2 Thessalonians: 1:9-10 (Available Light, Part 3)

map of greece2 Thess 1:9-10

(2 Thess. 1:9-10 ESV)  9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,  10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 

Destruction

There are several challenging words and phrases here to sort through. For example, “eternal destruction” is not altogether obvious.

“Destruction” translates olethros, meaning destruction or death. BDAG translates “pert. to being totally destructive, deadly, destructive.” For example,

(1 Ki. 13:33-14:1 ESV)  33 After this thing Jeroboam did not turn from his evil way, but made priests for the high places again from among all the people. Any who would, he ordained to be priests of the high places.  34 And this thing became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth.  

The house of Jeroboam (his dynasty as king over the northern tribes of Israel) was destroyed, and so it longer exists.

(Jer. 25:31 ESV)  The clamor [LXX: destruction = olethros] will resound to the ends of the earth, for the LORD has an indictment against the nations; he is entering into judgment with all flesh, and the wicked he will put to the sword, declares the LORD.’

In Jeremiah, God’s destruction comes in the form of a sword and death.

That is, there is nothing in the word olethros (destroy) to suggest perpetual conscious torment. Rather, the word is used of killing someone, of destroying a city by tearing it down, or ending a dynasty so that it no longer exists. The word means to destroy so that the thing destroyed ceases to exist.

“Eternal”

“Eternal” can refer to something that will exist forever (“eternal God”) but can also refer to a finite, even momentary, event that has forever consequences. For example,

(Heb. 6:1-2 ESV) Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,  2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment

“Eternal judgment” is not referring to a continuous, never-ending process of judging. Rather, the judgment occurs and then is complete, but the consequences of the judgment will last forever.

A more exact definition of “eternal” in many contexts is “pertaining to the next age.” The Greek is aionios, with the root being aion, meaning “age.” Hence, “eternal judgment” is probably more precisely defined as “judgment relating to the next age.”

(Heb. 9:12 ESV)  12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

“Redemption” refers to buying a slave’s freedom. It happens at once — in a moment. “Eternal redemption” does not mean that we are continuously being redeemed forever but never fully redeemed. Rather, we will be fully redeemed when Jesus returns — in the twinkling of an eye — and the effects of the redemption will last forever, never to be undone.

Or we can consider “eternal redemption” to refer to redemption in the next age. The meanings aren’t greatly different, but you get a better sense of the word looking at both senses.

Eternal destruction

Hence, “eternal destruction” does not naturally refer to perpetual conscious torment — that is, an unending process of destruction that is never complete. “Destroy” does not mean “keep alive forever” or  “torture in perpetuity.” That’s in fact the very opposite of the word’s meaning. Rather, Paul is prophesying a death that will last forever. There will be no opportunity for resurrection and inheritance for the damned. When God completes his punishment, the damned, like Jeroboam’s dynasty, will cease to exist.

Or we could think of it as destruction in the next age or that lasts through the next age (which never ends). That is, you can be destroyed in this age and be resurrected to live again in the next age. But if God destroys you in the next age, there is no resurrection. The destruction will be eternal — for the entirety of the never-ending final age.

But Paul assures us that God will exact punishment. It’s not just ceasing to exist. It’s God’s righteous punishment following by extinction.

Away from the presence of the Lord

Paul gives us an insight into the nature of God’s punishment in v. 9 —

away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might

The saved will be in the Lord’s presence forever (Rev 21-22). Indeed, while Jesus, Peter, and James speak of gehenna (the garbage dump outside the City of Jerusalem), generally translated “hell,” Paul and the other NT authors say nothing of “hell” or gehenna. Rather, Paul speaks in terms of being in the presence of Jesus or God or being excluded from the presence of Jesus or God.

Salvation is often spoken of as being allowed into the Presence of God:

(Gen. 3:8 ESV)  8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 

(Jer. 3:17 ESV)  17 At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart. 

(2 Cor. 4:13-14 ESV) 13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak,  14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.

(Rev. 7:15 ESV) 15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

Then again, sins that merit exile result in being driven away from God’s Presence:

(Jer. 23:39-40 ESV)  39 therefore, behold, I will surely lift you up and cast you away from my presence, you and the city that I gave to you and your fathers.  40 And I will bring upon you everlasting reproach and perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.'”

In the OT, the Presence is sometimes clearly the tabernacle or Temple. The Jews thought of heaven and earth both existing in the Holy of Holies. God was simultaneously present in the Holy of Holies, above the Mercy Seat, and in heaven. Therefore, references in the OT to being cast away from the “Presence” of God could simultaneously refer to being cast from the Promised Land (where the Temple is) and to loss of salvation and relationship with God in heaven. To a First Century Jew, there was no real difference.

