By Dr Peter Lim
A sizeable portion of the Book of Revelation deals with the subject of God’s judgment – chapters 6 through 20 describe the outworking of God’s wrath upon the unrepentant sinner as well as the annihilation of Satan and his evil forces. The wrath of God is arguably the least addressed divine attribute. In fact, most of us would be quite uncomfortable, probably even embarrassed to speak to our pre-Christian friends about it. But Biblical writers don’t shy away from emphasizing the reality and terrifying nature of God’s wrath. The English evangelist and Biblical scholar, A.W. Pink (in his book, The Attributes of God, pg. 75) says “A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness.” But what is God’s wrath? The dictionary tells us that it is indignation or righteous anger against sin and evil. This intolerance and abhorrence towards sin and evil emanates from His essential divine attribute of holiness (Isaiah 6:3-5).
The Old Testament abounds with numerous accounts of the outworking of God’s wrath. Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden of Eden, together with the three-pronged punishment of Satan, Woman and Man (Genesis 3:14-24), as a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, is one such account of God’s wrath. Other more dramatic instances include the judgment of the Great Flood during which only Noah and his family were spared (Genesis 6); the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah from which only Lot and his two daughters survived (Genesis 19). “But until the final ‘day of wrath’ which is anticipated throughout the Bible and portrayed very vividly in the Book of Revelation, God’s wrath is always tempered with mercy, particularly in His dealings with His chosen people.” (IVP New Bible Dictionary). But as we learn from the opening two chapters of the Book of Romans, time and time again Israel showed “contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance” (Romans 2:4). In like manner if we refuse to repent and thereby remain unredeemed, we are “storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath when his righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5).
The account of the repentance of the city of Nineveh when Jonah preached against it per God’s command is an example of how God’s judgment for sin was averted by repentance. (Jonah 3:4-10). But in the account of the trumpet judgments we are told that those who were not killed by the plagues did not repent of their sin (Revelation 9:20,21). Likewise, in the bowl judgments the people would rather curse God and suffer pain and agony rather than repent (Revelation 16:9,11). In this context it is pertinent to note that while God’s patience is inexhaustible, the door to heaven will not be open ad infinitum (Isaiah 55:6). Likewise, we learn from the Parable of The Ten Virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13) once the door (to heaven) is shut it will not be reopened.
Each time we commemorate our Lord Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross during the Holy Communion, let us be reminded that He bore the full brunt of God’s wrath for our sins. The anticipation of the event was already so agonising that “His sweat was like drops of blood” (Luke 22:44). His climatic cry of anguish and desolation – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) reverberated during the three hours of darkness from midday. Through His death He has saved us from God’s wrath. (Romans 5:9). “God’s merciful provision means that we can cease to be objects of His wrath and become recipients of His grace” (IVP NBD).
In his summary of the chapter on The Wrath of God, J.I. Packer in his book “Knowing God”, quotes from A.W. Pink – “The wrath of God is a perfection of the Divine character on which we need to meditate frequently. First, that our hearts may be duly impressed by God’s detestation of sin. We are ever prone to regard sin lightly, to gloss over its hideousness, to make excuses for it. But the more we study and ponder God’s abhorrence of sin and His frightful vengeance upon it, the more likely we are to realise its heinousness. Second, to beget a true fear in our souls for God. ‘Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, for our God is a consuming fire’ (Hebrews 12:28,29). We cannot serve Him ‘acceptably’ unless there is due ‘reverence’ for His awful majesty and godly fear of His righteous anger and these are best promoted by frequently calling to mind that our ‘God is a consuming fire’. Third, to draw out our soul in fervent praise [to Jesus Christ] for having delivered us from ‘the wrath to come’ (I Thessalonians 1:10). Our readiness or reluctance to meditate upon the wrath of God becomes a sure test of how our hearts really stand affected towards Him (op.cit.pg.77).”
“For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ”. (I Thessalonians 5:9)