The Kingdom of God, Judgment, and Persecution: An Exegetical and Biblical-Theological Analysis of 2 Thessalonians 1:5

I am aiming to publish this article. Therefore, I’ve taken the majority of this article down. If you read this entry, keep in mind it may “sound” choppy due to eliminating the majority of my argument. I am wanting to maintain my introduction and conclusions for multiple reasons. First, I’d like to whet the appetite of those engaging eschatological language, persecution, and biblical theology. Second, for those desiring to pursue kingdom of God studies or sources for the Thessalonian epistles, I’ve maintained by bibliography to assist those researching. Finally, I desire readership and limiting the paper to the introduction and conclusion makes readership more feasible.

frui!!!

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Introduction: The Need for Changing Eschatological Language

Some elements of the future eschaton are making headway into the present era. Evaluating modern consensus, eschatology reveals hermeneutical and theological presuppositions in attempting to describe the already/not-yet tension.[1] Problematic to the discussion resides in determining what elements are future and what elements are present. Are some elements fulfilled now, implying no substantial change/modification will happen later? Furthermore, if nascent elements appear now, is there progressive development throughout the present era, if any?

Jörg Frey provides a helpful overview of the historical development of eschatological language. The landscape of scholarship demonstrates eschatological doctrine, but Philipp Heinrich Friedlieb, a classical Lutheran dogmatician, introduces “Eschatology” to designate the “last things”.[2] In 1644, he published a work with Eschatologia as part of a book title.[3] This title was first used as a systematic description of “death, the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment, the end or dissolution of the world, about hell or eternal death, and finally, about eternal life.”[4] By strictly limiting few future-referent elements to this title, it is no wonder the subsequent history of eschatological interpretation has vacillated; it is difficult to include all necessary theological categories under the single umbrella “eschatology.”

During the early parts of the 20th century, scholarship attempted to crystallize the meaning of “Eschatology.” Bultmann and Barth provided definitions contrary to their contemporary counterparts and thus provided the need to bi-furcate subsequent eschatological discussions. Their discussions surrounded two different items of bi-furcation; it was time to distinguish ‘future-oriented’ and ‘present-oriented’ eschatology; it was time to distinguish between prophetic (within history) and apocalyptic elements of eschatological descriptions.

Due to these terminal changes, theologians are now used to distinguish between a ‘future-oriented’ and a ‘present-oriented’ type of eschatology, i.e. between an expectation of immanent or even more remote acts or dispensations and, on the other hand, the conviction that the things originally expected are now at hand or even fulfilled. In contrast with earlier scholarship, it is no longer possible to use the attribute ‘eschatological’ only for expressions of the first ‘line’ of eschatological thought and to label the second, present-oriented line ‘non-eschatological’.[5]

The eschatological implications of 2 Thess 1:5 may create time-referent subcategories. Creating categorical time distinctions may prove helpful with symmetrical internal categories: animate and inanimate; cosmological and non-cosmological, and; personal (individual vs. corporate) and impersonal. Articulation of this categorical distinction predominantly is demonstrated by the following illustration and serves to depict the separation of present-oriented personal eschatology, of which is argued in 2 Thess 1:5.

An underdeveloped area in kingdom studies is the relationship of individuals to the kingdom. Also underdeveloped is the relationship between persecution and the kingdom. 2 Thess 1:5 contributes to both inchoate ideas. Through exegetical analysis, the kingdom of God is partially made manifest in the current persecution of believers. Faith and persecution synergistically provide judicial righteousness, as proleptic judgment, for the final inheritance of the kingdom.[6] Upon proving and demonstrating with enough substantial evidence, a brief NT theological analysis will provide further corroboration.

Conclusion: Brief Biblical Theology of Persecution, Judgment, and the Kingdom

More work can be provided in analyzing the interrelationship of persecution, affliction (either internal or external), judgment, and the kingdom. 2 Thess 1:5 only provides a small picture of their interworking affiliation. A theology of suffering, as preparation for eschatology is not totally absent from 2nd Temple literature (2 Mac 6:12–16; 2 Baruch 13:3–10; 52:5–7; 78:5–7; Ps of Sol 13:9–10).

The NT relationship between persecution, judgment, and kingdom studies need caveats. Not all experiences of persecution have the same intended goal. Sometimes persecution and affliction have a purifying element (Jas 1:2–4, 12–14) or a sign of God’s discipline for sin (Heb 12:3–17). However, there is an element of receiving the kingdom (i.e. Future kingdom) that serves as a reward for the persecuted (Matt 5:10–12). Moreover, proclaiming the kingdom will result with persecution (Matt 10:5–25, esp. 17–18, 21–23). Even the non-regenerate will experience persecution and tribulation by their association with the message of the kingdom. It will have a counter effect, though, because persecution will provide a discernable judgment between actual and fraudulent believers (Matt 13:18–23). The proverbial road to the kingdom, will be marked by tribulation and persecution (Acts 14:22)

Potentially theologically problematic, is the incorporation of soteriological implications. As previously argued, faithfulness in persecutions contains a salvific redeeming value. This theological nuance is also not without supporting NT evidence. Rom 8:17 associates glorification with suffering. The combined appearance of εἲπερ (a conditional particle) and ἱνα + subjunctive provide dependant soteriology on suffering. Prior to gaining the promised inheritance, suffering is the necessary precondition. “Participation in Christ’s glory can come only through participation in his suffering. What Paul is doing is setting forth an unbreakable ‘law of the kingdom’ according to which glory can come only by way of suffering.”[58] Participation with Christ will bring about suffering and persecution, but inheriting the kingdom cannot happen without undergoing similar afflictions of Christ.

Modifying eschatological categories are helpful when interpreting 2 Thess 1:5. Persecution is experienced both by single individuals and the collective church. Faithfulness during persecution and affliction is demonstrating God’s judicial giving righteousness that will ultimately deem the recipients worthy of the kingdom. Prior to entering the future eschatological kingdom, being persecuted for the kingdom will provide the badge for entrance.

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[1]Greg K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 1–25; Jan G. Vander Watt, ed., Eschatology of the New Testament and Some Related Documents, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe 315 (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2011).

[2] Jörg Frey, “New Testament Eschatology—an Introduction: Critical Issues, Disputed Themes, and Current Perspectives,” in Eschatology of the New Testament and Some Related Documents, WissenSchaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe 315, ed. Jan G. Van Der Watt (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), 6.

[3]Ibid

[4]Frey, “New Testament Eschatology,” 6.

[5]Ibid., 7.

[58]Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), 506.

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