Holman Bible Dictionary
Wrath, Wrath of God
The emotional response to perceived wrong and injustice, often translated “anger,” “indignation,” “vexation,” and “irritation.” Both humans and God express wrath.
Old Testament The wrath of God appears in the Old Testament as a divine response to human sin and injustice. When the Israelites complained to God at Taberah, “the anger of the Lord blazed hotly” (Numbers 11:10 RSV) Later, God reminded the people of various such experiences and warned, “Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness.” ( Deuteronomy 9:7 NRSV) Idolatry became the occasion for divine wrath also. Psalm 78:56-66 describes Israel's idolatry: God was “full of wrath,” “utterly rejected Israel,” and “gave his people to the sword.” The wrath of God is consistently directed towards those who do not follow His will. ( Deuteronomy 1:26-46 ; Joshua 7:1 ; Psalm 2:1-6 ) Historical calamity and disaster were to be expected when God was stirred to anger. God was wrathful over Saul's disobedience: “Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord, and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, the Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines” (1 Samuel 28:18-19 NRSV).
The Old Testament often speaks of a “day” coming in the future which will be “The great day of the Lord a day of wrath” (Zephaniah 1:14-15 NRSV). Isaiah spoke of “the day of the Lord” as “cruel, with wrath and fierce anger” ( Isaiah 13:9 NRSV) This day referred to the present day of judgment in history, as when the Assyrians conquered Israel; but it also calls to mind a future day of final judgment at the end time when all will be called to give account to God.
The wrath of God was viewed in fear and awe. Yet God provided a way to gain divine favor. Repentance turns God's wrath away from the sinner. The psalmist reminded God that He had in times past forgiven the iniquity of His people and withdrawn all of His wrath (Psalm 85:1-3 ). Jesus affirmed the Old Testament teaching about such a day. He predicted a day that will come at an unknown time when “the earth will pass away” (Mark 13:31 ; compare the entire chapter).
New Testament Jesus' teaching supports the concept of God the Father as a God of wrath who judges sin and justice. The story of the rich man and Lazarus shows the rich man in hades in torment and anguish (Luke 16:19-31 ). The story definitely speaks of the judgment of God and implies that there are serious consequences for the sinner. In Luke 13:3 ,Luke 13:3,13:5 (NRSV) Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all perish.” John 15:1-11 warns that the unfruitful branches are to be “gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” ( John 15:6 NRSV; compare Matthew 3:7 ).
God's wrath is restrained, held back from its full and final effect. John 3:36 (NRSV) records Jesus' saying “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God's wrath.” The grace of God, His unmerited favour, holds the full effect of wrath back at the same time that wrath “rests upon” the sinner.
In Romans 2:5 (NRSV), Paul spoke to those who do not repent of their sin, warning that “by your hand and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.” The image of wrath being restrained for some future release is truly awe inspiring. However, the Christian has no fear of this day, since 1Thessalonians says that Jesus “rescues us from the wrath that is coming.” ( 1 Thessalonians 1:10 NRSV). The instruments of God's wrath may be angels ( Revelation 15:1 ,Revelation 15:1,15:7 ), nations, kings, and rulers as well as natural catastrophes.
Human wrath is always suspect. We are instructed by Paul not to take revenge (Romans 12:19 ), nor to “let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26 NRSV). Fathers should not provoke children to wrath ( Ephesians 6:4 ). We must rid ourselves of “all such things—anger, wrath, malice” (Colossians 3:8 NRSV). The Old Testament psalms of lament such as Psalm 53:1 ; Psalm 137:1 show how humans can freely express their anger to God.
To realize this freedom from the domination of wrath, the gracious work of the Holy Spirit is needed to sanctify and cleanse the heart of the attitudes and feelings of wrath and anger. Romans 8:1 pictures the mind filled by the Spirit which is “life and peace” ( Romans 8:6 NRSV). Such a spirit is no longer a slave of anger and wrath but is yielded “to righteousness for sanctification” ( Romans 6:19 NRSV). There is no need to continue in the fleshly spirit of wrath for the Holy Spirit provides inner peace ( Philippians 4:4-8 ).
W. Stanley Johnson
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The Use of the Bible in Christian Ethics