“This is evidence of God’s righteous judgment, to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which in fact you are suffering” (2 Thessalonians 1:5 NET).
Although it is often difficult to understand how the righteous can suffer at the hands of the unrighteous, the New Testament book of 1 Peter helps provide us with an answer: “…judgment must begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17 GNV). These seemingly unrelated verses from 1 Thessalonians and 1 Peter may have more in common that it appears.
You see, we commonly view “judgment” as a corrective measure. In other words, a person who is accused of violating the law is subject to judgment for his or her alleged violation. However, we should not overlook the fact that many are also found “not guilty” when placed under judicial review. In fact, a righteous judge must find a defendant not guilty if the evidence supports that verdict.
In light of this, we can say that judgment began at the house of God in Thessalonica in regard to the sufferings that had been inflicted upon them. The Christian community’s response to that persecution offered demonstrable evidence of their underlying faith and righteousness. It also demonstrated their blamelessness as they patiently endured the unwarranted persecutions that had been inflicted against them. In view of that evidence, God (as the ultimate Judge) held sufficient cause to render a “not guilty” verdict in the case of the Thessalonian church.
Therefore, these trials and persecutions served a dual purpose. In a positive sense, they produced a purifying effect upon the church at Thessalonica and demonstrated evidence of their faith. From a negative perspective, they provided a means of illustrating God’s righteousness in judging their persecutors.
In a similar manner, God’s people serve as mirrors in the face of such persecution today. No matter what form they take, our response to the trials and persecutions of life reflect who and what we truly are as well as God’s just response in dealing with those who persecute His people. One source summarizes this concept with a valuable insight…
“Endurance in trials does not make one worthy of heaven; one does not earn heaven by suffering. But endurance in trials does demonstrate one’s worthiness. A Christian is made worthy by God’s grace, which he receives as a free gift by faith in Jesus Christ. His trials simply expose what is there already and since the character that emerges through the fire of testing is God-given, God receives all the glory.” (1)
(1) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary [2 Thessalonians 1:5]