61 The Wrath of God Part 1
Updated: Oct 13, 2021
What is the Wrath of God? For centuries we have thought it was God finally getting back at those who had rejected Him, responding in some retributive way. We discover in this two part series that since we think that is how justice comes about and that we would get revenge if we had the chance, we seem to have placed that on God and assume that He does that as well. We have these phrases like, God says, "vengeance is mine" and this is God's "strange" act that if you join us on this journey will take on a different perspective that is consistent with the God that Jesus knew and revealed to us in His life.
The Wrath of God
The phrase "wrath of God" or "God's wrath" is often used in Scripture, especially in the KJV. To understand this statement, we first need to do some larger thinking.
Do we live in a friendly place where harmony is the great desire of all the powers that operate on our planet? The answer Jesus Christ gave was that this world is full of trouble (John 16:33) including a supernatural, usurper prince (John 12:31) who, according to Peter (1 Peter 5:8) desires to destroy us. This means that we are in mortal danger but for the protection of God against this malevolent power (Revelation 7:1-3). If God was to withdraw his protection we would be doomed. It is against this background that we must explore the meaning of “the wrath of God.”
One more exploration before we get to the Biblical information. What causes you to be wrathful or passionately angry? Betrayal by a spouse or friend? Unfair accusations? Unfair treatment? Witnessing sexism or racism? Genocide? Unkindness to children? Molestation of a child? Getting into an argument with someone with apparently stupid ideas? Many of these situations can cause anger or wrath.
The level of anger depends on the perceived threat we experience at the time. This is the cause of anger, this feeling of threat and insecurity. The desire for revenge is a sure sign of anger or wrath. When we place our experience with anger or wrath on God we are being unrealistic. Secure people are seldom angry. God is the epitome of security.
The root Greek word from which "wrath” is translated in the New Testament is orge and orge is translated as follows in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible: 31 times as “wrath,” 3 times as “anger” and once as “vengeance” (Romans 3:5). It is understood to refer to the temper, character, movement or agitation of the soul, impulse, desire, any violent emotion, but especially anger, indignation, anger exhibited in punishment and of punishments inflicted by magistrates.
The “wrath of God” is an idiomatic expression like “acts of God.”
Like, “I love you so much I could eat you up!”
Like, “I went to pick blackberries and found they were red so I knew they were green.”
The most definitive passage in giving the meaning of orge is found in Romans chapter one:
Romans 1:18 For the wrath (orge) of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
When Jesus saw prophetically what would happen to Jerusalem “He wept” (Luke 19:41). When He perceived the hardness of the hearts of the people at Lazarus’ resurrection He also wept (John 11:35). Jesus was weeping for the consequences these men and women were bringing on themselves by the hardness of their hearts.
God’s weeping indicated the depth of feeling He experienced since he knew the consequences of their sin for themselves with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Romans one explains, in detail, what the “wrath” of God means:
1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for degrading of their bodies with one another.
1:26 Because of this God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.
1:28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.
God’s wrath means he is forced away by our choices and practices which expose us to the devil’s malignity (John 8:44; 10:10; 1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 12:12). The devil then works his evil on us.
The phrase “gave them over” is from the Greek word paradidwmi. It is translated as follows in the KJV: deliver (53), betray (40), deliver up (10), give (4), give up (4), give over (2), commit (2), miscellaneous (6). It has been suggested that the word means 1) to give into the hands of another; 2) to give over into one's power or use: to deliver to one something to keep, use, take care of, manage, to deliver up one to custody, to be judged, condemned, punished, scourged, tormented, put to death, to deliver up treacherously, i.e. by betrayal to cause one to be taught, moulded; 3) to commit, to commend; 4) to deliver verbally; commands, rites, to deliver by narrating, to report and 5) to permit or allow: when the fruit will allow i.e. when its ripeness permits; gives itself up, presents itself.
The meanings of paradidwmi are thus all very similar. The context of the word will then, as usual, determine the exact meaning. There are two passages in Romans in which the word paradidwmi is used in connection with Jesus Christ. An examination of these passages will be helpful. These are firstly,
Romans 4:25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification
Romans 8:32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
Both usages of paradidwmi again indicate an active giving up to consequences rather than a punishment or execution.
