Sunday, March 4, 2012

Wrath: Jesus, Paul, and Beyond

R.V.G. Tasker, Professor of New Testament Exegesis in the University of London, said:

The view advocated so persistently and so thoroughly by Marcion in the second century, and consciously or unconsciously echoed in much so-called 'Christian' teaching in recent years, that the Old Testament reveals solely a God of wrath and the New Testament solely a God of love, is completely erroneous. It can easily be disproved by anyone who is prepared to give more than superficial attention to the text of the Bible.[1]

John the Baptizer: Wrath to Come

When John the Baptizer "saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, 'You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?'" (Matt 3:7) He said the same thing to the crowds. "He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, 'You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?'" (Luke 3:7)

John is the last Old Testament prophet.[2] He speaks of the wrath "to come." So we can't confine the wrath of God to the Old Testament.

Jesus: Wrath Remains

Jesus said, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." (John 3:36) The wrath of God remains. It is not confined to the Old Testament.

Paul: Day of Wrath Coming

Paul begins his explanation of the Gospel to the Romans, saying, "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." (Rom 1:18) He says we "were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." (Eph 2:3)

Paul speaks of God's wrath as something to be revealed on a great and terrible day in the future. He says, "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. " (Rom 2:5) He says, "There will be wrath and fury." (Rom 2:8) "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things [sin] the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience." (Eph 5:6) "On account of these [sin] the wrath of God is coming." (Col 3:6)

The future wrath is the reason for the shedding of Christ's blood. "Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God." (Rom 5:9) We "wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." (1 Thess 1:10)

John: Wrath of the Lamb

In the last book of the New Testament, John sees a future time with people "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?'" (Rev 6:16-17) The Lamb is Christ. He is the Lamb of God, the Passover Lamb, the Lamb of sacrifice and atonement.[3]

Angels bring the future wrath of God. (Rev 14:19; 16:1) Then Jesus, himself, brings it. "From his [Jesus'] mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty." (Rev 19:15)

Wrath: Endless Destruction

God's wrath destroys body and soul, but this destruction is not an annihilation. The torment goes on and on, day and night, without rest forever.

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Rev 14:9-11)

Who Revealed Hell?

That scene suggests "hell fire" that we like to relegate to the Old Testament and to outmoded tent revival preaching somewhere in the Bible Belt decades ago. But get this: Jesus is the revealer of hell and hell fire.

The Old Testament hardly develops the idea of hell. It talks about Sheol and hardly describes it. Sheol is shadowy. It might be bad, but it does not appear hellish.

Jesus uses the word geenna for hell. This was the valley of Hinnom, a valley of Jerusalem. It was the open town dump that burned and smelled continually. This is Jesus' chosen picture of hell. This tells in one word more about hell than does the whole Old Testament.

It won't do any good to flee from Moses to Jesus if we are trying to avoid talk of hell and hell fire. Frankly, we'd do better running the other direction, if we could. Jesus reveals hell and hell fire in Matt 5:22, 5:29, 5:30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 23:33; Mark 9:43, 9:45, 9:47; Luke 12:5. To ignore hell, one practically must ignore Jesus.

Day of Atonement

On the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16, the High Priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat, the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, to make atonement for sin. Inside the Ark were the two Tables of the Law, the writing of condemnation against us. The blood covered that condemnation and turned away the wrath of God.

This is not outmoded history. The ark existed first in the Holy of Holies in the heavenly realm, and then a shadow or copy of it was made on earth in the days of Moses to give us some notion of sin, sacrifice, and salvation. Christ, our eternal High Priest, entered the Holy of Holies in the heavenly realm and, through the Spirit, offered his sacrifice to God. (Heb 9:11-14) The Ark goes on forever in heaven. "Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple." (Rev 11:19) Wrath is excluded from heaven only because the blood of Jesus covers it.

Who Knows about Wrath?

Jesus knows about wrath. He suffered it for us.

The denial of wrath begs the question, why did Jesus make such a project of turning away from us what did not exist? Why did the Father provide in Christ a solution looking for a problem. If there is no sin, wrath, or salvation, what were Gethsemane, the cross, and the Day of Atonement about? Why do the temple, the ark, the covenant, and the blood of Jesus go on and on in heaven, if wrath is nothing?

Magnificare peccatum -- to make sin great -- was, according to Luther's lecture on Romans of 1515-16, the sum of this Pauline epistle. Luther's entire doctrine of justification hinges on a person's existential [existenziell] experience of himself as a sinner without the possibility of coming to God. Luther's doctrine of justification was among Bonhoeffer's basic theological convictions, and thus taking sin seriously was a crucial theme for him. ... The function of the law is to reveal sin to the sinner who wishes to conceal it. This happens when the law drives the sinner to despair, from which only God's pronouncement of freedom in the gospel can deliver him. ... [Bonhoeffer] says, "Where there is no law, there is no sin. Where there is no sin, there is no forgiveness. Where there is no forgiveness, Christ came into the world and died in vain."4

Admit wrath, and receive the salvation that is in Christ Jesus. Do not be deceived and ruined by the spirit of the age in which nothing is sin and nothing is forgiven.


1.  R.V.G. Tasker, "The Biblical Doctrine of the Wrath of God," The Tyndale Lecture in Biblical Theology for 1951, (London: The Tyndale Press, 1951), p. 27.
2.  Matt 11:13-14; and Luke 16:16.
3.  John 1:29; 1:36; Acts 8:32; 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19; Rev 5:6-13; 6:1, 16; Rev 7:9-10, 14, 17; 8:1; 12:11; 13:8, 11; 14:1, 4, 10; 15:3; 17:14; 19:7, 9; 21:9, 14, 22-23, 27; 22:1, 3.
4.  Wolf Krotke, "Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther" in Peter Frick, ed., Bonhoeffer's Intellectual Formation: Theology and Philosophy in His Thought, (Tubingen: Dulde-Druck, 1961) p. 65.


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