Read 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9.
What is the primary reason for the destruction of the wicked at the time of Jesus’ second coming? How are we to understand these verses with the idea of God as full of love, grace, and forgiveness?
Many people are uncomfortable with the language of these verses. They feel that “pay back” (NIV), vengeance, punishment, and the infliction of suffering are unworthy of a God of love, grace, and mercy. But just punishment and retribution is a frequent theme of Paul (Rom. 2:5, 12:19). Paul is unequivocal: God’s justice will one day be powerfully made manifest.
And why not? Any good government in today’s world must at some point exercise force in order to restrain evil. Though force is not always violent (as when you are stopped for a traffic violation or audited for your taxes), in some cases, especially when the criminals are using violence themselves, they must be answered with violence. Good governments provide a necessary restraint so that we can all live together in peace. Many times outright evil will not give way voluntarily. And the greater the power and brutality of evil, the greater the force often needed to undo that evil.
The images in this passage are not pretty, but they assure us that God will do whatever it takes to end violence and oppression.
Read Revelation 16:4-7 and Daniel 7:21, 22. What do these verses teach that parallels what Paul wrote above in 2 Thessalonians?
Through His own experience, Jesus understands the cost of suffering. He can be trusted to exercise divine justice, but without overkill. Divine justice will result in suffering, but not one iota more than necessary. If we can trust God in anything, we can trust that His justice will reveal a wisdom and fairness that we cannot currently comprehend.
The goal of this passage is not to rejoice in vengeance but to encourage the abused and oppressed. The day of justice is coming. We don’t need to take justice into our own hands.