2 Thessalonians 1:6 | Affliction Repaid?
Here is a truth that is universal. Anyone that is serious about following Jesus will face push back. It will come in all kinds of forms. Some passive and some aggressive. Following Christ in truth and deed will get one into trouble. When Paul first visited the Thessalonian city to establish a church the effort was so successful that he caused a riot.
4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” Acts 17:4-7 ESV
Paul was forced to flee the city but the new believers who lived in the city had nowhere to go. This was their home and their submission to and acceptance of Christ cost them dearly. When I was a young man, I was surprised to find that my enthusiasm for Jesus was not well received. People looked at me strange. Family pushed back on my excitement. And others would ask if I was going to be a preacher. All of this was frustrating to me because these interactions were with Christians in a mostly Christian culture. What was mild push back for me must have been overwhelming for the new Thessalonian Christians in a culture that was not Christian. The push back for me was when someone would ask if was going to be one of those crazy religious church people but the push back for this new church was that the leaders were hauled before the local government on charges of treason.
Even in a mostly Christian culture many Christians keep their faith conversations quiet and go about their lives trying to avoid awkwardness let alone causing a riot. I learned from my initial interactions to be more strategic in my conversations but my excitement in sharing the good news of Christ has never diminished. If I got more aggressive, and maybe I should, I have no doubt that that there would be opposition. It is almost like I have learned to live right on the safe side of the line that should not be crossed when being public about my faith in Christ.
The reality is that many Christians do not live in a “safe” country and do face insults and hardships for following Jesus. (What if the entire world is pushing back against God like at the Tower of Babel?) Paul told those persecuted that while God would not stop that persecution in the immediate, he would repay their tormentors.
6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 2 Thessalonians 1:6 ESV
In America we have religious freedom and persecution is mostly just awkwardness so we are shocked by this idea that God will afflict those who push back against Jesus. We like to view God as loving and tolerant but what we really need to understand is that God does hold people accountable for the evil in their heart. It is shocking to hear “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you”. Let me clarify something important here. The Bible never gives individuals or individual Christians the right to seek revenge on those who attack, bully, or otherwise torment. God has given the right for government to punish on this earth. This means law and order is a function of government. In America law and order allows for the freedom of religion. Again, to be clear no individual ever has that right to take law and order into their own hands and that is why this promise from Paul that God is just and he will take up the case is intended as encouragement to those who are actually tormented. In the mean time we as Christians should be praying for the salvation of our tormentors not hoping they be punished in hell forever. While God is promising to make things right, Paul is not telling the church that God will repay with affliction their tormentors in this life. Paul is talking about the end of times when God settles everything once and for all. Jesus came and died that people might be saved. This life right now is the moment of grace to accept that. That grace in this life falls on the saved and those who will live eternally separated from God. Once Christ returns that grace is gone and judgment comes.
33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 ESV