As a church family we recently walked through 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, two books written to a persecuted church. So in light of Kim Jong-Il’s recent death, I pose the following question: How would we respond if a believer from North Korea came to us and expressed a desire for God to judge those who are persecuting Christians there (if you are unaware, you need to watch the videos at Justin Taylor’s blog on Kim Jong Il’s Diabolical World)?
I encourage you to think for a moment how you would respond before proceeding. I think for most of us, our gut reaction would be to tell (or likely rebuke) this fellow believer to love their enemies and to pray for them. After all, what more biblical advice could we give than to simply quote Christ himself! But in the same way that soon after a mother loses her infant, it may not be the most edifying thing to remind her to “rejoice in the Lord always” or that “God works all things out for good” but rather to grieve with her who is grieving, I think our gut reactions often reveal our true lack of compassion for the hurt and brokenness of the world around us. Most of us can hopefully see the need to encourage the grieving mother in this way, but for those of us who live in a society with very few and minor grievances of justice, do we see the need to encourage believers struggling with God’s justice in the same way?
Paul did. I think many of us are shocked to see how Paul encouraged the Thessalonians. In 2nd Thessalonians chapter 1, when Paul thinks of their persecutions and afflictions, he actually reminds the church that God’s justice is going to prevail, and God’s flaming eternal wrath is going to be poured out on those who are afflicting them. Not how you would respond? Me neither. But hopefully we can learn from Paul why this is a helpful way to respond.
First of all, the fact they were being persecuted for Christ is positive proof (1:5) that they will enter the kingdom. How you ask? Whenever people oppose Christians it is as though they are fighting Christ Himself. There is a vital link between Christ and His body. And so opposition is positive proof that God will righteously judge their enemies. Those who fight God will face the consequences. But this opposition also shows that those being afflicted are in fact aligned with Christ and so will be considered worthy of the kingdom for which they are suffering. There are only two sides in this battle, and persecution for the name of Christ makes the dividing line very clear. It proves to the believers that they in fact are God’s children since people are opposing them for the sake of Christ. And this is a great encouragement to those who are being persecuted.
Furthermore, a reminder that God is going to repay those who are afflicting them is a reminder that God does care about justice. At the moment, it may seem as though He doesn’t. It may seem like the wicked are prospering. It may seem like right and wrong, hating God or loving Him make no difference whatsoever. But there is coming a day when it will all matter a lot. In fact, the presence of sin and wickedness evidenced by those who are opposing Christ presents a problem confronting God’s absolute holiness and sovereignty. Is He going to do something about it? And the answer to that question is an unequivocal ‘yes’. Evil will not triumph forever. God is going to set all things right. The kingdom is coming. And this too, is great encouragement to those being persecuted.
So the next time you come face to face with wicked opposition to God and grave injustice, remember that the day of the Lord is coming. God cares about justice. He cares about His name being drug in the dirt through His children being persecuted. He will not allow wickedness to win. He will come. He will triumph. He will bring relief to His people and He will be glorified in His saints on that day. May we be able to encourage one another with these truths, just as Paul did the Thessalonians.
I wrote a short song reflecting on 2nd Thessalonians, maybe it will be helpful to you as you reflect on these themes:
The Day of the Lord is Coming (Reflections on 2nd Thessalonians)
The gospel came, God gave you grace 1Th 1:5; 2:2; 2Th 2:16
Your love increased you set the pace 1Th 1:7; 3:6; 4:9; 2Th 1:3
But men reject the blessed news 2Th 1:8
Affliction came, they crank the screws 1Th 2:2; 2Th 1:4
Your pain is proof God will repay 2Th 1:5
Don't mess with His, He'll have His day 2Th 1:5-7; 2:2
You're on His side, you are His child 2Th 1:5-7
His wrath will come it won't be mild 2Th 1:8-9
May God bless now your choice for right 2Th 1:11
And work from faith with all His might 2Th 1:11
The kingdom comes, God's time is good 2Th 2:2, 6
Pray God's Word spreads as well it should 2Th 3:1
Have hope, The Day of the Lord is coming 2Th 2:16-17
Stand firm, The Day of the Lord is coming 2Th 2:15
Work hard, The Day of the Lord is coming 2Th 3:10, 13
The righteous God will be revealed 2Th 1:7
His glory shown, His people healed 2Th 1:7, 10, 12