Do me a favor: find 1Thess 1:10 and read it. To what does it refer? How do you interpret its meaning? Now, read vv6-9. Is your opinion the same?
The difficulty with tradition is it doesn’t always help us understand scripture. In fact, for better or worse, very often tradition shapes and galvinises our errant interpretation of particular text. I would bet a lot of money that if you went into any particular church and asked them with what do these verses have to do, every single one of them (unless they were preterist) would say that these verses have to do with punishment in hell. They would not even think to interpret the passage in any other fashion.
Take this passage for instance:
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. – 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10
I guarantee you that everyone who is not preterist reads the very last verse and does not even consider that it has any other possible meaning. What other possible meaning could it have? People read it as if it says, “Jesus saves us from the wrath of hell.”
The word for “affliction” in verse 6 is the same word in Matt 24:9 which is translated “tribulation.” Thlipsis in the Greek is translated in two very different ways in two very closely related passages. Unfortunately, using two words to say the same thing is not good theology. And here’s why.
Paul intentionally wants to use the word Jesus used in his Olivet Discourse when writing to the church in Greece so that they do not miss the power of his message.
What is that message? It is the message of the Olivet Discourse: the end will come after Jesus’ followers are afflicted or tribulated and He vindicates them by ending the old creation in the dissolution of the sun, moon, and stars. This is what comforts them in their present circumstances, not escape from the maw of the lake of fire as in “hell” as most think.
So the wrath to come is not hell and it is not hell from which Jesus saves Paul’s readers. The only wrath spoken of in the Olivet Discourse is the wrath of Jesus coming in judgement to dissolve the Temple’s heavenly asociation.
But if the reader would only consider the context of the entire New Testament and the hermeneutical influence of Matthew 24 as the guiding principle for reading New Testament passages, many passages would make more sense.
The study of any NT judgement/affliction passage begins with this question: is there anything in this passage that links it to Matthew 24? This done, the reader would understand that this is addressing was Jesus said would happen in his Olivet Discourse.
Acts 17:31 and 24:15 and 25 are the same idea. Ask the question of whether or not Paul was warning Felix about the dangers of the afterlife or the judgment that was coming up on the “oikumene” in the first century. This then also reveals the ignorance that the Christian church has of what the first century was truly all about. If we think that Jesus came asking this question: Do you know where you will spend eternity, then we will completely miss the real reason why he came.
Jesus came to bring judgement on Israel (John’s Revelation) and that is the only lens through which the entire NT must be read.