Revisiting the Wrath of God

The wrath of God. All have heard of it. All have dreaded it. All are taught it at some point in their lives. Disasters are blamed on it. Sickness is blamed on it. Misfortune is blamed on it. Often, God’s wrath is personified as the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse– death, war, pestilence and famine– all going forth across the planet to execute God’s furious judgment on the peoples. God’s anger burns toward man, ready to smite their disobedient ways, or so the “wrath mongers” say.

But conscience compels us to challenge this assumption. Is the wrath of God consistent with the full revelation of Jesus Christ given through His life, His teachings, and most importantly, His indwelling presence within us? Does the body of Christ have a blind-spot which Satan is hiding behind, lurking unperceived by us in our thoughts and emotions?

Is it possible that Satan uses the term “the wrath of God” to incite us to hate our enemies rather than love them, to curse them rather than bless them, and to crave their torturous destruction rather than their absolute pardon. Like a dilapidated house suffering from rat infestation, is it possible our dilapidated image of God has left our souls “rath-infested” and structurally unsound?

Is Old Testament wrath the same as New Testament wrath? Is it even possible that God has continued to clarify the dynamic of wrath since the New Testament canon was written? Has God revealed more and more that our views of His wrath are less and less accurate? Is it possible that over the ages God has sought to progressively wean His elect away from our addiction to wrath, so that we can begin to see a God so full of love, power, patience and restoration that wrath has no place. No place in God’s character. No place in God’s nature. No place in God’s kingdom. No place in God’s children. What would such a God look like? How would His kingdom appear?

Here is a hard truth– the term “the wrath of God” comes from our inability to distinguish God from Satan. Because of fallen man’s hardened heart and darkened understanding, he simply does not know where God ends and Satan begins. Most all Jewish and Christian scholars agree that the Old Testament writers had a very different view of God and Satan than Jesus did. Old Testament Jews believed that Satan was a servant of God and NOT a rebel angel opposed to God’s Kingdom on EVERY level.

Simply put, the Old Testament was written from a perspective which saw Satan as an angel with a tough job, but who ultimately was just following the Lord’s orders. Jesus, in contrast, revealed in His teachings and tone that Satan was violently opposed to His Father’s will rather than humbly submitted to it. Read most any Jewish religious reference material on Satan, and you will see they believe that Satan was the death angel who smote all the Egyptian firstborn, supposedly at the Lord’s command. And not just the Egyptians. Jews still believe that Satan is the grim reaper who ultimately kills all men only at God’s sole command. The book of Job shows Satan kills with sickness (“boils”), with nature (“a great wind”), with other violent men (“Sabeans with swords”), and with supernatural power (“fire from heaven”). Satan is a master assassin who kills a million different ways, but always, the Jews believe, at the express command of God.

But in the New Testament, we get a significantly different picture. While Hebrews 2:14-15 confirms that Satan, as “the devil,” does indeed have “the power of death,” Jesus’ purpose in bearing the cross was to “deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Put even more bluntly in this passage, Jesus ascended the cross in order to “destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.”

Jesus came to destroy the works of the destroyer. 1 John 3:8. But Jesus destroyed them not with His “alleged” wrath, but with His sacrificial love. Jesus came to reveal that all forms of “death” and “violence” were enemies of God and never a part of His divine nature. 1 Corinthians 15:25-28 defines the dynamic of “death” as an “enemy” of God to be “put under His feet” until it’s “destroyed.”

Death, then, is no divine knife hanging on the Lord’s tool-belt which He wrathfully uses to slit our throats so we will learn the consequences of defying His mighty power and provoking His fierce fury. God has no fury towards us. Rather, God feels only full forgiveness toward us, forgiveness purchased by the blood-ransom of His Son. Matthew 5:38-48 confirms this. Read verse 48 first, THEN read the previous verses leading up to it. God’s perfection lies in this– He always overcomes evil with good– always. His wrath is His unrelenting goodness. His vengeance is to ultimately save and reconcile us to Himself, NEVER to destroy or torture or exile us eternally. More than this, Matthew 5:48 says we are to be just as “wrathlessly” PERFECT as is our Heavenly Father.

