Yesterday in our Romans study, I preached on Romans 1:18—on the wrath of God. It’s not a light subject and it’s never a fun sermon to deliver. However, as we consider the whole book of Romans and Paul’s emphasis on the gospel—the good news of Jesus—we must realize that in order to talk about the good news in the right way, we must first deal with the bad news. Right from the beginning of his letter in the opening chapter, Paul addresses the monumental aspect of God’s wrathful vengeance on those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
As we consider the subject, it would be good to address the definition of God’s wrath and then be clear as to what Paul is not communicating in this phrase in Romans 1:18. First of all, there are several different types of wrath that can be attributed to God in the pages of Scripture. Below are the different variations of God’s wrath:
Eschatological Wrath: The wrath of God that will be poured out at the end of time – on what is known as the Day of the Lord – when the world will receive the fury of the wrath of the Lamb. People will run into the hills – into the caves to seek refuge from God – and yet they will cry out for the rocks to fall on them because they will not want to receive the tormenting wrath of God (Rev. 6:16-17).
Cataclysmic Wrath: This is the wrath of God unleashed through natural disasters, hurricanes, tornados, mudslides, forest fires, sink holes, and various other disasters like that of tsunamis. The rebellion of Korah in Numbers 16:31-35 is an example of this type of wrath.
Consequential Wrath: This is the wrath of God that is experienced in this life through the “reaping and sowing” aspects of life that God has made known to us. We reap what we sow. We reap more than we sow. We reap later than we sow. The death of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 is an example of this type of wrath.
Abandonment Wrath: This is a terrifying reality of God’s wrath when he finally and forever turns away from a person or a nation — leaving them in their sin — and removing his restraining grace from them. We see this type of wrath put on display at the end of Romans 1.
Eternal Wrath: This is the final wrath of God unleashed upon those who die without grace when they are sent to an everlasting hell. We see this in Revelation 20:11-15 and in other places such as Revelation 14:11, Matthew 25:41-46, Mark 9:42-48, and Luke 16:19-31.
Redemptive Wrath: This is the wrath of God poured out upon his Son—Jesus Christ as he suffered and died on the cross to save his people from their sins. We see this described in 1 Peter 2:24, Galatians 3:13, and John 3:16. The prophet Isaiah stated clearly in Isaiah 53:10 that it pleased the Father to crush him (Jesus).
We often disconnect the God of the Old Testament from the God of the New Testament. Our culture filled with skeptics enjoys this tension and likes to point out that the God in the Old Testament was an angry God and Jesus comes along in the New Testament with a “turn the other cheek” mentality. The problem with this assessment is that it doesn’t deal with the totality of the information. First of all, we must remember that the doctrine of the Trinity, as revealed in the pages of the Bible, points out that Jesus was present and active in the judgments that took place in the Old Testament. Furthermore, as we read the book of the Revelation and read of the wrath of the Lamb that’s yet to be unleashed, people begin to get a more wholistic picture of who God is and how he demonstrates his wrath upon sinners.
When we consider the word used here by Paul, we must be clear that the wrath of God is not a cosmic temper tantrum. Paul uses the Greek term “ὀργή” meaning strong indignation directed at wrongdoing, w. focus on retribution, wrath. This particular Greek term has in mind the picture of a plant swelling juice in the heat of the sunlight to the point that the consistent and slow swelling stretches the skin of the plant like a tomato—until it finally bursts.
In the well known hymn by the Keith and Kristyn Getty, In Christ Alone, there is a line about God’s wrath. It reads, “Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied.” A hymn committee with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) wanted to add the song to their new hymnal, Glory to God, released in the fall of 2013. They wanted permission to alter the words—changing “Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied” to “Till on that cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified.” Keith Getty and his co-author Stuart Townend rejected the request and the hymn committee banned the hymn from their hymnal. Mary Louise Bringle, the chair of the committee explained their decision as she said, “The song has been removed from our contents list, with deep regret over losing its otherwise poignant and powerful witness.” The “view that the cross is primarily about God’s need to assuage God’s anger” would have a negative effect on the hymnal’s ability to form the faith of coming generations.
In some circles today, the love of God is elevated above the wrath of God with clear emphasis, and that’s a tragic mistake. It does not reveal the true nature and revelation of God as he has put on display in the pages of Scripture. We must be balanced and true to what God’s Word actually states. God is not a loose cannon losing his temper with people. God’s wrath is not a reckless rage, an uncontrollable anger, a senseless fury, or an unjust vengeance. The wrath of God is a precise and controlled response to the belittling of his holiness. Everyone who perishes under the wrath of God in eternity will not be because God lost his temper with them and mistreated them. On that day, everyone will know that God has treated them with precise justice. Three trillion years into eternity every sinner who is cast into hell will still know that God never mistreated anyone.
Alas, and did my Saviour bleed?
And did my Sov’reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!
—At the Cross – Isaac Watts