“The Answer” is one coherent and consecutive article and best read from the beginning. But in order to find later more quickly the single sequences the Subtitles are listed here.
God is Love.
But what means his ’Wrath’?
The Answer frees from Fear and builds Trust
The answer is so very important since it affects our trust in God. Jesus is called the faithful witness, who by his life, his preaching, acting and his dieing testifies to us visibly of God’s character and love. ‘And we have known and believed the love that God has for us.’ (1Jn 4:16 Nkjv).
But do we really believe it? Do we believe in Jesus’ testimony? We read in the letter of John: ‘God is Love’, but in the Book of Revelation and other passages of the Bible we read of God’s ‘wrath’. How does God’s love fit together with wrath? Especially with the Old Testament we often have problems. But we are the not the only ones who have questions.
It was at the Last Supper. Jesus took time to talk with his disciples. He knew there is something on their minds. Therefore, He tried to encourage them by saying, ”Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to where I am, so that you may be with me. And you know the way where I am going."
Then Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?"
Jesus answered, "I myself am the way, and the truth, and the life. Through me you will find the way to the Father. For if you know me you will know my Father too. And from now on you do know Him because you have seen Him."
Philip replied to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, that is all, we want to know.“ (i. Jn 14:1-8).
Why did the disciples ask Him to show them the Father? At their time they only had the Old Testament and the interpretations of the scribes. And they had certain questions about the way God did act in the Old Testament. How is God like? The disciples surely had questions. There were and there are really important questions about the Father.
The disciples certainly knew also the following example in the Old Testament, when a revolt among the people of Israel broke out during their journey through the desert after God had freed them from Egypt. Korah and his followers rebelled against Moses and wanted to become leaders and priests themselves. Korah was of the Levite Kohat-lineage, (s. Ex 6:18.21), which had the special task to carry the most holy articles of the Sanctuary, including the Arc of the Covenant. (s. Num 4:4-15; 3:29-31; Deut 10:8). Korah’s father Izhar and Moses’ father Amram were brothers, (s. Ex 6:16-21), which means: Moses and Korah were cousins. Maybe therefore Korah dared to treat Moses so disrespectful. He accused Moses in front of the people and in a hostile manner questioned his leadership.
Moses had to defend himself and ‘said, “Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord."
And as soon as he had finished speaking these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah, and the earth closed over them. And all Israel fled at their cry.’ (Num 16:28-34 Esv).
Korah and his family perished, and in this incident God obviously exercised his wrath. But is it just that Korah’s innocent children perished along with him?
And when we read something like this, how do we feel? Doesn’t it create fear? How does it affect our faith? How does it affect our thoughts? Will it strengthen our trust in God?
The Apostle Paul knew of these questions about the ‘wrath’ of God too. He wrote about it in one of his letters, which he sent to the Church in Rome. Since at that time Paul hasn’t been in Rom, in this letter he explained the Gospel as whole. And he began his explanations with an exclamation of joy.
‘I am not ashamed of the Gospel, since it possesses the power of God to work in every believer for his salvation. For in it God’s own righteousness is revealed.’ (i. Rom 1:16-17).
Paul rejoiced over the Gospel – the Good News, the Glad Tidings, as the Hebrew word for Gospel really means in English. Paul rejoiced over the Glad Tidings, since they have the power to lead people to salvation. And why do they have this power? Since in them is revealed, that God acts rightly, his ways are right, his character is shown in the right way.
And how did Paul begin now to explain the Glad Tidings about ‘God’s own righteousness’? In the next sentence he wrote:
‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth’ – about God’s character. (Rom 1:18 Esv).
So next he immediately talked about the wrath of God. But what are the connection between the Glad Tidings and wrath? What kind of Glad Tidings can be found in this message?
Paul knew, this is a question which needs to be clarified. Otherwise it makes absolutely no sense to start with something else. Therefore Paul first explained the ‘wrath’ of God by writing:
‘Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images of mortal man, birds, beasts, and crawling animals. Therefore God gave them up to the lusts of their hearts, because they changed the truth about God into a lie. For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. And since they did not see it fit to cling to their knowledge about God, God gave them up to a debased mind.’ (i. Rom 1:22-26,28).
