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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Personal Attributes of God

Don Stewart :: What Is the Wrath of God?

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What Is the Wrath of God?

The Personal Attributes of God – Question 13

The God of the Bible has many characteristics or attributes. Among other things, the Scripture teaches that God is a God of wrath. What exactly does this mean? What is the wrath of God? Whom will receive His wrath?

The Wrath of God Defined: God’s Righteous Anger

Wrath can be defined as God’s righteous anger. God loves what is right but hates what is wrong. Scripture has much to say about the wrath of God. This includes the following.

1. The Wrath of God Is Taught in the Old Testament

In the Old Testament, we find that the wrath of the Lord was often directed against the nation Israel. When the Lord saw the people worshipping idols after He had miraculously delivered them from Egypt, He became intensely angry. The Lord then spoke to Moses,

Moses, I have seen how stubborn these people are, and I’m angry enough to destroy them, so don’t try to stop me. But I will make your descendants into a great nation. (Exodus 32:9, 10 CEV)

His anger was intense to the place where He was willing to destroy the entire nation for turning their backs upon Him.

The Old Testament records a number of instances where God’s righteous anger was directed against the nation of Israel. Moses reminded them of this. He wrote,

Don’t ever forget how you kept rebelling and making the LORD angry the whole time you were in the desert. You rebelled from the day you left Egypt until the day you arrived here. At Mount Sinai you made the LORD so angry that he was going to destroy you. (Deuteronomy 9:7, 8 CEV)

Again we have the record of God being angry to the point of wiping out the entire nation for their constant rebellion.

God warned Israel what would happen if they continued to disobey Him. This is also recorded in Deuteronomy.

The LORD will strike your country with diseases and disasters. Your descendants and foreigners from distant countries will see that your land has become a scorching desert of salt and sulfur, where nothing is planted, nothing sprouts, and nothing grows. It will be as lifeless as the land around the cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, after the LORD became angry and destroyed them. (Deuteronomy 29:22, 23 CEV)

These people certainly had an ample warning. Time after time the Lord told them of what would happen for their continual disobedience. Yet they continually refused to listen.

This rebellion continued in the history of the nation. We read in the Book of Kings about the Lord’s anger toward the kingdom of Judah. Upon discovering the Book of the Law in the temple, King Josiah said the following.

“The LORD must be furious with me and everyone else in Judah, because our ancestors did not obey the laws written in this book. Go find out what the Lord wants us to do.” (2 Kings 22:13 CEV)

Again we see another example of God’s holy anger, His wrath. It is clear that God’s wrath is revealed in the Old Testament.

2. The New Testament Speaks of God’s Wrath

The New Testament also speaks of the wrath of God. It makes it plain that those who do not believe in Jesus Christ will suffer the judgment of God. John wrote,

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36 NASB)

The Contemporary English Version puts it this way.

Everyone who has faith in the Son has eternal life. But no one who rejects him will ever share in that life, and God will be angry with them forever. (John 3:36 CEV)

God will indeed be angry or wrathful toward that person forever who rejects the gift of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul also wrote about the wrath of God. To the church at Rome, he made the following remark.

God’s anger is revealed from heaven against every ungodly and immoral thing people do as they try to suppress the truth by their immoral living. (Romans 1:18 God’s Word)

The Contemporary English Version translates the verse in this manner.

From heaven God shows how angry he is with all the wicked and evil things that sinful people do to crush the truth. (Romans 1:18 CEV)

God’s wrath is directed toward those who willingly and knowing reject His truth. In this verse Paul says they are actively suppressing His truth.

Paul also wrote to the Thessalonians about God’s wrath. He said the following.

...by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God’s wrath has overtaken them at last. (1 Thessalonians 2:16 NRSV)

The wrath of God will certainly come upon those who do not believe in Jesus Christ.

In the Book of Revelation, we again read about God’s wrath coming upon those who dwell upon the earth. John wrote,

And they cried to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb.” (Revelation 6:16 NLT)

As is true in the Old Testament, the New Testament speaks of God’s wrath. There is no doubt that it is a subject which the Bible teaches.

3. God Hates All Evil

God gets angry at sin. It must be stressed that hatred of evil is not sinful. The Bible is clear that God hates all evil. The writer to the Hebrews said,

“You love what is right and hate what is wrong. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you, pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else.” (Hebrews 1:9 NLT)

God loves the good and hates the evil.

