I must admit that I hesitated to deal with this topic. But now that I have, I’ve learned a lot. It was not as difficult or nerve-wracking as I thought it would be.
God’s wrath is not like this:
But like this:
That is a picture of God in judgment, showing his protective wrath and love over his people.
Down here on earth, as it is now in its sinful state, you can’t have love without anger against injustice and evil.
I have to deal with the topic of God’s wrath that puts everyone on edge. If I neglect it, some readers will accuse me of sugar-coating the whole counsel of God and covering only “feel-good, self-help” biblical truths. However, I’m committed to the plain teaching of Scripture, wherever it may lead.
So let’s get started on this study and see if I can do it without scaring or scarring people.
If readers would like to see the verses in various translations, they may go to biblegateway.com and type in the references.
This introduction is based on the biblical evidence presented, below, and somewhat from the companion article, .
God’s wrath is part and parcel of his judgment against wrongdoing, injustice and evil. A few times his judgment and justice was administered quickly (Acts 5:1-11; Acts 13:8-12). However, you should picture God like an who wears a red robe, white collar, ribbon-tie, and white wig. He systemaaaaaaaatically and methoooooooodically and slooooooooowly gathers, sifts, weighs the evidence and then renders his verdict. What kind of human judge would it be if he simply let the guilty go without paying a fine or spending time in prison? God instituted justice – including punishment against lawbreakers – down here on earth because it reflects his just character. That is called the judicial wrath of God.
Therefore, God expressing wrath is not like a human losing his temper. God does not flash with anger and throw an unsuspecting, nearby angel across the universe before God can think straight. “Sorry, I lost my temper! I reacted without thinking!” No, he does not lash out. literalism and human-centered thinking.
Rather, God would not be the God of justice if he let wrongs slide by undealt with, just like a parent would be derelict if she let her children get away with everything. Her giving them a timeout or even a spanking without losing her temper is a (weak) equivalent to God’s perfect, unmistakable, error-free wrath.
This is why he shows wrath, to punish wrong and evil:
The Lord is slow to anger and great in power;
the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. (Nah. 1:3)
I will discipline you but only with justice;
I will not let you go entirely unpunished. (Jer. 30:11)
Therefore, God’s wrath is never mysterious, irrational, malicious, spiteful, or vindictive. It is predictable because it is aroused by injustice, lawbreaking and evil – and that alone.
See this interview in Christianity Today about godly anger v. sinful anger. Very good.
Old v. New Covenants
Paul had an interesting, and I say profound, insight that is hidden away in his epistle to the Romans; it hardly gets noticed. Rom. 4:15 says, “The law brings wrath”; the law here is the Law of Moses or the Torah. So I set out on a study of how that’s true.
I concluded that of the 499 that God showed wrath in the OT, he shows it against his people 448 times after the Law of Moses was thundered down on Mt. Sinai, beginning in Exod. 19. (See the longer, offsite post about God’s wrath in the Old Testament.)
On his chosen people before the law and covenant in Exod. 19, he showed it 3 times. Abraham potentially could have experienced it twice, but did not because God through his angels showed him mercy (Gen. 18:30-32). So actually it was used only once against Moses, the lawgiver, in Exod. 4:14.
Yes, the number of chapters before Exod. 19 is much smaller than the ones afterwards, but there is other evidence that I don’t have time to go over now (click offsite on the longer version ). It confirms the numbers.
Law and justice are tied to covenant in the OT. Two parties voluntarily enter into an agreement. The powerful partner (God) promised to keep them safe and bless their agricultural life, their resources. He also instituted the priesthood to teach them how to keep the law, and he set up the sacrificial system administered by the priests for when the people sinned. The righteous party (God) forgave their sins over and over again, for centuries. He sent prophets to warn them and remind them of their agreement.
But sometimes the human party to the covenant went so far in their bad faith, they broke the law so egregiously for centuries, the aggrieved party (God) finally took action. He judged and punished them, but not in his full wrath and not to destroy them. And after this painful judicial process – painful to him – he still forgave and loved them. He was merciful to his chosen lawbreakers. This is the perfect blend of mercy and justice. This is the story of God’s wrath in the OT, in a nutshell – and we haven’t discussed what kind of lawbreaking they did, acting like the unwholesome (to say the least) nations around them.
The long study of the wrath of God in the Old Testament confirms Paul’s thesis: the Law of Moses brings wrath.