The people worshiped images of animals with the most abominable rites. How had God to treat them because of that? Which word did appear three times in this text? Gave them up, gave them up, gave them up. A word, which also can be translated: let go.
God’s wrath means: He finally gives up, lets them go. He no longer is able to reach these people. He did try everything He possibly could, but He finally has to let them go, give them up. The worst which ever can happen is that God has to give up a person. And this has been called ‘wrath’ in the Bible, since there is nothing worse than that.
And which person in the Bible really experienced the fullness of God’s ‘wrath’? It was Jesus at the cross. Just a few chapters later Paul wrote, that ‘Jesus has been given up for our transgressions.’ (i. Rom 4:24-25). Here Paul did use exactly the same Greek word as in the previous texts, and this certainly not by chance. Jesus too has been given up. On the cross our sin of turning away from God was upon Him. He was counted as a sinner who couldn’t to be reached anymore and wouldn’t turn around. God had to give Him up.
But where did Paul have this knowledge from? Of what profession was Paul? He was a Pharisee, a trained scribe. He did know the Old Testament well. In these Holy Scriptures God once said about his people:
”I drew them with the bands of love, and I was to them as one who eases their yoke, and I bent down to them and kindly fed them. But my people are entangled in turning away from me. But how can I give you up? How can I hand you over? My heart opposes it, yes it breaks my heart and all my compassion is stirred. I will not execute my wrath; for I am God and not a man, I will not come in burning wrath.“ (i. Hos 11:4,7-9).
God’s people were entangled in idolatry. Nevertheless God didn’t want to give them up. Again we find here the words ‘give up’.
And in addition in Hebrew there exists a so called Parallelism for poetic writings. That means: In the first part of a line or a verse a certain thought is expressed, which in the second part of this verse is repeated or clarified in different words. We often can find this Parallelism in the Psalms. And here in this Hosea text in the first part God says, ‘I don’t want to give you up.’ In the second part He says: ‘I don’t want to exercise my wrath.’ Paul did understand: To exercise wrath means for God, He has to give up. God did try everything He possibly can to reach these people, He did reach out for them in love, but it was all in vain, they were still bent on turning away from Him. He had to let them go. God does not force anybody. He gives us the freedom to decide. But it breaks his heart if He has to give up. He doesn’t want to do it, He wants to save!
But what are the consequences when God has to give and to let go?
God himself is the only source of life. Jesus said: ”I am the life.” (Jn 14:6 Nasb). Therefore no life can exist apart from God. Thus God already explained to the first people about the tree of knowledge of good and evil in Eden, ‘”As soon as you eat from it you will surely die.“ (i. Gen 2:17).
God used here in the Hebrew language an emphasised verb for ‘to die’ which expresses truly, ‘you really surely and completely will die.’ That was not a severe or wrathful threat of punishment, but God wanted to make it really clear to men: If they turn away from Him the natural consequence would be total death, they would be extinguished ... but not of the hand of a loving God and Father, but because they separated themselves from the Life-Giver, and thus from life.
But now the adversary of God demanded to be permitted to speak to them, so that they would be free to decide whether they would like to follow him or God. So Satan disguised as a ‘serpent was cunning and said, “Has God really said, you shall not eat of every tree of the garden? You will absolutely never die. But God knows that your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God by knowing yourselves what is good and what is evil.“ (i. Ex 3:1,4-5).
Satan first did question God and sowed distrust, and then he claimed that man is immortal. Already there the basis was laid for the false teaching of an eternal hell, which doesn’t exist at all – but by this he eventually could portray God as a cruel and wrathful tyrant, who threatens with the sentence of death.
