“W” is for Wrath. While there is no need to translate or parse any aspect of this word it doesn’t mean that it isn’t regularly misunderstood. The wrath of God is not a subject much spoken of in our culture today. Our world would rather talk about the love of God and leave that wrath business out altogether. This is not a surprise given the fallenness of man and of our nation. What is the surprising offense is how the culture and its influence has seeped into the church and shaped it in regards to any number of theological subjects, the wrath of God being one, instead of the church being a light to the nations. But as Christians many of us are oftentimes maybe embarrassed about the wrath of God because we don’t understand it. JI Packer points out, “Why, when the Bible is vocal about it [referring to the wrath of God], should we feel obliged to be silent?” (Knowing God, 150). Of course your liberal churches and denominations have tossed it out long ago but even inside an otherwise solid evangelical (meaning, gospel preaching and Bible believing) church, the subject of the wrath of God is all but eliminated. Why is that?
In this week’s blog we will explore this particular attribute of God. We will take a look at a few of the Old and New Testament texts that either speak directly about the wrath of God or are a demonstration of His wrath. May our study of the wrath of God awaken in the Christian a burning desire for proclaiming the whole counsel of God for His glory.
What is the Wrath of God?
The wrath of God is an expression of His holiness. Or “the doctrine that God intensely hates all sin” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1257). Since God is holy (Matt 5:48; 1 Jn. 1:5) and He hates sin He cannot remain neutral in regards to it. As Dr. Steven Lawson said, “There is divine wrath that by necessity must react against all that does not conform to the purity of His holiness” (The Attributes of God Teaching Series). We struggle to understand this because we are not perfect, despite what a new mother might say about her child, and Scripture makes that abundantly clear (see Gen. 3; Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:23). Whereas humans misdirect and misapply our anger virtually daily, “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is…God is only angry where anger is called for” (Packer, Knowing God, 151). God’s wrath is the justice of God in response to our sin.
Wrath of God in the OT
Some point to various accounts in Scripture like Noah and the flood (Gen. 6-7), Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18-19), and the Ten Plagues in Egypt (Ex. 7-12) as examples of the wrath of God gone out of control. Even some Christians look at these texts among others and conclude, “Thank God that the God of the NT is a God of love.” This too is ridiculous and reveals a lack of understanding the Bible.
Yes, God judged mankind and a catastrophic flood covered all the earth. Yes, God rained down sulfur and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24). Yes, God sent ten plagues against Egypt. But let’s quickly recap why God did each of these things. In reference to the worldwide flood we read, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Evil continually. All the time. God had been patient with man already since even just one sin deserves death and God withheld His wrath until the evil of mankind was “only evil continually.” And thankfully God looked with favor upon Noah (6:8). In the case of Sodom, Abraham interceded for the people there that if only ten righteous persons could be found would God destroy the city and God said He would not (Gen. 18:32). God even had sent two angels to observe. Certainly God knew, but He was showing them mercy by having not judged them already. Everything was confirmed. The men of Sodom sought to participate in homosexual acts, and while they were inhospitable among other sins (Ezek. 16:48-49) they were guilty because of an abomination (Ezek. 16:50, the same Hebrew word used in Lev. 18:22; 20:13 that links their sin to homosexuality). Sodom knew of their sin and boasted about it (Is. 3:9). And the people were rightly judged by God for their sin. Lastly, in the ten plagues God was going to show the Egyptians, who worshiped many false gods, “that I am the LORD” (Ex. 7:5). And by these plagues He was going to rescue the people of Israel from their slavery. God gave Pharaoh plenty of opportunities to repent (Ex. 8:8, 19, 24-28; 9:11, 28; 10:5-6, 17, 24), there were ten plagues after all. But Pharaoh continual hardened his heart and became monstrously evil, so God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and lured evil into the Red Sea where they were judged because of their sins (Ex. 14:27-28). In the case of Pharaoh, the Sodomites, and the people living in Noah’s day each reaped what their words and actions had sown (Gal. 6:7-8). And I pointed out how God was gracious even leading up to these just judgments.
Wrath of God in the NT
A quick look at a passage in Revelation (though more could be selected, John 3:36; Col. 3:5-6) shows how God’s wrath is very much present in the NT. Rev. 6:15-17 says, “Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” Did you catch that? The wrath of the Lamb, Jesus the Christ.
Romans 1:16-17 beautifully shares the gospel message and the truth that “the righteous shall live by faith.” Rom. 1:18-3:20 speaks of the utter depravity and sinfulness of man (a message consistent throughout Scripture after the Fall, Gen. 3) and mankind being without hope apart from God’s direct intervention. Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” We are by nature “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). We suppress the truth in our unrighteousness, our sin. And while the day when God’s wrath will be fully realized is yet to come there are demonstrations of that wrath right now when Paul says “God gave them up…” (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28).
As with all the other attributes of God, the wrath of God is one we as Christians should not downsize or be embarrassed by but rather praise and glorify our awesome and holy God for. The Father sent His Son out of a great love for His elect even when we were wretched sinners who deserved His wrath. But thanks be to God for Jesus Christ His Son through whom we’ve received grace and mercy. May we be motivated to share with others of the wrath to come upon sinners and that only by repenting of your sins and believing in Jesus Christ can the wrath of God be removed from us for it was paid in full by Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:25-26; 1 Thess. 1:9-10).