Our sermon series in Revelation brought us face to face with the uncomfortable topic of the wrath of God in chapters 15 & 16. For some, the topic of wrath stirs up images of an angry dad flying off the handle at home. Others think that God’s wrath is more of an Old Testament idea that seems contrary to a nicer New Testament God. But the wrath of God is taught from Genesis to Revelation.
So what is the wrath of God? God’s wrath is His justice and love put into action to punish the sin and evil that defames His name and damages His people. Because He is just, He punishes evil. Because He is love, He acts on behalf of those He loves.
Theologian Steve Lawson lists 7 kinds of God’s wrath that we see in the Bible. I have expounded on his list to help us grasp the complexities of God’s wrath so we can better know the God who has revealed Himself to us in the Bible.
1. Abiding Wrath
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36) There is a hover of God’s wrath currently on those who reject Christ. It means there is no eternal life (relationship with God) found in all the things that a non-believer looks to for life. God has not placed eternal hope in the things of this world, thus before Christ, people abide not in the pleasure of God over them, but the wrath of God.
2. Catastrophic Wrath
In Genesis 6, God was grieved at the evil in the hearts of mankind and sent a flood as judgment upon all evil. It was a catastrophic event that was God’s response to the evil in the world. He later did this in Egypt with the plagues. While not every catastrophe is His wrath (see Luke 13:4 about a tower that fell and killed people, or Job 1:18 when a wind knocked down Job’s house) we do know God can send catastrophe in response to evil and sin.
3. Consequential Wrath
“God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) When sinners sin, they reap the consequences. This is how God ordained the world to work. He is not to be blamed for the consequences we suffer for our own choices, but rather He is to be praised for His truth, and for not letting us enjoy what keeps us separated from Him, and thereby turn back to Him when we experience the consequences of our sin.
4. Abandonment Wrath
Proverbs 1 describes God like wisdom calling out and people refusing to listen. Romans 1 describes people suppressing the truth of God to worship created things rather than the Creator. This suppression and refusal to listen goes on to a point where eventually, “God gave them up…” He abandons them to their hearts desires. He honors their request not to have Him get in the way of what their unbelieving hearts really want to do.
5. Eschatological Wrath
“But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:5) There is a greater wrath to come in the final days when Jesus returns. There will be a time of increased deception and persecution of the church leading up to His return as we have seen in Revelation’s teachings about the 6th and 7th seals, trumpets and bowls, and Jesus will respond with “the fury of His wrath” (Revelation 16:19), putting an end to all the evil on this earth.
6. Eternal Wrath
“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46) While Revelation 15 & 16 tells us that the wrath of God will be poured out and finished, that is in the context of the battle between good and evil on this earth before the eternal state. Jesus’ return will usher in the new heavens and new earth for His people to dwell with him forever in eternal perfection, but there will be another place of eternal wrath that remains for the devil and all those who have permanently rejected Christ.
7. Redemptive Wrath
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:8-9) Jesus’ death on the cross was Him absorbing the wrath of God in the place of sinners. And by trusting what Jesus did on that cross, we are brought into eternal life (a right relationship with God), and no longer need to fear the wrath of God on us. The cross is the ultimate display of God’s justice to punish sin, and his love to forgive and redeem sinners. And upon our redemption, He leads us to live out lives of justice and love on the earth. This is why Christians worship Jesus, and this is why we invite all to come to know him!