On the cross Jesus did not cry out: “Why are you killing Me?” but, “Why have you forsaken Me?” He could have just as well cried out: “Why have you given Me over into the hands of the evil one?” The death of Jesus on the cross is an illumination of what it means to die the death from which there is no return.
This death is referred to as the second death (Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). It means to come to the end of life or existence. It is to have no hope for a future. It is to be without hope or courage of any sort. It is the ultimate discouragement. It is the final depression. It is an impenetrable blackness. It is to be forsaken of God who is light and life and love. It is to die of hopelessness. It is to return to the nothingness out of which we were made by God in the beginning.
So, it is not stretching the meaning of either orge or paradidwmi to suggest that the “wrath of God” means that God is forced to allow sinners to reap the inherent consequences of their sin which includes the malignity of the devil. God’s wrath, in plain language, is experiencing the consequences of living in this planet which come to us unrestrained by His mercy and grace. God protected Israel against her national and natural enemies as long as He was permitted to.
The book of Judges explains how Israel would push God aside and then experience the consequences of famine, plague, war and slavery. Then God would send a Judge or a deliverer to save them from these consequences. In the book of Hosea the love of the LORD is expressed in poignant language and how the people turn from Him and so experience the consequences of their choices.
Hosea 11:1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. 3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. 4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them. 5 Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? 6 Swords will flash in their cities, will destroy the bars of their gates and put an end to their plans. 7 My people are determined to turn from me. Even if they call to the Most High, he will by no means exalt them.
8 How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. 9 I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man – the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.
The following list of 35 references is exhaustive for orge in the New Testament:
*Matthew 3:7 NLT But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath?
Mark 3:5 NLT He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So, the man held out his hand, and it was restored!
*Luke 3:7 NLT When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath?
Luke 21:23 NLT How terrible it will be for pregnant women and for nursing mothers in those days. For there will be disaster in the land and great anger against this people. (Romans are angry.)
John 3:36 NLT And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.”
Romans 1:18 NLT But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
Romans 2:5 NLT But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
Romans 2:8 NLT But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness.
Romans 3:5 NLT “But,” some might say, “our sinfulness serves a good purpose, for it helps people see how righteous God is. Isn’t it unfair, then, for him to punish (orge) us?” (This is merely a human point of view.)
Romans 4:15 NLT For the law always brings punishment (orge) on those who try to obey it. (The only way to avoid breaking the law is to have no law to break!)
Romans 5:9 NLT And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.
Romans 9:22 NLT In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction.
Romans 12:19 NLT Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.
Romans 13:4 NLT The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishingthose who do what is wrong.
Ephesians 2:3 NLT All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.
Ephesians 4:31 NLT Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.
Ephesians 5:6 NLT Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him.
Colossians 3:6 NLT Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming.
Colossians 3:8 NLT But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.
1 Thessalonians 1:10 NLT And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment.
1 Thessalonians 2:16 NLT as they try to keep us from preaching the Good News of salvation to the Gentiles. By doing this, they continue to pile up their sins. But the anger of God has caught up with them at last.
1 Thessalonians 5:9 NLT For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us.
1 Timothy 2:8 NLT In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy.
Hebrews 3:11 NLT So in my anger I took an oath: ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’
Hebrews 4:3 NLT For only we who believe can enter his rest. As for the others, God said, “In my anger I took an oath: ‘They will never enter my place of rest,’” even though this rest has been ready since he made the world.
James 1:19 NLT Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.
Revelation 6:16 NLT 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 11:18 NLT The nations were filled with wrath, but now the time of your wrath has come. It is time to judge the dead and reward your servants the prophets, as well as your holy people, and all who fear your name, from the least to the greatest. It is time to destroy all who have caused destruction on the earth.”
Revelation 14:10 NLT must drink the wine of God’s anger. It has been poured full strength into God’s cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb.
Revelation 16:19 NLT The great city of Babylon split into three sections, and the cities of many nations fell into heaps of rubble. So, God remembered all of Babylon’s sins, and he made her drink the cup that was filled with the wine of his fierce wrath.
Revelation 19:15 NLT From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress.
