7. The Wrath of God
Over 400 bikers recently gathered to pay their last respects to “Grandpa Bob.” Bob Shields, a founding member of the once-feared motorcycle gang known as the Bandidos, died of cancer at the age of 78. Middle age and older bikers gathered to drink beer and swap stories of the good old days of drug-running, assault, terrorism and murder, not to mention some legal sins. What caught my attention was the macho manner in which they attempted to deal with death and the reality of future judgment.
“Give ‘em hell, Grandpa,” one gray-bearded biker said. “The devil’s in the unemployment line now.” Lamont, another heavily tattooed gang member, is reported to have said, “Where he’s gone, that’s where we’re all going someday. He’s just waiting on us.”
“I don’t want no preachers ranting and raving over me,” he wrote. “Besides, I’m down below, drinking whiskey and . . . on the devil.”34
I do not know if these bikers believe there is a hell, but they certainly do not have a correct view of the wrath of God. Most people do not want to think of God’s wrath at all, preferring to think and speak of God’s love. Those who do believe God is a God of wrath as well as a God of love prefer to think of His wrath in the past tense. Many seem to believe God’s wrath is an Old Testament truth, and that with the coming of Christ, we are now safe to think only in terms of God’s love. This is wrong thinking about God. A. W. Pink observes:
It is sad to find so many professing Christians who appear to regard the wrath of God as something for which they need to make an apology, or at least they wish there were no such thing. While some would not go so far as to openly admit that they consider it a blemish on the Divine character, yet they are far from regarding it with delight; they like not to think about it, and they rarely hear it mentioned without a secret resentment rising up in their hearts against it. Even with those who are more sober in their judgment, not a few seem to imagine that there is a severity about the Divine wrath which is too terrifying to form a theme for profitable contemplation. Others harbor the delusion that God’s wrath is not consistent with His goodness, and so seek to banish it from their thoughts.
Yes, many there are who turn away from a vision of God’s wrath as though they were called to look upon some blotch in the Divine character, or some blot upon the Divine government. But what saith the Scriptures? As we turn to them we find that God has made no attempt to conceal the fact of His wrath. He is not ashamed to make it known that vengeance and fury belong unto Him.35
The wrath of God is not just taught in the Bible, it is a prominent truth in the Scriptures as A. W. Pink calls attention to in his book:
A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness.36
The wrath of God is an attribute of God as much a part of God as any other attribute, an attribute without which God would be less than God:
Now the wrath of God is as much a Divine perfection as is His faithfulness, power, or mercy. It must be so, for there is no blemish whatever, not the slightest defect in the character of God; yet there would be if ‘wrath’ were absent from Him!37
If we are going to discuss the wrath of God, we must first define it. Pink, one of the students of the attributes of God, defines God’s wrath this way:
The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of Divine equity against evil. It is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin. It is the moving cause of that just sentence which He passes upon evil-doers. God is angry against sin because it is a rebelling against His authority, a wrong done to His inviolable sovereignty. Insurrectionists against God’s government shall be made to know that God is the Lord. They shall be made to feel how great that Majesty is which they despise, and how dreadful is that threatened wrath which they so little regarded. Not that God’s anger is a malignant and malicious retaliation, inflicting injury for the sake of it, or in return for injury received. No; while God will vindicate His dominion as Governor of the universe, He will not be vindictive.38
J. I. Packer takes us to the dictionary for a definition of wrath:
‘Wrath’ is an old English word defined in my dictionary as ‘deep, intense anger and indignation’. ‘Anger’ is defined as ‘stirring of resentful displeasure and strong antagonism, by a sense of injury or insult’; ‘indignation’ as ‘righteous anger aroused by injustice and baseness’. Such is wrath. And wrath, the Bible tells us, is an attribute of God.39
Perhaps a more concise definition will suffice for the purpose of our study:
Divine wrath is God’s righteous anger and punishment, provoked by sin.
