Atonement,  Bible

Atonement: Affliction for Affliction

Paul commences his second letter to the church at Thessalonica with an encouragement for those experiencing affliction. Paul tells his readers that it is just for God to repay in kind those who afflict them.[1] He tells the Thessalonians that God will “repay with affliction” those who afflict his reader (2 Thess 1:3-9). The term, ‘repay’ (ἀνταποδοῦναι), means ‘to give back’ or ‘return’ what is due.[2] In this case, those who afflict God’s people will be repaid with affliction from God.

Paul goes on to tell his reader that such a repayment is retributive: God will deal out “retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess 8-9). Retribution, in this case, is not abstracted from God’s wrath. The term, ‘retribution’ (ἐκδίκησιν), is used for ‘vengeance,’ or ‘punishment’ and is uniquely the prerogative of God (Rom 12:19).[3] Robert Thomas notes the connection punishment has with God’s vengeance but seeks to avoid the conclusion that God is prone to vindictiveness: “It has no overtones of selfish vindictiveness or revenge.”[4] However, as Tom Schreiner points out, God’s wrath should not be reduced to a law like reaction of the cosmos to good and evil. Rather, God’s punishment is uniquely personal. Consequently, “sin is not merely the violation of God’s law but spiritual adultery.”[5] If so, then Paul’s point is not that desert alone justifies punishment, but God’s justice entails punishment carried out by God.

Our sin deserves affliction. It is this affliction Christ bears in his body on the cross.

[1] Robert L. Thomas, “2 Thessalonians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 11 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 312–313.
[2] DAG, 72.
[3] DAG, 238.
[4] Thomas, 312–313.
[5] Schreiner, “Penal Substitution View”, 80.

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.