In II Thessalonians 1: 6-10 our brother Paul writes the following to the Christians at Thessalonica:
“….For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed –for our testimony to you was believed.” [Emphasis mine]
In this scripture, Paul uses two different terms to describe the people who will suffer eternally the Wrath of the Lamb.
The first is “those who do not know God”. These are people who have no biblical, saving relationship with our God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Hindus, Islamics, Buddhist, Jews, all of the different world faiths, non-religious, atheist, humanist, and others will make up this group. A vast group of people. You shudder at the thought of what is going to happen to them.
The second is “those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus”. Now a casual reading of this could lead some to wonder or believe that self-effort or works may be involved in salvation. Or that a born again person can fall away due to not doing something that the Lord required. While studying sanctification, I found a verse that explains who these people are. I put my thoughts before you for your consideration.
In I Peter 1: 1-2 Peter writes about the three things that happen in the salvation of a sinner.
“…who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood:…”
The first is that the sinner is “chosen” by God and then, secondly, the Holy Spirit begins the “setting apart” or sanctifying work that brings the sinner to the point where they “obey” or, another way of saying it, express their faith in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We see this in Acts 6:7 where it says;
“And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”
Then, thirdly, as the result of the sinner’s obedience/faith in the gospel of the Lord Jesus, he is “sprinkled” with the Lord’s blood. Salvation is complete.
The second step concerning the work of the Holy Spirit sanctifying someone is also known as positional sanctification. Sanctify means to “set apart”; to set apart from the sinful nature and the world to serve God. At the point of salvation, God the Father moves the saved sinner from the dominion of Satan to the kingdom of His beloved Son. The sinner is in a new position. In Christ. After salvation, the believer begins a process known as progressive sanctification where little by little with the help of the Holy Spirit; he begins to get the sin out of his life and grows in Christlikeness. This Christlikeness, ABOVE ALL, is what God desires for the believer.
Therefore, in II Thessalonians this descriptive term, “those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” refers to a LOST person who the Holy Spirit tried to draw to Christ but the person resisted His ministry and never exercised their faith in the gospel presentation they heard. This person was never born again. They remained in their original state of a sin.
The following Book of Hebrew scriptures show people doing this. The text is Hebrews 3:7 -4:2 and I will only quote pieces to give you the overview. Read the entire section when you can.
“Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEART AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS,….. (v7-8)
“Take care brethren lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God, “ (12)
“Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also, but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.” (3:1-2)
We see the writer of Hebrews using Old Testament examples to exhort the Jews who are seriously considering the claims of Jesus as the Messiah to go on to put their faith in the good news (gospel) that is being preached to them. If they do not put their faith in the good news being preached to them and return to the abrogated (formally ended by God) temple sacrifices, they will not enter the Sabbath rest, i.e. salvation. Notice in the scriptures above that God is speaking to them, unbelieving hearts are in the people; therefore, they do not unite faith with the word preached. They are not saved. They do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
Another example is found in Acts 7:51. We find Stephen before the Jewish Council addressing the High Priest and other leaders of Israel. He says the following to them:
“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in the heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. “
It is interesting to note in the account of the Pharisee Nicodemus coming to the Lord at night in John chapter 3, when he said to Jesus “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do the these signs that You do unless God is with him.”, the “we” in the original Greek grammar refers to this Council that Stephen was speaking before and Nicodemus was a member of. My point here is that the High Priest and the leaders of Israel knew that Jesus had come from God because of the multitudes of miracles (signs) He had done. Yet, they resisted the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying ministry of bringing them to faith in the Son of God. Instead, they killed him.
Of this group, the Bible tells us that only Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (John 19:38) exercised faith and believed or obeyed the gospel.
It is sobering to know that according to what Jesus told the disciple about being brought before kings and courts, that the Holy Spirit is giving Stephen what to say to these men and He is telling them that you always resist Me like your fathers did.
For a positive example of this, listen to what Peter told the Pentecost crowd when he concluded preaching the gospel after the Holy Spirit fell and they wanted to know what they should do. Peter, led by the Holy Spirit, said:
“Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts2:38)
Their obedience is recorded in verse 41:
“So then, those who had received the word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
Here you have about 3000 Jews receiving the word (i.e. gospel that Peter preached) and obeying what he said (i.e. exercising their faith in what they heard) and being born again. Just opposite from what the leaders of Israel did.
Therefore, in conclusion, the people referred to in Thessalonians are people who had the opportunity to hear the gospel (good news) but rejected it. They never united the word preached with faith to come to salvation. They resisted the sanctifying work or “setting apart” work of the Holy Spirit.
The only seemingly contradiction to this view is this: did God the Father make a mistake in choosing some people before the foundation of the world because these people rejected the gospel? Now, we know He does not make mistakes; therefore, there is an explanation.
The Word says God “is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (II Peter 3:9) He is delaying the end of time so people can be saved.
The Lord Jesus said about the Holy Spirit that “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgement: concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer behold Me; and concerning judgement, because the ruler of this world has been judged. (John 16:8-10)
These two verses show that the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to the whole world and, of course, the Lord Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. So these verses show that God desires that all men come to salvation but since He will not violate a person’s free will, some will reject the gospel and others will unite their faith with the gospel preached and be saved.
Let us leave the choosing to Him and let us be about the reaching out to all men.
Thank you for your time. Please forward any comments or thoughts concerning this matter.
“Pay close attention to yourself…” (Paul to Timothy)