The Old Testament not only speaks of God’s wrath as one of His attributes, it speaks of His wrath as a part of God’s glory:
18 Then Moses said, “I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!” 19 And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” 20 But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” 21 Then the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” 34:1 Now the Lord said to Moses, “Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered. 2 So be ready by morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to Me on the top of the mountain. 3 And no man is to come up with you, nor let any man be seen anywhere on the mountain; even the flocks and the herds may not graze in front of that mountain.” 4 So he cut out two stone tablets like the former ones, and Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. 5 And the Lord descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the Lord. 6 Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 33:18–34:7).
God’s wrath is not an embarrassment to Him. He need never be ashamed, like men, for losing His temper. God’s wrath is inseparably linked with His glory. God brings glory to Himself when He exercises His wrath.
God’s wrath is provoked when men rebel against His Word. After God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He gave them His laws to guide and govern their conduct so they might be a holy people in whose midst He would dwell. In Deuteronomy 28:1-14, God described the blessings which would result from obedience to the covenant He made with them at Mount Sinai. Verses 15-68 provide a much more extensive and graphic description of His judgment as a consequence of breaking this covenant. In the context of Deuteronomy 28, it is clear that Israel will not keep His covenant and that they will be judged. God will not tolerate sin among His people any more than He will tolerate it in others. The Israelites were destined to drink deeply from the cup of God’s wrath.
Numerous instances can be seen in the Old Testament where God’s wrath is demonstrated. In Numbers 16, God’s wrath is poured out on Korah, Dathan, Abiram and some 250 others who rebelled against Moses as God’s appointed leader (verses 1-3). When summoned to appear, Dathan and Abiram refused, and their words indicate their rebellion was as much against God as it was against Moses:
12 Then Moses sent a summons to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; but they said, “We will not come up. 13 Is it not enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, but you would also lord it over us? 14 Indeed, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor have you given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Would you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up!” (Numbers 16:12-14, emphasis mine).
God promised to lead the Israelites out of their bondage in Egypt to a land of “milk and honey” (Exodus 13:5; see also Numbers 13:27). These rebels viewed Egypt, the place of their former bondage, as the land of “milk and honey” and the promised land as a barren wilderness and place of bondage. They also rejected Moses’ leadership and proposed a more democratic form of government. God seemed ready to destroy the entire nation (Numbers 16:20-21), but Moses and Aaron knew God better; thus, they petitioned God not to pour out His wrath on all, but only on those who were guilty of this rebellion (verse 22).
Moses then declared a means by which all would know those whom God had appointed to lead His people:
28 And Moses said, “By this you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these deeds; for this is not my doing. 29 If these men die the death of all men, or if they suffer the fate of all men, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the Lord.”
31 Then it came about as he finished speaking all these words, that the ground that was under them split open; 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah, with their possessions. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34 And all Israel who were around them fled at their outcry, for they said, “The earth may swallow us up!” 35 Fire also came forth from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense (Numbers 16:28-35).
Korah, Dathan, Abiram and all those who followed them were first burned to death and then given an ignoble burial in a way that had never happened before in history—the ground opened, swallowed them, and then closed over them. God thereby made it clear that Moses and Aaron were his appointed leaders, and at the same time demonstrated His righteous wrath upon those who rebelled against Him and the leaders whom He appointed.
In Old Testament times, God not only displayed His wrath toward rebellious Israelites, He also demonstrated His wrath against wicked pagans. He destroyed the inhabited earth by means of the flood (Genesis 6-9). He also destroyed the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). And after the exodus, He employed the nation Israel to destroy the wicked Canaanites for their sin, just as He had indicated earlier to Abraham:
12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 And God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14 But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 And as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. 16 Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:12-16).
1 “When the Lord your God shall bring you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and shall clear away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you, 2 and when the Lord your God shall deliver them before you, and you shall defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. 3 Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. 4 For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and He will quickly destroy you. 5 But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.… And you shall consume all the peoples whom the Lord your God will deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them, neither shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you” (Deuteronomy 7:1-5, 16; see also 20:16-18).
