As peace is a truth widely loved, wrath is a truth widely loathed. Many in the history of the church has been embarrassed by God’s wrath and have wanted to revise this biblical truth.
Yet, this theme of the wrath (or anger) of God toward sin and sinners is clearly and widely taught in the Bible. This truth is so interwoven with the hope of our peace with one another and with God that if we lose our grasp on the one, we lose our hope of the other.
SEE ALSO: If God Is Love, Then Why Does the Bible Talk so Much about Wrath and Judgment?
The wrath of God is, according to John Stott, “His steady, unrelenting, unremitting, uncompromising antagonism to evil in all its forms and manifestations.”1
When we speak about the wrath of God, remember that it is the wrath of God. So everything we know about God—he is just, he is love, and he is good—needs to be poured into our understanding of his wrath.
SEE ALSO: 6 Ways Jesus Experienced Hell When He Was on the Cross
The words “anger” and “wrath” make us think about our experience. You may have suffered because of someone who is habitually angry, loses his temper, or flies into a rage. Our anger can often be unpredictable, petty, and disproportionate.
Although these things are often true of human anger, none of them are true of the anger of God. God’s wrath is the just and measured response of his holiness toward evil.
SEE ALSO: Why Was the Thief on the Cross so Significant?
The anger of God is not something that resides in him by nature; it is a response to evil. It is provoked.
The Bible says, “God is love.” That is his nature. God’s love is not provoked. He does not love us because he sees some wisdom, beauty, or goodness in us. He loves you because he loves you, and you can never get beyond that (Deuteronomy 7:7).
But God’s wrath is different, his holy response to the intrusion of evil into his world. If there was no sin in the world, there would be no wrath in God. So the Bible’s teaching about the wrath of God is different from ancient mythologies, gods who run around frustrated and fuming. God’s anger is his settled resolve that evil will not stand.
Why does God allow evil to continue in the world? Why does he not wipe it out?
God holds out the offer of grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:9). People are coming to him in faith and repentance every day, and God patiently holds open the door of grace. The day of God’s wrath will come, but God is not in a hurry to bring it because then the door of grace will be closed.
How does God reveal his wrath when sinners suppress the truth about him, exchange the truth for a lie, and worship created things rather than the Creator? God gives them up (Romans 1):
One writer states, “Paul is not teaching that one day God will punish Roman civilization for its vice and decadence. On the contrary, the vice and decadence are themselves God’s punishment…Their punishment was their greed, envy, strife, deceit, violence and faithlessness.”2 When we see the moral fabric of our culture being torn, then as Christian believers we should cry to God for mercy.
The whole Bible story leads to a day when God will deal with all evil fully, finally, and forever. This will be the day of wrath, when God will recompense every evil and bring to judgment every sin.
God will do this in perfect justice. The punishment for every sin will match the crime. When the judgment is done, every mouth will be stopped because everyone will know that God judged in righteousness and justice. Then God will usher in a new heaven and a new earth, which will be the home of righteousness.
In John 3:36, he does not say, “The wrath of God will come on [the disobedient].” He says, “Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” It is already there. Why is it already there? By nature, we are children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). It is the state in which we were born.
What, at the end of the day, is the greatest human problem? It is not that we are lost and need to find our way on a spiritual journey. It is not that we are wounded and need to be healed. At the core of the human problem is that we are sinners under the judgment of God, and the divine wrath hangs over us unless and until it is taken away.
The Bible speaks about God’s wrath being poured out at the cross: “I will soon pour out my wrath upon you, and spend my anger against you” (Ezekiel 7:8). This takes us to the heart of what happened there: The divine wrath toward sin was poured out on Jesus. He became the “propitiation” for our sins (Romans 3:25), which means that the payment for our sins was poured out on Jesus at Calvary.
Don’t ever get the idea that God loves you because Christ died for you. No, it’s the other way round. Christ died for you because God loved you! He loved you even when you were the object of his wrath! God so loved the objects of his wrath that he spent the wrath on himself at the cross.
The outpouring of God’s wrath was the greatest act of love this world has ever seen.
The hope for sinners is that between us and the wrath of God stands the cross of Jesus. Sin was laid on Jesus and the Divine wrath toward it was poured out, spent, and exhausted in the darkness of Calvary. And when it was done, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “It is finished!” The wrath of God that will one day be poured out on all sin was spent at the cross with regard to all who are in him.
Then Christ rose from the dead, and he stands before you today, a living Savior! He offers to you the priceless gift of peace with God. He is ready to forgive your sins and fill you with his Spirit. He is able to save you from the wrath and reconcile you to the Father. He has opened the door of heaven, and he is able to bring you in.
1. John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 171, InterVarsity Press, 2006.
2. Donald Macleod, The Wrath, Present and To Come, The Monthly Record of the Free Church of Scotland, p. 239, Nov. 1986.
This article originally appeared on UnlockingTheBible.org. Used with permission.
Image courtesy: ©Thinkstock/azamkassim
Publication date: May 17, 2017