The Bliss for the Righteous
“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”- 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12
In 2 Thessalonians 1:5–12, Paul paints a picture of what believers and nonbelievers can expect at the return of Jesus. Those who have not believed the gospel can expect only eternal affliction from God as they suffer the divine vengeance for their sins (vv. 5–8). Importantly, this does not mean the absence of God’s presence. Many popular evangelical conceptions of hell in our day hold that hell is merely a state of being away from the Creator. There is some truth in this in that hell entails experiencing the absence of God’s blessing. However, hell is not the absence of God’s presence. Verse 9 indicates that eternal destruction is “from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” The ESV inserts an “away” before the first “from,” but the “away” is not in the original Greek, and commentators argue that Paul means that the impenitent will suffer the wrath of God in the presence of God “from” the hand of God. This must be so, for God is present everywhere in creation, even in hell (Ps. 139:7–12). Hell is not the absence of God, for the wicked would love nothing more than to have no contact whatsoever with the Lord. Instead, hell is a place of direct encounter with divine holiness in the absence of God’s grace. Thus, the reprobate experience God’s presence as punishment.
Those who are redeemed in Christ also enjoy a direct encounter with divine holiness in the afterlife, but because of divine grace and the Lord’s saving work in us, we will experience that holiness as the highest pleasure possible. This is a necessary outworking of what Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 1:12. According to the grace of God, the name of Jesus will be glorified in us and we will be glorified in Him. “Christ, who is God over all, [is] blessed forever” (Rom. 9:5), and theologians have noted that this means Christ enjoys the perfect blessedness that is part and parcel of His being God, the One who cannot experience any augmentation or diminution of His own bliss and contentment. At the return of Jesus, He will be glorified in us and we will be glorified in Him; we will be fully like Him and thus share in this perfect divine blessedness in a manner that is appropriate to creatures made in His image (2 Thess. 1:12; 1 John 3:2). This is far too wonderful for us to grasp at the present time, but it testifies to the grace of the Lord toward those sinners whom He has chosen to save. John Calvin comments, “In this . . . the wonderful goodness of God shines forth—that he will have his glory be conspicuous in us who are covered over with ignominy.”
What God has in store for all His servants is far better than we can describe or conceive of in our present state. Even the best that this world can offer cannot be compared to what the Lord has for His people in the world to come. If we are convinced that what lies ahead is far better than anything we can imagine, we will be strengthened to persevere in serving the Lord no matter what may come our way.
Passages for Further Study
1 Corinthians 15:35–49