The Wrath of God

     The Wrath of God-1When reading through the Bible, one encounters the subject of God’s wrath in numerous places (Num. 16:46; Deut. 9:7-8, 22; 29:23, 28; Ps. 7:11; Nah. 1:2; Matt. 3:7; John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; Rev. 6:16-17; 15:1; 16:1, 19). Scripture reveals, “God is a righteous judge and a God who shows His wrath every day” (Ps. 7:11), and “A jealous and avenging God is the LORD; the LORD is avenging and wrathful. The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies” (Nah. 1:2). The apostle Paul states, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). “More than twenty different words occurring about 580 times express the wrath of God in the Old Testament (2 Kings 13:3; 23:26; Job 21:20; Jer. 21:12; Ezek. 8:18; 16:38; 23:25; 24:13).”[1] The most common of these Hebrew words are אַף aph (210 times), חֵמָה chemah (115 times), קֶצֶף qetseph (28 times), חָרוֹן charon (33 times), and עֶבְרָה ebrah (24 times). The two Greek words are ὀργή orge (34 times) and θυμός thumos (18 times). “Orge conveys a more settled anger (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; Eph. 2:3; 1 Thess. 2:16; Rev. 6:16), while thumos indicates a more passionate anger (Rev. 14:10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1; 19:15). Together they clearly convey the divine hostility against sin in a personal way.”[2]

A Definition of God’s Wrath

     God’s wrath refers to His intense hatred of sin. God’s hatred of sin is primarily born out of His attributes of righteousness and love.[3] Righteousness and love are eternal attributes, but wrath is not. God’s wrath is the natural response to that which is contrary to His righteousness and love. God loves righteousness and He loves His people. Concerning His righteousness it is written, “For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face” (Ps. 11:7), and “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the lovingkindness of the LORD” (Ps. 33:5), and “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness” (Ps. 45:7).[4] Concerning His people Israel, He says, “you are precious in My sight, you are honored and I love you” (Isa. 43:4), and in another place He says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jer. 31:3). And of the church, it is written, “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2), and to John it was revealed that Jesus Christ “loves us and released us from our sins by His blood” (Rev. 1:5).

     To perpetually act contrary to God’s righteousness will eventually bring a response of anger, and to attack that which God loves—His people—will bring about divine retribution (Rom. 12:19; 2 Thess. 1:6; Rev. 6:9-10; 19:2). Good parents understand these concepts, for they love their children and desire that they live morally according to the righteous standard of God’s Word. Virtuous parents seek to protect their children from unhealthy values that will corrupt their minds and behavior, because they know this can destroy their life, and loving parents will rise in fury if anyone should seek to harm their children.

Examples of God’s Wrath

     A few examples of God’s wrath in the OT include the worldwide flood (Genesis 6-9), the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19), the defeat of the Egyptians (Ex. 15:7), the suppression of the rebellion of Korah (Num. 16:1-50), the Assyrian destruction of the ten tribes of Israel (2 Ki. 17:1-23), and the Babylonian destruction of the two tribes of Judah (2 Ki. 24:1-4; Jer. 25:1-11). A few examples in the NT include Jesus’ anger at the hard-heartedness of religious leaders (Mark 3:1-6), His anger at the money changers in the Temple (John 2:13-16), God’s wrath during the Tribulation (Rev. 6:16-17; 14:9-10; 15:7; 16:1), at the second coming of Jesus (Rev. 19:2, 15), and at the Great White throne judgment where unbelievers are cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-15).

The Reasons for God’s Wrath

     God’s wrath is kindled against those who are disobedient to His revelation (2 Ki. 22:13; 2 Chron. 24:18-19; 36:15-16; Ps. 78:21-22; Jer. 32:31-33; Rom. 1:18; 2:5). When writing to the Romans, Paul states, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). God’s revelation, both natural and special, reveals He is not friendly toward those who reject Him and perpetuate sin, especially the sin of idolatry (Deut. 28:25-25; 2 Ki. 22:17; Ps. 78:58-59; Jer. 7:17-20; 44:5-6; Rev. 9:20; 14:11). In another place Paul writes, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5). Whenever God pours out His wrath, such as during the Tribulation, He is always declared to be righteous and true, and those who receive His righteous anger deserve what they get.

