H. Dave Derkson
How would you define the word “wrath”? I ask the question because our definition
of the word affects our understanding of the term as it relates to God.
Consider this: You are a witness to child abuse. Your immediate response
is anger. What triggered that response? Are you simply an angry person,
or is your response deeper than emotional? If it is the latter reason then
your response could be called “wrath”. Wrath speaks of a response that
involves more than just anger directed at the abuse and/or abuser. The
anger may be motivated by love for the child that is wronged. So what if
it was your own child that was being abused? Then the intensity of your
anger would be relative to the love you have for your child. This illustration
gives us a glimpse of God’s wrath.
Wrath has two polarities: a negative such as anger, and a positive such
as love. So in a situation as described; the manifestation of wraths negative
polarity is often determined by the intensity of its positive counterpart.
Because of our nature the positive polarity of our wrath is often selfishly
motivated, resulting in our wrath being unrighteous. This is why Paul calls
for us to put away wrath. (Eph. 4:31) In fact Paul calls our wrath a work
of the flesh. (Galatians 5:19&20) Since God is holy He always keeps
the positive and negative polarities of His wrath in proper focus and prospective.
This is why His wrath is called righteous. (Rev.16:5&7) His wrath is
righteous because God’s will and desires, which motivate His wrath are
always just and righteous. Furthermore God is Spirit so His wrath can not
be a work of the flesh! Yet scripture uses the same terms when speaking
of God’s, Satan’s or our wrath.1
Because we have not kept the above distinctions in mind we have read scripture
thinking that God’s wrath is like ours.
We constantly point to God’s judgments in the Old Testament as the final
word on God’s wrath. However, to only look at the Old Testament could cause
us to come to a faulty understanding of God's wrath. Theologians are agreed
that the Old Testament does not give us the full picture of God's love
and grace. So if the Old Testament did not convey a complete picture of
God's love and grace, how can we be sure it did so on His wrath? For this
reason we are compelled to re-examine what the New Testament states about
primary text of the New Testament that deals with God’s wrath is Romans
1:18 and following. Answer this: Does the reading of this passage produce
fear or faith for you? What should the proclamation of the Gospel (good
news) produce? I suggest that if this passage produces fear rather than
faith, you could be misunderstanding the passage.
In Romans 1:16 Paul asserts that he is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.
Paul follows this declaration with three supportive reasons for making
his assertion concerning the gospel:
1. " For it is the power of God unto salvation”. (1:16)
therein is the righteousness of God revealed”. (1:17)
3. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness
and unrighteousness of men”. (1:18)2
Seeing verse eighteen as supporting the phrase: “the just shall live by
faith” suggests that a lack of faith triggers God’s wrath. Paul openly
states that God’s wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness,
not a lack of faith. Clearly it is man’s sinful condition that Paul enlarges
upon in the context. Paul describes this ungodliness and unrighteousness
in detail. Not once does Paul reference this condition as a lack of faith.
So in essence the details of our sinful condition are the reasons for why
God revealed His wrath. For Paul that revelation was a third reason for
not being ashamed of the gospel.
It is my intention to show that the revelation of God’s wrath is good news!
That revelation is Paul’s third and primary reason for not being ashamed
of the gospel. In Romans 1:16 and following Paul shows that the revelation
of God’s wrath is the foundational ground upon which the gospel - good
news - rests. If the revelation of God’s wrath is not good news it should
not be called the gospel!
First and foremost we should note the word "revealed" as used in both verses
17 and 18. In the Greek text these verbs are identical; in tense, voice,
mood, person, and number.3
Proper exegesis demands that what we hold to be true for the word as it
is used in verse 17 is equally true for its use in verse 18 and vice versa.
So for us to understand Paul’s statement regarding the revelation of God’s
wrath, we must establish how the word “revealed” is used in verse seventeen.
makes it very clear that righteousness did not come by the law but by Jesus
Christ. (9:30 to 10:10) According to verses like 1 Corinthians 1:30 and
2 Corinthians 5:21 we are made righteous in Jesus Christ. Paul makes it
unmistakably clear that righteousness was not revealed in the Old Testament
era: righteousness did not come by the law. ( Gal. 2:21; 3:21; and Phill.
