“These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power…”
The word “these” is qualitative, emphasizing the class of those described in verse 8.
shall be punished
The word punished means to pay a price (by way of return), to pay a penalty. God will repay the persecutors of the church at Thessalonica by giving them “eternal destruction” in return for rejecting the gospel and persecuting the messengers of the gospel. They will not escape God’s retribution.
with everlasting destruction
“Destruction” means ruin, death. Because a number of evangelicals today reject the idea of eternal punishment, we need to study this word more extensively. Some say that “destruction” means annihilation. This word does not imply annihilation or temporary retribution.
The New Testament uses this word of the physical death for a believer out of fellowship (1 Corinthians 5:5). Because this person did not repent of living in adultery with his stepmother, Paul gave him over to Satan “for the destruction of his flesh [his physical body] that his spirit may be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In 1 Timothy 6:9, Paul shows the consequences of indulging the flesh. There will be irrevocable physical ruin. Indulging the flesh ruins people.
Paul uses “destruction” in our verse and 1 Thessalonians 5:3 to describe the effect of God’s judgments in the Day of the Lord (the Tribulation) and the Second Coming of Christ. The nature of “destruction” in this verse is that it is “everlasting.”
In a few passages (Romans 16:25; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2) “everlasting” means duration undefined but not necessarily endless. However, we can see the dominant meaning of “everlasting” in 63 other passages, such as 2 Corinthians 4:18 where it is set in contrast to phrases such as “for a season.”
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
The New Testament uses “everlasting” for persons and things which are in themselves endless: of God (Romans 16:26), God’s power (1 Timothy 6:16), God’s glory (1 Peter 5:10), the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 9:14), the redemption effected by Christ (Hebrews 9:12), salvation (Hebrew 5:9), Christ’s future rule (2 Peter 1:9) which the Bible declares to be without end, the life received when we believe in Christ (John 3:16) (“they shall never perish”), and the resurrection body (2 Corinthians 5:1) (elsewhere said to be “immortal” in 1 Corinthians 15:53).
“Everlasting” is something without beginning (Romans 16:25; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2), without beginning or end (Genesis 21:33; Isaiah 26:4; 40:28; Hebrews 9:14), and without end (2 Corinthians 5:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:16; 1 Timothy 6:16; Hebrews 9:12; 13:20; Revelations 14:6).
The use of “everlasting” here shows that God’s judgment is final with no appeal (Hebrews 6:2) and is “unquenchable” (Mark 9:43). This is not remedial but retributive justice. It is not temporary but final judgment. It is of unlimited duration of time–eternal, as God’s eternal power and divine nature are “everlasting” (Romans 1:20; 16:26).
Note the parallel between “everlasting punishment” and “eternal life.” If heaven is to possess eternal life, then hell is everlasting punishment. Everlasting punishment lasts as long as eternal life. If we shorten hell, we shorten heaven.
“And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).
“Everlasting destruction” ultimately means that those without Christ will lose everything that gives worth to our existence. We see that worth in the next two clauses.
Non-Christians incur eternal destruction because of God’s justice.
God is always consistent with Himself. He always uses proper legal procedure in passing out judgment.
The idea that there is no everlasting hell attracts men. They love the idea that God annihilates those without Christ from conscious existence because then they would not have to face their liability before Him. Men are not like horses that black out when they die. People go on forever.
The essence behind the idea of hell in the Bible is justice. God is not capricious or cruel. He must be consistent with Himself. He must be true to Himself. If He bends the policy (steps outside His character), He would no longer be consistent with Himself. If He were no longer consistent with Himself, He would no longer be absolute. If He were no longer absolute, He could not be the supreme God of the universe. He would be a fractured being that we could not trust.
Hell is a place we choose. If we choose to reject God’s plan of salvation in Christ, then we make ourselves sovereign. We think we know what is the best way for the universe to operate. The outcome of this is eternal destruction.
Non-Christians love to say, “I want to go to hell because that is where all my friends are.” They miss the essence of hell in this. Hell is a place of deep alienation, alienation from God and from other people. It is a place of loneliness.