God’sWrath is Good News

                                                                    By
                                                          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. 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 God's wrath.
        A 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)
            2. “For 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.
        Paul 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.
        According 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 on blasphemy.4  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 God.
        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.
        Since 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 of scripture.5 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 God's wrath.
        Martyn 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.
        Jones’ 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". 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.
        The 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)
        In 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".
        Ephesians 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.
        In 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 the analogy.
        Paul 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 a potters".9  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.
        To 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.
        Notice: 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.
        In 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 of mercy.
        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 uttermost".
        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 full.
        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 state.
         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!
 

    In the Greek text the words used are “orge” and “thumos”. See Strong’s Concordance 3709 and 2372.
2   All scriptural quotes are from the King James version unless noted otherwise.
3   Both are present passive indicative first person singular.
4    David Daube   The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism   The Athlone Press   London, England.    p 396
 5   D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones Romans: The Gospel of God, An Exposition of Chapter 1   Ministry Resource Library   Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Mich.   P342-348
   op cit p348
   Marcus Barth   Ephesians 1-3 The Anchor Bible Doubleday; see p215 and footnote 35
8   op., cit., p215
   C.E.B. Cranfield  Romans A Shorter Commentary   Wm Eerdmans  Grand Rapids, Mich. p239
10   Leon Morris Romans  Wm. Eerdmans  Grand Rapids, Mich. p369
 11   Cranfield., p240
12    For this passage to even suggest that man is destined for God’s anger would require the term “eis” with the accusative case instead of the Genetive. Arthur C William & Sandy Headlam The Epistles to the Romans The International Critical Commentary T&T Clark  Edinburgh, England p261
13   C.H. Dodd  The Epistle of Paul to the Romans  The Moffat N. T. Commentary, Hodder and Staughton , London, England   p21f
14    See Leon Morris p118

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 < http://www3.telus.net/studiesinrevelation >    Blessings!     Dave  

 
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