3:9 ) Without question we can conclude that Paul's use
of the word revealed, in Romans 1:17, points to a divine act initiated
and completed by God alone. Although Paul speaks of that righteousness
being revealed in the gospel, we must bear in mind that his a priori position
is that there would be no gospel without Jesus Christ’s work of grace.
Obviously, Paul’s use of the term “revealed” in verse 17 speaks of what
we refer to as special revelation. Special revelation is set apart from
general revelation. General revelation refers to those things which suggest
there is a God, such as the created world. Special Revelation refers to
those things that can't be known by us unless God Himself reveals them
to us. That is precisely the case in respect to righteousness, for apart
from the special revelation of Jesus Christ our attempts at being righteous
would be futile.
Paul's repeated use of the identical word in verse 18 places the revelation
of God’s wrath in the same category as the revelation of His righteousness.
To see Paul’s use of the word “revealed”, in verse 18, as something other
than special revelation it must be shown that Paul had no intention of
conveying a common meaning even though he used the identical term. To say
that the word “revealed” of verse 17 has no bearing on its meaning in verse
18 defies all rules of sound exegesis.
Obviously Paul’s use of the word “revealed”, in verse seventeen, establishes
it as a technical term for special revelation. Paul’s repeated use of that
technical term, in verse 18, strongly suggests he is references the revelation
of God’s wrath as special revelation. Therefore Jesus Christ is at the
heart of the revelation of God’s wrath; just like Jesus Christ is at the
heart of the revelation of God’s righteousness.
Although we have maintained that God's wrath is revealed in the Old Testament,
Paul's use of the technical term for that revelation argues otherwise.
Paul’s use of the technical term implies that God’s wrath could not be
known by us apart from that revelation. Thus without a clear understanding
of Romans 1:18 our theology about God’s wrath is suspect.
Paul states that this wrath is revealed "from heaven". Paul has already
ascribed this wrath to God by the genitive “of God”, so why add "from heaven"?
"From heaven" is a phrase used repeatedly in the New Testament. Jesus is
authenticated as God's beloved son, by a voice from heaven. (Mark 1:11)
Paul at his conversion sees a light from heaven.(Acts 9:3; 22:6) Peter
sees a vision in which various creatures are lowered from heaven, and a
voice from heaven declares: "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou
common."(Acts 11:5,9) Jesus speaks of himself as the bread that came down
from heaven. (John 6:32-35) The Holy Spirit is sent down from heaven. (1
Peter 1:12) Paul speaks of the house we long to be clothed with as from
heaven.(2 Cor. 5:2) In these passages "from heaven" identifies what is
being referred to as not of this world, not contaminated by this world,
and from a totally different source than this world.
to Isaiah 55:8,9; God's thoughts and ways surpass ours, "as the heavens
are higher than the earth". Heaven is a place that is totally separated
from everything on this earth. Heaven is where God's will is done. (Matt.6:10)
That which originates and is revealed from heaven would of necessity have
God's will in proper perspective. Clearly then we can conclude that the
source determines quality. Therefore "from heaven" designates God's wrath
as impeccable in quality. "From heaven" places God's wrath in a category
of its own. We should not compare or liken it to any other type of wrath.
God revealed it from heaven because His wrath is in a totally different
realm than any and all other wrath. In light of this the statement to Peter
in Acts 11:9 could be rephrased as: “the wrath that God reveals from heaven
should not be understood as common or unclean.”
God’s wrath is as far removed from ours as heaven is from earth. This is
why God had to reveal it to us by special revelation, just like His righteousness.
As there is not a full revelation of God’s righteousness in the Old Testament;
so there is not a full revelation of God’s wrath in the Old Testament.
It bears repeating: The genitive "of God" sets His wrath apart from all
other types of wrath. Wrath flows out of character! God's wrath can not
be opposed to His character: i.e. His love, mercy, grace, or holiness.
When we read the phrase "wrath of God" in the New Testament we need to
see it in light of God's character. So mark it: God’s wrath is not like
any wrath that we have experienced in this world.
God’s wrath is revealed from heaven, and it has a negative polarity. Paul
tells us what that negative polarity is. It is revealed "against all ungodliness
and unrighteousness of men". (Rom.1:18) What is God angry at? Look at the
text carefully! Paul does not say: ‘God's wrath is revealed against all
men of ungodliness and unrighteousness’. Instead Paul states that God's
wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.
