“The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty…Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him. The Lord is good… But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness.” – Nahum 1:2-8.
Preaching on the wrath of God is not very common these days. It is not too often you hear a sermon, or read an article, or listen to a podcast on the wrath of God. It’s too disconcerting and too dark. And it can seem cruel. The reason many Christians struggle with understanding the wrath of God is that it seems like it’s opposed to God’s love. If you understand wrathful as vengeful, then it might be hard to reconcile these two attributes of God. But if the wrath of God is simply His righteous judgment against sinful humanity, then there is really no conflict between the two. All of humanity is deserving of punishment. And a righteous God would correctly give us what we have earned. But God is also love. And He has provided a way of redemption; faith in the atoning blood of His Son.
The concept of God’s wrath can be challenging for us to understand. And that, in large part, is probably due to confusing it with human wrath. Merriam-Webster defines wrath as “strong vengeful anger.” The idea is that someone has wronged me, and I am making every effort to hurt them as much as I can. Human wrath is generally not considered a commendable attribute. But is that what God’s wrath is? Getting revenge on humans who have offended him? God’s wrath is not angry retribution against those who have offended God. Rather it is His righteous judgment against those who do evil. God is righteous. And he will judge us according to His righteous standard. God’s wrath against sinners is nothing more than giving them what they deserve. J.I. Packer summarizes: “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil” (Knowing God. 151).
To understand the wrath of God is to understand how much God hates sin. We may occasionally view sin lightly, to gloss over its effects on our life, and even make excuses for the sins in our life. But reading the Bible gives a clear picture that God abhors sin. We need to fear God and to fear His wrath because our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:28-29 says, “Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire.”
For those who respond to God’s offer of salvation, His righteous judgment is satisfied by Jesus’ sacrifice. God’s desire is that all be saved: “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. (2 Peter 3:9) So God’s wrath would be truly terrifying if it was not satisfied in Christ. In saving us from His own wrath, God has done what we could not do, and He has done what we didn’t deserve. It is the ultimate good news. 1 Timothy 1:15 says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” Romans 3:26 says “for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”
The hope for sinners is that between us and the wrath of God stands the cross of Jesus. Sin was laid on Jesus and when it was done, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “It is finished!” Then Christ rose from the dead, and He stands before you today, a living Savior. He offers to you the priceless gift of peace with God. He is ready to forgive your sins and fill you with His Spirit. He is able to save you from the wrath and reconcile you to the Father. He has opened the door of heaven, and He is able to bring you in.
- Does the concept of God’s wrath concern you? Why?
- Should we fear and tremble before God? Why or why not?