For centuries, Christ’s parousia has intrigued the church as a stimulating topic of discussion. Ever since the two angels announced to his disciples, “why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11), Christians have sought to maintain an awakened readiness of his return. However, the key themes of suffering and glory have gained insufficient attention concerning his coming. This blog attempts to unpack the meaning of both issues in Paul’s eschatological discourse of his second epistle to the Thessalonians. The apostle’s teaching endeavored to convey hope in the midst of suffering. Today, believers throughout the world are experiencing persecution and martyrdom for their faith in Jesus. My thesis remains to affirm the promise that Christ’s salvation calls us to “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28) as Christians will suffer awaiting his coming. The apostle Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-8:
5 This is evidence of the righteous judgement of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering. 6 For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marvelled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfil by his power every good resolve and work of faith, 12 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.
Two vital threads of theology intertwine this eschatological passage of scripture. First, there is the connection between suffering and glory, and yet, this theme is not new to Paul. He writes of a “Calvary and Pentecost” experience on several occasions in his epistles (Galatians 3:13-14; 4:4-7; Philippians 3:9-10). There is irony announcing that tribulation produces God’s glory because if God is in control, these afflicting events should not be happening. However, Paul’s writings teach that the experience of suffering comes before the glory. It is in suffering in and for Christ that leads a believer along the kingdom path. There cannot be one without the other. 1 Peter, also written to Christians who suffered for Christ, contained a word about suffering and glory (1 Peter 1:6-7, 10-11; 4:12-14); thus, the concept was not only Pauline, but a teaching the other apostles knew and experienced. So suffering and glory, tribulation and the kingdom, belong inseparably to one another in the life of a Christian. The life of Christ is manifested when a believer suffers. We see also the sufferings of the people of God, who are opposed, ridiculed, boycotted, harassed, imprisoned, tortured, and killed. Without the hope of glory, suffering certainly would be unfathomable to endure.
Currently, believers in the Middle East and worldwide are in urgent danger. ISIS released a horrifying video showing masked men beheading twenty-one Egyptian Christians. It is not an exaggeration to assert that Christ’s followers are facing the darkest days since the persecutions of early Christianity. Oppressive leadership bans the mention of Jesus’ name as men and women risk their lives for the sake of Christ. Countries such as North Korea, Somalia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Sudan, Chechnya, and China silence believers. Terrorists burn churches as people flee for their lives and many are martyred for their faith. Societal intolerance is fomented by extreme Islamist groups destroying ancient holy sites such as the tomb of the biblical prophet Jonah in Mosul, ancient Assyria. After centuries of waiting for Christ’s coming, suffering for Jesus is more extensive than ever. Yet, John the Revelator proclaimed the eternal promise that “they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death” (Rev. 12:11). The blood of the martyrs saturates the seed of the church, and undeniably, the Thessalonian Christians experienced the meaning of this prophetic exhortation. Only the assurance of God’s word of glory in the face of affliction can effect peace in life. The author of Hebrews professed concerning Jesus, “who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Christ called his followers to take up the cross, for both suffering and glory reveal God’s purpose through salvation history.
Lastly, another thread of 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 connects the suffering and glory theme to the revelation of Christ’s parousia. As certain preachers recently promoted the Four Blood Moons speculation to unveil the return of Christ, again they discovered the words of Jesus that “about that day and hour no one knows” (Matthew 24:36) remains in God’s timing, not theirs. At God’s choosing, Christ will be revealed in his glory (verse 7) and glorified in his people (verse 10). Those who reject him will be excluded from his glory (verses 8, 9) for he is coming with power to take vengeance on those who oppose his will and all who have suffered for his sake will share in his glory of the reign of God. The kingdom will no longer exist in part but in its fullness. Jesus the King will govern the new earth and his coming will herald the eternal kingdom that removes all suffering.
 All scriptural quotations are from The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.