So WHOSE WRATH did Jesus bear at the cross? Satan’s! Jesus bore the full wrath of Satan, who has been the god and prince of this world since Adam forfeited dominion in the Garden. Satan’s wrath has infected every fallen man with lust, hate and pride. He is the father of wrath who spawns all children of wrath. The wrath Jesus DID NOT bear was the wrath of the Father. The Father has nothing but peace on earth and goodwill toward men (Luke 2:14). Obviously, our sin does keep US from being able to recognize and rightly relate to God, but it doesn’t EVER keep HIM from lovingly seeking our restoration. God doesn’t operate in wrath. Satan DOES operate in wrath, both toward us and in us. That is why the Father gave us Jesus in the first place. Understanding the “owner” of the wrath Jesus DID bear away is crucial to understanding the true nature of God.

So, the wrath Jesus bore on the cross was the wrath of Satan? Is this true? Does Satan have wrath? Oh yes. Revelation 12:12 confirms his “great wrath” is towards “the inhabitants of the earth and sea.” Did you know that the Old Testament Jews imprudently called Satan’s great wrath against David and Israel the “the anger of the Lord” in 2 Samuel 24:1. Yet, later and nearer to the coming of Jesus, the Jews improved their phrasing by calling the wrath that killed seventy thousand men “the provocation of Satan” in 1 Chronicles 21:1. So, if the “anger of the Lord” equals the “provocation of Satan,” then we are left with an inescapable conclusion– God has been wrongly blamed for Satan’s wrath.

What does Jesus say about this? Did He ever use the term “the wrath of God?” No! In fact, there was a time when Jesus could have adopted and approved the term “the wrath of God,” BUT HE CHOSE TO OMIT IT FROM HIS MESSAGE AND MINISTRY. In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus is declaring His purpose on the earth by quoting Isaiah 61:1-3. This purpose included, “preaching the gospel to the poor, healing the brokenhearted, preaching deliverance to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Now notice this. Something huge is missing from His quote of Isaiah, something that Jesus did not want associated with His name. JESUS VERY CAREFULLY OMITTED ONE KEY PURPOSE SPECIFICALLY MENTIONED IN ISAIAH 61:2 WHICH SAYS, “TO PROCLAIM…THE DAY OF VENGEANCE OF OUR GOD.” Jesus did not want the concept of wrath or vengeance to be associated with His ministry in ANY way. This was His chance to make it clear and notorious where He stood on the wrath of God. His decision? Omit it totally from His divine mission statement.

The point here is that God is not the one dispensing out wrathful judgments of woe and destruction like “Dirty Harry” on a bullet binge. Jesus said in John 5:22, “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son.” Then, three chapters later, in John 8:15, Jesus said, “I judge no man.” No bullets here from Father, Son or Holy Ghost.

Jesus elaborates on this in John 12:47-48, “And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not:, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receive not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, He gave a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that His commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.”

Jesus could not be clearer in the above passages that the only ones who definitely DON’T judge our sin and unbelief are Jesus and the Father. But WHO is the mysterious one who DOES seek to judge us, the “one” mentioned in John 12:48? Well, there are two suspects– Moses and Satan. John 5:45 says, “Do not think I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.” Does this verse suggest that Moses is some divine prosecutor who accuses us in Heaven’s courts? Yes, but elsewhere we are told that the identity of the Heavenly prosecutor is SATAN. Revelation 12:9-10 says that “Satan” “who deceives the whole world” is “the accuser of our brethren” who “accused them before our God day and night.” Paul warns us not to, “fall into the condemnation of the devil.” 1 Timothy 3:12.

So, is it Satan or is it Moses who seeks to judge us into death and Hell? Well, in a way, it is both. Satan is the “accuser,” but with “what” does he accuse? The answer: MOSES’ LAW. Satan uses Moses’ Law to condemn and judge us with the curses of Moses’ Law. Satan is the inflicter of the curses of Deuteronomy 28, Moses’ Law in other words, which renders violators vulnerable to all the Hellish oppressions there listed: broken health, broken joy, broken strength, broken love, broken business, broken friendships, broken marriages, broken families, broken nations— all broken by the curses of the Law of Moses.

Here Satan’s sinister snare becomes clear. He lured men to believe they could live AS God by ruling their own lives with their own righteousness “as God” (Genesis 3:5) RATHER than living by the righteousness which is OF and FROM and IN God (Romans 10:3; Philippians 3:9). The only requirement was that they had to prove their righteousness by following the law perfectly, just as God did. Satan implied it was certainly doable and that men would become empowered gods once they chose the forbidden fruit of SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS.