Here are two more passages that do not come from orge but thymos. These passages are possibly more damning for God’s reputation than most other passages because they seem to imply that God sends the seven last plagues on earth
Revelation 15:1 NLT Then I saw in heaven another marvelous event of great significance. Seven angels were holding the seven last plagues, which would bring God’s wrath to completion. (God’s protection is forced away by rebellion and the planet experiences these awful consequences)
Revelation 15:7 NLT Then one of the four living beings handed each of the seven angels a gold bowl filled with the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever. (Suicidal people sometimes die in ambulances but the paramedics do not cause the death. They came to heal and help. Bowls were part of the salvation process but when their blessing is refused rebels die.)
Laws in the Bible do not Legitimize the Behaviours
The Bible gives a number of practices that God hoped would never appear on the planet. When mankind wilfully chose to ignore God=s will God then gave laws to regulate these practices, but they were never His choice. Here are some examples: Slavery, divorce, war, monarchy, carnivorous diet, and polygamy.
The cause of wrath:
Rev 12:12 (AV) Therefore rejoice, [ye] heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! For the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath (Gr. thumos), because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
AWrath@ or Afury@ (NIV) is from Gr. thumos which means a passionate boiling over of anger.
Romans 1:18 (AV) For the wrath (orge) of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
One could be tempted to conclude thumos refers to the anger of Satan and orge refers to the anger of God, however, in Rev 14:12, 19; 15:15:1, 7; 16:1, 19; 19:15 thumos is used for the anger of God. Thus, it seems these two terms, thumos and orge can be used interchangeably.
Here are some Old Testament passages which parallel the NT passages.
The Old Testament writers understand the wrath of God occurs when He is forced away by rebellion and then the rebels suffer the consequences of the loss of God’s protection against evil.
Numbers 14:43 NLT When you face the Amalekites and Canaanites in battle, you will be slaughtered. The Lord will abandon you because you have abandoned the Lord.”
Deuteronomy 31:17-18 NLT Then my anger will blaze forth against them. I will abandon them, hiding my face from them, and they will be devoured. Terrible trouble will come down on them, and on that day, they will say, ‘These disasters have come down on us because God is no longer among us!’ 18 At that time I will hide my face from them on account of all the evil they commit by worshiping other gods.
2 Kings 17:20 NLT The Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel. He punished them by handing them over to their attackers until he had banished Israel from his presence.
2 Chronicles 29:6-9 Our ancestors were unfaithful and did what was evil in the sight of the Lord our God. They abandoned the Lord and his dwelling place; they turned their backs on him. 7 They also shut the doors to the Temple’s entry room, and they snuffed out the lamps. They stopped burning incense and presenting burnt offerings at the sanctuary of the God of Israel.8 “That is why the Lord’s anger has fallen upon Judah and Jerusalem. He has made them an object of dread, horror, and ridicule, as you can see with your own eyes. 9 Because of this, our fathers have been killed in battle, and our sons and daughters and wives have been captured.
Psalm 81:11-14; NLT “But no, my people wouldn’t listen. Israel did not want me around. 12 So I let them follow their own stubborn desires, living according to their own ideas. 13 Oh, that my people would listen to me! Oh, that Israel would follow me, walking in my paths! 14 How quickly I would then subdue their enemies! How soon my hands would be upon their foes!
Isaiah 57:17 “For the iniquity of his covetousness I was angry and struck him; I hid and was angry.”
Isaiah 59:1-2 NLT Listen! The Lord’s arm is not too weak to save you, nor is his ear too deaf to hear you call. 2 It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore.
Jeremiah 33:5 NLT You expect to fight the Babylonians, but the men of this city are already as good as dead, for I have determined to destroy them in my terrible anger. I have abandoned them because of all their wickedness.
Ezekiel 21:31 NLT I will pour out my fury on you and blow on you with the fire of my anger. I will hand you over to cruel men who are skilled in destruction.
Ezekiel 33:11 NLT As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?
As much as we used to fear the Black Death which ravaged Europe in the 14th century and sometimes destroyed a third of the population, as much as we used to fear polio, as much as we fear cancer, as much as we fear pandemics, or the Ebola virus, there is simply no comparison with the awful, terminal effects or consequences of sin. Nicotine might cause lung cancer, a poor diet and lack of exercise might result in heart problems, promiscuity might result in STD's or AIDS, but sin will utterly destroy you every time.
