There is hardly a more uncomfortable doctrine than this: the wrath of God. And yet, it must be taught — and heeded. This is the fifth post in my series on Ephesians 2. This series comes out of a small Bible study I teach every Friday at a local high school. If you do happen to read, please pray that the Lord would bring unsaved sinners to our Bible studies, and that He would be pleased to save them.
Ephesians 2:1-3 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were be nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
Last time we ended by speaking on how we lived in the spirit of disobedience. And what does this disobedience deserve? The holy, righteous, angry wrath of God. Today, I want to speak on this holy, righteous, angry wrath of God.
But before we start, let me preface it in this way: I do not enjoy, per se, speaking about the wrath of God. It isn't fun. I don't get excited about teaching it like I do about evangelism, or missions, or the grace of God.
But the Bible clearly teaches the wrath of God. It is real. It is terrifying. And because God speaks of His wrath, I must as well. Please understand, that does not mean I speak in self-righteousness. I speak as a broken man. I know I deserve the wrath of God. And I know people under the wrath of God who are in Hell now and will be forever. They are my relatives, my friends. This is a hard truth, and a necessary one.
Remember, we are learning that we are more sinful than we could ever fathom. And for me, this lesson will be the hardest. Today, I want to answer four questions:
I. What is the wrath of God? II. Why is God wrathful? III. What is the culmination of the wrath of God? IV. Why teach the wrath of God?
I. What is the wrath of God?
Our text says that we "were be nature children of wrath," meaning that we were those who are destined for wrath — the wrath of God. We'll spend most of our time today on that phrase alone.
The first question, and perhaps the easiest question, we must ask is, "What is the wrath of God?" Before I give a simple definition, let me address two things the wrath of God is not.
First, God displaying His wrath is not God being unjust or cruel. Rather, it is His justice expressed. God loves justice, and is never unjust. Secondly, God does not reveal His wrath primarily in this life, but in the next. We are speaking about eternal states, not temporary ones.
But for now, here is the simple definition: God's wrath is His holy, righteous, just anger against sin expressed by divine judgment. I want to read only one verse here:
Romans 2:5 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,
Let's work backward through this verse. Note how Paul calls the day of judgment the day of wrath and the revelation of the righteous (not unrighteous) judgment of God. God's judgment is always righteous; the punishment always fits the crime. Next, note how Paul speaks of storing up wrath for a future day, not the present day; the wrath is revealed later not now. And lastly, note how this wrath is incited by stubbornness and unrepentance; God's wrath is always against sin.
So we understand what the wrath of God is; it is God's holy, righteous, just anger against sin expressed by divine judgment. This leads us to ask our next question, "Why is God wrathful?
II. Why is God wrathful?
God is wrathful because His character demands it. He is holy and the good. And our sin incites Him to wrath; it demands that He display His wrath. As He is the Judge of the whole earth, He will judge rightly.
Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
Romans 3:5-6 … The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?
God's wrath is against ungodliness, unrighteousness, and the stubbornness of men who push down the truth by their unrighteousness. God hates ungodliness; He hates unrighteousness; He hates disobedience. His soul abhors it. He is disgusted with it. He cannot even look upon sin because of His hatred of it. God is not an unjust God because He displays His wrath; rather, God would be unjust if He did not judge in righteousness and display His wrath!
"But wait," you say. "Isn't God a God of love? And a loving God cannot hate, right?" Yes, God is love (1 John 4:8). Yet, love does not ablate hate; rather, love demands hate. A small illustration may help here: I love children. I love playing with them, holding them, talking with them, pretending I can understand them, praying for them, and teaching them the Bible. I earnestly desire that they would believe in Jesus Christ, serve Him all their days, and bring glory to Him.
And because I love them, I hate anything that would harm them. I would hate if they were ever to be abused or taken advantage of or hurt or harmed. My love for them necessitates my hatred for that which is opposed to their thriving. I cannot love both the child and the fact that they were molested. I cannot love both the child and the man who schemes to destroy them. I cannot love both the child and the fact that they are suffering unjustly at the hands of wickedness. It is unthinkable. My love for children necessitates I hate.
How much more so then, that the God who loves all that is holy, good, wonderful, whole , pure, righteous, clean, true, and godly, hate, with an intensity equal to His love, all that which is unholy, evil, deplorable, corrupt, unrighteous, filthy, deceitful and godless! As fully as God is a God of love, and is for all that which is good, He is a God who hates, and who is fully against all that is not good. Two Psalms will demonstrate this well:
Psalm 5 4 For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You. 5 The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity. 6 You destroy those who speak falsehood; The Lord abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit.
Psalm 11 4 The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men. 5 The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, And the one who loves violence His soul hates. 6 Upon the wicked He will rain snares; Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup. 7 For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness; The upright will behold His face.
The one who loves violence His soul hates. Upon the wicked He will rain snares; Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup. Why? Psalm 11:7 — For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness. His love for righteousness means that it is necessary for God to hate sin. God's love does not erase His hatred of sin; rather, it demands it.
So then, God's wrath is His holy, righteous, just anger against sin expressed by divine judgment. And He is wrathful because of His love for righteousness, for love for one thing demands the hatred of that which opposes that thing.
III. What is the culmination of the wrath of God?
There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and those that do. And both deserve the wrath of God.
1. The Wrath of God Against Unbelievers Falls On Their Own Head
For unbelievers, the expression of the wrath of God is Hell. Remember how I spoke about how wrath is not displayed primarily in this life, but in the next? This is the life unbelievers have waiting for them: the unending wrath of God.