God indicated to Abraham that his descendants would be persecuted in Egypt for 400 years (although God did not name the place), and then He would bring them back to possess the land. The reason for the delay at least in part was to allow the iniquity of the Amorites to fill up. The Israelites were to be the instrument of God’s wrath toward these Canaanites. They were to show no mercy. They must not allow any of the Canaanites to live. This was for Israel’s own good. If allowed to live, the Canaanites would most certainly intermarry with the Israelites and also teach them to sin, duplicating the very sins for which God was pouring out His wrath upon them.
Often in the Old Testament Israel did experience God’s wrath as did the Gentiles. But there are a number of texts in the Old Testament which speak of a future wrath even greater than any seen before:
6 Wail, for the day of the Lord is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. 7 Therefore all hands will fall limp, And every man’s heart will melt. 8 And they will be terrified, Pains and anguish will take hold of them; They will writhe like a woman in labor, They will look at one another in astonishment, their faces aflame. 9 Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, Cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it. 10 For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not flash forth their light; the sun will be dark when it rises, And the moon will not shed its light. 11 Thus I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud, and abase the haughtiness of the ruthless. 12 I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold, And mankind than the gold of Ophir. 13 Therefore I shall make the heavens tremble, And the earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of the Lord of hosts In the day of His burning anger. 14 And it will be that like a hunted gazelle, Or like sheep with none to gather them, they will each turn to his own people, And each one flee to his own land. 15 Anyone who is found will be thrust through, and anyone who is captured will fall by the sword. 16 Their little ones also will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; Their houses will be plundered and their wives ravished (Isaiah 13:6-16).
If you are a careful student of the Scriptures, you may have noted that this great oracle of woe is pronounced against Babylon upon whom the “day of the Lord” will come. It may appear then that this prophecy is fulfilled in Old Testament times. Babylon is judged for the zeal with which this nation punished the nation Israel. Yet this imminent judgment of Babylon is but a foreshadowing of the great “day of the Lord,” which is yet future for the nation Israel and all the nations which have rebelled against God.
Those willing to accept that God is a God of wrath are sometimes eager for the wrath of God to be viewed as primarily an Old Testament matter which is no longer a threat for those who live today. They like to think that with the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the subject of wrath is largely a matter of past history. But this is simply not the case.
Since John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets, we almost expect him to speak of divine wrath. But when John spoke of the wrath to come, he did so in relationship to the coming of the Christ. According to John’s teaching, divine wrath was related to the coming of Messiah in two ways. First, he spoke of Messiah coming to experience the wrath of God. Second, John spoke of Messiah as the One who would execute the wrath of God.
When John the Baptist first saw Jesus and recognized Him as the Messiah, He spoke of Him as the Sin-bearer who was to experience God’s wrath as the “Lamb of God.”
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
The expression, “the Lamb of God,” to which John referred has a rich Old Testament background. There was the “Passover lamb,” sacrificed at the time of Israel’s exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12), which was a prototype of our Lord (see 1 Corinthians 5:7). There were the other sacrificial lambs that were a part of Israel’s worship (see Genesis 22:8; Exodus 13:13; 29:39-41; 34:20; Leviticus 3:7, etc.). In particular, there is the “Lamb of God” described by Isaiah which is clearly a reference to the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ:
4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. 7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living, For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? . . . 10 But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. 11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities (Isaiah 53:4-8, 10-11).
This prophecy speaks of the suffering of the Messiah as the Sin-bearer, the One on whom the sins of the world are laid and thus on whom the wrath of God is poured out. This enables us to understand why our Lord was so troubled by the knowledge that the time of His suffering and death drew near:
27 “Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify Thy name.” There came therefore a voice out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The multitude therefore, who stood by and heard it, were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, “An angel has spoken to Him.” 30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. 31 Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out. 32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” 33 But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die (Matthew 12:27-34).
