Is it your view, then, that the coming of Christ/judgment of which Paul speaks in this passage is still future? If so, who all do you believe will suffer this “vengeance” and “punishment” (e.g., those who physically die as unbelievers, or those who just happen to be unbelievers when the coming/judgment takes place)? If you don’t see this judgment as being confined to a yet-future time, when and where do you think it is taking place?
While I do think Talbott makes a good case for apo meaning “coming from” rather than “away from” in 2 Thess 1:9, I also think this understanding of apo is perfectly consistent with my view that this prophesied judgment had a more immediate historical relevance (tektonics.org/esch/timepret.html). While I don’t really find it as problematic to speak of people as being “away from the presence” of the Lord in some sense (especially if by “presence” one means God’s approbation, or a place where his presence and glory is specially manifested), it does seem to make more sense to understand the “eternal destruction” as coming from (or resulting from) the “presence of the Lord” rather than being away from the presence of the Lord! But the question still remains: of what did Paul believe this “eternal” or “age-lasting” destruction would consist, and who did he believe would be the recipients of this destruction?
Well we know that there was, in fact, a severe judgment looming on the horizon in Paul’s day, and which came upon the people who were afflicting the Thessalonians (the unbelieving Jews - Acts 17:5-9 and 1 Thess 2:14-16) - i.e., the historical, national judgment that Christ likely had in mind when he spoke of the fire of “Gehenna” or Hinnom Valley (What did Jesus mean by Hell). And as noted before, Paul (following Christ) seemed to have anticipated some sort of “coming” of Christ taking place within the lifetimes of those to whom he wrote (1 Thess 2:19; 3:11-13; 5:1-4, 23-24; c. 1 Cor 1:4-8; 7:29; 10:11). It seems reasonable that the judgment which overtook the Jews in 70 AD would have granted “relief” to the Christians who were being afflicted by the unbelieving Jews, and put their opponents “in their place” so to speak; at the very least, this judgment would’ve severely weakened the persecuting movement of those who assumed spiritual superiority over the Christians. Even the Jews who weren’t present in Jerusalem for Passover in 70 AD (or who were, and somehow survived) would have been greatly affected by the judgment which left them without a temple or capital city, and resulted in many being “led captive among all nations.” Jesus called the time of this judgment “days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written,” during which time there would be “great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people” (Lk. 21:22-23; cf. 1 Thess 2:16). Could not this judgment be understood as God’s way of “repaying with affliction” those who afflicted the believers to whom Paul wrote? And in a Scriptural sense, couldn’t it be said that the Jews, as a people, were “destroyed” with an “age-lasting” destruction at this time? It’s been almost 2,000 years since this 1st century judgment and the Jews are still without their temple. The 70-year-long “everlasting reproach” and “perpetual shame” which God brought upon the Jewish people when their first temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar pales in comparison to the judgment God brought upon them in 70 AD.
Not only that, but the idea of “repayment” is pretty explicit in 2 Thess 1:6: “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you.” While I don’t see any punishment as being inconsistent with anyone’s being ultimately saved, this doesn’t mean it’s necessarily “remedial.” Paul’s emphasis here certainly seems to be on the retributive rather than corrective nature of this punishment.