[Aside: It is also true that that the "wrath of God [now] abides on" those who do not believe (John 3:36), but, for the sake of space, I want to focus only on the final expression of God's wrath — Hell.]
The Bible is unapologetically clear about Hell, so much so that it's embarrassing when so-called Christians try to deny its existence. I've compiled all the verses I could find about Hell into one paragraph (note that half of the verses are from the mouth of Christ Himself:
Hell is the place of eternal (Matthew 18:8) suffering under the wrath of God. It is where God forever destroys both soul and body (Matthew 10:28, Luke 12:4-5). Hell is called a lake that burns with fire and brimstone (Rev 21:8), likened to the burning off of chaff with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:11-12). Jesus Himself calls Hell an unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43), a furnace of fire for sinners (Matthew 13:41-42), where the worm does not die, (Mark 9:48), fiery (Matthew 5:22, 18:9), a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42, Luke 13:28). It is the final holding place for stubborn, unrepentant sinners.
The hard thing about Hell is not that it's hard to understand what the Bible says about it. The hard thing about Hell is that it's so clear in the Bible. The hard thing is to take in what Hell is, in its full reality: the conscious, unending, unquenchable, suffering of sinners for sin.
Furthermore, Hell is not Satan's threat; Hell is God's threat. Jesus says in Matthew 10:28, "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him [namely, God!] who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell." Hebrews 10:31 says that it "is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God" in judgment. Yes, fear God who is able to continually destroy forever both the soul and body in Hell! It is His wrath against sin the fuels the flames; God Himself rules over heaven and Hell and inflicts the suffering on the damned.
Now, I said that both believers and unbelievers deserve the wrath of God. Unbelievers receive the wrath of God themselves. How about believers?
2. The Wrath of God Against Believers Fell on Christ
For believers, the expression of God's wrath is Jesus Christ on a cross.
Romans 5:8-9 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.
1 Thessalonians 1:10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.
Those who believe in Jesus Christ are saved from the wrath of God. How? Jesus Christ bore all of it Himself. He is our Substitute, our Scapegoat, our Passover Lamb who drank the full wrath of God. In six hours upon the cross of crucifixion, He drank an eternity of divine judgment for the sin of the thousands who would believe. He received all of the fierce wrath of God and satisfied it — completely!
When we say that we are saved, this is what we must understand: we are saved from the wrath of God. Saved from it! Pardoned! Forgiven! No longer to fear the condemnation and judgment we know that we deserve! Why? Because Christ directed it upon Himself. He rescues us from the wrath to come.
3. The Cross and Wrath
I understand those who would seek to erase the eternal Hell. I really do. They are dead wrong, but I understand them. The thought of millions of people screaming and weeping and gnashing their teeth and dying perpetually is unbearable. The fact that there are millions who do not even have access to the gospel is torturous. It would be mentally easier to not believe in an eternal Hell. It would ease my conscience to just ignore what God has revealed. Again, I understand those who would seek to erase the eternal Hell.
But, it will not do. Why? Because if there were no Hell, the glory of the cross is diminished. Christ's payment for sin and propitiation would be insulted. If there is no eternal Hell where the wrath of God is poured out continually as the punishment for sin, then Jesus didn't really suffer that much. If there were no eternal punishment for sin, then Jesus' sacrifice loses it's value. Do you see? To erase an eternal Hell is to insult Christ. It will not stand, no matter how much our consciences would desire it. [I have endeavored to explain how both the love and wrath of God is inseparably tied to the cross of Christ here.]
Now then, now that we understand what the wrath of God is, the reason why God is wrathful, and how God expresses His wrath, we can ask our last question: Why teach the wrath of God at all?
IV. Why Teach the Wrath of God?
Again, at the risk of sounding pedantic, I repeat the question: Why spend an entire lesson on wrath? Isn't it too uncomfortable, too unbearable, too hard of a teaching? Aren't there more encouraging things, more interesting things, more edifying things?
I can think of five reasons to teach the wrath of God. There are undoubtedly more, but it is beneficial for at least these reasons:
- It is part of the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:27). God is clear in His Word, and thus so must we be.
- It is part of God's character, and we ought to endeavor to know God in His fullness as He is (Philippians 3:10). To know a God as any other way than He truly is to know a false god.
- It humbles believers ("even as the rest" Ephesians 2:3; Galatians 6:13-14, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31) and reminds them of their great salvation (Romans 5:9, 1 Thessalonians 1:10). We deserve the wrath of God! None can boast in light of this truth!
- It compels believers to think of eternity and preach the gospel. Very few things sober believers better than speaking of the eternal judgment to come, as we all have unbelieving family members, friends, classmates, coworkers.
- It startles up unbelievers and gives them an opportunity to hear the gospel (Acts 2:40). What better time to preach the gospel than when unbelievers realize their guilt and cry out for a Savior?
This is why, no matter the discomfort, we must speak on sin, and its consequence ‚ wrath. I want to end with two appeals.
To those who do not believe in Christ, I say this: Cast off your sins! I beg you, come under the salvation of the only Savior from hell, the Lord Jesus Christ! You have a choice to make: either bear the torments of the wrath of God yourself or flee and be saved by the cross of Christ! Believe in Him, and be saved from the wrath to come!
And to you, Christian, reading this, I say to you: the wrath of God is terrifying. How then can we be silent?