What is your gut reaction when you hear the phrase “the wrath of God?”
Genuine fear? An eye-roll as if someone were purposefully trying to scare you? Or maybe you think it’s a primitive way of viewing God who we know is really all about love?
The Bible speaks often about God’s “wrath,” or anger. Many people know this, and it’s one reason why they don’t like the Bible.
Would it surprise you if I told you that the person in the Bible who speaks most about God’s wrath is Jesus Christ?
Let’s look at what Jesus has to say about the God’s wrath, and then at some good news for us today.
God’s Wrath Is Necessary and Just
Suppose you created an ornate sculpture, and someone smashed it to pieces. So you went to court to lodge your complaint, but the judge didn’t care about it. How would you feel? What would you think of the judge?
Or suppose someone broke into your home and harmed your family. They beat up your children and injured your spouse. When you reported this to the police, they did nothing about it, even when you were able to prove who did it from security cameras in your home!
Would you think this was just?
The answers to these questions are obvious. You’d be angry at the injustice!
We rarely apply our same sense of justice when we think of God, in whose image we are made. Because God is the one who sets the standard of moral justice, and created us with that sense, we should expect him to react against anything that harms his children or destroys what he has made.
In order to be just, God must punish evil. God’s wrath against wickedness makes sense, and is absolutely necessary.
How the Wrath of God Relates to His Love
Unfortunately, people often play God’s love and wrath against each other, as if they conflict. Some believe it’s unacceptable to speak about God’s wrath at all, as if it’s beneath him to get angry.
Anger and love are two sides of the same coin. Just like parents who rightly get angry if someone harms their child, so too, God gets angry when we ruin his creation or harm people he made in his image. If God were to do nothing about evil, he would not be loving, but indifferent.
The wrath of God doesn’t contradict his love; it’s the necessary consequence to his love. A loving God must hate evil.
Jesus Believed in God’s Wrath
This is clearly Jesus’ view of God. Jesus did not only talk about love and forgiveness. He also spoke at length about sin, judgment, and eternal condemnation.
Jesus believed that God’s wrath is real, and his judgment upon the whole earth is coming. In two extended teaching passages, known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5–7) and the Olivet Discourse (Matthew chapters 24–25), Jesus speaks of the judgment that will come during the end times.
For example, Jesus uses the Old Testament example of God’s universal destruction—the flood in Noah’s day (Genesis chapters 6–9)—as a template for the coming judgment during the end times (Matthew 24:37-39). Because God is righteous, he judges sin. Jesus equates the flood with the judgment he will bring when he returns in the last days: “so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (v. 39 ESV).
Jesus firmly believed in God’s wrath towards sin as revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures. He knew that God’s wrath, as seen in the past, was a sure sign that we would also see it in the future, and he frequently warned his listeners about it. After all, if you knew a disaster was coming, wouldn’t it be the loving thing to do to warn others about it?
Jesus Dealt with God’s Wrath
But Jesus did not come to earth just to tell us about God’s wrath. He came so that he could remove God’s righteous anger against sinners like us, by bearing it for us on the cross. This is the good news.
The Bible teaches that everyone is a sinner from birth, that everyone is “by nature deserving of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3 NIV). Our sins put us at odds with God, who, as the moral guarantor of the universe, cannot simply shrug them off as inconsequential.
Something had to be done to change this situation if we were ever to have a relationship with God.
God could have left us to ourselves and allowed us to bear the full weight of his wrath. Instead, he made a way for his righteous anger to be removed by sending his Son, Jesus, to earth. Jesus bore our sins, and the penalty they were due, upon himself. The Bible puts it this way:
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 ESV)
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)
This introduces an important biblical concept called propitiation. To be propitious toward someone is to view them favorably. As rebellious sinners, we are not favorably viewed by God. Jesus’ work on the cross makes God propitious toward sinners. God’s wrath is turned away from us because it was spent on Jesus.
That is why the Bible says God “loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10 ESV).
A common misunderstanding today is that God’s wrath comes upon people only if they reject Jesus. But the Bible teaches that God’s wrath is already upon sinners. The only way it can be removed is through faith in God’s Son Jesus and his atoning work on the cross.
Jesus explains: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24 ESV).
Where God’s Wrath and Love Meet
God is not a corrupt judge who ignores sin and lets the guilty go free. He is a righteous judge who punishes sin—either on the cross, or in hell, where sinners who do not believe in Jesus bear their own punishment under the weight of God’s wrath for eternity.
But he is also a loving God who chose to take that punishment upon himself, in the place of sinners who believe in him. For “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV). The suffering and death of Jesus is the way our just God can pardon guilty sinners without compromising his own righteousness.
God loved us so much that he made a way for our sins to be forgiven and for his wrath to be turned from us. He simply leaves us with a decision. Will you receive his gracious offer of his favor upon you today? Will you trust in the Lord Jesus, who turns away the wrath of God from those who believe in him for the forgiveness of their sins?