Meditations in 1 Thessalonians
Part 2 : 11 : Judgement
1 Thess 1:9,10 They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath
I said in the previous meditation that it is very easy to pass verses or words by with little thought – especially when we don’t like the word and ‘Idolatry’ was just such a word. “Wrath” is another of those words. It occurs here in verse 10 and it also appears later in respect of the unbelieving Jews: “The wrath of God has come upon them at last,” (2:16) and then later more generally, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (5:9)
Now before we look at what it actually means, may I deal with our psychological or ethical hang-ups about this word. We’ll accept from the outset that it means righteous anger, but I want to remind you of a particular teaching that comes out again and again in the Bible – that God is perfect. Now be under no illusion that perfect means complete and faultless, and cannot be improved upon. Therefore whatever God thinks, says or does is perfect, is faultless and cannot be improved upon.
We need to let this truth sink in. Let’s see it as it crops up through the Bible: “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” (Deut 32:4 – song of Moses). “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.” (2 Sam 22:31 – song of David). “From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.” (Psa 50:2 – song of Asaph). “O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago.” (Isa 25:1 – Isaiah). “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48 – Jesus). “You will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:2 – Paul). “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:8,9 – writer to the Hebrews)
There you have it: Jesus was begotten and was thus perfect because he was God. God is perfect and everything He says or does is perfect – they cannot be improved upon! Now start thinking about these difficult subjects from that angle or through that lens if you like. If God is angry about something then it is right, proper and appropriate to be angry and we can even go further and say it would be wrong not to be angry. We tolerate wrong and shrug our shoulders over it, but God sees it and sees it spoils the Creation that He made which was “very good” (Gen 1:31) and if God says something was “very good” you may take it that it was perfect. And now sin spoils it. The wonder and the beauty and the perfection has been spoiled and marred and desecrated. Imagine you were a master painter and you had spent months creating a most beautiful masterpiece and a teenager, say, comes in spits on it, writes on it in felt pen, throws paint on it and finally cuts it to pieces with a Stanley knife. Would you still be as calm and equitable about it as we so often are about wrongs in our world? No, we would be livid that this wonderful masterpiece with all its beauty has been utterly desecrated.
Why don’t we get angry? It’s all a matter of perspective. If we could see the whole picture with the completeness and perfection of God our emotions would be different. It is right to be angry, it is right to be upset and indeed, to go further, it is wrong not to be. Righteous anger is, as a dictionary puts it, “right and just passionate displeasure”. Please distinguish angers from hostility or revenge. Righteous anger is simply an objective emotion that responds rightly to wrong. What follows, when it is God, is a dispassionate assessment of what to do about it. God’s judgment is His dispassionate assessment of what to do about the wrong which has been highlighted by His anger. Anger is instinctive. Our passionate displeasure rises up in the face of something awful, something wrong. If it is us, we react and may over-react and get it wrong but God, we saw, is perfect so He looks and He assess what is the right thing to do, the perfect thing to do, the thing to be done in the light of ALL of the facts of both past, present and future, for only He can do this, for He knows all things and He knows how things could work out and how they can work out and how they will work out, and all the differences depend on His actions now. He chooses that which is perfect.
So when we look at His acts of judgement in the Bible, realise you don’t have all the facts, your emotions are stunted, you see imperfectly, but God has seen, God has assessed perfectly and even though you cannot see it, know that what He has done has been The best, The only right thing to be done.
Bear ALL of this in mind when you think of the Judgment of God. This may give us a great deal of fuel to ponder on WHY God brings a particular judgement and why having made a dispassionate objective assessment of what to do about it, God’s judgement is this particular thing – which, with all the facts and information available to Him, is faultless!
So note again what Paul writes in this letter: Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath (1:10) and God did not appoint us to suffer wrath (5:9). The Old Testament reveals a “day of the Lord” when He will come to judge all sin and unrighteousness. Rev 19 shows us Jesus coming again to bring in that ‘day’. But we, now as God’s people do not, as Paul says, have to suffer wrath for Jesus rescues us from it by his death on the Cross dealing with all our guilt and shame, so we no longer fear a punishment. The second reference to the Jews, “The wrath of God has come upon them at last,” (2:16) can be rendered, “upon them to the uttermost,” or “on them entirely” or “on them fully”. It is suggested that this simply refers to them being rejected while they stay in unbelief. Scripture seems to indicate a possibility that before the end they will turn and believe and those will be saved, but salvation follows belief; wrath and judgement follows rejection and unbelief.