The Wrath of God
Sin is the most horrifying and devastating fact of life. It is the cause of all of our troubles. It is the root of all our sorrows. Sin has destroyed the human race. It has deprived us of unity and harmony in our relationships. It is the fundamental cause of every physical illness and all of our moral madness.
Sin has polluted every life, blackened every hope and tainted every experience. It has robbed us of joy. It has darkened our understanding, seared our consciences, withered our dreams and filled our eyes with tears. Sin has corrupted the nature of every man, woman, and child. It has promised to dress us in royal velvet, but it has only wrapped us in the funeral shroud. God hates sin. It is the direct opposite of God’s nature and He must oppose it and destroy it. The Psalmist proclaimed:
God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day. (Psalm 7:11)
And the prophet, Isaiah, warns of the coming day of God’s wrath.
Wail, for the day of the Lord is at hand! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. Therefore all hands will be limp, Every man’s heart will melt, And they will be afraid. Pangs and sorrows will take hold of them; They will be in pain as a woman in childbirth; They will be amazed at one another; There faces will be like flames.
Behold, the day of the Lord comes, Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; And He will destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; The sun will be darkened in its going forth, And the moon will not cause its light to shine.
I will punish the world for its evil, And the wicked for their iniquity; I will halt the arrogance of the proud, And will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. I will make a mortal more rare than fine gold, A man more than the golden wedge of Ophir. Therefore I will shake the heavens, And the earth will move out of her place, In the wrath of the LORD of hosts And in the day of His fierce anger. (Isaiah 13:6-13)
These are powerful and terrible words! But what does it mean when the Scripture says that God is angry with the wicked and that His wrath will be seen in the day of His fierce anger? It means that God is stirred up with intense feelings of strong hostility toward sin and sinners. He is full of indignation and rage. God’s holiness cannot and will not co-exist with sin.
God’s wrath is His holy hatred of all that is unholy and He will fight against it and destroy it! God? Our God is full of rage? Yes! There are more references in the Bible to the anger, fury and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness. And just as the love of God is loftier in its purity and holiness than ours, so His anger and wrath are more righteous than we could ever imagine. The Scriptures belabor the point that just as God is good to those who trust Him, so is He at war with those who hate Him. And it was not God who initiated the war of good verses evil, but He is determined to end it. The Old Testament prophet Nahum knew this.
God is jealous, and the LORD avenges; The LORD avenges and is furious. The LORD will take vengeance on His adversaries, And He reserves wrath for His enemies; The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And will not at all acquit the wicked . . .
Who can stand before His indignation? And who can endure the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, And the rocks are thrown down by Him. The LORD is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him. But with an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of its place, And darkness will pursue His enemies. (Nahum 1:2, 3a, 6-8)
This prophetic warning is taken up against the ancient city of Nineveh. But it is also a warning of God’s righteous anger and wrath against sinners in the end times. And in verse 8, the coming judgment is pictured as an engulfing flood and darkness from which no one can escape. These words are terrifying to ponder! And biblical texts on the wrath of God are not limited to the Old Testament. The New Testament speaks of God’s wrath as well.
Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling aroma.
But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor course jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 5:1-6)
We need to understand that the anger and wrath of God against sin and sinners are as much divine attributes as are His mercy, faithfulness and love. If God did not hate sin and punish it, He would not be a just God. The anger and wrath of God is not a defect in His character. Indifference to sin would be a defect. Indifference to evil would show a great moral flaw in God. Now, Psalm 103:8 does say that, “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy.” But when hearts are hardened by sin against God, His anger is set against them.
God’s wrath is not like ours which might be vindictive and malicious. God’s wrath is not an uncontrollable rage. It is not full of bitterness. On the contrary, it is just and pure. God sees the horror that evil and wickedness and sin cause, and He opposes it—without apology! How could God be the God of all that is true and good and look upon evil with indifference? How can evil, wickedness and sin go unpunished? They can’t. Our God is holy, pure, good and righteous and He must punish evil.
The LORD is in His holy temple, The LORD’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men. The LORD tests the righteous, But the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates. Upon the wicked He will rain coals; Fire and brimstone and a burning wind Shall be the portion of their cup. (Psalm 11:4-6)
The Lord God Almighty is righteous and thus He must oppose and utterly destroy all the wicked.
For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, And the wine is red; It is fully mixed, and He pours it out; Surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth Drain and drink down. (Psalm 75:8)
The wicked shall drink the cup of God’s wrath to the very last drop! In our current society we don’t like to talk about or listen to sermons on the wrath of God. It makes us squeamish, uncomfortable and embarrassed. During the time of Colonial America, a famous preacher, Jonathon Edwards, gave a sermon titled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” That sermon helped to spread a true revival called “The Great Awakening”. But today we want sermons titled
“Coddled Sinners in the Hands of a Soothing Celestial Therapist.”