That’s still puzzling, however. Why did God’s law bring wrath against his covenant people? Paul says in Romans there is something flawed with the mixture of religious law (which is holy), covenant (a beneficial relationship), and unholy human nature (the fatal flaw). Law stimulates sin in sinful human beings (Rom. 7:7-13). And sin within a covenant accompanied by laws amounts to lawbreaking. And lawbreaking must be judged and punished. As noted, that’s called God’s judicial wrath. It must be noted that God is not an unfeeling android when he shows judicial wrath. When his human creation rebels and commits evil and injustice, he feels sadness and pain at having to correct them (= wrath).
Now what about his people in the New Covenant?
One goal (among several) of Romans is to teach us how to avoid the wrath to come. The way out is through the gospel by faith in Christ. “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Rom. 1:17).
Then we are set free from God’s wrath. “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Rom. 5:9). For Paul, all peoples, Jew and Gentile, should come to faith in Christ and walk in the Spirit within the New Covenant, which Christ paid for and ratified with his blood.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. … 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:18, Gal. 5:22-23)
So in the New Covenant, God has not destined his Spirit-filled, blood-bought church for his wrath.
His wrath is tied to eschatology, which means a shift towards the new era of salvation that came with Christ’s death, resurrection and glorification and the outpouring of his Spirit at Pentecost. Eschatology also means a movement towards the Last Days. It is in this context that his New Covenant community and church (the same thing) is not destined for wrath.
Jesus … rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Thess. 1:9-10)
For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess. 5:9)
Wrath on Individuals
However, in a few contexts we will discover that God evaluates an individual as he walks with God. Sometimes the individual has such a deep character flaw and sins so egregiously that he must go through a “dealing” from God. For example, he will show anger – evaluating you and concluding you need correction – when you refuse to show mercy and forgive, though you were shown both. Next, one time Jesus showed indignation (personal reaction that opposes wrong behavior) against his disciples who tried to block children from seeing him. Finally, God institutes law enforcement and the courts, and they are agents of God’s wrath. If a Christian commits a crime, then his arrest and incarceration is God’s wrath.
Remember, wrath means judgment against injustice, wrongdoing, and sin. Specifically, judgment is an evaluation and correction in your personal life. In a court of law it is trying the facts and reaching a verdict and then sentencing the guilty and punishing him. In the Old Covenant, wrath means judging lawbreakers who violate the Law of Moses within the covenant. But in your personal life it just means God scanning your soul and disciplining you (Heb. 12:5-11).
Wrap Up So Far
To repeat this important point, the Spirit-filled, blood-washed church as a whole, in an eschatological context, is not destined for the wrath of God that is falling on the world because of its lawbreaking, sin, and evil. They are not in Christ and his protection, but we are.
So the two contexts are micro (an individual) and macro (the church v. the world). God shows wrath on the world, but not on the church as a whole in the macro. In the micro, in your personal life, where there is evaluation and correction, there is always forgiveness and restoration.
Thus God’s wrath for the individual believer in Christ has turned into correction (Heb. 12:4-11). This is one more reason why the individual must belong to a church. There is protection in a Spirit-filled, loving community, mainly protection from his own sin nature. Outside of the church he risks a sinful lifestyle and eventually severe correction from God himself or through Satan (1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:20), but always with the redemptive purpose of restoring him. We hope and pray that restoration is indeed always the result as well, but sadly, from 1 Corinthians11:30 we know that sometimes this is not the case.
Finally, I talk about the bigger biblical perspective in the conclusion section, below. Love and mercy and grace and forgiveness and redemption are much more predominant themes in the entire Bible, both Old and New, than wrath is – much bigger themes.
But let’s focus on the topic at hand.
Biblical Definitions and Texts
Remember, in this study we’re talking about God’s wrath, not ours; yes, the Bible speaks about human anger and sometimes favorably (Eph. 4:26). Jesus is included in this study, since he represents God, and in two instances Peter and Paul represent God too, in their special calling.
Definitions and Word Counts
Orgê (noun, 29 times): the g or gamma in Greek is hard, like ego, and the e with the accent over it is pronounced like the vowel sound in eight; this noun is the most common and the standard word for anger or wrath.
Orgizô (verb, 3 times): it is related to orgê and means to become or get or be angry. The accent over the o means it is the long o or the “omega.”
Aganakteô (verb, 1 time): this means to be or become indignant. I see this verb as meaningbeing personally upset and opposing wrong and meanness, usually against people who should know better. Their mean behavior was unexpected and unworthy of them.