The object of God’s anger is ungodliness and unrighteousness. Humanity
is not the object of God’s anger. The negative polarity of God's wrath
is against sin. The positive polarity of that wrath is revealed in God’s
passionate love for the sinner. That is precisely why Jesus came, and that
love gives the gospel life.
Yes; scripture speaks of God's wrath abiding on the person. However when
it does so it always makes mention of the persons action. Jesus nor
Paul single out the person as the object of God’s anger. In John 3:36 Jesus
speaks of the wrath of God abiding on humanity because of unbelief.
Paul maintains this point in both Ephesians 5:6 and Colossians 3:6.
In both verses
the wrath of God is said to come upon the children of disobedience "because
of these things", and “these things” refers to deeds of the flesh. There
is one exception to this rule: Romans 3:5. It is an exception that establishes
the rule. Paul asks the question: "Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance"?
The Greek verb that Paul uses here suggests a personal attack, an attack
by God on the individual. However Paul is quick to add that he speaks as
a man. What Paul is saying is that his reference to God coming against
the individual is from our perspective. David Daube points out that Paul's
statement "I speak as a man", is an apology for saying something bordering
God does not attack the individual, and to suggest it borders on blasphemy.
So Paul is very clear about the negative focus of God's wrath, it is against
ungodliness and unrighteousness. God in his passion loves the sinner.
Paul begins Romans 1:19 with the word "because". "Because" indicates that
Paul will now explain why God revealed His wrath. Thus Paul deems it more
important to explain the ”why” rather than the “what”, of that revelation.
This suggests that Paul assumes we will come to a proper conclusion on
the “what” after he explains the “why”?
According to verse 19, we as humans had an intuitive knowledge of God.
Paul references this intuitive knowledge as a manifestation of God, not
a revelation. This intuitive knowledge came via general revelation: our
observation of creation. Not only did this general revelation give us an
intuitive knowledge of God, through it we were also aware of God's power
and divinity. (v20) So much so that Paul declares we are without excuse.
No one can plead ignorance about the existence, power, and Divinity of
However this manifestation of God was not sufficient in preventing humanities
downward spiral into sin. Thus in verse 21 Paul continues his thesis with
another "because". Paul now will explain why man is ungodly and unrighteous.
That explanation is part and parcel of Paul’s original purpose: explaining
why God revealed his wrath.
Paul’s discourse is a concise thesis on our depraved spiritual disposition.
Paul points out, that in spite of our intuitive knowledge of God we neither
gave glory to God nor where we thankful. This resulted in an idolatrous
imagination, and spiritual blindness. (v21) We boasted about our wisdom,
but in reality we were fools. (v22) From that point Paul describes our
downward spiral into ever deeper ungodliness. What was God's response?
Like the prodigal sons father, He gave us up to our own passions. Did we
come to our senses and turn from our ungodliness and unrighteousness?
No! We maintained our foolish course of action fully "knowing the judgment
of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death". (v32)
Not only did we continue in our sinful action, we derived pleasure from
observing others doing the same things.
Obviously general revelation - God's manifestation of Himself - was not
sufficient to arrest humanities descent into a living hell. Knowing God’s
power and Divinity as well as knowing that sin makes one worthy of death
can not arrest humanities downward spiral. Even Israel, a nation favored
by God, and given the law to govern their action could not bring their
ungodliness under control. (Rom. 2:1; 17:25) God knew that if He was going
to stop our downward spiral, we needed more than a manifestation of Himself.
So God gave us a revelation of Himself. God's wrath against sin and His
love for the sinner were personified in Jesus Christ.
Jesus came from heaven to deal with sin as only He could. Hanging on the
cross Jesus twice cried: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt
27:46,50) He alone - like no other human being ever will - experienced
the agony of being abandoned by His Father, because He took upon Himself
all of our sins. In that action we see an unprecedented revelation of God's
wrath. An act which shows us the negative and positive polarities in their
highest intensity. The negative polarity is seen in the fact that the Father
abandoned His own Son, because on Him was laid the iniquity of us all.(Isa.