The consequence is inevitable with the infection. Once infected there is no hope outside of God. The cumulative effects of sin on the planet will do what sin has done to every human being. It utterly destroys. No one has ever escaped death on this planet. God never killed them. The consequences are inherent in the “disease.” Paul states it succinctly in this way,
Romans 6:23 The wages of sin is death.
The four angels of Revelation 7:1-5, who are God’s angels, hold back the winds which threaten the earth until they are forced away by the rebellion on the planet. They have power to harm the earth by letting go of these winds (2). It is not the 4 angels but the winds which harm the earth.
One Bible commentator made this point as follows:
Men have reached a point in insolence and disobedience which shows that their cup of iniquity is almost full. Many have well-nigh passed the boundary of mercy. Soon God will show that He is indeed the living God. He will say to the angels “No longer combat Satan in his efforts to destroy. Let him work out his malignity upon the children of disobedience; for the cup of their iniquity is full. They have advanced from one degree of wickedness to another, adding daily to their lawlessness. I will no longer interfere to prevent the destroyer from doing his work.” (Review and Herald, September 17,1901)
In another instance the same writer comments as follows:
The time is right upon us. The Spirit of God is being withdrawn from the earth. When the angel of mercy folds her wings and departs, Satan will do the evil deeds he has long wished to do. Storm and tempest, war and bloodshed—in these things he delights, and thus he gathers in his harvest. (Review and Herald, September 17, 1901)
God has not ignored or failed to act towards sin. He acted in the most decisive possible manner at Calvary. All heaven was given to save sinful man. God acts in his wrath against sin or rebellion by having to give up sinners to the consequences of their actions. This is “His strange act” (Isaiah 28:21) since all through history God has protected people from the consequences of their choices and the designs of the evil one.
At the end of the age God must stand aside, forced away by those who do not want Him there, and away by God's respect for our freedom. He must watch his beautiful creation destroyed. Imagine watching part of your family for whom and with whom you have lived and worked being destroyed. It would be heart breaking, especially when it is all so unnecessary.
This calamity (the killing of the baby boys in Bethlehem) the Jews had brought upon themselves. If they had been walking in faithfulness and humility before God, He would in a signal manner have made the wrath of the king harmless to them. But they had separated themselves from God by their sins, and had rejected the Holy Spirit, which was their only shield. (Desire of the Ages, EG White p65)
This is best seen at Calvary where God gave Jesus up to these awful consequences. Calvary is a warning to all that the emotional and spiritual consequence of sin, not punishment from God, is so awful that it broke the heart of Jesus Christ and killed Him at Calvary. Sin is an awful malignancy. It destroys everything with which it comes into contact. All of us would have been annihilated years ago but for the preserving power of grace. God's wrath is active in the sense that God finally concedes that grace and mercy are no longer wanted on this planet. He is forced away by sinners wanting to be free, that is away from Him and apart from Him. If he remained, he would be limiting their freedom and forcing himself on them. It would be the equivalence of rape. Sadly, He must leave sinners to their chosen doom. Calvary tells us of the awfulness of that choice.
What about “vengeance” passages in the Bible?
Deuteronomy 32:35, KJV "To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste." Psalms 94:1, KJV "O LORD God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself."
Isaiah 61:1-2, KJV "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;"
Nahum 1:2, KJV "God is jealous, and the LORD revengeth; the LORD revengeth, and is furious; the LORD will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies."
Romans 3:5-6, KJV "But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?"
Romans 12:19, KJV "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."
2 Thessalonians 1:7-9, KJV "And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;"
Hebrews 10:30, KJV "For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people."
Jude 1:7, KJV "Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire."
When Paul writes in Romans 12:19 that God says, “Vengeance is mine,” he remembers what Jesus said and did about vengeance.
Matthew 5:38-39 “You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21).’ But I say, ‘Do not resist and evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek offer the other cheek also.’”
This teaching of Jesus is too radical for most of us and we revert to Moses when we have been wounded emotionally of physically. Paul is suggesting that we leave revenge to the hands of God. God, however, is not in the revenge business. We know this from the way he treated his betrayers, ridiculers, abusers and executioners. He loved and blessed them all. This realization either inspires you with compassion or angry passion. Sinners love the cruelty of revenge. It is addictive. It is not fair to put our desire for revenge on God.
Ian Hartley, April 2021