Thumos (noun, 8 times): this is often used of humans in very strong, often bad sense; it is used of God only as a synonym for orgê very few times or in the Revelation. A few times the NIV translates it as fury in Revelation.
Prosochthizô (verb, 2 times): this is to provoke or be provoked to anger
Grand Total: 42 times, used of God
Let’s use the Q & A format.
1. WHO EARNS GOD’S WRATH?
A. RELIGIOUS OPPRESSORS AND SELF-RIGHTEOUS HINDERERS
John the Baptist speaks judgment-wrath on this class of people. The coming wrath means that it’s on its way, at the advent or coming of the ministry of Jesus, who will lay an axe to the roots and make people decide yes or no about his gospel. It is eschatological in the sense of the new era being inaugurated with Christ. And there is no reason why it can’t envelope the Final Judgment, if people persist to resist.
Jesus was angry at religious people who stopped – or tried to stop – the fullness of the kingdom, which included healing (and still does) – from reaching people.
2 They watched Jesus closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they could accuse him. After looking around at them in anger [orgê], grieved by the hardness of their hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. (Mark 3:2, Mark 3:5)
B. REJECTERS OF CHRIST AND HIS GOSPEL
Many people rejected the gospel, but here is a verse that says wrath remains on them. Wrath of God remaining on them means that they live within the sphere of his evaluation and correction or discipline – he would like to correct them by bringing them to the gospel of his Son. Will they see it? Will they come and have eternal life?
36 The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath [orgê] remains on him. (John 3:36)
C. THE UNGODLY AND WICKED
In the next passage, the word wrath is not mentioned, but it is about a judgment and punishment. It is ironic that Elymas believed he could point people towards the truth. Not so. Elymas was spiritually and morally blind, so he was blinded. Let’s hope Elymas repented after the time of blindness was up. However, since wrath as such is not mentioned, you don’t have to include this passage in the discussion.
8 But the magician Elymas (for that is the way his name is translated) opposed them, trying to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9 But Saul (also known as Paul), filled with the Holy Spirit, stared straight at him 10 and said, “You who are full of all deceit and all wrongdoing, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness – will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11 Now look, the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind, unable to see the sun for a time!” Immediately mistiness and darkness came over him, and he went around seeking people to lead him by the hand. 12 Then when the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, because he was greatly astounded at the teaching about the Lord. (Acts 13:8-12)
In the next verse the clause is being revealed is in the present tense. There’s a sense in which God’s judgment-wrath is currently and gradually being revealed in ungodly and wicked men’s lives. But he is also leading them to repentance by showing them kindness (Rom. 2:4).
18 For the wrath [orgê] of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18)
Note the day of God’s wrath in the next passage. That’s the Final Judgment. Once again wrath and judgment are connected.
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath [orgê] against yourself for the day of God’s wrath [orgê], when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath [orgê] and anger [thumos]. (Rom. 2:5-8)
Paul uses the rhetorical “we” and “our” here:
5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath [orgê] is not unrighteous, is he? (I am speaking in human terms.)
Living a self-centered and lustful life, we used to be under wrath:
… All of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath [orgê] (Eph. 2:3).
Persisting to do the next sins and resisting God on a continuous basis will land you in trouble.
5 For you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let nobody deceive you with empty words, for because of these things God’s wrath [orgê] comes on the sons of disobedience. (Eph. 5:5-6)
The coming wrath and the present wrath in Paul’s writings means that God is evaluating and correcting people today, but eventually his evaluation will be final, and he will incarcerate people in hell, like a judge incarcerates the guilty in prison.
5 So put to death whatever in your nature belongs to the earth: sexual immorality, impurity, shameful passion, evil desire, and greed which is idolatry. 6 Because of these things the wrath [orgê] of God is coming on the sons of disobedience. (Col. 3:5-6)
D. OLD COVENANT OPPONENTS AND REJECTERS OF THE GOSPEL
It’s one thing not to accept the new gospel; it’s quite another to actively oppose it and persecute those who do. A certain class of Old Covenant people, usually leaders, showed active hostility against Jesus and his gospel and his disciples. They sometimes persecuted the new believers. Also, in this section the epistle to the Hebrews refers back to the ancient Israelites who broke God’s laws and rebelled back in the OT.
