In his letters to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul identifies two groups: brothers who have a hope and others who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13); those who are sons of light and those who are sons of darkness (1 Thess. 5:5).
Brothers owe their standing to the grace of God, who “did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9). By that grace they “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, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:9–10).
Waiting for the return of Christ means lingering in a hostile world, in many ways experiencing a wilderness wandering, a sojourn of suffering. We participate in the plaintive cry of saints in the book of Revelation: “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10).
Earth-dwellers are the “others” of which Paul speaks in Thessalonians, those who are of the world, without hope, part of the kingdom of Satan that will be destroyed. Because of their unbelief and rejection of Christ, they continue to face the wrath to come.
Paul recognizes the travails of God’s saints in this world and gives words of comfort and encouragement to those who endure persecution now.
“We ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.” (2 Thess. 1:4–10)
Not only will the saints be vindicated, God’s justice will be executed.
But there is more to the story than relief and retribution. Those delivered from wrath to come are those who have been made worshipers. Those who wait for the Son from heaven are those who have been redeemed from idolatry to know and serve the living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9-10). They are aligned with Jesus Christ, Lord of lords and King of kings, citizens in His redemptive everlasting kingdom.
The heart of Revelation has to do with who rules your heart. It asks, “Whom will you worship?” To whom will you pledge allegiance? To which kingdom do you belong, the everlasting kingdom of God and His Christ or the doomed kingdom of the ruler of this age, the false god of this world?
The writer of Hebrews captures this heart of worship, describing the redemptive realities that are ours in Christ but that will one day be realized in fullness. The worship of the heavenly Jerusalem has already begun for us.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:22–29)
Of the three charges of the visible church – worship, nurture, and witness – only worship will endure into eternity. Assemblies of saints for service of praise now are foretastes of the glory to come. For now, we worship, we press on, we endure, we overcome through Christ in us.
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work” (2 Thess. 2:16–17).
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.