In Zechariah, we have another reference to God hating evil. The Lord Himself declared His hatred for evil. The Bible says,

“...do not plot evil against your neighbor, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this,” declares the Lord. (Zechariah 8:17 NIV)

If the God of the Bible says that He hates something then we would do well to pay attention to what He says. If He hates it, so should we. Furthermore, we should not participate in the evil that he hates.

4. Jesus Bore the Wrath of God on Calvary’s Cross

On Calvary’s cross, Jesus took the wrath of God that each of one of us deserved. Paul explained it this way.

For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. God was being entirely fair and just when he did not punish those who sinned in former times. And he is entirely fair and just in this present time when he declares sinners to be right in his sight because they believe in Jesus. (Romans 3:25, 26 NLT)

Jesus took upon Himself the penalty for the sins of each of us. He was innocent, we are guilty.

5. Wrath Is Something Believers Will Not Experience

The good news is that those who have believed in Jesus Christ will not experience the wrath of God. Paul wrote,

For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ... (1 Thessalonians 5:9 NRSV)

The Contemporary English Version puts it this way.

God doesn’t intend to punish us, but wants us to be saved by our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:9 CEV)

The wrath of God will only be experienced by unbelievers. Our sins have already been judged by Christ’s death on the cross. Paul wrote,

We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and by nature we were children under wrath, as the others were also. (Ephesians 2:3 HCSB)

The Contemporary English Version reads,

Once we were also ruled by the selfish desires of our bodies and minds. We had made God angry, and we were going to be punished like everyone else. (Ephesians 2:3 CEV)

Paul told the Thessalonians that Jesus Christ will deliver believers from the coming wrath of God. He put it this way.

...and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:10 NKJV)

It is clear that wrath is something which believers will not face.

6. The Lord Is Patient in His Anger

The Bible also emphasizes that Lord is patient with those who trust Him. His anger does not last forever. The psalmist wrote,

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever. (Psalm 103:8, 9 NRSV)

This is good news for those who love Him.

In the New Testament, we find the Apostle Paul writing about God’s patience toward the believer. He wrote,

Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4 NKJV)

This is a comforting thought for the unbeliever.

7. The Lord Is Waiting for Unbelievers to Repent

One of the reasons that God does not immediately judge people is that His desire is for them to repent. Peter wrote,

The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 HCSB)

The wrath of God is delayed for those who are still living in sin. However, His patience with them does not last forever. Once they die in a state of unbelief His eternal wrath awaits them.

The wrath of God, His righteous anger, is taught in Scripture. It is a sobering reminder that God always judges sin.

Summary – Question 13
What Is the Wrath of God?

There are many doctrines that believers enjoy studying. However, the wrath of God is usually not one of them. God’s wrath can be defined as His righteous anger. The Bible says that God is indeed angry at sin.

The wrath of God is taught in both testaments. From the very first page of the Bible until the last we find God’s anger directed at those who rebel against Him.

It must be emphasized that anger at sin is not sin. In fact, there is a time when it is appropriate to be angry. When we are confronted with a sinful situation it is proper to display righteous anger. The Lord certainly did this.

Scripture says that God wrath, or righteous anger, will eternally be placed on those who do not believe in Him. They will be forever separated from His Holy presence as they experience this wrath.

On the other hand, those who have believed in Jesus Christ will not be objects of His wrath. Indeed, God has destined us for salvation, not wrath. There is no condemnation for those who are “in Christ.”

The Lord is patient to those whom He is angry with. This includes believers. He desires us to repent of our sins and turn to Him. If we do not, He will then discipline us. He does this because He loves us.

He is also patient with unbelievers. He waits for them to repent. Yet His patience will not last forever. Repentance is only possible in this life. So, once a person dies, repentance from sin is not possible. Only the wrath of God remains for them.

In sum, God’s wrath, or righteous anger, is displayed at sin. Consequently, it should encourage us to do only those things which are pleasing to Him so that we do not experience His wrath. For the believer this means following the commands of Christ. For the unbeliever, this means turning to Christ in faith for forgiveness of sin. When this occurs the wrath of God will not be displayed.

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Is God a Merciful God? Next Section →
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