…in a fire of flame, distributing vengeance to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, which ones shall suffer the penalty, eternal destruction from the face of God and from the glory of his strength, when he comes to be glorified in [better, with or by] his saints and to be marveled at by all who believe [aorist], because our witness was believed by you, in that day.
…First let us consider the flame of fire. Often fire is a symbol of punishment. We speak of Hell fire. But this is not always the case. Recall the burning bush which Moses stopped to see. So here the fire is a display of God’s glory, even though the next word is vengeance. It is the angels, not the wicked, who are in the fire. Or maybe it is not the angels, but Christ alone. The grammar is interesting. In verse 7 the Lord Jesus is in the genitive case; distributing is also genitive, in fact, genitive singular. Therefore, it is not the angels also, but Christ alone who distributes vengeance.
On the first few lines of these three verses Hendriksen offers a solution to a problem that must trouble many Christians. It is best to quote most of his paragraph.
"The Lord comes in order to “inflict vengeance” (compare Deuteronomy 32:35; Isaiah 59:17, Ezekiel 25:14). On whom? Two answers are possible, depending on what translation one adopts, whether “inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ”; or “inflicting vengeance on those who not know God, even on those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
In the former case two classes are indicated: (a) pagans who have never heard the Gospel; and (b) Jews and pagans who have rejected the Gospel. In the latter case the reference is to only one class, namely, those who having heard the Gospel, refuse to obey it. In view of the fact that in the entire context the blind heathen who have never come into contact with the message of salvation are never alluded to and that those who in their willful disobedience persecute God’s children are definitely in the apostle’s mind (see verse 4, 6, 9), we accept this latter alternative."
Hendriksen’s solution will appeal to those sympathetic Christians who worry about the thousands of generations in Africa and Asia, and even in early Europe. But the question is, Is his inference valid? In the first place, he mistranslates the verse. He quotes it as “inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God, even on those who do not obey the Gospel.” But the Greek text has no even. It is a simple kaí (kai), and. Furthermore, there are articles before both “do not know” and “do not obey.” Were there but one article, there could have been only one class. But two articles strongly indicate, indeed grammatically demand, two classes. The resulting truth may disturb us, and we may wish it were otherwise, but such disturbances neither translate Greek nor validate fallacies. The conclusion is that “do not know God” refers to the Gentiles, and “do not obey” refers to the Jews.
The fact that John 8:55, 15:21, and 16:3 describe the Jews as not knowing God does not destroy this interpretation. The grammar is the determinative. Nor does logic cast doubt. Obviously several groups can be described as not knowing God. If one says that the Moslems do not know God, there is no implication that the Tibetans do. At any rate, Scripture often refers to the Gentiles as not knowing God. Acts 17:23, 30 put it mildly; Romans 1:28 puts it harshly; and, somewhat between the two extremes…1 Thessalonians 4:5 puts it factually.
The punishment to be visited upon these two groups, though mentioned only briefly, is too horrible to contemplate. Verse 9 calls it everlasting destruction. The word for everlasting is αιωνιον (aiōnion). Some, to mitigate its duration, translate it as age-long, in order to bring it to an end. But in doing this, they automatically terminate our age long blessedness. Whether the King James has eternal or everlasting, the word refers to Heaven and Hell. See Matthew 18:8; 19:16; 29; 25:41, 46. The first of these is everlasting fire; the second two are everlasting blessedness; the last two are everlasting punishment. John 3:15 has everlasting life, as also John 4:36, 5:39, 6:54, and so on for about seventy instances in the New Testament.
Verse 10 dates the arrival of this punishment and this glorification not in years A.D., but at Christ’s coming to be glorified by having his saints attend him. The phrase “glorified in his saints” conveys little meaning. The Greek preposition ἐν (en), often properly translated in, also means by; indeed it indicates agency about as many times as it indicates location, and location here makes no sense. In fact this very verse has a second ἐν which must be translated by: “be admired by all them that believe.”
Next there comes the parenthetical phrase “because our testimony among you was believed.” It must be parenthetical, for the following words “in that day” obviously refer to the parousia of the first part of the verse. The parenthesis simply emphasizes the fact that the Thessalonians had indeed believed. As for “in that day,” one can note that, just above, horror was its characteristic, but here its characteristic is glory and rejoicing.
Clark, G. H. (2005). The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark, Volume 12: Commentaries on Paul’s Epistles (pp. 304-306). Unicoi, Tennessee: The Trinity Foundation.