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2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 Will Those who have not heard go to hell?

As mentioned in my last post in 2 Thessalonians, which you can read here, I wanted to stop for a moment and share a complete post answering the question of does 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 teach that all people (including those who have never heard the gospel) are going to hell if they have not obeyed the gospel?

Let me first dig deeper into the exegesis.

The text clearly states that God will pass out vengeance upon two groups.  This vengeance will include “everlasting destruction away from the presence of the Lord”, or what we typically call hell.  The inclusion of the reference to the coming of Jesus, “that day,” and Jesus being “revealed” from heaven (1:7, 10), are further evidence that we are talking about the final judgment and God’s eternal punishment for the wicked in hell.

The next question becomes who will receive this punishment?  Thus we must identify the two groups:

1. Those who do not know God.  Our mind quickly jumps to atheists or those who worship a god other than the Bible, but I think we need to understand how Paul would use the term.  Paul, being Jewish and trained in the law, I believe, is using this phrase to refer to the Gentiles.  Those individuals who suppressed the truth about God. Thus Paul is saying the Gentiles are destined for punishment.

2. Those who have not obeyed the Gospel.  The quick jump could be that if the first half refers to the Gentiles then the second half must refer to the Jews.  This could be the case.  It could be that Paul is referring to the Jewish people who rejected the gospel due to their rejection of Jesus as Messiah and His atoning work.  However, I think it is more likely that Paul is referring to both Gentiles and Jews who refuse to obey the gospel.

Okay, so the text, as interpreted, says: God will punish to hell the Gentiles who do not know Him and the Jews and Gentiles who refuse to submit themselves to the gospel.

This is updated from Earlier Edition in Order to be More Precise.  I thank those who through comments and private messages have shown where my language was less than adequate.

Now the next step is to ask the question how universal is this principle?  We know from context that the main concern Paul has is to provide comfort for the Thessalonians by letting them know that they will receive rest while their tormentors will receive punishment.  We cannot miss this as the MAIN point.

However, as is true with much Scripture there is also a secondary point that I think is legitimate.  When you diagram the text (usually down in Greek but for our purposes English) the phrase “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God and have no obeyed the gospel,” is modifying “when Jesus is revealed.”  Thus the text is saying that God is going to punish the tormentor of the Thessalonians at the time of Jesus Second Coming, when Jesus will also punish those who do not know God and have not obeyed the gospel.

I hope this update helps.

So, my conclusion is that the text is PRIMARILY Concerned with the persecutors, but also teaches the truth that God will punish all who do not know God and do not obey the gospel.

Your thoughts?



  1. Very interesting! It’s humbling to realize how easily we can misuse the original intent of a passage, because we project an idea upon it. Even if the projected thought happens to be truth, we should not use a particular passage for anything other than the Lord through the inspired writer intended. —JLP

  2. Wesley

    November 8, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Amen. I think we can cause as much if not more damage to truth, by teaching “truth” from the wrong passage, as we do from teaching error. We have to learn to simply be honest with the text and let it go where it may.

  3. I don’t see the context as restricting the condemned to only those guilty of persecuting. The way it reads to me is: “God will one day repay those who are persecuting you when Jesus comes in judgment on all who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel.” Notice that even though he is addressing the Thessalonians in this context, he refers to “all who have believed” in verse 10. The judgment scene described seems to me to be dealing with all of mankind (believers, unbelievers & disobedient), not just the persecutors and persecuted.

  4. Wesley

    November 8, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    So what do you do with the fact that the whole address is to those who have “cause you affliction”? That sets the context.

  5. Wesley

    November 8, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    If I’m understanding you Eric. You are saying that the punishment of the persecutors will take place at the time when Jesus comes back to punish all who have not known Him or have no obeyed.

    I can see that reading. And have wavered back and forth because of that very thing.

  6. Maybe I’m missing it (wouldn’t be the first time!), but here’s how I read it. (6) God will repay those who afflict you (7) and will give relief to the afflicted. When will this happen? (7) When Jesus comes in fire (8) to punish the unbelievers and disobedient. (9) These will be punished (10) when Jesus comes on that day to be glorified and marveled at among all believers.

    So the afflicted will be comforted (7) on the day when all believers are glorified (10).
    And the persecutors will be repaid (6) on the day when all unbelievers and disobedient are punished (7-9).

    Surely you agree that “all who have believed” in verse 10 is a larger group than the “you who are suffering” in verse 5? Just because the context is dealing with the persecutors and persecuted doesn’t mean that the judgment scene described is limited to those two groups.

  7. Wesley

    November 8, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Thanks Eric. Your comments have made me reread my post. And the new update I think is more in line with what I believe and meant to say. I think in wanting to make sure we don’t miss the main point, I had thrown aside legitimate applications.

    Thanks for interacting and feel free to stop by often.

  8. Wesley and Eric,
    I am confused about the importance of God’s judgment on those who haven’t heard the gospel. I have the thought that this issue is not important to me. If I meet someone who doesn’t have the gospel I am to tell them about it. Am I way of base here and missing the point? I see the relevance of the message that God will punish those who do not obey him. We must strive to make sure we walk in the light and help all those we come in contact with to walk in the light. Isn’t that the message of verse 11 and 12? My thought is we should never hold the gospel message from anyone. So the issue of what God does with someone who doesn’t have the gospel doesn’t change what we are to do.
    Thanks and looking forward to your comments.

  9. Wesley

    November 8, 2010 at 9:25 pm


    Thessalonians only deals with this issue indirectly. It is Romans that I think deals with the issue of those who have not heard directly. Romans 10:5-17 deals with the idea of the necessity for faith in the gospel in order for one to have salvation. It then concludes with saying faith in the gospel comes when people hear the message about Christ. In between is the urgency of Paul in showing the necessity of individuals to bring the gospel to those who have not heard. In my mind that is the importance in understanding that God’s wrath sets upon those who had not heard. It should provide us with urgency to bring the message of the gospel to them.

    Hope this helps.


  10. Thanks Wesley that does help.

  11. I appreciate all the intellectual energy & seeking of God put into this post. Could it be more simply summarized as follows?

    All have sinned & have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans).
    – This means everyone is automatically Hell-bound unless Jesus is received & confessed as a person’s Lord.
    – This is for each & every person, not exclusive to some ethnic or religious affiliation.

    God’s desire is that no one would perish but all would come to repentance (2 Peter).
    – This means ALL NEED repentance to be saved, and hence have eternal life.
    – There is salvation by none other than Jesus, through faith alone in His finished work on the cross alone.

    If there were some other way of salvation then Jesus’ life & death would have been in vain (He is THE way/truth/life – no one goes to the Father but by Me).
    – This is why Christians MUST evangelize the lost nearby & afar.
    – There are rewards for Christians who assist with another’s salvation, and loss of rewards for lethargy & lack of service of God.
    – Hence, those who have not heard the Gospel message will go to Hell.

    If this were not true, the most cruel thing one could do would be evangelism. If people were automatically Heaven-bound prior to hearing the Gospel, then why would anyone utter the Gospel to anyone else?
    – Existence proof: Satan knows the Gospel is the only way to eternal life and this is why he persecutes believers & does all he can to subvert communication of the Gospel.
    – In parallel he does all he can to pervert or frustrate the life of each believer in an attempt to render their witness ineffectual.

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