In the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, Jesus’ opponents resisted and held back others who wanted to follow a new way. He is probably talking about the entire nation as represented by its leaders who did not accept his message and persecuted the new messengers.
5 But they were indifferent and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his slaves, insolently mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was furious [orgizô]! He sent his soldiers, and they put those murderers to death and set their city on fire. (Matt. 22:5-7; cf. Luke 13:34-35; Lk. 21:20-24)
As a nation, the Jews of Jesus’ day had time to repent (cf. Luke 16:19-23). If not, they were to have the axe laid to the roots. In the next passage, the word wrath is not used, but I include it here because it speaks of judgment in much the same way that the two banquet parables do, above and next. But if you don’t want to include this passage in a discussion about wrath, skip over it.
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ 8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:6-9)
The Parable of the Great Banquet says the same thing as wedding banquet. Only the poor and expendables and unclean are welcome to the banquet, if the self-satisfied and the “too busy” believe they don’t need the kingdom feast. These are the complacent religious leaders. The master sized them up and disqualified them for the feast; that sizing up is called judgment against wrongdoing and refusal, which is called wrath.
21 So the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the master of the household was furious [orgizô] and said to his slave, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and alleys of the city, and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ (Luke 14:21; cf. Lk. 13:34-35; Lk. 21:20-24)
This is Jesus’ prediction about the destruction of Jerusalem.
20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Those who are inside the city must depart. Those who are out in the country must not enter it, 22 because these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23 Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing their babies in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath [orgê] against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led away as captives among all nations. Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:20-24)
I believe Ananias and Sapphira lived under Old Covenant law, even though they were caught up in the new Jesus movement. It is not clear to me that they experienced salvation in their hearts (and yes, salvation needs to go into the heart). Anyway, the word wrath is not mentioned, but this is a sudden judgment because God’s Spirit can evaluate matters instantly. (But if you don’t want to include this passage in a discussion about wrath, skip over it.) Also, this is not the Final Judgment, the macro; this is judgment in the micro. Yet, this passage has an eschatological feel to it too because Pentecost has opened up a new era; God apparently couldn’t let anything like lying to the Spirit disrupt this inauguration, somewhat, but not exactly, like security using deadly force if a madman aims a weapon at the president during his inauguration.
1 Now a man named Ananias, together with Sapphira his wife, sold a piece of property. 2 He kept back for himself part of the proceeds with his wife’s knowledge; he brought only part of it and placed it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back for yourself part of the proceeds from the sale of the land? 4 Before it was sold, did it not belong to you? And when it was sold, was the money not at your disposal? How have you thought up this deed in your heart? You have not lied to people but to God!”
5 When Ananias heard these words he collapsed and died, and great fear gripped all who heard about it. 6 So the young men came, wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him. 7 After an interval of about three hours, his wife came in, but she did not know what had happened. 8 Peter said to her, “Tell me, were the two of you paid this amount for the land?” Sapphira said, “Yes, that much.” 9 Peter then told her, “Why have you agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out!” 10 At once she collapsed at his feet and died. So when the young men came in, they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear gripped the whole church and all who heard about these things. (Acts 5:1-11)
Paul reviews the plan of God for his ancient people, and how his new people, the Gentiles, relate to it. God was patient with the Elder Brother, Israel. But even he has his limits.
22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath [orgê] and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath [orgê]—prepared for destruction? (Rom. 9:22)
These fellow Jews of Paul resisted and stirred up trouble for him. They wouldn’t let others follow his gospel.
15 They displease God and are hostile to all men 16 in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath [orgê] of God has come upon them at last. (1 Thess. 2:15-16)
The author of the epistles to Hebrews quotes or reviews Old Testament passages.
10 That is why I was angry [prosochthizô] with that generation,
and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
and they have not known my ways.” (Heb. 3:10)
11 So I declared on oath in my anger [orgê], ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ (Heb. 3:11)
17 And with whom was he angry [prosochthizô] for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? (Heb. 3:17)
3 “So I declared on oath in my anger [orgê], ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ “(Heb. 4:3)
E. FINAL ENEMIES OF GOD IN THE LAST DAYS
This is God’s worldwide eschatological judgment-wrath as he wraps up the (im)moral universe and final accounts are settled. This is the Last Judgment.
It is disconcerting and ironic that the Lamb meek and mild has wrath.
16 They [people] called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their wrath [orgê] has come, and who can stand?” (Rev. 6:16-17)
The twenty-four elders around the throne prophesy in heaven:
18 The nations were angry;
and your wrath [orgê] has come.
