from hell for those who do not know (and are not known by) Him (Cf. Matthew 7:21-23; 2 Timothy 2:19).  “Eternal destruction” does not equate to annihilation.  A never-ending catastrophic destiny, “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,” awaits those who refuse the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. 

The believer’s destiny, on the other hand, is of a glorious nature.  He possesses it solely because the “testimony to (him) was believed” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).  The gospel works to save sinners from hell (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Romans 1:16).  Instead of judgment, the believer lives with the confident expectation of being “glorified” with Jesus in heaven (Cf. Romans 8:17-18, 30).  Though we “do not now see him” the day is coming “we shall see him as he is” (1 Peter 1:8; 1 John 3:2).  On that day He will be “marveled at among all who have believe” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).  The term translated “marveled” means to wonder, admire, or be astonished” at something.  We might admire a beautiful sunrise, but how glorious will be the view “when the day dawns and the morning star rises in (our) hearts” (2 Peter 1:19)!  We will be awestruck by Him and will forever more enjoy unimaginable blessings when we enter into HIs presence.

J. Vernon McGee once wrote, “Hell is ridiculed today, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  Our beliefs are sometimes only wishful thinking…we might as well face the fact that there is a hell.  Christ is returning this earth someday.  First He will take HIs own out of the earth, and then His coming will be a terror to the wicked; it will be a judgment upon those who ‘know not God, and that obey not the gospel of Lord Jesus Christ’…That is what the Word of God teaches.”

It is the response to the gospel that works to determine the destiny of a person.  John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”  Heaven or hell, eternal life or eternal destruction, a glorious and intimate eternal fellowship with God or a foreboding and tragic existence—all depends on one’s response to the truth of the gospel (Cf. 1 John 5:11-12).  It will do no good to wish the truth of hell away.  The reality of it should motivate us all the more to be “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).

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