These seeds of distrust did bear fruits and men did believe the adversary more than God. They turned away from God and therefore the Tree of Life in Eden was now inaccessible for them. God said clearly that they no long would be able to live eternally. (s. Ex 3:22-24). ‘The wages of sin is death’. (Rom 6:23 Nasb). Sin separates from God and at the end kills a person. Throughout the Bible repeatedly it is confirmed that men are not immortal, but that God ‘alone possesses immortality’. (1Tim 6:16 Nasb). Already in the Old Testament it is written, that in the state of death ‘there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom’, ‘the dead do not know anything’, they ‘do not think of God and do not praise Him’, ‘their love, their hate and their zeal have perished’ along with them. (Ecc 9:10,5-6 Nasb; s. Ps 115:17; 6:5; Is 38:18). Jesus compared death with sleep. (s. Jn 11:11,14). Only at his return to the earth He “will raise” men ‘up on the last day’. (Jn 6:40,44,54 Nasb; s. 1Cor 6:14; 1Thes 4:16). Then He will grant to his redeemed ones eternal life, ‘for the free gift of God is eternal life’. (Rom 6:23 Nasb). But the lost ones will perish to be eternally dead, and along with them Satan and death itself too. (s. Rev 20:14-15) ... And even this is the mercy of God in his love for the lost, since there is no eternal hell, but ‘they will be as though they had never been’. (Obad 16 Net). This is the second and eternal death out of which there will be no resurrection. God has lost them forever; He had to give up ...
God also reveals to us how He feels, when He has to give up a person. He asked Jeremiah, ”You shall say to them: Night and day tears run down from my eyes, and do not cease, for my people have been crushed with a mighty blow.“ (i. Jer 14:17-18).
It hurts God deeply, He weeps over each lost one. Those are his children too; He is the Father of all men. God is love. He does not change when He is rejected. “No, I the Lord have not changed. But you have. Since the days of your forefathers you turned away from my statutes and didn’t care for them. Please turn around to me!” (i. Mal 3:6-7).
He loves always, He is always the same. (s. Heb 1:12). He tries desperately to reach every person, and He weeps, if He has to give up ... and He is not ashamed of his tears ...
Accompanied by a cheering crowd Jesus rode on the Mount of Olives to enter Jerusalem. ‘And when He drew near and saw the city, He wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. Because you did not know the time’ when I visited you to save you.” (Lk 19:41-44 Esv). Jesus wept, He showed what it means to exercise the ‘wrath’ of God, He had to give Jerusalem up.
God mourned also over the rebellious Korah and his family. And in his love He was also just and trustworthy. Since ‘the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up together with Korah. But the sons of Korah did not die.’ (Num 26:10-11 Esv). Only the guilty ones died. The innocent ones God did keep alive.
But even further more, in the lists of names in 1Chronicle we read, that God called descendents of Korah into highest offices in the Sanctuary service. They were first choir leaders and singers, the first baker of the sacred shew-bread which was kept in the Sanctuary, and the chief gatekeeper of the Sanctuary who had the keys of King David. (s. 1Chro 6:31-38; 9:30,19,27). Korah’s descendant Heman was even a prophet at the king’s court. (s. 1 Chro 25:5). And also the father of the prophet Samuel was a descendant of Korah, which means this Samuel, after whom the two Books in the Bible are named; he was a descendant of Korah too. And in addition Samuel was the grandfather of the prophet Heman. (s. 1Chro 6:18-23).
But that’s still not all. Writings of the descendants of Korah are in the Bible: The sons of Korah wrote twelve psalms! Psalm 42 to 49, Psalm 84 to 85 and Psalm 87 to 88. And some of these verses made it
even into the New Testament, since Paul quoted them in his letters (Ps 44:22 in Rom 8:36, and Ps 45:6-7 in Heb 1:8-9). More over one poetic line of a Korah Psalm verse is alive in our time today ... in a very popular song: ‘As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longs for You, o God.’ (i. Ps 42:1).
Is God righteous and just? Yes, He knows what He is doing. Even in his ‘wrath’ He is trustworthy, since his ‘wrath’ is not a human wrath and anger. He does not change, He loves always. But his ‘wrath’ is still the worst that can happen, the worst that can happen to Him: He has to give up and let go a person He loves ... and He weeps.
If we know, what the ‘wrath’ of God means, and how deeply it hurts Him to give up, we begin to see in the Bible a God, who mourns over his lost children. And the Bible becomes for us a revelation of God’s character of love.
This knowledge that the ‘wrath’ of God actually means ‘God has to give up’ also explains the sections in the Book of Revelation where ever it talks of ‘wrath’ and ‘anger’. John saw everything in visions and symbols, and especially the ‘wrath’ in this book we now begin to see as being a symbol.