53:6) But in that same event we see the intensity of the positive side
of God's wrath – God’s passionate love for the sinner.
the gospel is the result of this revelation of God's wrath, Paul does not
specifically say that the gospel reveals that wrath. Rightly so! For there
are no words that could express the agony of abandonment felt by Jesus.
Nor could we comprehend the torment that God the Father endured to have
to put His only Son through such agony. This act of the revelation of God's
wrath against sin goes beyond words. Yet that is the heart of the gospel.
It was impossible for us to atone for our sin, so He did it for us. Because
of this Paul could unashamedly speak of the revelation of God's wrath in
relationship to the gospel.Remember the gospel means good news, and the
best news that we could hear is that God's wrath was appeased by Jesus
Christ. As John declared: “He is the propitiation for our sins: and not
for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world”. (1 John 2:2)
Yet we have made the gospel both good and bad news. For example: D. Martyn
Lloyd-Jones presents the cross as one of seven ways in which God's wrath
is revealed. He speaks of the cross, as well as six other things that reveal
God's wrath. These six things are: 1) our conscience; 2) the consequences
of sin; 3) the state of creation; 4) death; 5) history; 6) and the teaching
Such a position allows for the atrocities of wars, or aids, and every
act of mans inhumanity to man to be a revelation of God's wrath. However
these things are the result of our selfish passions. They are works of
the flesh. Most definitely they can not be said to be revealed from heaven.
Furthermore only one of the six – scripture - can be put in the class of
special revelation. We must therefore rule the other five out as revealing
Lloyd-Jones asserts that the teaching of scripture reveals God's wrath.
This is meant to say that throughout the Old Testament there are statements
made and examples given of God's actions of wrath against sin. The flood
being a case in point. However are the events so described in the Old Testament
a complete picture of God's wrath? Do those incidents give us a true revelation
of the negative and positive polarities of God’s wrath? Paul's use of the
definite article in Romans 1:18 would suggest that Paul is focusing on
“the” event that revealed God’s wrath. For “the” to be understood as encompassing
the manifestations of God’s wrath in history, Paul should then have used
an example of it. However Paul is silent in that regard. He says nothing
about previous or impending punishment, even though he brings mans degenerative
behavior to three successive climaxes. Three times Paul declares "God gave
them up". (verses 24,26,28)If there ever was an opportunityfor Paul to
draw attentionto what we see as God's wrath - His judgment on Israel
and the nations in the Old Testament - here is that opportunity. Paul draws
no such parallel! God's only recorded action is that He gives man up to
follow after his own passions. God's act of giving man up is presented
as a loving fathers response to a head strong child. It’s like the father's
action in the parable of the prodigal son. (Luke 15:11-32) Paul's words
are not an indictment against man, but an account of man's inability to
deal with his natural attraction to sin. We need more than the law and
the fear of punishment to keep us from doing wrong.
position is also called into question by the words “against all unrighteousness
and ungodliness of men”. “All” strongly suggests that Paul sees this revelation
of God’s wrath as dealing with all of humanities past, present, and future
ungodliness. There is only one person, and one event that can be seen as
doing that for all of humanity, throughout history. That person is Jesus
and the event is the cross.
For this reason Paul makes the assertion that he is not ashamed of the
gospel. In the death of Jesus Christ: God’s wrath against sin is revealed
for all of humanities history. This sets Romans 1:18 apart as the benchmark
for our understanding of the revelation of God's wrath. Paul doesn't spell
out what reveals that wrath. He tells us that it was revealed - by special
revelation. He gives us the negative polarity of that wrath – our ungodliness.
He lets us know that neither Jew’s nor Gentile’s could bring that ungodliness
under control. With that Paul assumes we would come to a proper conclusion
concerning the revelation of God’s wrath.
Thus Lloyd-Jones is profoundly correct in saying: "The cross, the death
of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" reveals God's wrath, then adds: “There
is nothing - there is nothing in history anywhere - which in any way approximates
to this as a revelation of the wrath of God".6
It is precisely because there is nothing in history - past or future -
that approximates to the cross of Christ as a revelation of God's wrath
that it alone stands as the reference point for the revelation of God's
wrath for all of history. In Jesus Christ God has revealed the negative
and positive polarities of His wrath in their highest intensity. So mark
it, note it, and never forget it: the revelation of God's wrath was a redemptive
act for all humanity.
