The most basic truth of the Gospel is that the righteous judgment and justified wrath of the infinitely perfect God was fully exhausted at the cross. All judgment and wrath was placed upon Jesus when “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21)
When Jesus said, “It is finished”, He declared that the judgment of God was fully satisfied and the full penalty was paid. Is. 53 describes in great detail how God poured out His righteous anger upon His Son. The New Testament says repeatedly that all judgment and wrath was “nailed to the cross”. (Col. 1:20, Col. 2:14, 1 Pet. 2:24) This freedom from wrath is for all who will believe.
In Jesus’ explanation of God’s brilliant plan to the highly educated doctor of the Law, Nicodemus, He makes it simple and clear that God was going to free everyone through giving the Son. To qualify for this freedom from wrath, a person must believe in the sufficiency of the offering of the Son.
John 3:36: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
The requirement to obey here cannot mean “keep all the rules/laws” since the scripture says no one can perfectly keep them all. He says here that we obey by “believing in the Son” and then we receive the free gift He spoke about back in verses 16-17, “God so loved the world that He gave His Son…he who believes in the Son is not judged”.
Free From the Wrath to Come
The apostles repeatedly declared that this freedom from the judgment that must come at the end of this age is the very heart of our hope.
Rom 5:9-10: “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”
1 Thess 5:9-10:“For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,”
1 Thess 1:10: “…and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.”
So, Is There No More Wrath of God?
Do these promises mean God put away His wrath forever, for everyone? Sadly, no.
The scripture is clear that the justified wrath of the holy God must be revealed against all who reject His free gift through the cross. Make no mistake, there is a day of judgment coming at the end of this age. If we reject Christ’s free gift of righteousness (unearned rightness with God) we are left to defend our own self-righteousness in comparison to God’s perfect righteousness…and we will always lose.
This judgment is not based on God’s desire to punish but on the free choice we all must make.
Paul says that those who reject God’s free gift are “…storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God…” (Rom 2:5) Take note that we do this for ourselves.
God must respond in righteousness and justice to our choice. God is not an all-powerful tyrant who is just “itching to pour out punishment”. On the contrary, “God loves the world so much that He gave His Son…any who believes in Him is not judged”! (John 3:16-17)
Jesus goes on to say “…he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18) The issue of judgment and wrath which people will bring upon themselves is not “sins” but the sin of choosing to not believe in the free gift provided by a loving God.
Love and Justice
Remember, God is completely love…and completely just. Because He is the infinitely perfect God, is both completely love and completely just…at the same time. Because He is completely love, He has provided the free gift of righteousness through Christ and He is waiting patiently until the end of this age.
Because He is completely just, He will then judge all based on His perfect righteousness. Those who have received the free gift of Christ’s perfect righteousness are justified. Those who do not, will have to justify themselves with their own grossly inferior human self-righteousness. Sadly, they will fail.
Rom 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…”
Rom 2:5: “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God…”
The context of this passage shows us that the “you” Paul refers to here are the people who have rejected the knowledge and requirements of an almighty God who is clearly revealed in all of creation.
The “Wrath” Question Has To Do With “Son-ship”
Eph 2:1-3: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath…”
Eph 5:6: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
Paul makes it clear and simple. It is based on believing, which produces “son-ship” by being “born again”. Or, choosing not to believe and remaining a “child of darkness”. He says there are “sons of God” or “children of God”; and there are “sons of disobedience” or “children of wrath”.
The word of God clearly and boldly declares that God reveals Himself through creation, by His Spirit and by His word. Any who desire a relationship with Him from their heart will find Him. He guarantees it. Those who are His through new birth, through spiritual regeneration, are forever free from judgment and wrath. This is truly good news.
All Are Not Children of God
But not everyone will choose to accept God’s free gift and become sons of God. Sadly, eternal judgment is a terrifying reality for all who reject His free gift of righteousness through the offering of Jesus on the cross.
Jesus spoke about judgment and hell on several occasions but always with a deep sadness of heart. Even when speaking harshly to the Pharisees about their hypocrisy and their refusal to hear the truth, He followed with, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!” (Luke 13:34-35)
And again, “When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42) This is a God of love who does not force Himself on people but has given people free choice…and grieves over the terrible choice that people, who should know better, are making. He knows the terrible consequences of their choice.
We who believe are empowered to live free of the fear of judgment for ourselves. But we must be moved to action by the eternal reality of the coming judgment upon others and we must sow the “word of His grace” to all we can…while there is still time.
Reach out to people, build relationships, demonstrate the hope we have in Christ, love the least among us, give generously to the mission of the Kingdom and help sow the word of His grace. Let’s passionately help grow His kingdom and help rescue people from the “wrath to come”!
Mark Drake is an internationally known author, teacher and leader. He focuses on equipping leaders around the world in New Covenant Grace.