The time has come for judging the dead,
and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your saints and those who reverence your name,
both small and great—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth. (Rev. 11:18)
I let the following verses speak for themselves.
9 “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, 10 he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury [thumos], which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath [orgê].” (Rev. 14:9-10)
19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath [thumos]. (Rev. 14:19)
1 I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath [thumos] is completed. (Rev. 15:1)
7 Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath [thumos] of God, who lives for ever and ever (Rev. 15:7)
1 Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath [thumos] on the earth.” (Rev. 16:1)
19 The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury [thumos] of his wrath [orgê]. (Rev. 16:19)
15 He treads the winepress of the fury [thumos] of the wrath [orgê] of God Almighty. (Rev. 19:15)
2. HOW DOES THE LAW OF MOSES RELATE TO THE WRATH OF GOD?
As I discussed in the introduction, Paul is very clear about this. As he scanned the entire history of the OT people, his fellow Israelites, he concluded that sinful humans could not keep all of the law, which by definition means they were lawbreakers. Breaking the law for centuries elicited judgment-wrath. Therefore, the holy law – passing through the sinful human heart – brings wrath.
14 For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, 15 because law brings wrath [orgê]. (Rom. 4:14-15)
See the onsite companion piece,.
3. DOES GOD SHOW ANGER TOWARDS ANY OF HIS NEW COVENANT PEOPLE?
There is one passage that seems to say that God shows anger at an individual disciple: the Jesus follower who shows no mercy and refuses to forgive, even though he was shown mercy and forgiven. The punch-line or application is in v. 35. Is Jesus being rhetorical and not literal? After all, the Father does not throw us in a literal, physical prison to be tortured. On the other hand, one can sense God’s displeasure if he shows us mercy or forgiveness but we show none.
32 Then his lord called the first slave and said to him, ‘Evil slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me! 33 Should you not have shown mercy to your fellow slave, just as I showed it to you?’ 34 And in anger [orgizô] his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matt. 18:32-35)
Jesus was perfectly divine and perfectly human. He showed indignation towards any of his individual disciples who prevented children from approaching him. Jesus loves the little children. He took them in his arms and blessed them. Be careful about blocking people from the full gospel. You risk falling into the same trap that the religious leaders did, when they persecuted Jesus and his apostles (see Question 1D, above).
13 Now people were bringing little children to him for him to touch, but the disciples scolded those who brought them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant [aganakteô] and said to them, “Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I tell you the truth, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” 16 After he took the children in his arms, he placed his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)
So, in the New covenant for the individual believer, God’s wrath has been transformed into loving correction.
For one more possible context in which God might show wrath to an individual follower of Jesus, see Question 5.
4. HOW ELSE DOES GOD SHOW WRATH?
In this verse Paul tells us to leave revenge in God’s hands. In this verse wrath seems to mean that he will fight for us.
19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath [orgê], for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Rom. 12:19)
He will probably use the legal system to achieve his justice or the proper authorities if there is a conflict on the job. But God does not tell us how he will do this. Christians should pray for justice.
5. WHAT IS THE MOST COMMON WAY GOD SHOWS HIS WRATH?
The main and most common way that God shows wrath today is by the authorities, both law enforcement and the courtroom – the legal system – when it’s functioning properly. Once again, wrath is connected to law and judgment. If (God forbid) a Christian commits a crime, God’s wrath will fall on him. This can happen when a Christian gets a ticket for speeding, for example. But typically the legal system is for unbelievers, or so we hope.
3 Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath [orgê] to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment [orgê] but also because of conscience. (Rom. 13:3-5)
The next time a police officer gives you a ticket for speeding, tell him, “Thanks for being an agent of God’s wrath. I deserve this ticket.” Nowadays cameras at intersections might get you a ticket. Call it photographic judgment-wrath. Better still, you (the lawbreaker) are undergoing God’s special love-wrath while you are being fined (Heb. 12:5-11).
So wrath and love are connected and are two sides of the same coin, down here on earth in its current sinful state.
