The Wrath of Jesus Christ
In every generation, there seems to be neglected doctrines. Neglect is usually born out of over-emphasis on some other related doctrines. Liberal Christianity has insisted on God’s love, almost to the point of exclusivity. Does God have attributes other than love? Does God have attributes that appear in contradistinction from others? How many have ever heard a sermon on the wrath of God?
Wrath is a reasonably voluminous topic in Scripture. It appears 189 times. Most people have heard or experienced the wrath of men (Heb 11:27), and of kings (Prv 19:12; Dan 3:19). We believe in the wrath of Satan (Rev 12:12); but God is not a man, so should He have wrath in His arsenal of attributes and activities? Job believed in the wrath of God (Job 14:13; 21:20). The prophet Nahum made a clear statement, “A jealous and avenging God is the Lord; Yahweh is avenging and wrathful. The Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies (Nah 1:2).”
Jesus spoke about the wrath of God, “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 (Jn 3:36).” That is very personal. Wrath, as in the wrath of God to come, was expanded in Jesus’ warning to the Pharisees and Sadducees (Mt 3:7; Lk 3:7). It is also for the multitudes (Ezek 7:12, 14). Jesus’ warning was not mere aeromancy, as we shall see from in our further study of the subject. Men know there is judgment because they observe wrath (Job 19:29), and to speak wrongly about God, even about His wrath, invites His wrath (Job 42:7).
Having established the reality of God’s wrath through the Bible’s teaching, we can consider some more aspects of this doctrine. We will acknowledge God’s wrath against sinful men, and His deliverance of others from wrath. Those who have been delivered should not act in wrath.
First, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Rom 1:18). The wicked should expect wrath (Prv 11:23), for their deeds (Is 59:18), and their idolatries (Ezek 36:18), which provoke God (Jer 32:31). The wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience for immorality, impurity, idolatry, etc. (Eph 5:6; Col 3:6). God says, “As I swore in My wrath, ‘they shall not enter My rest (Heb 3:11; 4:3).’”
God is not unrighteous by inflicting wrath (Rom 3:5). It is the holy Law of God that brings wrath (Rom 4:5), and men are lawless rebels storing up wrath for themselves (Rom 2:5). A day of righteous judgment is coming (Zeph 1:15; Rev 6:17; 11:18) for those who are called “vessels of wrath (Rom 9:22).” Even the whole earth will be subject to the fire of His wrath on that day (Zeph 1:18; 2 Pet 3:10–12).
One of the most intriguing statements in all of Scripture pertains to the wrath of God upon men. Under God’s judgment men would prefer for rocks to fall on them to kill them, as if death could hide them from the presence of the One seated on the throne of God (Rev 6:16). Who is it inflicting God’s wrath upon men? It is the wrath of the Lamb (6:16). This is a stunning clash of terms. Lamb’s do not typically inflict wrath on anyone or anything. Lambs are slain in sacrificial offerings (Rev 5:6, 12). Jesus is the Lamb slain (Rev 13:8), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).
“The wrath of Jesus Christ” is not a phrase we hear much in church these days. Upon hearing such words, most Christians would cringe, and most unbelievers would laugh and scoff. The image of divine warrior is simply foreign. Even those who read Revelation 19:11–21 find this Jesus hard to believe. “Wrath of God” is marginally acceptable to Christians, but “wrath of Jesus Christ” is simply unpalatable. Here is another aspect of the Jesus we never knew because this Jesus was never preached to us. The Lamb of God, who is the Son of God, inflicts the wrath of God, which is kindled against His enemies (Ps 2:12). God gets peoples’ attention with His wrath (Ezek 25:17); and He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath (Ps 110:5).
What is the wrath of God like? We have seen how men would prefer rocks to fall on them. The most vivid picture of God’s wrath is given to us in Revelation 14:9–11, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”
The psalmist acknowledged this fiery image of wrath (Ps 21:9), as did the prophet (Ezek 22:21). God’s wrath is also depicted as a wine press crushing gathered grapes (Rev 14:19). It is identified as multiple plagues (Rev 15:1), a tempest (Jer 30:23), and an earthquake (Jer 10:10). Yet, another image, is the pouring out of a cup: a cup of fire poured out (Nah 1:6); or a cup filled with liquid and poured out (Rev 16:1, 17, 19), which makes men drunk with His wrath (Is 63:6). God’s wrath is called, “great” (Jer 36:7), and repeatedly called, “fierce” (1 Sam 28:18; Prv 27:4; Rev 16:19; 19:15).
Second, the blood of Christ appeases God’s wrath, as a propitiation for sin (Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17; 1 Jn 2:2; 4:10) and saves God’s people from wrath they deserve (Num 16:46; Rom 5:9). Men provoke God to wrath (Dt 9:7), through their disobedience to His Law (2 Kgs 22:13) and idolatry (2 Kgs 22:17), and they need priestly mediation to appease the wrath of God (Num 18:5; 25:11). In other words, Jesus Christ endured the wrath of God directed at His people, who serve as an object lesson for the wicked (2 Chron 29:8; 36:16; Ezra 5:12). Lamentations is the prophet’s grief at God’s wrath against the people of Jerusalem and Judah.
It should terrify men that God would be so righteous and just, to punish His own people for their sins, and how much more frightening to imagine His wrath against His own Son, who was sinless (Heb 4:15; 7:26). He became sin for His people (2 Cor 5:21), and suffered on their behalf and in their place of punishment (Lev 16). Christians, prior to their conversion, lived by nature as children of wrath (Eph 2:3), but God has not destined His people for wrath (1 Thess 5:9). It is Jesus who rescues us from the wrath to come (1 Thess 1:10). This is good news for those who believe, but for unbelievers a warning remains, for wrath comes upon those who hinder the Gospel ministry (1 Thess 2:16).
Third, God’s people should never act out wrath (Ps 37:8; Eph 4:31; Col 3:8) because vengeance belongs to God (Rom 12:19), who employs civil authorities to enact His wrath against evil (Rom 13:4). For this reason, God’s people should live righteous and submit themselves to the governing authorities (Rom 13:5). Instead of acting in wrath, lachrymose Christians should pray (1 Tim 2:8). It is right to pray that God would remember Jesus, and not act in wrath toward us (Ps 38:1).
Imprecatory prayers ask God to act in wrath against evildoers (Ps 59:13; 79:6), who even through their wrath, praise God (Ps 76:10). God is slow to wrath (Is 48:9), being compassionate (Ps 78:38), while man’s exercise of wrath is usually sin. Christians should remember that a soft answer turns away wrath (Prv 15:1).
We have learned and should take to heart that it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31). Scripture affirms the living God as a God of wrath. He employs it with perfect justice, in judgment against sin. Sinners may endure the wrath of God now and surely on the day of judgment.
God has delivered His chosen people from His righteous wrath. By Jesus Christ’s propitiation for the sins of His people, He has appeased God’s wrath, and saved His people from their sins. They have been delivered by Christ’s once for all sacrifice of Himself, on the Cross, where His blood was shed, as God’s answer to God’s wrath directed against them. Truly, we have entered His rest, for there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, and no fear of God’s wrath shall ever trouble us. There is blood on the mercy seat, and it belongs to Jesus Christ, who have loved us and positioned Himself between us and the wrath of God.
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
February 15, 2021