Presence

Therefore, when Paul declares that those who do not know God will be cast away from God’s presence, he is saying that their punishment will consist of being separated from God — in parallel with the eviction of Adam and Eve from Eden and the exile of the Jews from Judah and Jerusalem. Either we enter into God’s presence through Jesus or else we join Adam and Eve and the Jews of Jeremiah’s day in exile from God. There is no in-between position.

The land or inheritance of God’s people is expanded from the Garden, to the Promised Land, to the entire earth, to the New Heavens and New Earth — the entire cosmos. To be exiled from the cosmos is to die, of course, as there’s nowhere else to be. The NHNE includes the dwelling places of both God and man.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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7 Responses to 2 Thessalonians: 1:9-10 (Available Light, Part 3)

  1. David says:

    Jay
    I doubt that I could win a debate on the meaning of “eternal death” or eternal punishment”, or everlasting whatever, but I have leaned your way on this subject for some time, One question that has haunted me was how could Jesus have paid for the sins of the world if he did not suffer everlasting conscious torment, if everlasting conscious torment is the punishment for sins?

    Yes, if we discord everlasting conscious torment, things fit a lot better. Jesus suffered horribly on the cross for a time and then died. That is what unbelievers do. They suffer according to their sins. Believers do not suffer for their sins, but are raised with Christ to everlasting live.

  2. Dwight says:

    I think we have an unclear understanding of presence on the same level we have an unclear understanding of the nature of God. Even while they understood God was in heaven, they also understood that God dwelt in the house made for Him, the Temple, almost more like a temporary dwelling, even while God’s presence was over Israel as a nation.
    When Moses went before the Pharaoh he took the staff which was the power and presence of God.
    When they walked through the Red Sea God sent before them and above them or at least his presence did, which could have been seen through His angels or even the miracle of the pillar of fire and clouds.
    As a saint we have God dwelling with in us, in some way, but still when we pray we offer up prayer to the God in heaven through Jesus also in heaven.
    But just because we don’t understand it and can’t quantify it doesn’t make it all not true and real.

  3. Alabama John says:

    The problem is we make it much more complicated and exclusionary than it is.

    The gift in Acts 2:38 is simply eternal life from Romans verse 23 chapter 6.

    Jesus, one of the three, has been around and active with all humans from their beginning.

    The way many figure, and especially in the coC, the devil gets practically all humans from the beginning and up to today and that is false. Gods creation, man, will be in heaven in the much greater number than those in hell.

    The devil loses and God wins in everything!

  4. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    David wrote,

    One question that has haunted me was how could Jesus have paid for the sins of the world if he did not suffer everlasting conscious torment, if everlasting conscious torment is the punishment for sins?

    Exactly. The argument made by some is that Jesus, being a divine being, suffered infinitely — hence sufficiently for all. But the scriptures say no such thing, and this argument seems to leave no room for the incarnation. I mean, Jesus was both fully God and fully human. That is, under the divine-being theory, Jesus’ human self could not have suffered as much as God’s wrath requires because it was only 3 days.

    Lord willing, I’ll be looking at the Atonement once again as I work through Wright’s new book. I’m looking forward to understanding the Atonement better and fitting that into the conditionalist perspective. Should be fun.

  5. Dwight says:

    The term “once for all” appears numerous times in regards to Jesus death and sacrifice, i.e. Heb.10:10 “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” in that Jesus only had to die once as this is a sacrifice, but that the sacrifice extended to all.
    In a similar way once a year a sacrifice was offered as a sin offering to cover the entire year of the Jew. They didn’t have to kill an animal per sin as they wouldn’t have had any animals left.
    I have never seen Jesus death as punishment, but rather self-sacrifice. Thus once is good, especially of a sinless God in the form of flesh who lived like us. There can be no higher form of sacrifice.
    We don’t study enough on atonement. Atonement can be seen from the very beginning to the end of Revelation. Atonement- (at-one-ment) is about unity. God is all about unity.

  6. David says:

    The suffering and death of Jesus is most often referred to as a sacrifice, but in Isaiah 53, for example, it is also called a punishment for what we did.

  7. Larry Cheek says:

    Alabama John,
    Do you really disagree with Jesus?
    “The way many figure, and especially in the coC, the devil gets practically all humans from the beginning and up to today and that is false. Gods creation, man, will be in heaven in the much greater number than those in hell.”

    Jesus said.
    Mat 7:13-14 ESV “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. (14) For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
    Mat 7:21-24 ESV “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (22) On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ (23) And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
    Luk 13:20-28 ESV And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? (21) It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.” (22) He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. (23) And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, (24) “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. (25) When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ (26) Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ (27) But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ (28) In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.

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