And I heard the angel of the waters saying, “Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.” (Rev. 16:5-7)

God’s Patience Delays His Wrath

     God’s anger is never rash. In fact, many biblical passages reveal God is very patient and slow to anger. Scripture reveals, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth” (Ex. 34:6), and “You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth” (Ps. 86:15), and “You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Neh. 9:17; cf. Ps. 103:8; Jon. 4:2). God’s patience allows people time to humble themselves and turn to Him before judgment comes. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). Though God is patient, He is not patient forever, and there eventually comes a time when His judgment comes, both in time and in eternity.

God’s Wrath at the Cross

     God’s righteousness demands punishment for sin. We produce sin, but are helpless to deal with it. God alone solves our sin-problem, and the cross of Christ is that solution. At the cross God satisfied every demand of His righteousness by judging our sin in the substitute of His Son, Jesus, who bore the wrath that rightfully belongs to us (Isa. 53:6-12; Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8-9; 1 Pet. 2:21-24; 3:18). As a result, God is propitiated by the blood of Christ (Rom. 3:21-26; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), and extends grace and love to undeserving sinners (John 3:16-18; Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-9; Tit. 3:5). Those who reject Christ as Savior continue under God’s wrath (John 3:18, 36; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Thess. 2:14-16; 5:9-10). Those who trust Jesus as their Savior receive forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:13-14), eternal life (John 10:28), and the imputation of God’s righteousness (Rom. 5:17-18; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). Furthermore, we are reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:22), have relational peace with Him (Rom. 5:1; Col. 1:20), will never know eternal condemnation (Rom. 8:1, 31-39), and will be spared from the wrath to come (Rom. 5:8-9; Eph. 2:1-7; 5:1-10; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; 5:9-10).

     It should be noted there is a difference between wrath and discipline. The Christian who falls into a lifestyle of perpetual sin may know God’s discipline (Heb. 12:5-11), even to the point of death (1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16). But discipline is born out of God’s love for the believer, not His anger, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (Heb. 12:6), and “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline” (Rev. 3:19).

Should Believers Get Angry?

     Is it alright for God’s people to get angry? The answer is yes and no. There is a sinful anger that God’s people must avoid (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; Titus 1:7); however, there are times when we will experience injustice, and it is natural and valid to be angry when this happens. The most common reasons for human anger are hatred, jealousy, fear, or injustice. Because we have such limited or faulty perceptions of circumstances or behaviors, as well as the causes and/or motivations behind them, we are often told not to get angry, as it can result in sin on our part (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; Titus 1:7).

     When writing to Christians at Ephesus, Paul stated, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Eph. 4:26-27). Anger is wrong when it leads us to sin (i.e. revenge, lying, gossip, murder, etc.). Because we are prone to sin, we should always be slow to anger. Scripture states, “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly” (Prov. 14:29), and “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but the slow to anger calms a dispute” (Prov. 15:18), and “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (Prov. 16:32), and “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11), and “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam. 1:19-20). As Christians, we must be careful with anger, for sin crouches near the one who harbors it, tempting us to retaliate and exact revenge upon the offending party. Personal revenge is not the Christian way, for Scripture directs us, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). More so, we are to love and pray for our enemies (Luke 6:27-29), and to bless them (Rom. 12:14; 1 Pet. 3:8-9), if perhaps God may grant them saving grace (2 Tim. 2:24-26). Though God promises to avenge the innocent (2 Thess. 1:6-7; Rev. 6:9-11; 19:1-2); there may be times when He surprises us by showing grace and mercy to those who don’t deserve it, such as the grace shown to Paul when he was persecuting the church (Acts 9:1-6; Gal. 1:15-16), or the grace shown to us while we were sinners (Rom. 5:6-10).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 339.

[2] Ibid., 339–340.

[3] Other attributes may be involved as well, such as holiness and jealousy, but I will focus mainly on these two.

[4] This last verse shows the contrast between that which He loves and hates. To love something is to hate the opposite. To love righteousness is to hate sin. Jesus echoed similar language of antithesis when He said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). And to the church at Ephesus, He states, “Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Rev. 2:6).

About Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Steven is a Christian educator. His webpages communicate evangelical Christian doctrines and topics. Steven earned a Master of Divinity degree in 2006 from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and completed his Doctor of Ministry degree in 2017 from Tyndale Theological Seminary. His articles are theological, devotional, and promote a biblical worldview. Studies in the original languages of Scripture, ancient history, and systematic theology have been the foundation for Steven’s teaching and writing ministry. He has written several Christian books, dozens of articles on Christian theology, and recorded more than three hundred hours of audio and video sermons. Steven worked in jail ministry for over twelve years, taught in Bible churches, and currently leads a Bible study each week at his home in Arlington, Texas.
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