The first time the ‘wrath’ appears in Revelation 6:12-17, when the 6th seal of the sealed book is opened. When the 7 seals are opened, the course of the story of Salvation is unfolded from the time of the early Christians until the end of the world. The section on the 6th seal describes the chaos and catastrophes which will take place just at that time when Jesus is about to return. The lost ones try to flee, ‘and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand!” (Rev 6:16-17 Nasb).
On one hand these are those, who have a false picture of God and of Jesus, the Lamb of God, and who hold the view that both of Them are punishing full of wrath. On the other hand, the end here of the world has come, and God definitively has to give up the lost ones.
The events in the section on the 7th trumpet also describe this point of time when God has to give up. Therefore, it is said: ‘Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward your bond-servants, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.’ (Rev 11:18 Nasb).
The same is true of a section on the harvest at the end of time, when an ‘angel gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God.’ (Rev 14:19 Nasb).That means, at this final ‘harvest’ God has to definitely give up the lost ones.
And finally John saw in a symbolic vision the return of Jesus to the earth. He ‘saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True. From his mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.’ (Rev 19:11,15 Nasb).
The sword from the mouth is ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’, and it ‘is living and active and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart’, (Eph 6:17; Heb 4:12 Nasb), since through the Word of God it will be revealed who stands on which side. And He ‘shall break them with a rod of iron, shatter them like earthenware’, (Ps 2:9 Nasb), for when He has to give up the lost ones in the chaos at the end of the world, they will die like broken earthenware.
The Bible explains itself, and the pictures in the Book of Revelation are explained throughout the Bible. Thus through these explanatory Bible verses, we better understand what is meant by those terms in the Book of Revelation. This also shows how important it is to always remember that the Book of Revelation uses a language in images and symbols from the Bible, and that we therefore always have to ask what these symbols mean in the Bible and what they want to tell us. This is especially true of a section which describes the third angel’s message of the three last messages to the world.
‘Another angel, a third one, followed saying, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, he will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever.” (Rev 14:9-11 Nasb).
This is a very serious and shaking up message that at the end God has to give up all those who rather follow the false picture of God the enemy has made up, than to follow God. They will drink of the ‘cup of wrath’; God has to give them up.
And where in the Bible do we find fire and brimstone? They rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah. Did someone survive within these cities? No, none. Thus also the fire and brimstone in the Book of Revelation are a picture for death. It is the worst that can happen if someone rejects the truth about God this much that he rather prefers eternal death than to receive eternal life. And that is symbolized by the ‘torment’, since it will be a torment to those. Smoke is the result of fire, and the symbolic ‘smoke of the torment’ is the result of turning away from God – it ends in death. It is a smoke which will go up for all eternity – it is a result that will remain forever, for this result can’t be reversed, this death is eternal.
This third message is a last merciful appeal to the world, which also will lead to the final decisions made by men. God is shaking up for a last time. He wants to save as many as He possibly can save, and He cries, “Why do you want to die? Turn to me and live!”
Chapters 15 and 16 in the Book of Revelation finally describe the last days of the earth:
One of the four living angelic ‘creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever. – Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” (Rev 15:7; 16:1 Nasb). One after another of those ‘7 bowls of wrath’ will be poured out, and in the section of the last bowl it talks about the symbolic city of Babylon, which was already in the Old Testament a picture for false religions. And here now ‘Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of his fierce wrath.’ (Rev 16:19 Nasb).
These bowls, symbolizing God’s definite giving up, will be poured out right before the returning of Jesus. However, of the time before they will be poured out, Jesus says, ‘You will be hearing of wars and rumors of war. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. – This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Mt 24:6,14 Nasb).
There is a very important reason for the need of the Gospel – the Glad Tidings about God’s character of love – to be proclaimed all over the world before the end comes. It is only through this worldwide proclamation that the people on earth are able to decide whether they want to believe God, or to believe a severe picture of God made up by the adversary. God does not arbitrarily fix the time of the return, but He knows when the people on earth have made their final and definite decisions. If they have done so, He can no longer reach them. The Holy Spirit can no longer work on their hearts, He withdraws, and then the 7 bowls of ‘wrath’ will be poured out – that is, God has to finally and definitely give up. And it will be shown through these bowls that He knew the decisions made.
