Six Things You Need to Know About God’s Wrath

As peace is a truth widely loved, wrath is a truth widely loathed. Many in the history of the church has been embarrassed by God’s wrath and have wanted to revise this biblical truth.

Yet, this theme of the wrath (or anger) of God toward sin and sinners is clearly and widely taught in the Bible. This truth is so interwoven with the hope of our peace with one another and with God that if we lose our grasp on the one, we lose our hope of the other.

Six Things You Need to Know About God’s Wrath

The wrath of God is, according to John Stott, “His steady, unrelenting, unremitting, uncompromising antagonism to evil in all its forms and manifestations.”[1]

1. The anger of God is not like our anger.

When we speak about the wrath of God, remember that it is the wrath of God.  So everything we know about God—he is just, he is love, and he is good—needs to be poured into our understanding of his wrath.

The words “anger” and “wrath” make us think about our experience. You may have suffered because of someone who is habitually angry, loses his temper, or flies into a rage. Our anger can often be unpredictable, petty, and disproportionate.

Although these things are often true of human anger, none of them are true of the anger of God. God’s wrath is the just and measured response of his holiness toward evil.

2. God’s wrath is provoked.

The anger of God is not something that resides in him by nature; it is a response to evil. It is provoked.

The Bible says, “God is love.” That is his nature. God’s love is not provoked. He does not love us because he sees some wisdom, beauty, or goodness in us. He loves you because he loves you, and you can never get beyond that (Deuteronomy 7:7).

But God’s wrath is different, his holy response to the intrusion of evil into his world. If there was no sin in the world, there would be no wrath in God. So the Bible’s teaching about the wrath of God is different from ancient mythologies, gods who run around frustrated and fuming. God’s anger is his settled resolve that evil will not stand.

3. God is slow to anger.

Why does God allow evil to continue in the world? Why does he not wipe it out?

God holds out the offer of grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:9). People are coming to him in faith and repentance every day, and God patiently holds open the door of grace. The day of God’s wrath will come, but God is not in a hurry to bring it because then the door of grace will be closed.

4. God’s wrath is revealed now.

How does God reveal his wrath when sinners suppress the truth about him, exchange the truth for a lie, and worship created things rather than the Creator? God gives them up (Romans 1):

  • Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity (1:24).
  • For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions (1:26).
  • God gave them up to a debased mind (1:28).

One writer states, “Paul is not teaching that one day God will punish Roman civilization for its vice and decadence. On the contrary, the vice and decadence are themselves God’s punishment…Their punishment was their greed, envy, strife, deceit, violence and faithlessness.” [2] When we see the moral fabric of our culture being torn, then as Christian believers we should cry to God for mercy.

5. God’s wrath is stored up.

The whole Bible story leads to a day when God will deal with all evil fully, finally, and forever. This will be the day of wrath, when God will recompense every evil and bring to judgment every sin.

God will do this in perfect justice. The punishment for every sin will match the crime. When the judgment is done, every mouth will be stopped because everyone will know that God judged in righteousness and justice. Then God will usher in a new heaven and a new earth, which will be the home of righteousness.

6. God’s wrath is on sinners.

In John 3:36, he does not say, “The wrath of God will come on [the disobedient].” He says, “Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” It is already there. Why is it already there? By nature, we are children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). It is the state in which we were born.

What, at the end of the day, is the greatest human problem? It is not that we are lost and need to find our way on a spiritual journey. It is not that we are wounded and need to be healed. At the core of the human problem is that we are sinners under the judgment of God, and the divine wrath hangs over us unless and until it is taken away.

How God’s Wrath Is Removed

The Bible speaks about God’s wrath being poured out at the cross: “I will soon pour out my wrath upon you, and spend my anger against you” (Ezekiel 7:8). This takes us to the heart of what happened there: The divine wrath toward sin was poured out on Jesus. He became the “propitiation” for our sins (Romans 3:25), which means that the payment for our sins was poured out on Jesus at Calvary.

Don’t ever get the idea that God loves you because Christ died for you. No, it’s the other way round. Christ died for you because God loved you! He loved you even when you were the object of his wrath! God so loved the objects of his wrath that he spent the wrath on himself at the cross.

The outpouring of God’s wrath was the greatest act of love this world has ever seen.

The hope for sinners is that between us and the wrath of God stands the cross of Jesus. Sin was laid on Jesus and the Divine wrath toward it was poured out, spent, and exhausted in the darkness of Calvary. And when it was done, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “It is finished!” The wrath of God that will one day be poured out on all sin was spent at the cross with regard to all who are in him.

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.

[1] John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 171, InterVarsity Press, 2006. [2] Donald Macleod, The Wrath, Present and To Come, The Monthly Record of the Free Church of Scotland, p. 239, Nov. 1986.

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Colin Smith (@PastorColinS) is senior pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition.

Date Posted: May 16th, 2017

  • First, I want to say that I like this article, and agree with most of it, and do not mean to sound contentious. The one thing I might disagree with – or at least have a question about – is the statement: “The anger of God is not something that resides in him by nature…” I did not see a Bible verse cited to support that, other than a reference to “God is love” (I John 4:8) and Deuteronomy 7:7 (by which I think you might have meant to include a reference to Deut. 7:8 also). But these verses do not rule out the possibility that wrath is one of God’s divine attributes, inherent to His character or nature. Love and wrath existing in the same being are not logically contradictory, and, while you are correct that the Bible does portray God’s wrath as being EXPRESSED against sin or evil, the Bible does not state that the entrance of sin and evil into the world CREATED God’s wrath or provoked something which did not exist in Him before. I believe the Bible teaches that all human emotions were originally given to man as a part of the God’s Imago Dei creation, so that they existed in God before being communicated to His creatures, but that the entrance of sin into the world warped these emotions in us, so that they are often expressed sinfully by us. If God had chosen not to allow sin to enter His creation, His attribute of wrath/anger would have still existed, only it would be expressed by us as righteous indignation or “holy wrath,” rather than as the loss of control or temper. For example, the serpent’s twisting of God’s words should have (and could have) made Adam and Eve angry and wrathful toward the serpent, and that anger would not have been sinful. It would have been an obedient and worshipful expression of God’s wrath. Do you think I’m off base? Is it settled in orthodox systematic theology that God’s anger is only something that is provoked, or only a response to evil? I wasn’t aware of it, if so. After a long study on the theme of God’s wrath in the Book of Exodus, and other references in the Bible, I was coming to the cautious conclusion that one of the reasons that God might have allowed such a thing as sin in the first place, was to show His righteous wrath, thereby demonstrating the glory of the full spectrum of His attributes for all eternity.