What Is the Wrath of God?

TODAY’S READING: REVELATION 15-17

“Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.” (Revelation 15.1)

The English phrase “wrath of God” occurs 11 times in the Bible, all of which are found in the New Testament. Five of the 11 occurrences are in the book of Revelation. Five of the occurrences are in the letters of Paul – Romans, Ephesians, and Colossians. “Wrath of God” appears one time in John’s gospel. So, no New Testament writer other than John and Paul uses the phrase “wrath of God.”

The English word wrath is not the same Greek word in all 11 cases.

In the instances outside the book of Revelation, the Greek word for wrath is orge, which means anger or wrath. Orge has to do with a natural impulse or propensity for anger or wrath, one’s temperament, one’s disposition, or one’s nature.

But, in the book of Revelation, the Greek word for wrath in the phrase “wrath of God” is thymos. This is true in every case but one. In this one case orge is used, but it is preceded by thymos. Thymos means passion (as if breathing hard), according to A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and the Hebrew Bible.

However, according to An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, thymos means the soul. In one sense it means the soul, breath, life. But, in another sense it means the soul or heart. In this second sense it can have five uses:

  1. of desire, including for meat and drink
  2. mind, temper, will
  3. spirit, courage
  4. as the seat of anger
  5. the soul as the agent of thought

Thymos has more to do with the principle of life, feeling, and thought, particularly strong feeling or passion. Therefore, thymos does not have to be strictly about fury, anger, or wrath as it is typically translated.

So, what is the wrath of God?

Before we can answer that question, we should look at how orge and thymos are used outside of the context of the wrath of God.

Only five of the 36 times orge is used in the New Testament are found in the gospels. And, only once is used specifically of Jesus.

Mark 3.4-5 says, “And he [Jesus] said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger [orge], grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.”

Jesus is the only one to see God and to have made him known (John 1.18). Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1.15). Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1.3).

In the only recorded instance of Jesus being angry, he was angry because of the hardness of heart of those in the synagogue. Jesus was angry because when he asked if it is lawful to do good or harm, to save life or kill on the Sabbath no one answered him. So, Jesus showed them the answer by restoring a man’s withered hand.

The anger of Jesus is aroused by the hardness of heart of religious people who put religious practice above good and life itself. And, Jesus’ anger drives him to restore a man’s withered hand, to do good, to give life.

How amazing that the one time Jesus, as the perfect representative of God, is angry that his anger results in restored life.

While Jesus was recorded as being angry just this one time, we are told that anger and wrath are of the old men and we should therefore be done with them.

“Let all bitterness and wrath [thymos] and anger [orge] and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (Ephesians 4.31)

“But now you must put them all away: anger [orge], wrath [thymos], malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.” (Colossians 3.8)

“For the anger [orge] of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1.20)

This clearly shows that our anger is not all like God’s anger. We cannot equate the two of even think of them in the same way.

The only time thymos is used in the gospels is in Luke 4. Jesus is speaking for the first time in the synagogue. He opens the scroll of Isaiah, reads about the good news to the poor and liberty to the captives being proclaimed, but skips over the vengeance of God being poured out on his enemies. Jesus then gives two examples of Elijah being sent to Gentiles to further verify his thought that God is not going to pour out vengeance on the Gentiles as the Jews in Galilee wanted. “When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath [thymos].” Those disappointed that God would not take violent vengeance on their enemies are the one’s filled with wrath. Not Jesus. And, not God.

Like orge, thymos is used in the sense of God’s people putting it away. We already saw that a few times above.

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident; sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, fits of anger [thymos], rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” (Galatians 5.18-21)

Clearly, orge and thymos are something we are no longer to do because orge and thymos do not align with our new nature in God. They have to do with out old nature.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath [orge], like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2.1-3)

Wrath is something is in the sons of disobedience because they are walking according to the ways of this world, which is ruled by Satan, the prince of the power of the air. Revelation 12.12 says, “But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

But, we are no longer children of wrath because “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” (Ephesians 2.4-5)

So, God’s wrath is nothing like our wrath and anger. It is something entirely different. Further, Satan is the one that came down to earth in the kind of wrath that steals, kills, and destroys. Jesus comes in the kind of “wrath” that gives life and that life abundantly.

So, knowing that God’s wrath is nothing like our wrath, what is the wrath of God?

“For the wrath [orge] of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1.18) Paul goes on to say “God gave them up” three times in regards to those who suppress the truth and do not acknowledge God. He then gives a long list of things they were given over to.

Many think that God’s wrath comes because of these things that ungodly and unrighteous men and women have been given over to. In other words, do bad things and God’s wrath is going to be rained down upon you.

But, Paul is saying exactly the opposite. God’s wrath is revealed when he allows you to follow your own desires and you do the long list of things Paul says ungodly and unrighteous men and women do. God’s wrath is simply letting you follow your choices and receiving the consequences of your own choices. Sin has within itself its own punishment. This is why the Old Testament stresses that our own evil comes back on our own head. This is why the wages of sin is death. Death is the natural outcome of sin. God’s wrath does not cause death to be brought out of sin. As we saw from Jesus above, God’s anger leads him to restore, to do good, to give life.

When we turn to Revelation, we see that the fury and wrath of God is almost always connected with a specific event.

What is the event that God’s wrath is connected to?

The treading of the winepress and drinking of the cup of that wine. This is clear throughout Revelation 15-17.

And, who was the one that tread the winepress and drank the cup of wrath?

Jesus.

Who’s wrath crucified Jesus?

Our wrath.

Not God’s.

Jesus prayed about this cup in the garden the night before he was crucified. Therefore, we can see that the winepress is the cross.

Speaking of Jesus, Revelation 19.15 says, “He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” It was from his treading the winepress that Jesus “is clothed in a robe dipped in blood.” (Revelation 19.13)

John takes this imagery from Isaiah 63.3, which says, “I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood spattered on my garments, and stained all my apparel.”

In Isaiah, it appears that it is the blood of the enemies that covers the garment of God’s servant because God’s servant battles against the enemies alone in his anger and wrath. But, John transforms this imagery to show that it was the blood of God’s servant that was shed. It was the blood of Jesus that stained his own garments. He tread the winepress alone in anger and fury.

But, just as we saw in Mark 3, Jesus’ anger and fury was caused by the hard hearts of those around him while he was on the cross. But, that anger, that wrath, that passion as the cross of Christ is known, is what drove Jesus to remain on the cross alone. And, it was from his anger and wrath, his passion, on the cross that Jesus brought about restoration, good, life, and life abundantly.

Man’s wrath, which derives from Satan’s, causes violence, destruction, and death.

But, God’s wrath is not like our wrath.

God’s anger and wrath drives him to restore, to do good, to give life.

Jesus showed that God’s wrath and anger is fully revealed when God chooses to die for you instead of killing you.

Rightly understood, God’s wrath and anger that drives him to die for you to give you life should cause a great deal of torment in your mind. It is like vengeance brought about by coals of fire being heaped upon your thoughts.

That is the wrath of God we see in Revelation.

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