II Thess. 1:9. “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.”
When we rebel in our hearts against verses like this, it is because we fail miserably to understand the holiness of God. “But where is His love, His mercy, His grace?” is the question that man with his finite understanding always asks. The answer is simple: His mercy, grace, and love are clearly seen at Bethlehem, at Calvary, and at the empty tomb! How dare we shake our self-righteous fists at God, demanding that He be more loving! “Greater love hath no man than this, than that a Man lay down His life for His friends.” There is no greater love.
So when man rejects the knowledge of God, and refuses to obey the gospel of Christ, then there is no choice but that he receive what he has earned: Everlasting destruction. Let’s take a look at exactly what this means.
The clause who shall be punished is unique here in the New Testament. It is the only time that specific wording is used, and a more specific translation would be a penalty shall pay. The word punishment is connected with the same root as the Greek word for judge and righteous. In this passage, it literally means a punishment determined by a lawful process. The next phrase is an appositive, that which renames a noun: Even eternal destruction.
There will be a punishment for refusing to know God and obey His gospel. That punishment will be eternal destruction. In I Thess. 5:3, that destruction is described as sudden, indicating something unforeseen and unexpected–and, in this case, unavoidable. The adjective eternal speaks of the duration of punishment. No parole, no reprieve, no do-overs.
The punishment is further explained as being excluded from God’s presence and from “the glory of His power.” Just as the privilege of being in His presence is the essence of heaven for the believer, so the enforced absence of His presence is the essence of hell for the unbeliever. They will be deprived of the Lord’s favor, of all that gives meaning and purpose to everlasting life. After all, would any of us want to live this life forever, apart from the presence of the Lord? Often, it is only His presence in our lives and hearts that carries us through the difficulties we face in this life.
The day after Terry had surgery on his foot, when the nerve block wore off, the pain was indescribable. As I watched him suffer, feeling utterly helpless to do anything for him, I began to realize that the movements of his lips were not random, but were words. He was praying, begging for God’s touch. He was seeking and finding the presence of God in his suffering, and it carried him through while I left the house to get the medication that would allow him to rest. That praying, seeking and finding is what will NOT be available to those who have refused Christ in this life. Never, ever again will they be able to seek and find His presence, His peace. There will be nothing but a vast, gaping eternity of emptiness.
To be separated from the glory of His power will be punishment indeed. When Jesus was on Earth, He used that great power for the benefit of others. On that Day, He will use it as the Judge to perform that which unbelievers have reaped unto themselves.
So–how should all this affect us? I don’t know about you, but even as I studied for this post and wrote the words, my heart became more burdened for those around me who do not know God. Every day, especially when I’m working, I meet people who are seeking the peace and power of God. It is my job to present them not only with practical human solutions to their problems, but with the One Who has the power to bring everlasting peace and rest. This passage is not leaving me with a sense of relief or satisfaction that I won’t be among the condemned; rather, it makes me more determined than ever to present Jesus Christ whenever and wherever I can.
There is, after all, no greater love.