Here is why the Lord could say in the Garden of Gethsemene, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death . . .” (Matthew 26:38), and why Luke could tell us our Lord’s sweat in the Garden became as “drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). Who more than our Lord knew the wrath of God toward sin and sinners? Yet He was obedient to the will of the Father to suffer that wrath in the sinner’s place.
Our Lord’s greatest suffering came because He was the object of the Father’s wrath. The great agony of our Lord is seen in these words recorded in the Messianic prophecy of Psalm 22 and then spoken by our Lord as He hung upon the cross:
46 “My God, My God, Why has Thou forsaken Me?” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46).
One of the most beautiful truths of the Bible for the sinner deserving God’s wrath is summed up by the theological term, propitiation. Propitiation speaks of the satisfaction of God’s holy wrath.
24 Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:24-26).
2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world (1 John 2:2).
4 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).
In a chapter entitled, “The Heart of the Gospel,” J. I. Packer has this to say about propitiation in the context of his comments on Paul’s teaching in Romans 3 and 5:
The wrath of God against us, both present and to come, has been quenched. How was this effected? Through the death of Christ. ‘While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son’ ([Romans] 5:10). The ‘blood’—that is, the sacrificial death—of Jesus Christ abolished God’s anger against us, and ensured that His treatment of us for ever after would be propitious and favourable. Henceforth, instead of showing Himself to be against us, He would show Himself in our life and experience to be for us. What, then, does the phrase ‘a propitiation . . . by His blood’ express? It expresses, in the context of Paul’s argument, precisely this thought: that by His sacrificial death for our sins Christ pacified the wrath of God.40
Propitiation means God’s wrath has been appeased for all who have trusted in Jesus Christ. The good news of the gospel is that those who have placed their trust in the Lord Jesus as the “Lamb of God” are no longer under the sentence of divine wrath:
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:1-10).
9 For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
John the Baptist was the last Old Testament prophet and the one privileged to introduce Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. When John spoke of the coming Messiah, he spoke of His coming as the One who would execute divine wrath:
5 Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan; 6 and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:5-12).
Although the primary purpose of our Lord’s first coming was not to execute the wrath of God, Jesus did reveal (God’s) wrath on several occasions. He was angered by the way the Jewish religious leaders had commercialized the worship at the temple, and thus He cleansed the temple of the money changers both at the beginning (John 2:13-17) and at the end (Matthew 21:12-13) of His public ministry. He also had some scathing words of rebuke for the scribes and Pharisees. The “woe’s” of this text are a pronouncement of divine wrath:
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? 34 Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. 38 Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! 39 For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Matthew 23:29-39).
There is something particularly significant about Jesus’ words in these verses which I had never noticed. Men not only become subject to the wrath of God for their own sin of rejecting Christ as the Messiah, they also become guilty for the sins of their predecessors. How can this be? The Old Testament saints looked forward to the coming of Messiah through whom God would make atonement for sin (see John 8:56). The Old Testament prophets spoke of the coming of Messiah (see Deuteronomy 18:15; Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Malachi 4). The scribes and Pharisees professed to honor these saints of old, and yet they denied the One in whom the saints put their trust. In this way, those who reject Christ as the Messiah disassociate themselves from the saints of old and identify themselves with those who rejected, persecuted, and even killed the saints and prophets of old. In rejecting Jesus as Messiah, they cast their vote with those who killed the righteous and thus became guilty of these past sins of unbelieving Jews as well as their own. Here is a thought worth pondering.
Jesus warned those who were inclined to judge on the basis of outward appearances (Luke 16:15). He cautioned them not to assume every earthly calamity is a manifestation of divine wrath and that those who suffer greatly must be guilty of great sin:
1 Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And He answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? 3 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5).