Since the revelation of that wrath is redemptive, the continued manifestation
and fruition of God’s wrath must also be redemptive! However we have not
seen scripture in that light. We have continued to proclaim that the sinner
is the object of God’s wrath. Let us examine the scriptures that we have
taken as teaching this theology.
Theologians have taken the Ephesians 2:3 phrase "children of wrath" or
the parallel "vessels of wrath" in Romans 9:22 to mean that man is the
object of God's anger. Accordingly The New International versions rendering
of Ephesians 2:3 reads “we were by nature objects of wrath”. The Amplified
inserts God's name into the phrase "children of wrath" making it read "children
of [God's] wrath." It is my intention to show that this is a scandalous
violation of the text.
In Ephesians 2 Paul does not introduce God until verse 4. Then very emphatically
and deliberately Paul introduces God with the word "but". Clearly Paul’s
intention is to contrast and distance God and His action from any and all
action referred to in verses one, two and three. God is not under consideration
in the first three verses of Ephesians 1.
subject matter of the first three verses is our former state of being.
In verse one that state of being is referred to as “dead in trespasses
and sin”. In verse two Paul speaks of our conduct while in that state of
death. Paul tells us with who and what our conduct is associated: "according
to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the
air." Paul attributes this conduct to being spiritually influenced by “the
prince of the power of the air”. He then descriptively names those in the
condition he has just described: "sons of disobedience". (literal rendering)
verse three Paul continues to describe our former state of death. However
unlike verse two, Paul now focuses on the responsibility of the individual
and their own behavior. This behavior is the result of our "lusts of the
flesh”. We fulfilled “the desires of the flesh and of the mind." This describes
a condition which he attributes to our nature, then like verse two he gives
this condition a descriptive name: "children of wrath".
2:3 like verses one and two, spells out our condition. To read verse three
as "children of God's wrath" is the same as reading verse two as "sons
of God's disobedience"The later is unthinkable, yet we have developed a
theology around the former. A theology that we have now added to the text.
A scandalous and blasphemous addition to scripture!
Verses two and three are parallel verses. Together they define the state
of death referred to in verse one. Both phrases "sons of disobedience"
and "children of wrath" are Semitic idioms. 7
These idioms show that the attributes of disobedience and wrath are original
and innate to the individual.
“Sons of disobedience” designates who and what our conduct was related
to, while “children of wrath” references a disposition and characteristic.
Each condition is described by Paul, then given a characteristic title,
which encapsulates the description just given. To read God into verse
three, as the subject of wrath with the sinner as the object of that wrath,
totally violates the text as well as the gospel.
First: it introduces God into a text which deals exclusively with us and
our former state. Paul deliberately places the description and the title
phrases that name what he has described in juxtaposition to each other.
Son of disobedience is paralleled with: 1) walking according to the course
of this world; and 2) walking according to the prince of the power of the
air. The action is encapsulated in the title phrase, and it describes a
person in the state of death. The same is true for the phrase “children
of wrath”. It is paralleled with the lusts of the flesh, which is presented
as: fulfilling the desires of; 1) the flesh; and 2) the mind. Like “sons
of disobedience” the phrase “children of wrath” is a definitive title,
that parallels its description. To read God into verse three negates this
parallelism, and destroys the point made by the text.
Secondly: to read God into verse three totally ignores the textual "but",
of verse four.To do so distorts the contrast and separation Paul intended
to make between our action and God's action. The revelation of God’s wrath
provided humanity with redemption from her state of death. So in contrast
to our action God as subject of this redemption is introduced in verse
four. God’s action is presented as that which freed us from our former
relationship and disposition. Paul's intention in verses 1-3 is to show
us our utterly hopeless state. But for the rich mercy, great love and grace
of God we would have been confined to a state of death, given to disobedience,
and following our own desires and passions.
Therefore I state it emphatically: Paul describes our human state in Ephesians
1:3. We are not referred to as objects of God’s wrath and to suggest it
is scandalous and blasphemous. By nature we are given to wrath; by nature
we follow after our own passions and desires. Our selfish action - doing
the will of the flesh and mind - is characterized as wrath. Thereby Paul
has given us a definition of wrath. Wrath is to be given to one’s own will.
