The Coming Wrath:
It is difficult many times to read the scriptures without bringing a ton of mental baggage to the dance. With that being said lets try to look at wrath in general as the effect of a cause and nothing more. To put even simpler lets says it’s the equivalent of a Prophet or Apostle saying “wait until your Father gets home” boy are you going to get what’s coming to you!
In the OT the word wrath comes on everyone who fails to obey God in deed, it is an equal opportunity event included God’s chosen people as well as the Nations surrounding them. Funny thing though God’s wrath or rather the consequences of disobedience appears and then it’s gone. The results of this wrath have a lasting effect depending on the scriptural context, but never is it eternal in nature.
The idea of eternal punishment must be read into or imposed the places were the word wrath is used in the OT. There are some places where the wrath of God results in total destruction, i.e. Sodom and Gomorrah and to this day those ancient cities are gone, but that’s not the same as those cities being punished forever. Indeed the prophets promise the restoration of Sodom and Gomorrah to their former glory.
So let’s look at wrath in the NT and see if this pattern holds were wrath is speaking about a coming event dealing with effect of disobedience.
In Luke it is recorded:
Matthew 3:7 (KJV)
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Do you notice something interesting here about the word coming, when you read that do you understand it to mean in their near future? Because this is the problem with a word like coming if your not careful you just might think it’s coming for you and not them. In fact a simple study of Jewish history shows us that in 70 ad the city of Jerusalem was destroyed and most of the Pharisees and Sadducees were killed. Or John the Baptist could be talking about the Messiahs reign and the soon coming end of their rule of the nation Israel. Either way these are more plausible explanations for the word wrath use here then some eternal punishment in a place called Hell.
Again in Luke we read:
Luke 21:23 (KJV)
23 But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people.
Now here Jesus is speaking privately to his disciples on the Mount of Olives, warning them of the impending dome of the nation Israel that did occur in 70 ad. I know the temptation is to make this some event yet to happen sometime in the future, but the best answer is always the simple one.
Now lets take a look at the Apostle Paul’s use of the word wrath and see if the pattern of temporal rather then eternal wrath is in view.
Romans 1:18-19 (KJV)
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness
Now whether this should read wrath “from God” or “of God” is not a topic for discussion today here in this blog post today. The first thing we do see here is cause and effect concerning the behavior of some on earth. Now the where of this verse can be debated, was Paul as I believe talking about those people before the flood recorded in the book of Genesis? I think so because the only evidence they have of God as it is recorded in the next few verses is nature itself. If this is the case then the wrath being discussed here is also recorded in the flood story of Genesis, and wrath being earthly and temporal. Even if Paul is discussing the consequences of an evil life it wrath is still only and earthly consequence.
Now understand me clearly what I am not saying is that there is no consequences in the afterlife for how you lived your life on earth. What I am saying is that the word wrath is not the word to hang your hat on if you want to discuss the afterlife, it’s the word judgment you want.
Revelation 20:13 (KJV)
13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
Let’s keep looking in Romans because it is the one letter of Paul where the word wrath is used most often.
New International Version (NIV)
God’s Righteous Judgment
2 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.
12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
The Jews and the Law
17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; 18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”[b]
25 Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26 So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27 The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the[c] written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.
28 A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.
Let me end here with few comments I want you to notice that Paul here in this chapter is NOT talking about Heaven, Hell or the afterlife in either of those places. As I have written in a previous blog posts Paul never mentions the word Hell any time in all his epistles. So we see here in this great opus of Paul to the Romans the messianic “Age to Come” which is ushered in with the “Day of the Lord”. We do see there are consequences (wrath) for resisting the Kingdom of God’s advance for both Jew and Gentile, and you will notice the sole criteria for this “wrath to come” is the life you lived and not what you said you believed. We need to rethink the idea that Paul here is talking about Christians, Non-Christians and their eternal fates but rather Paul is talking about everybody’s place in God’s earthly Kingdom to come.
Matthew 19:30 (KJV)
30 But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.