“This vengeance is coming to those who “know not God” and to them “who obey not the gospel”. The first class embraces those who were without knowledge of the true God (cf. Rom. 1:28; 1 Thes. 4:5). Some exclude those who could not know due to no fault of their own. That is presumptuous and precarious. The latter group has been exposed to a knowledge of God, but they have refused to obey the gospel (cf. 1 Peter 4:17). The gospel contains facts to be believed (Mk 1:15) and command to be obeyed (cf. Jn 3:36). This nullifies the dogma of salvation by “faith alone.” Knowledge + belief – obedience = punishment.
Disobedience results in “suffering punishment”; the Greek expression means “paying a just penalty.” Those who refuse to let Christ bear the penalty for their sins (cf. Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21) will pay for themselves. The punishment will be “eternal,” i.e., absolute unending (cf. Mt. 25:46). Some attempt to argue that “destruction” implies ultimate extinction, but that is not the case. The Greek term suggests the idea of “future misery” (Thayer); the word does not suggest annihilation, but conscious torment (“ruin” [1 Tim. 6:9]). Paul illustrates it by compound phrases—a separation “from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of his might.” Absolutely nothing could be more horrible than utter abandonment by the Creator (Matt 7:23).”
Wayne Jackson, A New Testament Commentary
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