In our case that is fulfilling the desires of the flesh and mind. In respect
to God, He is Spirit so He fulfills the desires of the Spirit and mind.
Romans 9:22 "vessels of wrath" is in the same category as “children of
wrath”. "Vessels of wrath" is a descriptive title designating a person
in their degenerate state. "Vessels of mercy" is also a descriptive title
designating a person in their regenerate state. Paul’s primary focus is
God’s mercy! (note verses 14-16) Because God is merciful it is His prerogative
to show mercy to whom He will. In regard to God hardening whom He will;
Paul makes it very clear that such a one can not fault God for their condition.(v20)
To support his position Paul appeals to the analogy of the potter. However
to conclude from the analogy that Paul is saying some are created by God
to be “vessels of God’s wrath”; totally distorts Paul’s intended use of
has just made it very clear that God is merciful. God can not be faulted
for a persons hardened condition. If God makes some vessels for “His wrath”
then Paul’s teaching is contradictory. Paul’s appeal to the analogy of
the potter is in fact intended to put God in a positive light. We are vessels
of wrath, undeserving of God’s mercy. Yet God as a potter does not destroy
that which became marred in His hand. God does not discard the clay. God
remakes the vessel. (2 Cor. 5:17)
Beginning with verse 22 Paul shows that God's action goes beyond that of
a potter. Like Ephesians 2:4 Paul begins verse 22 with a very significant
“but”. (“What” in the KJV) Cranfield states that this “but”: "indicates
an element of opposition and implies that he regards his illustration as
inadequate". It "brings out the fact that God's ways are not just like
God is not a potter who arbitrarily creates one vessel for honor and the
other for dishonor. God made it possible for the vessels of wrath to become
vessels of mercy.
It is the vessels of mercy which capture Paul's interest in this context.
Paul does not enlarge on the vessels of wrath.10
The statement regarding the vessels of mercy is the dominant clause. The
other clauses support and flow into this dominate clause.11
Paul is declaring that God's wrath is shown and His power are made known
by His endurance and long suffering of the vessels of wrath – everyone
that is given to fulfilling the desires of the flesh and mind - in order
that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy.
see this passage as teaching that God makes some humans for His destructive
wrath, is to characterize God as a dysfunctional Father. God is presented
by Paul as being determined and actively involved in the life and well
being of the vessels of mercy.12
Paul never uses the verb form of wrath with God as subject, but Paul does
use the verb form of love, mercy, and grace with God as subject.13
We can argue the pros and cons of whether we should see the word "fitted"
of the clause "fitted for destruction" of verse 22, as active or middle
voice, but the bottom line is that sin is like an avalanche: it destroys.
If we continue to live in the avalanche zone then destruction is unavoidable.
However God's wrath and passion is displayed and made known by patiently
waiting to remove us from the avalanche area.
God's wrath is coupled with His power in Romans 9:22. To see God's wrath
and power demonstrated in His annihilation of the sinner is not a very
fitting demonstration of Divine power. Is that the kind of wrath and power
we expect to be revealed from heaven? On the contrary, God demonstrates
His wrath and power by the endurance and longsuffering of sinners, affording
them the opportunity of repentance, in order that He can make known His
riches of glory upon them. That is passion and power indeed! So when
we read about the wrath of God abiding on the unbeliever (John 3:36) we
need to see it in the light of Romans 9:22. God’s wrath abides on him because
God wants to separate the sinner from his sin.
Ephesians 2:3, Paul defines wrath as fulfilling ones own desires or will.
What is God’s will? According to 2 Peter 3:9 God’s will is that none perish.
That being the case would God’s wrath not cause Him to strive for His will
to be accomplished? Unlike us, God does not destroy sin by destroying the
sinner. God destroys sin by redeeming sinners!
Paul's silence in respect to God as the active agent in regards to the
vessels of wrath shows that Paul was not teaching that we are objects of
God's anger. Like Ephesians the emphasis here is God as agent and initiator
of grace, mercy, and hope. Paul makes it very clear that we can not accuse
God nor excuse ourselves. We can not claim "that is the way God made me".