Disaster is not necessarily a manifestation of divine wrath (unless specifically indicated as such), just as prosperity should not be interpreted as proof of piety. Men’s suffering in this life is not necessarily proportionate to their blessings or suffering in eternity as the story of the rich man and Lazarus makes clear (see Luke 16:19-31).
Jesus warned of God’s future wrath upon sinners and taught that a day of wrath is coming which will surpass any previous instance of divine judgment. It will be a terrible day, unparalleled in human history:
15 “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; 17 let him who is on the housetop not go down to get the things out that are in his house; 18 and let him who is in the field not turn back to get his cloak. 19 But woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babes in those days! 20 But pray that your flight may not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath; 21 for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall. 22 And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short” (Matthew 24:15-22).
48 “But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ 49 and shall begin to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, 51 and shall cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; weeping shall be there and the gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:48-51; see also chapter 25).
20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is at hand. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are in the midst of the city depart, and let not those who are in the country enter the city; 22 because these are days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23 Woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babes in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land, and wrath to this people, 24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:20-28).
This great future wrath of God is necessary and certain because men reject the provision God has made for sinners in the sacrificial death of Christ at Calvary:
16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God . . . He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:16-21, 36).
The solution to the problem of sin and judgment is to repent, to acknowledge one’s sin and guilt, and to trust in the Lord Jesus who has borne the wrath of God in the sinner’s place.
18 “But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20 and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21 whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed in everything He says to you. 23 And it shall be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people’” (Acts 3:18-23).
If men are to escape from the wrath of God, they must repent and trust in the One who bore God’s wrath on Mount Calvary. Those who reject God’s provision for forgiveness and salvation face the future outpouring of divine wrath, a judgment far greater than man has ever seen before. It is of this wrath that the Book of Revelation speaks:
12 And I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. 14 And the sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 And the kings of the earth nd the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come; and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:12-17).
1 And I heard a loud voice from the temple, saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out the seven bowls of the wrath of God into the earth.” 2 And the first angel went and poured out his bowl into the earth; and it became a loathsome and malignant sore upon the men who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image. 3 And the second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became blood like that of a dead man; and every living thing in the sea died. 4 And the third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and the springs of waters; and they became blood. 5 And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous art Thou, who art and who wast, O Holy One, because Thou didst judge these things; 6 for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” 7 And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments.” 8 And the fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun; and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. 9 And men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues; and they did not repent, so as to give Him glory. 10 And the fifth angel poured out his bowl upon the throne of the beast; and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, 11 and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds (Revelation 16:1-11).
11 And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 And His eyes are a flame of fire, and upon His head are many diadems; and He has a name written upon Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 And He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11-16).
The wrath of God on the wicked is great. Men deserve it. And there is no escaping it. Men know that the outpouring of wrath is from God, a judgment on them for their sin. And yet not one person repents. The time for repentance is past. Those who chose to reject the sacrifice of Christ for their sins must now be judged according to their works. It is a terrible fate, but one which sinners richly deserve. Divine wrath is not just a phenomenon of the Old Testament; it is a certainty of biblical prophecy. Men are urged to take heed and repent while there is still time to escape the wrath of God by faith in Christ.
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
The first and most obvious implication of the biblical doctrine of divine wrath is that sinners desperately need to repent of their sin and place their trust in Christ, who bore God’s wrath for their sin at Calvary. Let me make it more personal. Have your sins been forgiven, or is the wrath of God your fate? The solution is as simple as acknowledging your sin and trusting in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in your place.
6 But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), 7 or ‘Who will descend into the ABYSS?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
Once we have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation, we have this confidence:
9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him (Romans 5:9).
The biblical doctrine of the wrath of God should motivate Christians to evangelize, to warn the lost of the impending wrath of God, and to urge them to be saved.
44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
11 Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences (2 Corinthians 5:11).