In the Old Testament, God sent judgements to shake up those people He otherwise could no longer reach. As a result true changes of heart and mind took place, ‘for when the earth’ experienced his ‘judgements the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.’ (Is 26:9 Nasb). But during the judgmental plagues of the 7 bowls no longer any man changes his mind:
‘The fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun, and men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God’ – and name means in the Bible his character – ‘and they did not repent so as to give Him glory. And the fifth angel poured out his bowl, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and they did not repent of their deeds. Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon air. And huge hailstones came down from heaven upon men, and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.’ (Rev 16:8-11,17,21 Nasb).
The outpouring of these bowls takes place successively in a short time. And when during this time the catastrophes and tyrannical rulers no longer will kept in check, then by the resulting chaos the decisions will be quickly revealed. This shows that God knows the point of time when people have made their decisions irrevocably. The time of Jesus’ return is clearly not an arbitrary decision of God, but the knowledge that no one will change the sides. And the whole universe will see that He knew it.
But what does God feel when these symbolic bowls are poured out? Will He eventually feel triumph and satisfaction? In a vision John saw the temple open in heaven, and one of the four living angelic ‘creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power; and no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.’ (Rev 15:7-8 Nasb).
What is God’s powerful glory, which fills the heavenly temple? The Bible tells us that his character of love revealed in the gospel has the ‘power of God for salvation to everyone who believes’, (Rom 1:16-17 Nasb), and Jesus ‘is the radiance of his (God’s) glory and the exact representation of his (God’s) nature’. (Heb 1:3 Nasb). That is, Jesus radiates the glory of God’s nature and character of love. God’s power and glory are his good character and his love. Of those the heavenly temple will be filled and none can enter, while the 7 bowls are poured out.
Also in the Old Testament, when the sanctuary and the temple were finished and dedicated, they were filled with smoke and with the glory of God, so that no one could enter. (s. Ex 40:17.34-35; 1Ki 8:1-11). The same happened on the Day of Atonement, when the sanctuary was cleansed of the sins of men which had been symbolically carried into the sanctuary. (s. Lev 16:3-34). Both of these events were earthly symbols of what is happening in heaven, for according to the appointed time in Daniel 8 and 9, in the meantime also the ‘the sanctuary’ in heaven is undergoing a ‘dedication and cleansing’. (s. Dan 8:13-14). Just as the earthly sanctuary was the dwelling-place of God in Israel, heaven itself is the real dwelling-place of God. But why would heaven need a cleansing?
God was accused by Satan, he declared God guilty of being arbitrary, severe and punishing, and he questioned God’s character and government. Already in Eden on the tree, he called God a liar and tyrant. These accusations needed to be clarified. Now, when the 7 bowls will be given into the hands of the angels, that is the point of time when the last decisions of men have been made – the so-called ‘time of mercy’ is over. Thus also all investigation about God, his character and his work to redeem believes, are concluded. Everyone in heaven knows now, He has done all He could to reach and redeem people. But that is something He at this point of time no longer will be able to do. Before the whole universe, however, it became clear that He truly did everything, that He really loves, and that in his love for men He was even ready to die. Thus the accusations cast upon Him are cleared, and so along with the end of the world the ‘cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary’ – the heavenly dwelling-place of God – is finished. It is really cleansed of all accusations and dedicated through God’s love.
What happened in the Old Testament in the earthly sanctuary and the temple actually applies to the heavenly sanctuary. After its ‘dedication and cleansing’, the earthly temple was filled by God’s glory, and now also the heavenly temple will be filled by his glory, so that no one can enter.
‘And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished.’ (Rev 15:1 Nasb). With the outpouring of these bowls the ‘wrath’ of God will be finished – God definitely has to give up. It will be no longer possible for Him to save the lost ones, since they have made their final decisions. He has to give up many people and has to let them die. We shall never forget his tears, for He himself says: “I am weeping day and night over you.“ (s. Jer 14:17).
That during the outpouring of the bowls God covers himself in the heavenly sanctuary with the ‘smoke’ of his glory and love, reminds us of a custom in the Old Testament, where people covered their heads in deep sorrow, grief and pain.
