The great and terrible day is coming when God's wrath is poured out on sinful people as eternal punishment for not repenting of their sinful lives. Revelation 6:12-17 is bringing us closer to the eventuality:
When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
Who can stand, indeed. We've already heard the cry of those martyred by the wickedness of the world. They wonder how long before God will judge and avenge their blood on those who dwell on the earth. That is a legitimate question. Evil will not go unpunished by a just and righteous God.
We've also seen the unleashing of the ubiquitous "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." They represent forces of God operating in judgment throughout history. Instead of seeing them as sequenced revelations of what is going to happen, it's best to see them symbolically as ways God allows evil to unleash calamity throughout history. These calamities, which we see repeating over and over, are represented by the white horse as conquest; the red horse as bloodshed; the black horse as scarcity; and the pale horse as death.
These "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" are simply reminders of the wrath that is to come. As each seal is opened, the future gets ominously progressively worse.
Which leads us to a pre-interlude. Or the interlude before the interlude. While chapter seven presents a pause in the opening of the seals, it would do us well to prepare for what lies ahead by celebrating the Biblical truth of the wrath of God.
That's a tough subject for some people. It's a terrifying thought for others. Our position is that the wrath of God is an absolutely reassuring expression of God's holiness. It is not a bad thing at all.
In one of my favorite hymns, "In Christ Alone," by Keith and Kristyn Getty, there's a line about God's wrath. I think "In Christ Alone" and "Revelation Song" are two of the most powerful songs we sing. There's a line in "In Christ Alone" that says:
"TILL ON THAT CROSS AS JESUS DIED, THE WRATH OF GOD WAS SATISFIED."
Almost ten years ago, a mainline Protestant denomination hymn committee wanted to include "In Christ Alone" in their new hymnal. The hymnal was titled, ironically, Glory to God. There was one glitch. They wanted to change the words, "Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied," to "Till on that cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified." Praise God that Keith and Kristyn Getty and their co-author, Stuart Townend, rejected the request. As a result, the committee banned the hymn from their hymnal. As they explained, "The song has been removed from our contents list, with deep regret over losing its otherwise poignant and powerful witness." They believed that expressing the Biblical truth that God's wrath for our sin was poured out on Jesus on the cross would have "a negative effect on the hymnal's ability to form the faith of coming generations."
What did we say about God's holiness earlier in this series? Revelation 4 exclaims, "Holy…holy…holy!" That is the highest form of praise. It is spoken in a majestic Trinitarian formula. Three times…holy…holy…holy! All other attributes of God rest under His Holiness.
Tragically, more and more people elevate the love of God above all of His other attributes. Doing so erases the true nature and revelation of God as seen in Scripture. We have to be honest about what God's Word reveals about His nature. God is not a loose cannon, losing His temper with people. God's wrath is not reckless rage, or a senseless fury, or an unjust vengeance. The wrath of God is a precise and controlled response to the belittling of His holiness. We are all guilty of cosmic treason against the Holiness of God. Everyone who perishes under the wrath of God for eternity won't be because God lost His temper with them and mistreated them. On the day of God's wrath that The Revelation to John is building to, everyone will know that God has treated them with precise justice. God is incapable of mistreating anyone.
I love how the hymn, "At the Cross" by Isaac Watts, puts it:
Alas, and did my Savior bleed?
And did my Sov'reign die?
For such a worm as I?
At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!
Before we move on to six truths about God's wrath, here's something you might want to write down. This is a beautiful summary of where The Revelation to John is leading us. The Wrath of God's Lamb is:
"THE CONSUMING PASSION OF HIS HOLY LOVE THAT WILLS TO DESTROY ALL THAT IS UNLOVING AND UNTRUE."
That being said, let's move on to:
Six Truths About God’s Wrath
Let's revisit 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12:
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering - since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The greatest peril facing every person, in every ethnic group, in every place on earth, and at every time in history, is the righteous wrath of God against guilty sinners, leading to everlasting suffering — unless God himself rescues us from his own judgment. Poverty, hunger, disease, war, crime, natural disasters, addictions, homelessness, ignorance, sex trafficking: these bring great global suffering — and they pale in comparison to the peril of being under the wrath of God. They are all tragic, but they are all temporary. They may last a lifetime, but the wrath of God lasts forever.