(v20) Especially so in light of the fact that God has gone beyond the action
of a potter and made it possible for the vessels of wrath to become vessels
Perhaps the classical references that have been used to support God's impending
anger against man for his sins, are the passages of scripture which speak
of "the wrath", and "wrath to come". Whenever scripture speaks about wrath
to come we have taken that to mean God's coming wrath. However on what
exegetical principal can we conclude that "wrath to come" is the same as
"the day of wrath". With the later phrase Paul speaks about the "revelation
of the righteous judgment of God." (Rom. 2:5) In none of the passages concerning
"the wrath to come" does Paul speak of the revelation of God’s righteous
judgment. Might this indicate that the phrase "wrath to come" refers to
something different than "the day of wrath"? To answer that question lets
look at the "wrath to come" passages.
In Matthew 3:7 and Luke 3:7 John the Baptist warns of "the wrath to come".
The phrases are precisely the same in both passages and the word wrath
has the definite article. "The" indicates that a specific, definite, and
distinguishable type of wrath is being referred to. However to jump to
the conclusion that "the" designates this as God's wrath only clouds the
issue. The text makes one thing very clear: For the Pharisees and Sadduccees
to respond positively to John's preaching would make it possible to avoid
"the wrath to come". On the other hand a negative response places these
persons in a position of experiencing "the wrath to come" To conclude more
from this text one must read more into it.
Romans 5:8,9 states: "But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while
we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified
by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him." A literal rendering
of the final phrase of verse 9 would be "we shall be saved by Him from
the wrath." In the Greek text the word wrath has the definite article,
like Matthew 3:7 and Luke 3:7. In this verse Paul is silent in regards
to subject or agency of "the wrath". What Paul states very emphatically
is that it is by God's grace through Jesus Christ that we are saved from
the wrath. So a positive response to the gospel saves us from the wrath.
A negative response to the gospel puts us in danger of the wrath.
To conclude that this verse is saying Jesus saves us from God's wrath goes
beyond Paul’s statement. Such a conclusion is based upon something we have
read into the text. It questions the action of a loving, merciful, longsuffering
God. It also discredits God's work of grace. Instead of God's work of grace
being the ultimate act of history, it becomes a divine carrot dangled in
front of humanity.A parallel passage to Romans 5:9 is 1 Thessalonians 5:9.
Paul states: "For God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation
by our Lord Jesus Christ." Since this verse has an eschatological
setting, we assume that the wrath referred to is God's future wrath. It
is true that Paul deals with eschatology, and because of that eschatology
he presents some practical immediate every day concerns. Paul's concern
for the Thessalonians is that they be prepared for the day of the Lord.
Drunken, of the night, of darkness, describes the unprepared. Those prepared
are described by phrases such as "children of the day, and children of
the light". It is because of the coming day of the Lord that Paul appeals
to the Thessalonians to live a certain lifestyle. That appeal is based
upon solid theological truth: what God has provided for us; or appointed
us to; contrasted from that which God has not provided for us; or appointed
us to. Thus verse nine is the theological basis for Paul’s appeal.
Obviously the appeal has
contrasting points: the children of darkness are contrasted with the children
of light. So the exegetical question that demands an answer: ”is Paul’s
appeal a mirrored image of the theological basis for his appeal”?
It is obvious that what
God has appointed us to – salvation - is mirrored in being children of
the day. This suggests that Paul intended for us to see what God has not
appointed us to – wrath - as being mirrored by the children of darkness.
Therefore it follows that the wrath which God did not appoint us to, is
parallel to being children of darkness. So like Ephesians 2:3 Paul uses
the word wrath to encapsulate the unprepared state. Being drunken, of the
night, and those that sleep is referred to as being in a state of wrath.
God did not appoint us to follow our own passions. Our wrath puts us on
the slippery slopes of rebellion. God did not appoint us to those slippery
slopes. Instead He appointed us to obtain salvation from the consequences
of our wrath.