The king’s son Absalom aroused an insurrection against his own father, King David. Therefore David had to flee, and he ‘wept as he went, and his head was covered. All the people who went with him each covered his head and went up weeping as they went.’ (2Sam 15:30 Nasb). King David’s army eventually defeated Absalom’s invading army. When the king after that heard of Absalom’s death, he ‘was deeply moved and wept. And thus he said as he walked, “O my son Absalom, my son! Would I have died instead of you, o Absalom, my son!” The king covered his face and cried out with a loud voice, “O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2Sam 19:1,5 Nasb).
This event is like a visible picture of God’s love to the lost ones ... He really died in place of the sinners. And we can also hear his mournful voice: “How can I give you up? How can I surrender you? My heart is turned over within me, all my compassions are kindled. – As I live, I take no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies. Therefore repent and live! Why then will you die? Turn back, turn back!” (Hos 11:8; Ezek 18:31-32 / 33:11 Nasb).
But in the end, the point of time will come when no longer anyone wants to turn abound. Their final decisions have been made. And God is crying.
God’s character of goodness and love is his power and glory that will fill the heavenly temple during the outpouring of the bowls. When God at that time finally has to give up, can it be that God, in his love and grief, also covers himself for a time in the heavenly temple? It would explain this picture in the Book of Revelation. For also in the Book of Isaiah, the sanctuary was filled by the smoke of God’s glory, when it was obvious that no one wants to turn round. (s. Is 6).
If we know what the ‘wrath’ of God means, and how much it pains Him to be forced to give up, we begin to see in the Book of Revelation a God who mourns for his lost children. And the Book of Revelation becomes a revelation of God’s character of love.
The reason why it is so important to understand the ‘wrath’ of God is because it is so very important what kind of a picture we have of God, which picture we have of God’s character. Since ‘the images and idols of the nations are the work of men. Those who make them are like them, so do all who trust in them!’ (i. Ps 135:15-18).
It means, we will become like the one we pray to and worship! If we believe God is wrathful, vengeful and severe, we will become like that and treat others in a narrow-minded way, if they are not the kind of person we think they should be. And we justify our displeasure by thinking that God does it too. We will be as we think He is like.
But the Glad Tidings are that it works the other way round too. Paul wrote to us, ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God; that what is good and brings joy and has been understood with maturity.’ (i. Rom 12:2). ‘And we all with an unveiled face are beholding the glory of the Lord, and by this we will be transformed into the same image from glory to glory as it is done by the Lord, the Holy Spirit.’ (i. 2Cor 3:18).
When we unveiled – that is with knowledge and understanding – behold the glory of the Love of God by looking at Him we will be transformed into loving lovable men through the Holy Spirit working in our hearts.
It is a natural law in the universe
that we become like the one we admire and worship.
What we think about God will transform our character into its likeness.
The Apostle Paul knew this only too well. What did he do with the followers of Christ before his conversion? He did persecute them, even unto death! In his opinion God was a punishing and wrathful God who would kill all those which were not the way they should be according to Paul’s view. Therefore Paul looked at himself as an extended arm of God and acted according to his belief. He said later that he persecuted the followers of Christ with wrath and judged them to be guilty.
What happened now during his conversion? When he was on his way to arrest more followers of Jesus there suddenly Jesus appeared to him in a dazzling light. What should have Jesus done to Paul according to Paul’s belief, since he had persecuted and killed Jesus’ followers? According to this Jesus should have killed Paul. Did Jesus do that? No, on the contrary, He called Paul to be a missionary. It wasn’t probably Jesus’ dazzling light that astonished Paul the most, it much more must have surprised him and shaken the very foundations of his thinking that God is totally different than he thought Him to be! With this new understanding, this new image of God, he studied the Bible all over again before he began his great mission work. (s. Acts 22:3-15; Gal 1:11-18).
Through Paul’s story we already understand, how important it is that we know how God is really like. Only then we will trust Him completely. If we trust Him completely, we will listen to Him, and if we listen to Him, we trustingly love to obey Him. We know then, He always desires the best for us. He wants to save us. To believe means to trust. And God needs our trust in order to be able to heal and change us. It all depends on trust. But would we completely trust a fearsome, wrathful God? We would hardly. Therefore, Jesus came and revealed to us how God is like.