Here, now, are six key points about the wrath of God.
1. The wrath of God is terrible and eternal.
Romans 2:7-8: "To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he [God] will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury."
There is eternal life or wrath and fury. And the fact that wrath and fury are contrasted with eternal life at least implies this is eternal wrath and fury. This is confirmed in what we previously read in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12.
So, our first point about the wrath of God is that it is terrible. We get that from the word fury. And, as 2 Thessalonians 1:9 says, it is eternal.
2. The wrath of God is present. It has already begun.
Romans 1:18: "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all
ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth."
We care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.
In America today, it would not be wrong to say that we are collapsing morally at every level of society and ripening for judgment. I'm not being negative or judgmental. By all standards of measurement from God's Word, it is a true statement. But all the wickedness around us is more than moral collapse. It is judgment itself. And if you want to read how that works, just look at Romans 1:18, 28-32, and you will see what Paul means by the present activity of the wrath of God giving men over to their sin:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth…And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
So, think about America’s judgment in two ways: (1) we’re under the wrath of God; it’s being poured out everywhere, and (2) it’s coming. Now, I'm not saying change is not possible. God continues to work repentance in the hearts of rebellious men and women. We have no idea what God is capable of doing. Which is why we don't eagerly say, “Bring on your wrath, Lord.” Anyway, God will do what God is going to do in the world of wickedness. The question for us is, are we ready? The judgment of God begins with the household of God. As 1 Peter 4:17-18 reminds us:
For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
The righteous are scarcely saved (1 Peter 4:18).
We pray for revival. We pray for awakening. We pray for healthy
churches and strong witness. That is the push of The Revelation to John.
3. The wrath of God is coming in final judgment.
As Paul writes in Romans 2:5, "But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed."
God’s wrath is present in God’s giving people over to their wicked thoughts and actions. They are in bondage to sin. And Paul is saying they are storing up more wrath, as God gives them up to wrath.
4. The wrath of God is owing to our sin, which exchanges the glory of God for the glory of man.
As the Bible says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) Paul also says, " Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be
stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God." In other words, nobody can fault God rightly for his wrath. It is totally warranted. It is totally just. It is totally righteous because of how serious it is to exchange the glory of God for any other glory.
5. The wrath of God is righteous.
Romans 3:5-6 says everything that needs to be said:
But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world?
In other words, God's wrath is not unrighteous. It is totally righteous.
6. The wrath of God is God’s prerogative, not ours.
Paul spells it out in Romans 12:19:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
As Paul goes on to say in verses 20-21, "To the contrary, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
Overcome evil with good. Christians don’t take God’s prerogative and
become the mediators of wrath. We die for our enemies; we don’t kill them. We don’t pronounce damnation on infidels; we evangelize them. We plead with them. We love them. We pray for them. We pour fruit of the Spirit into their lives.
We’re not those who go out looking to show wrath to our adversaries. We do live in the tension of our Biblical worldview. On the one hand, we long to see the ungodly come to Christ and be saved. On the other hand, we know that the unrighteous cannot stand in the presence of the One, True, Holy God. There will be wrath. On the one hand, we love all sinners. As the Bible says, while we were sinners Jesus Christ died for us. On the other hand, we love sinners but we hate sin. On the one hand, we wish that all could come into the eternal bliss of heaven. On the other hand, we know about the coming destruction of sinners who shake their fists in the face of the Savior who died for them and spit on him and mock his perfect life.
What a horrible day it will be for those who do not fear the wrath of God.
WE THANK YOU, FATHER, THAT WE LEAVE WITH AN ETERNAL HOPE OF HEAVEN. THANK YOU THAT IN CHRIST WE HAVE BEEN SAVED FROM THE WRATH THAT IS TO COME. OUR TRUE PEACE IS IN CHRIST AND CHRIST ALONE. IN OUR SAVIOR'S NAME WE PRAY. AMEN.