WHAT DOES THE NEW TESTAMENT TEACH ABOUT THE WRATH OF GOD?
“God’s wrath? Are you serious? I thought that the Bible says that ‘God is love.’” In fact, it does say that (1 John 4:8). If God is the God of love and the God of grace (1 Peter 5:10), as well as the God of patience, comfort, and hope (Romans 15:5,13), then surely we should not think of Him as the God of wrath, right? Let us take a closer look.
Students of the Bible properly observe that the Old Testament frequently makes reference to God’s wrath. Does the New Testament do the same? It does, indeed, but before we show that to be the case, consider this truth: the God of heaven does not change (Malachi 3:6). With Him “there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). The Lord God that created the world spoke in the Old Testament era through the prophets. He is the same God that speaks to humanity in the Christian era through His Son Jesus (Hebrews 1:1,2). That is correct: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is also the God that Christians serve.
“But is it not true that in the Old Testament we see God portrayed as a God of wrath, whereas in the New Testament He is a God of love?” Many people certainly think that is an accurate assessment of what the Bible teaches. The truth is, the Old Testament also points out the love of God (Deuteronomy 7:7,8; Hosea 3:1; 14:4), while in several instances the New Testament mentions His wrath. So, both covenants refer to both of these aspects of God’s nature or character: love and wrath. The specific question into which we are looking, though, is what teaching does the New Testament set forth about the wrath of God?
First of all, in the New Testament there are a number of verses which make direct reference to “the wrath of God.” Jesus said that “the wrath of God abides on” one that does not believe in the Son (John 3:36). It is also written that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:20). We further read that “the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6). While many might prefer to think of Jesus as a loving Lamb, the Bible also speaks about “the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16). It is true, so we must accept it.
Second, the New Testament speaks of people who are “the children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). Just who are these folks? The Bible’s own answer is that they are those who fulfil the desires of the flesh and mind (Ephesians 2:3). They are again portrayed as “the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6). So, those that are disobedient to God can expect to be on the receiving end of His wrath.
Third, the New Testament also refers to “the wrath to come.” In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 we read of “Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.” And whose wrath would that be? The Lord’s.
Fourth, in connection with the wrath to come, the Holy Spirit speaks specifically of “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5). That same context speaks of some who will receive eternal life, but for those who “do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness – indignation and wrath” (Romans 2:8). Jesus refers to such as “everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46).
Fifth, the Book of Acts records first-century demonstrations of God’s wrath. Yes, in comparison, the Old Testament records many more instances of the Divine wrath being poured out in the form of physical punishment of the wicked. However, that truth does not in any way minimize the fact that some first-century rebels were punished by the Lord. Here is a quick reminder of three such cases: (1) Ananias and Sapphira were killed for lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11); (2) King Herod Agrippa I died a horrific death when “an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died” (Acts 12:23); (3) Elymas, known also as Bar-Jesus, was struck blind by “the hand of the Lord” because of his deceit and fraud (Acts 13:10,11). In view of these plain incidents, one errs greatly who claims, “We never see God’s wrath poured out in the New Testament.”
How can one be spared from the wrath of God at judgment? In one word, the answer is “Jesus.” “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Romans 5:9). Through Jesus, Christians have the best life in this world (John 10:10). Through Him we can escape the horrors of hell, and, yes, it is through our Lord that we live in hope of heaven. While we recognize God’s wrath, we do not live our lives in trembling fear. Why? Because the Christ paid the ransom that sets us free from sin and delivers us from the wrath to come.
— Roger D. Campbell
TRUTH is published monthly by the Klang church of Christ in order to help educate, edify, encourage, and equip the saints of God.