But what about the stories which describe Jesus as ‘wrathful’ and angry, for example his harsh words against the scribes, and especially when He drove out the people from the Temple? Since ‘He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them; “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer.’ But you have made it a den of robbers.“ (Lk 19:45-46 Esv).
As He did so, how did He behave? Who ran away in fear? Did so the strong ones or the weak ones? And who stayed with Him in the Temple? ‘The blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them, and the children were shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Mt 21:14-15 Nasb).
The weak and the children were the ones who stayed. But if He would have been like a wrathful man slapping around angrily, these children and the weak would have been probably the first ones fleeing. Especially the children would have been afraid of Him if his actions would have been full of anger. But obviously He behaved very well controlled in these moments, and acted very purposefully. He knew exactly what He was doing ... and He did it in a way that it didn’t frighten the innocent and the children to the point that they would flee. The innocent stayed. The children rejoiced happily over Him and the sick came trustfully to Him.
On the contrary the bad conscience of the scribes caused them as the guilty ones to run away from Jesus’ divine authority. Angry about it they looked for a way to kill Him. (s. Mk 11:17-18). Jesus knew it, and just a little later He said to them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape judgement? Behold, I send to you prophets and wise men, some of them you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog and persecute.“ (i. Mt 23:13,33-34).
These were very hard words, especially the ‘serpents and vipers’. But we can assume that Jesus used these words also at that occasion very purposefully. He spoke to scribes who knew the Old Testament very well. And there it is written about men who had the same attitude like the scribes, ‘They hatch adders’ eggs; he who eats their eggs dies, and from one that is crushed a viper is hatched. Their feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; transgressing, and denying the Lord, and turning back from following God, conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words. Justice is turned back. Truth is lacking. A Redeemer will come to those who turn from transgression.’ (Is 59:5-20 Esv).
Jesus knew that the scribes were heading straight to their doom. Therefore, He tried to warn them and to shake them up for a last time. It well may be that they recognized his words as reverences to the Old Testament. It was them denying the Lord and turning away from Him, God would have to give them up. They also were aware of Jesus being exactly this Redeemer whom Isaiah had announced, and that they wanted to kill Him as an innocent man.
“Woe” said Jesus, and it was a cry of pain for it hurt Him to pronounce such a hard sentence on them, since the consequences of their attitude would hit them also painfully at the end. We shall never forget: When God has to give up He weeps. Jesus wept over them ... and on the cross He forgave his murderers.
If we know all of this and we look at Jesus, it will change our attitude towards wrath ... for then we begin to understand God and his love.
This love of his, when well understood, changed also James, the step-‘brother of the Lord’, who at first refused Jesus angrily. It changed King Solomon who tyrannically oppressed his people in his old age, but turned around in the end. It changed the impetuous disciple Peter, and it changed the furious persecutor Paul after he had met Jesus. They all write to us as changed people how Jesus’ example can alter positively our attitude:
Since ‘understand this, my beloved: let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God in communion with Him. Therefore in humility receive the word of God, which is able to save you.’ (i. James 1:19-21). ‘A soft answer turns away wrath.’ (Proverbs of Solomon 15:1 Esv). Therefore ‘do not return evil with evil or insult for insult, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may inherit a blessing.’ (i. 1 Peter 3:9). ‘Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way to Christ, becoming ever more like Him.’ (Paul s. Ephesians 4:15).
Jesus did reveal to us the heart of God and the thoughts of God; He has made God’s character visible to us. And He says to us, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt 11:29 Nasb). So let us learn from Him, how gentle and humble God is, and then the fear will disappear from our hearts and we will find rest and peace. We will trust. God knows, it is only our trust in Him by which He can save us.
So at the Last Supper with his disciples Jesus tried to awaken and strengthen their trust in God the Father. What was answer He finally gave them, when Philip asked Him on behalf of the other disciples, “Lord, just show us the Father. That is all we want”?
Jesus answered, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me?”
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” –
“For this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth“ ...
... the witness to the truth about God.
(John 14:8-9; 18:37 Esv)
© 2014, Jaimée M. Seis
The Text is an excerpt of the book ’The Truth about God’.
It is also a translated excerpt of the German book ’Die Frohe Botschaft der Offenbarung Gottes’