But here was the terrible trick of it– James 2:10, Galatians 3:10 and Deuteronomy 27:26 all reveal the horrible secret of Moses’ Law. It is this “mother of all technicalities” that snares EVERY man who has EVER lived: whoever commits ANY violation of Moses’ Law, no matter how small the violation may appear to be, is as guilty as if he violated the ENTIRE Law. Like the old saying– in for a penny, in for a pound. Since Scripture is clear that no man has EVER been able to PERFECTLY KEEP THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW (other than Jesus) and that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23), then ALL men are ultimately subject to ALL the curses of the Law listed in Deuteronomy. These curses, individually and in tandem, comprise Satan’s access and power in this world to afflict and attack us with his wrath. THIS was the wrath that Jesus ransomed us FROM at the cross.

When Jesus said in Matthew 10:28 to, “fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell,” He was not talking about God, but Satan. From whom did Jesus take the keys of death and Hell mentioned in Revelation 1:18? Well, we know that Hebrews 2:14-15 says that Satan had the “power of death” before Jesus’ victory at the cross. We also know Jesus descended into Hell and “led captivity captive.” Ephesians 4:8-10. Theologians call this “the harrowing of Hell,” which culminated in Colossians 2:15 when Jesus stripped all demonic powers of their hellish armor and authority. Satan destroys with death and Hell, not God.

It has always been largely believed Satan ruled “the gates of Hell,” against whom Jesus said His Church would “prevail.” Matthew 16:18-19. Hell was not only seen as a POW camp for lost souls after death, but “the gates of Hell” were also seen as a demonic power center from which Satan operated his destructions. Gates in the ancient world always symbolized the power center of a city. Satan’s power always works various destructions toward men, both in the land of the living and in the land of the unrighteous dead. These destructions consisted of Satan’s ongoing torture toward the dead imprisoned souls in Hell, as well as Satan’s crippling oppressions toward the souls still alive upon the earth.

Many ancient Jewish and early Christian writers link closely the concepts of Satan and Hell (literally “Hades”). See Testament of Reuben 4:6-7; Matthew 16:18-19; 1 Corinthians 15:24-27; Revelation 20:7-10, 13-14. So strong is the perceived connection between Satan and Hell, that renowned scholar W. Manson renders “gates of Hell” in Matthew 16:18 as “Satan-Hades.” In other words, “Satan” is “Hell” personified and “Hell” is “Satan” objectified. Jesus has given us the keys of the kingdom to defeat all forms of Satanic-death and Satanic-Hell. Jesus through the cross crushed these two demonic dynamics once and for all, and now waits for His Church to rest in that victory by faith.

So let’s review. God is NEVER wrathful. Satan IS ALWAYS wrathful. Neither Jesus nor His Father ever operate in the dynamics of wrath, condemnation or judgment. Rather, they only operate in “life everlasting.” Jesus absorbed all Satanic wrath both TOWARD US and IN US.

Ephesians 2:3 says that we are “children of wrath” ruled by “the lusts of our flesh.” Jesus said to those opposed to God’s kingdom, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.” John 8:44. Do you see? “Lusts” and “wrath” are connected closely in both “the children of wrath” and “the children of Satan.” This is because they are one and the same. Satan is the father of wrath. His DNA spawns all sin and condemnation. To be a child of wrath is to be a child of Satan. “He that committeth sin is of the devil… In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” 1 John 3:8, 10.

So what are we make of the term “the wrath of God?” At first blush, all have presumed that “the wrath of God” describes wrath coming FROM God TOWARD man. This presumes the word “of” is an OBJECTIVE GENITIVE. But, did you know that an alternate Greek reading of the “the wrath of God” describes wrath coming FROM man TOWARD God? This would treat the word “of” as a SUBJECTIVE GENITIVE. The Greek language allows for the word “of” to describe both the action “toward” a noun as well as the action “from” a noun. For instance, the term “the fear of God” describes man’s awe TOWARD God, NOT God’s awe FROM Himself. “Of” here is an OBJECTIVE GENITIVE. In contrast, the term “the faith of Abraham” describes faith POSSESSED BY Abraham, and NOT our faith TOWARD Abraham. “Of” here is a SUBJECTIVE GENITIVE.

Let me give another example. The term “the blasphemy of the Spirit” describes man committing an act of blasphemy TOWARD the Holy Spirit, not Blasphemy FROM the Holy Spirit, which means “of” here is being used as an OBJECTIVE GENITIVE. Conversely, the term “the coming of the Son of Man” refers “to the coming” being FROM Jesus and not to somebody else coming TOWARD Jesus, which means “of” here is being treated a SUBJECTIVE GENITIVE.