22 And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh (Jude 1:22-23).
As we seek to evangelize, we do not do so in the manner of some who would seek to make the gospel more pleasing and palatable. We do not avoid the negative aspects of the gospel. We proclaim the whole gospel, seeking to please God rather than men (see 2 Corinthians 2:14-17; 4:1-2; 5:11; Galatians 1:6-10). We know He has promised to “convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8-11), and thus our message must focus on sin, righteousness, and judgment just as Paul’s did (see Acts 17:30-31; 24:25).
The doctrine of the wrath of God is an incentive for the Christian to live a holy life. Our desire should be to please God (2 Corinthians 5:9), and this will be done as we pursue holiness and flee from sin:
3 But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them (Ephesians 5:3-7).
14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, he blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:14-19).
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. 14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless (2 Peter 3:10-14).
The wrath of God is a reminder of the holiness of God and a measure of God’s hatred of sin. God’s wrath is proportionate to the unrighteousness which provokes it. The immensity of God’s wrath toward sin is an indication of His holy hatred of sin. We should hate it as well.
The wrath of God should make us uncomfortable with sin. In addition, we should never forget that our sin resulted in the suffering and agony of our Savior on whom God’s wrath was poured out. To think lightly of sin is to take Christ’s suffering lightly. To sin willfully is to come dangerously close to crucifying afresh the Son of God (Hebrews 6:6).
The doctrine of the wrath of God instructs us not to fret over the wicked. While they may appear to be getting away with evil, they will come under the wrath of God:
16 When I pondered to understand this, It was troublesome in my sight 17 Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end. 8 Surely Thou dost set them in slippery places; Thou dost cast them down to destruction. 19 How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! 20 Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, Thou wilt despise their form (Psalm 73:16-20)..
17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:17-21).
9 Then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment (2 Peter 2:9).
Let us take the doctrine of God’s wrath seriously. Let us neither neglect nor conceal it. Let us regard it as a part of the goodness and glory of God. May the doctrine of God’s wrath be an incentive to evangelism and the proclamation of a pure gospel, which includes sin, righteousness, and judgment. To the glory of God and our own good, may this doctrine be the basis for holy living for each of us.
14 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; 16 that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears. 18 For you have not come to a mountain that may be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, 19 and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word should be spoken to them. 20 For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.” 21 And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. 25 See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. 26 And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” 27 And this expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; 29 for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:14-29).
(1) Godly wrath is vastly different from the wrath of man (James 1:20).
(2) The wrath of God is always in accordance with the standards set down in Scripture for man’s conduct and the warnings God has given for disobedience (Deuteronomy 29:26-28; 30:15-20; 2 Samuel 12:9-10; 2 Kings 22:10-13; 24:2; 2 Chronicles 19:8-10; 34:18-28; 36:15-16; Jeremiah 22:11-12; 44:2-6).
(3) The wrath of God is in accordance with the deeds of men. God’s wrath is always in direct proportion to man’s sin (Psalm 28:4; Isaiah 59:18; Jeremiah 17:10; 21:14; 25:14; Ezekiel 20:44; 24:14; 36:19).
(4) God’s wrath is slow and controlled, not sudden and explosive (Exodus 34:6; Numbers 14:18).
(5) God’s wrath comes after warning of judgment (see, for example, the warnings given to men in the days of Noah (Genesis 6-9), of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), and throughout the Old Testament by the prophets).
(6) God’s wrath is always provoked by man’s sin (Deuteronomy 4:25; 9:18; Jeremiah 25:6-7; 32:32).
(7) God wrath is not exercised in sin but in righteousness (Romans 2:5; James 1:19-20).
34 “Bikers bid farewell to Bandido co-founder,” The Dallas Morning News, April 17, 1994, p. 12D.
35 A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God, (Swengel Pa.: Reiner Publications, 1968 [Reprint]), p. 75.
36 Ibid., p. 75.
37 Ibid., p. 75.
38 Ibid, p. 76.
39 J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), p. 134.
40 Ibid., p. 165.
Related Topics: Theology Proper (God)