6. DOES GOD USE NATURAL DISASTERS TODAY AS AN EXPRESSION OF HIS WRATH?
God would have spared Sodom and Gomorrah if he had found even ten righteous in those two towns. And when he did destroy it, the Hebrew words for wrath are never mentioned as his motive. Today, we have lots of righteous people living in the New Covenant throughout the world, so I believe God does not use natural disasters. Even in the last of the Last Days, God is never said to be their direct cause (Mark 13:24, Luke 21:10, and Luke 21:25). They instead are part of the natural world. Nature is doing her thing, and in the last of the Last Days, nature is severely running amok. But even if, hypothetically, God were to directly cause a natural disaster today, he does not tell us that he is doing it with any specific one. We just don’t know. And when we don’t know something, we should not make major announcements in the news media.
The New Covenant is here. The new era of salvation has been ushered in. It’s the kindness of God that leads you to repentance (Rom. 2:4).
As noted in Question 5, however, God uses law enforcement, when it is functioning properly, to express his wrath – his judicial wrath.
7. WHO IS FREE FROM GOD’S FINAL WRATH?
Everyone in Christ is free from it. He inaugurates the New Covenant, bought and paid for with his precious blood.
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath [orgê] through him (Rom. 5:8-9)
These next verses from 1 Thessalonians also say Christ is the answer. The church as a body is not subjected to the wrath of God in Final Judgment. Rather, Christ paid for our sins. Therefore, he welcomes all of us into his eternal realm with open arms of love.
9 They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath [orgê]. (1 Thess. 1:9-10)
9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath [orgê] but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess. 5:9)
As a whole, the church universal – everyone found in Christ – will not be on the receiving end of God’s wrath in the Last Judgment.
That study was not so hard, after all. I didn’t feel emotionally warm while doing it, but it was necessary. I’m glad I did it because I learned a lot.
God never shows wrath towards his Spirit-filled, blood-bought church as a whole, who lives in the New Covenant. This is not true for the ancient people of his Old Covenant, for he did show wrath at their egregious sins, as a whole.
So a big shift has happened.
The difference is the law that they lived under, contrasted with the eternal once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ and Pentecost that we live in. We walk in the fullness of the Spirit – or we’re supposed to. As noted in the introduction, above:
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. … 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:18, Gal. 5:22-23)
Even still, we need a bigger biblical perspective on the OT and NT.
In the OT, this verse is repeated again and again:
But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Ps. 86:15; cf. Exod. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Neh. 9:17; Ps 103:4; Ps. 145:8; Joel 2:12; Jonah 4:2; Nah. 1:3)
Additionally, the word counts in the OT for favor (grace), love, salvation, forgiveness, redemption, mercy, and compassion (and their various forms) add up to about 1220 times, the vast majority of which are used of God (his wrath occurs 499).
Remember, the NT is a lot smaller than the OT. In the NT those same words and their various forms appear 673 times, the vast majority of which are also used of God. And yes, God’s people are called to show those positive traits as well. The various words for wrath occur only 42 times when used of God, as we saw in this study.
Clearly, the God of the entire Bible is more interested in favoring, loving, redeeming, forgiving, saving, and being merciful and compassionate to people than he is in evaluating their sins and rendering his verdict after a careful sifting and weighing of all the evidence (i.e. judgment against injustice and evil = wrath).
Thus, wrath is not central or fundamental to God’s character. God is more than a judge.
He is love.
Wrath is a response to something outside of himself in the world; his love always is.
Before he created the heavens and the earth and perfect humans (who fell and continued to do wrong and break the law for centuries), he was always love in eternity past. And he will always be love in eternity future, in a new heaven and new earth, when evil has been wiped out, and he no longer must pour his wrath on it (i.e. judge and punish it).
On the cross, Jesus took our deserved, earned, and merited wrath. And now he shows and showers us with God’s love and grace, which for our part is undeserved, unearned, and unmerited.
Therefore God does not think of you with anger in his heart. Thanks to Jesus, you do not start with a deficit, in a hole, with shackles on your legs. He lifts you out of it and takes them off so you can begin again, in and with him. He thinks about you with love in his heart.
The Wrath of God in the Old Testament (shorter version, onsite);
The Wrath of God in the Old Testament (longer version, offsite, including Hebrew words);
That article teaches us how shallow it is to criticize justice and punishment for wrongdoing (wrath). God’s justice and love and wrath are linked. But his love is fundamental in a way that wrath is not.
That Evangelical dictionary entry gives a much briefer overview of the topic.
Once again, see this interview in Christianity Today about godly anger v. sinful anger.
This article explains in more depth how we personally may escape God’s wrath through the one and only way of salvation that He provided in Jesus Christ.