We want a God who is at our disposal, like a good valet or butler. We want a God who blesses us and fixes all of our problems. But we don’t want a God who warns us, or rebukes us. We don’t want a God who holds us accountable. We want our God domesticated, house broken and accountable to us! People love the preacher who speaks about peace and prosperity. But the Word of God says, “‘There is no peace’ says the LORD, ‘for the wicked’” (Isaiah 48:22). You can no more violate God’s moral law and escape, than you can His natural laws. If you fly an airplane straight towards a mountain you will crash and burn. In the same way sinners are flying straight towards God’s wrath and death. Now the question arises: who are these sinners and enemies of God? The answer might surprise you.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8)
People who live according to the carnal mind are the enemies of God. The carnal mind is the mind of the unsaved person. These are people who live outside of or against the will of God. They are at war with God. Their thoughts and lives are in rebellion against God. This is the meaning of the word “enmity” in verse 7. And these people are not just the grotesquely wicked. They may be our neighbors, friends, co-workers and perhaps even family members. These people have not yet been reconciled to God. Look at how Scripture depicts us before our salvation and reconciliation with God.
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:6-10)
Look again at the words I emphasized in bold above: without [moral] strength, ungodly, sinners, enemies. This is what we were before being saved. We were the enemies of God destined for His just wrath. And so many people are still like this today. And again, these people may be your friends, neighbors, co-workers or family members! These people are under the wrath of God. If they don’t accept the grace of God in Jesus Christ, they will be overcome by darkness into the second and final death.
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away.
And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15). 15
God hates sin, and He will destroy both sin and unrepentant sinners. Why? The answer is important. God hates sin for the same reason that parents hate the cancer or other disease that is killing their child. As parents, if we could, we would destroy the disease that was destroying our child. And we would destroy this disease with great force, and without hesitation knowing that we were doing the right thing. Sin is a deadly disease in God’s universe and He will destroy it.
But perhaps the most remarkable thing about the wrath of God is that He is patient and slow to anger.16 He has a long fuse, so-to-speak. Often when people sin and seem to get away with it, they think that God is indifferent to their sin or too weak to do anything about it.17 But the fact that we may escape immediate judgement only shows the mercy of God who is giving us time to repent.18 The apostle Paul questions the faulty reasoning of the unrepentant in his letter to believers in Rome.
Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God who “will render to each one according to his deeds”:
eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil . . .(Romans 2:4-9)
God does not delight in the death of the wicked. In the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, God clearly says:
‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his evil way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die . . . ?’ (Ezekiel 33:11)
The apostle Paul, writing to his young associate, Timothy, declares that God, “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).” But this does not negate the truth of Scripture which says to the unrepentant,
If I whet My glittering sword, And My hand takes hold on judgment, I will render vengeance to My enemies, And repay those who hate Me. (Deuteronomy 32:41)
So the crucial question now arrives. How does God save the sinner from His wrath? How can He be both just and punish sin and be the justifier and save sinners? The answer is that just as the first Adam brought in sin and death, so there must be a second Adam whose righteous life brings in redemption. This second Adam is the Lord Jesus Christ.19
For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of Grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:17-19)
Through the life of Jesus Christ, God can be both the just judge and the justifier of sinners. After living a righteous life, Jesus Christ bore the punishment for the sins of the whole world. 20 Now all who come to God through faith in Jesus Christ are declared righteous and mercifully escape the wrath of God. Indeed Jesus Christ made this clear early in his ministry.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:16-19)
God does not arbitrarily place anyone under His wrath. In mercy, He offers a plan of salvation, and men and women either love light or darkness. Their love decides their destiny.
He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36)
The wrath of God upon sinners is a truth about which the writers of the Bible were not squeamish. In God’s anger and wrath against evil they saw the justice of God who avenges His honor and defends those who love Him. One day, God in righteousness will destroy that which is destroying His creation. But He would rather that men and women repent and be saved.
This should motivate us to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with compassion. As saved, believers in Christ we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20, 21). And on Christ’s behalf, we are to implore people to be reconciled to God. For Christ became sin for us and bore its full punishment so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
And we should also think about the world to come. The world will be reborn after the wrath of God puts an end to all wickedness. Think of a new world full of peace and joy. Think of what it will be like to live with no fear, ungodly pride, war or disease. Think of a time when tears and sorrow will come to an end.
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be nor more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:1-4)
We shouldn’t feel awkward about the wrath of God. It is not wrong to teach on this solemn subject. It teaches us about the horror of sin. It teaches us about the justice of God who punishes wickedness. And it teaches us about the goodness of God who saves sinners. Our message to a world in bondage to sin is simple. Come to God through faith in Christ and be saved (Romans 10:9-13).