Wrath of God
God’s wrath is a reaction to everything that contradicts his good, loving and just character. There are two kinds of wrath: there is sudden wrath (thymos) and deliberate or calculated wrath (orge). One burns bright and quick; the other burns slow and long. Sometimes both kinds of wrath appear together (e.g., Rev. 16:19, 19:15). Although God exhibits both kinds of wrath, he is generally very slow to anger (Ps 103:8, Is. 48:9). God’s wrath is righteous (Rom 3:5¬–6), terrifying (Ps. 2:5), and unendurable (Jer. 10:10).
God’s wrath must be interpreted in the context of his love. It must not be interpreted in the context of law and punishment. God’s love shouts Yes! to the human race while his wrath is an emphatic No! to anything that hinders us experiencing his love. Since God is for us, his wrath is for us. It is an expression of his love and goodness. His wrath will ultimately consume evil and ungodliness.
God’s wrath is sometimes depicted as fire (Ex. 32:10, Deu 6:14–15, Jer. 4:4) or an outstretched hand (Is. 5:25, 9:17, 21, 10:4–5, Jer. 21:5). Although wrath is traditionally viewed as smiting punishment, it is better described as vengeance. There are two types of vengeance; vindictive (an eye for an eye) and vindicating (making right). God is slow to anger and delays his wrath for one reason: he is not willing that any should perish and he wants all to come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9). Unlike his limitless love, God’s wrath is finite (Rev. 15:1).
Wrath in the old covenant
In the old covenant, there was a strong connection between sin and wrath. “Warn them not to sin against the Lord; otherwise his wrath will come on you and your brothers” (2 Chr. 19:10). In the old covenant the fear of the Lord’s wrath was an incentive not to sin. The wrath of God gave teeth to the law because “the law worketh wrath” (Rom. 4:15). When the idol-worshipping Israelites (Ps. 78:58¬–59) and rebellious Korah (Nu 16:31), broke the law they reaped wrath.
When Jesus preached law to those under the law, he included a healthy dose of wrath (e.g., Matt. 18:34¬–35). A law backed up by the wrath of God will terrify and condemn you. It will cause you to tremble at the utter hopelessness of your situation (Ps. 90:7–9).
Wrath in the new covenant
Since the cross was the once and final solution for sin (Heb. 9:26), God will never be provoked to wrath by sin again. And since Christ is the end of the law for all who believe (Rom. 10:4), those who believe will never experience the wrath that the law brings. Indeed, there is no wrath for anyone who have been justified by faith in Christ (Rom. 5:1, Eph. 2:14, Col. 1:20).
What provokes God’s wrath in the new covenant? Not sin, per se, but anything that is ungodly (Rom 1:18). The Greek word for ungodliness (asebia) is the opposite of the word for revere or adore. Just as antinomianism is disregard for God’s laws, ungodliness is disregard for God’s person. Ungodliness is not bad behavior. Ungodliness is unbelief in the grace of a good God. It’s saying, “God, who needs you? I’m fine without you. I am all the god I need.”
God’s wrath is a reaction to those which are opposed to him. Just as it is the nature of light to repel darkness, it is the nature of God to react to ungodliness. The universe simply isn’t big enough for God and ungodliness to coexist.
It’s a mistake to tell the sinner that God’s wrath is for them. God’s grace is for them (Rom 5:8). God’s wrath is for those things that would hinder them from receiving grace. It’s a mistake to equate the ungodly with sinners in general. The Father doesn’t hate the prodigal and the Good Shepherd isn’t gunning for the lost sheep. We are ambassadors of grace not wrath. Ours is a ministry of reconciliation not condemnation.
Ungodly means opposed to God. There’s an action implied. It is those who have tasted the goodness of God and rejected him. They cannot stand Jesus. (Think of the murderous Pharisees.) God loves these haters and shows them great kindness. (Think of Saul on the road to Damascus.) But those who harden their hearts are heading for trouble. They are storing up wrath against themselves (Rom 2:5). They are the ones doing it; not God.
The ungodly don’t want to be around God and one day God will say, “Okay, have it your way.” Wrath is not God’s choice but theirs.
Two gifts are mentioned in the opening chapter of Romans. The first is grace (Rom. 1:16–17) and the second is wrath (Rom. 1:18–19). Everyone will ultimately receive something from God. They will either receive, by faith the free gift of his righteousness, or they will receive, through hard-nosed and stubborn unbelief, the unwanted gift of his wrath.
The “coming wrath” is a phrase that appears several times in scripture. When John the Baptist saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming out of Jerusalem and he asked them who warned them to flee from the wrath to come, he was referring to the imminent destruction of the city by the Romans (see entry for Matt. 3:7). This event is also known as the Days of Vengeance (see entry for Luke 21:22). However, when Paul talks about Jesus rescuing us from the wrath to come, he is referring to Judgment Day (see entry for 1 Th. 1:10), which is also known as the day of wrath (Is. 13:9, Zeph. 1:15, Rom. 2:5).
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