1 Thessalonians 1:10 like
5:9 is concerned with our lifestyle. The Thessalonians had turned from
idols to serve God. This turning was as the result of deliverance through
Jesus. Here Paul equates deliverance from idol worship with deliverance
from wrath. (Compare Acts 19:28) To see this as deliverance from God’s
wrath makes deliverance from idol worship a secondary issue. This then
would mean that the primary reason for Jesus’ death was to deliver us from
the wrath of His own Father. Then the gospels main concern is no longer
sin but being saved from God’s wrath. Does scripture teach that Jesus died
to save us from his Fathers wrath or from sin? Obviously Jesus
came to save us from sin, and in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 the sin of idol worship
is referenced as wrath. Therefore wrath is obviously a word that defines
the Thessalonians personal conduct – idol worship.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:15
Paul speaks about the Jewish opposition to the proclamation of the gospel.
In verse 16 Paul states: "forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they
might be saved, always filling up their sins: is come upon them the wrath
to the uttermost." (my literal rendering) In Greek grammar that which is
emphasized can stand at the beginning of a sentence or clause. This is
true for the words "is come". Thus Paul’s apparent emphasize is that this
wrath had already overtaken these Jews.
There are three other references
where the identical form of the verb "is come" is used. Those references
are Romans 9:31; Luke 11:20; and Matthew 12:28. If you take the “is come”
as future in any of these passages you distort the meaning of the passage.
There is no evidence that Paul used it differently in 1Thessalonians 2:15.
So "is come" speaks of that which is and not something yet to happen. Add
to this the placement of the word at the beginning of the clause concerning
wrath, and we must conclude that Paul was saying these Jews were experiencing
and/or expressing “the wrath”.
It should also be noted
that Paul used the definite article with the word wrath. He is therefore
speaking of a specific, definite, and distinguishable kind of wrath. Because
Paul states " is come upon them the wrath " we should not look beyond them,
but at them, to understand what "the wrath" is. These Jews forbid
the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles. In so doing they fill up
their sins. This action constitutes being overtaken by "the wrath to the
To see this passage as speaking
of a future eschatological wrath of God demands we go into exegetical contortions.
God's name must be inserted in place of the definite article, which means
we have added to the text to find the meaning of the text. Then to support
this addition we must see "is come" as future, but at the same time maintaining
that this guarantees that these Jews will experience God's wrath to the
Why can't we simply accept
what is said? These Jews fulfill what John the Baptist warned against:
"the wrath to come." John's warning did not concern God's wrath but man's
bent to follow his own lusts and desires of the flesh, walking after the
spirit of this world, which brings man to not only reject Jesus but actively
forbid the preaching of the gospel. Forbidding the preaching of the gospel
is man's wrath taken to its ultimate state.
God does not force us to
surrender the right to follow our own passions. However He did
warn the Jewish community through John to flee from the wrath to come.
Either they did not take this warning seriously, or they where so engrossed
in their own theology – like Paul before his conversion – that they simply
ignored it. Paul gives us the results of their self absorbed will and desires.
Paul calls it “the wrath” and states it has come upon them to the ultimate
In Romans 2:4 Paul warns
us concerning the same matter. Paul speaks of the goodness of God that
leads to repentance. We are admonished not to despise this goodness. To
do so brings about a condition that Paul calls “a hard and impenitent heart”.
(Romans 2:5) This in turn is described by Paul as "treasuring up unto ourselves
wrath, against the day of wrath." To despise God’s goodness is to
seek our own selfish will and desires. Such action only intensifies our
wrath which causes us to war against God’s will – our salvation.
Paul is consistent: he shows that God is actively involved in the life
of the righteous, in that they are given eternal life. (R. 2:7) This is
expressed by the verb which Paul uses in Romans 2:7. However in the case
of the unrighteous Paul does not use a verb, indicating that God has no
active involvement in that which the unrighteous attain. 14
So let me summarize our study concerning wrath. God's wrath is not of a
fleshly nature. God's wrath is far removed from ours or Satan's; as far
as the heavens are from the earth. God's anger against sin and His passion
for the sinner are personified in Christ Jesus. Romans 1:18 and following
is not an indictment of man, but the reason why God revealed His wrath.
God's wrath against sin was experienced by Jesus; instead of us. In that
act God provided redemption for all people. That redemption includes setting
us free from our own passions. Fulfilling our own desires places us in
a state of wrath that wars against God’s wrath. God’s wrath is redemptive,
longsuffering, and powerful. God’s wrath will bring about His will for
this world. So most definitely the revelation of God’s wrath is good news!