A quick and light glance at the Old Testament and you almost feel as if God is a raging volcano that can never be quenched. The wrath of God is often an ignored topic in many evangelical circles today. Some professing believers don’t like to handle it because it raises questions that they are unable to answer. Some try to douse it with a pat answer, “God is love” and hope the listeners will only read parts of the Bible that are not PG-13 and ignore the rest. The subject of God’s wrath is one of the main attractions as far as displays of Christian doctrines are concerned. Yet it often goes unaddressed. Yet I dare say we cannot talk about the Gospel without talking about the wrath of God.
The origin of God’s wrath: sin
Scripture paints three main personalities in the canvas of time: Deity, angels and humanity. The scriptures even strongly highlight that the rank of power is in that order- God is supreme, angels are powerful and mankind is frail. Angels and humanity are creations of Deity. Angels and humans also share a common similarity- they both rebelled from the Creator’s design. Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 paint pictures of the fall of Lucifer in his glory. Jesus Christ, in Luke chapter 10 affirms being present when Satan fell like lightning from heaven. Many Biblical scholars believe that John the Revelator in Revelation chapter 12 verse 4 affirms that Lucifer’s thirst for power and greed resulted in a rebellion of a third of all the angelic hosts. And from these scriptures, we see God’s wrath revealed to an angelic host that cherishes sin. We learn the first thing- the wrath of God is magnetic to sin. The story continues. Our world is created, possibly in an aftermath of the angelic rebellion, and humanity is given dominion. God warned our parents that if they ate of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil (read sin), they would receive the dues for their wrongdoing. God explicitly told Adam and Eve that they would die. Enticed by a fallen angel’s deception, our parents fall. Unbeknownst to many of their descendants, they too are deserving of the wrath of God. Romans 6:23a makes it more certain when it says that “The wages of sin is death!” A wage is a salary. It is a sure reception after a period of labour. And the domino effect of Eden is that we are all born like them; our humanity naturally labours in sin. We are inevitable targets of the wrath of Deity. And for that sinful inclination, the fairest wage we can get is eternal damnation.
The fuel of God’s wrath: pride
The wrath of God is seen much clearer in the backdrop of the nature of God. He is infinitely Holy. The scriptures make emphasis of his holiness by stating it thrice- Holy, Holy, Holy! His holiness supersedes that of the sinless angels, to the extent that senior angelic beings have to cover their eyes and feet while in his presence (see Isaiah 6). We learn that this gaping difference between our sinfulness and God’s holiness is the problem with the world. When we see no difference, and assume our goodness fit to undo the wrath, we fuel the wrath. God is careful and clear in his word to point out that sin is not just the rapist, the pedophile and the murderer. Sin is also the fornicator, the liar and the glutton. But our cultures condemn one sin more than the other. They call one good and another evil. They call one horrible and another relative. They call one diabolical and another funny. They make one legal and one deplorable. God calls it all sin and worthy of his wrath. The wrath of God has no favourites. If we ask God why he did not smite the terrorist who killed hundreds, he would equally and fairly also ask if he should have smitten us when we had sex outside of marriage or looked at a fellow human with lust in our hearts. While our moral outrage burns against sin out there in our world, God requires that we burn just as much at the sin in our hearts. A good God must have his wrath against sin- all sin! Not just the sins we don’t like. Also the sins we love must receive his wrath if God is good. Have you been angry at yourself fantasizing lustful escapades as much as you were angry at the violent atrocities in the Middle East? We may argue that we are not frequent at our sins like addicts and other warped men and women. But realize that just as it takes one murder for a man to be a murderer, it also takes one lustful thought for one to be an adulterer. And both are deserving of God’s wrath. Humanity approves the wrath of God only when they feel themselves above it. God terms that self-proclamation of good as pride. And that pride widens the gap of sin between us and God. As long as this gap exists, God’s wrath persists!
The patience of God’s wrath: warning
Beloved, God’s wrath is not a loose cannon. It is a just recompense for the acts of mutiny. J.I. Packer once said, “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil.” But God holds back his wrath and extends his mercy towards humanity. Angels who saw God in all his glory receive no second chance but we do. In scripture, he gives entire nations centuries to repent but they still ignore his warning. Some listen and are saved. When portions of his wrath are revealed, it is, if I may say loosely, with enough notification and advance warning. This grace is often abused by humanity. And for that the scriptures warn us in 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (NIV) In 1st Timothy 2:4 we learn that God wants ALL of humanity to be saved from his wrath and come to the knowledge of the truth. In Ezekiel 33, we read that he does not delight in the death of wicked people. Instead he would that they turn to him and repent. One would call it the dilemma of the deity if you look at it from our limited point of view. A humanity deserving God’s wrath is also the object of his affection. And the question begs: how does the judge punish the offender who is his own wife or child whom he dearly loves?
The satisfaction of God’s wrath: punishment
The prophets warned of the impending wrath of God. They called it the terrible day of the LORD. They described great cosmic events and terrifying wonders to inflict punishment on a rebellious humanity that refuses to acknowledge the truth. The scriptures in Romans 1:18 say “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” (NIV). The warning is clear! We are standing on the tracks and the freight train is coming! It’s coming fast! But we have proved to be a people that love their sin. We’d rather rule in hell than serve in heaven. Nothing in us is good (Ecclesiastes 7:20, Romans 3:10). Even our good acts are but filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). At best we are a people undeserving of any mercy. But Prophet Isaiah has an insight in the midst of the hopeless situation. God’s wrath is going to be satisfied. Travis Greene said, “When our backs were against the wall and it looked as if it was over, God made a way!” He revealed to Isaiah that we need not share a fate with the rebellious angelic host. So Isaiah filled by the Spirit of God wrote for our benefit in hindsight and for his eagerness in foretelling! The prophecy tells of a man taking the wrath of God on behalf of humanity. Behold Isaiah 53- God’s wrath satisfied! The prophecy of Jesus!
ISAIAH 53 (NIV, 1984)
1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord ‘s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
The atonement of God’s wrath: The cross
And the prophecy came to pass over 2000 years ago! Jesus’s hands and feet were pierced for our transgressions. He had done no wrong yet he bore the sins of the world. In verse 10, we understand in absolute clarity that Jesus became the recipient of God’s wrath on your behalf. Paul the Apostle said that Jesus Christ became sin so that you would be the righteousness of God. What grace and mercy that we need not work for our salvation! What manner of love that one was put in our place! And The weighty fact of the man Jesus Christ was simply not because he became the object of God’s wrath for us, but also that he was God himself. God bore his own wrath on himself, not just for the world generically but for you specifically. All who believe, repent and accept his sacrifice receive eternal life.
John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (NIV, 1984)
We also receive his Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13) as a seal that we are his and as a helper in this sinful world where we will be tempted to stumble and fall. When we fall, he will pick us up. He will keep us fighting till the day he returns for his bride. All that reject this gift of salvation, condemn themselves.
John 3:18 “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (NIV, 1984)
And the condemnation is coupled by a greater wrath. The writer of Hebrews paints it best:
HEBREWS 10:26-31 (NIV,1984)
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Every sin of the world and its equal wrath was laid on Christ! May you accept that sacrifice and be counted worthy to escape the wrath to come.