The scariest phrase in the Bible is just three words long: “God is love” (1 John 4:8).


Love is the most beautiful thing that there is, but love is also extremely dangerous. If you love what is good, you will hate what is evil.


This means that if God is love, if it is essential to his character, if he loves goodness, and justice, and mercy, he must be opposed to most of what goes on in our world, he must be outraged by it.


He must.


The wrath of God may not be a popular topic today, but not only is it a logical necessity, it is a definite Biblical reality as well. Just consider this passage from John’s gospel:


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


Or this opening line from Paul’s presentation of the Gospel in the book of Romans:


For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

Romans 1:18


Or, just think about what the book of Revelation says that “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” will do to the wicked upon his return:


He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.

Revelation 19:15


You read that right. Not only is Jesus going to crush the wicked like grapes in a winepress, but this winepress is said to be “the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God.”


The wrath of God is real and it manifests itself in different ways in the Bible. Two critical components are the passive wrath of God and the active wrath of God


The Passive Wrath of God


The passive wrath of God is most clearly seen in Romans 1 and 2. We already saw in Romans 1:18 how Paul opens his exposition of the gospel with the fact that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven, but as he begins to unpack that statement it becomes clear that the wrath that is currently being revealed is passive and not active.


Three times in the first chapter as Paul gives an account of human rebellion against their creator, he says that God “gave them up” to their evil desires:


  • Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity (Romans 1:24)
  • For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions (Romans 1:26)
  • And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (Romans (1:28)


Instead of actively bringing immediate retribution, God passively removes his hand of restraint and gives people over to their own wicked desires.


The next chapter gives us a scary picture of the result of this passive 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


In other words, the passive wrath of God is leading up to an eventual active judgement and the end result of a delayed judgement is greater wrath, because people are “storing up wrath” for themselves.


The passive wrath of God is truly a terrifying thing.


The Active Wrath of God


There are several different ways that the active wrath of God manifests itself.


Immediate Retribution


This is what a lot of people probably have in mind when talking about the wrath of God. This is God smiting someone who is sinning right then and there.


Although a lot of people probably associate this with the Old Testament, there is record of it happening in the New Testament as well.


In Acts 4:36-5:11, we read that Barnabas sold some of his own property and gave the money to the work of the apostles. A husband and wife named Ananias and Sapphira decided they would do the same thing to appear pious, but they kept some of the money for themselves and lied about it. Upon being called out on their deception, both Ananias and Sapphira instantly drop dead.


This is the active wrath of God working to bring immediate retribution against wrongdoers.


 Indirect Retribution


The example of Ananias and Sapphira is an example of direct retribution on God’s part, since even unbelievers would call what happened to them “an act of God.” Sometimes however, God acts more indirectly and uses his sovereignty to cause various means to bring about his desired ends.


An example of this is how God often dealt with Israel in the Old Testament.


In Isaiah chapter 10, God is going to bring judgment against wayward Jerusalem, and he says he is going to do it by having Assyria invade Jerusalem. God planned to use Assyria as his instrument to indirectly bring judgement. What is fascinating is that God also mentions that he will judge Assyria for invading Israel. In one sense Assyria was conforming to the will of God because they were accomplishing the ends that he wanted carried out, but in another sense they weren’t because their heart was not right in the process.


In the same way in the book of Habakkuk, we see that God has chosen to judge Judah indirectly by bring the Chaldeans against them. Just like the previous example, God does not look favorable upon the Chaldeans just because he is sovereignly using them as a means to an end, but he regards them as “guilty men” (Habakkuk 1:11).


Eternal Punishment


 In Matthew 25:46 Jesus says that at the final judgment, the wicked “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” This is where the passive wrath being stored up in Romans 2 is finally manifested actively.


The idea of hell is incredibly unpopular in our culture, but the reality is that the Bible does indeed talk about it, and Jesus talks about it more than anyone.


Wrath and the Character of God


It is incredibly important to note that God’s wrath is part of who he is. God desires that his hatred of sin and evil be known. This is most clearly articulated in Paul’s defense of the righteousness of God in Romans 9:


What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Romans 9:22-24


In other words, there was a sense in which God did not want to create those who would eventually be consigned to eternal punishment, he had to endure it so that he would be able to display his wrath and his power and to have that as a backdrop to highlight the glory of his grace and mercy.


The full character of God is not seen without his wrath, and the riches of his grace can’t be fully appreciated unless they are contrasted with his wrath.

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The Practical Implications of the Wrath of God


There are three important implications of the wrath of God that we need to take note of:


1) Christians must acknowledge and preach the wrath of God


Here’s the bottom line: God has revealed himself in the scripture and he has been crystal clear that his wrath against sin is a part of who he is.


While it may have become fashionable for churches to relate to the culture by never talking about God’s wrath, the fact is that if you fail to acknowledge the wrath of God, you fail to point people to the true God.


2) Christians must warn unbelievers of the wrath of God


There really is no way around this point. In laying out his lengthy exposition of the gospel in the book of Romans, Paul makes it clear in chapter 3 that the heart of the gospel is that Jesus died in our place for our sins, but as we’ve already seen he begins his discussion with the wrath of God.


We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and deserve wrath and punishment. Believers are only able to escape that fate because of the grace extended to us in Jesus Christ.


For an unbeliever, the news that they are under God’s wrath and that the only way of salvation is to turn to Jesus is the most pressing message that they need to hear.


3) Christians cannot embrace the culture’s idea of “tolerance.”


 The word “tolerance” is absurdly overused today and has come to mean not ever saying that any action or lifestyle is wrong.


Obviously Christians can’t accept that definition. There are actions and behaviors that we simply cannot tolerate because they are morally wrong and incur the wrath of God.


We should love all people, but loving someone doesn’t mean giving blanket approval to everything that they do.  If you really love someone, you will not tolerate those actions of theirs that are intolerable.


Final Thoughts


In today’s day and age it is incredibly unpopular to be seen as a “hellfire and brimstone” preacher. While it’s true that no Christian should ever be solely focused on the wrath of God (for Christians with a Biblical balance, God’s wrath serves as the backdrop for his grace and mercy to stand out against), we certainly can’t avoid it.

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