We must be led by the Spirit when choosing our genitives. It can make all the difference. Now, I freely admit that most have traditionally translated “the wrath of God” as an OBJECTIVE GENITIVE, which means that WRATH IS FROM GOD. I even grant you that the perspective of some (not all) of the New Testament saints may have intended the term to understood as destructive wrath coming FROM God. But, we need to remember that many of these first-century Jews, like the Apostle Paul and John the Baptist, were immersed in apocalyptic Jewish teaching which stressed God’s soon-coming violent wrath against sinners. And in fact, John the Baptist and Paul are the only two New Testament saints, other than Revelation’s author, who ever use the term “the wrath of God”– John once and Paul three times. Moreover, The Anchor Bible Commentary proposes that the author of Revelation was one of John the Baptist’s surviving followers because of the apocalyptic language and similarity to John the Baptist’s message and tone. Israel was entrenched in their wrathful view of God, a view strongly ingrained in them for well over a thousand years.

BUT, what if God’s progressive revelation of His nature, first revealed in seed form in the New Testament, then fully grown and harvested by the maturing Church in the ages to follow, ultimately reveals that “the wrath of God” is better understood as a SUBJECTIVE GENITIVE, which means that the wrath described in the Bible is, in reality, OUR WRATH TOWARD GOD.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-8, as well as several other passages, contemplate that later ages of the Church will receive a fuller revelation regarding “the man of sin” and “the man of perdition,” revelation that now is being “withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.” Verse 5. What if our corporate growth up into the full headship of Christ requires that NOW is the appointed time to revisit “the wrath of God” and allow the Holy Ghost to reveal the accurate use of the term “of” in the term “the wrath of God?” The reason as to why now? So that we can demolish that most ancient of strongholds– the mental stronghold that believes God is angry, violent and destructive toward those that fail or reject Him. The stronghold that says our loving Father is a killer of children and bringer of disease and oppression upon His enemies. The stronghold that wrongly justifies our own Satanic-infested wrath and ultimate ill-will toward our enemies. Nothing defiles our image of God more than this bitter stronghold.

The truth NOW revealed is that Satan is the “son of perdition,” who sits in the temple, being worshipped as he pretends to be God. Verses 3 and 4. Could it be that our worship of a “wrathful” God is, in reality, Satan disguising himself as the God of wrath? If we harbor bloodthirsty thoughts and feelings of wrath upon our enemies, thinking that we are merely agreeing with the “dark and terrible” judgments of God by which He exercises justice upon the peoples, then what are the consequences and dangers IF we are wrong?

The answer is in Luke 9:52-56, where the disciples thought they were serving the God of wrath by offering to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans who had just rejected Jesus. They were merely doing what Elijah had done in the Old Testament by calling down killing-fire on those who had mocked or rejected God. Jesus’ response? “He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.'” SO THIS IS THE DANGER: IF WE STILL OPERATE IN WHAT WE THINK IS THE WRATH OF GOD, WE CAN CALL ALL SORTS OF VERBAL, MENTAL, PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL FIRE DOWN ON OUR ENEMIES, BELIEVING WE ARE SERVING GOD THE ENTIRE TIME. BUT IN TRUTH, WE KNOW NOT WHAT SPIRIT WE ARE OF, WHICH IS JUST ANOTHER WAY OF SAYING WE ARE WALKING IN SATAN’S WRATH-SPIRIT RATHER THAN GOD’S LOVE-SPIRIT.

Pastor and author Tim Cooper once penned the question, “Is it possible that Jesus is the revealed wrath of God?” I say YES! This would prove that the right way to use the genitive “of” is to see that the cross revealed our wrath TOWARD GOD and NOT His wrath toward us. Jesus absorbed all our Satan-induced wrath and did not strike back, instead praying for our forgiveness and tenderly declaring that we know not what we do. He overcomes all enemy wrath with His pure nature of sacrificial love and merciful goodness.

Jesus not only preached Matthew 5:38-48, He lived it. Jesus did not operate out of an “eye for an eye spirit,” but instead “resisted not evil,” and “turned the other cheek.” He let His killers have both His coat and cloak. He went the extra mile dying not only for their sins, but for the sins of the entire world. Jesus refused to “hate his enemies,” instead “loving His enemies and blessing them which despitefully used and persecuted Him.” Jesus truly was “perfect as His heavenly Father was perfect,” in that He overcame the sum of all evil with the sum of all good. Jesus is now waiting for His beloved bride and body and Church to do the same– to love as He loved, “without wrath and doubting.” 1 Timothy 2:8. When the Church has washed all its wrath away, the Bride will have made herself ready. And then we shall see Him as He is– face to face and glory to glory.