“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Soon, billions of people will be forced by dire circumstances to seriously contemplate God’s love and God’s wrath. Earth is rapidly approaching a rendezvous with God’s wrath, and now is the time to consider the harmony that operates within God’s love and wrath. God is not internally conflicted. His love and justice operate in perfect harmony, and this harmony is not difficult to understand if a person is willing to consider all that the Bible has to say about these two matters.
John 3:16 may be one of the most popular verses in the Bible, but very few people realize that it describes two different levels of God’s love, which makes a very interesting study. God deals with mankind on two distinct levels: One is “corporate love” and the other is “love for individuals.” Sometimes God’s actions on one level make His action appear inconsistent when viewed from the other level, so a closer look at these issues may help alleviate the confusion.
God is Angry when People or Nations Corporately Violate His Moral Laws
The Bible declares that God, a God of love, destroyed all but eight people with a flood in Noah’s day. (Genesis 6–9) The Bible also declares that God, a God of love, will destroy every wicked person at the end of the thousand years. (Revelation 20) These actions seem completely inconsistent with a God of love. It may surprise you that God’s omnipotent and omniscient character of love does not respond with the same type of impatience and anger that humans do. God does get angry (Deuteronomy 32:22; Hebrews 3:11), but the basis for His indignation is never self-centered. Corporately speaking, God’s anger is aroused when a majority of people in a city or nation openly and defiantly violate the moral values necessary for the well being of society. God hates wickedness. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10) He becomes especially angry when lawlessness and immoral conduct reach a point where the oncoming generation (that is, innocent children) have no choice but to experience the deadly and painful consequences of their fathers’ sins. (See Exodus 20:5 and Jeremiah 32:17–19.)
The curse of sin is inescapable. History reveals that no nation or civilization can save itself from the slippery slope of moral degeneracy. It is just a matter of time before a majority of people within a city or nation will fail to exalt or heed righteous counsel. When this occurs, God’s wrath is aroused because He knows that future generations will be ruined from birth. (Genesis 18:20; Jonah 12:2; Colossians 3:5–6) Even though the city of Nineveh temporarily repented of its wickedness after Jonah warned them of God’s coming wrath, the Ninevites eventually returned to their wicked ways (Nahum 1:14) and God responded by sending King Nebuchadnezzar to destroy them. God also used Nebuchadnezzar as “His servant” to destroy Israel, His own people. (Jeremiah 25:9)
God’s intimate view of man’s behavior and moral degeneracy (1 Kings 16:7) explains why a God of love required ancient Israel to kill every man, woman, child, and all livestock belonging to the Amalekites. (1 Samuel 15:3) When nations become hopelessly evil and defiant, God may first send “redemptive” judgments to see if the people will repent. (Ezekiel 14:12–21) If the people will not repent, God either destroys them Himself or raises up a destroyer to eliminate them from Earth. This truly is an act of love so that future generations can live and enjoy the land previously occupied by a decadent and degenerate people. (Leviticus 18:24–25) Innocent people may perish in these corporate events, but this does not mean that all are eternally lost! The Bible indicates that Rahab, the prostitute, was saved when Jericho was destroyed. (See James 2:25.) The Bible indicates that Daniel and some of his friends were saved from death when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem. (Daniel 1) However, the Bible also indicates that sometimes God’s people perish as a result or consequence of His wrath! (Revelation 6:9–11; 17:6)
Unfortunately, corporately speaking, children rarely rise to a higher, more noble standard of conduct than that of their parents. Children may have more materialistic wealth, but seldom do they embrace a higher standard of moral conduct. Man’s nature is sinful and attracted to rebellion and wickedness. Each generation of teens push the envelope of decency, and each generation delights in greater rebellion. As generations come and go, each generation becomes more ignorant of God’s will, and then it insults God with greater indifference and degeneracy than their parents did. This slippery slope leads each successive generation into greater wickedness.
When we violate God’s design for living, the suffering index increases, and agony and death occur. There comes a point within man’s misery where God’s patience runs out and He takes matters into His own hands by cauterizing the cancer of sin. Ironically, what God is unable to achieve through patience and longsuffering with individuals, He can sometimes achieve through His wrath. (2 Peter 2) It is so important to properly understand both levels of God’s love. In His love, God does all He can to save the maximum number of individuals, and at appropriate times, He must “prune back” the curse of sin so that the people of Earth will not self-destruct or drown in wickedness.
Does God Protect His Saints from His Wrath?
Many Christians believe that God protects His saints from persecution and suffering. This idea is “theological ear candy.” Beginning with Abel, scan down through the centuries of recorded history, review the persecution of God’s people, and you will find many biblical and present day examples of persecution and death of Christians. Under the spotlight of all this evidence, how can anyone believe that God will shield His saints? Jesus told His disciples, “‘No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.’ . . . . All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” (John 15:20; 16:1–2) Did you know that the traditional understanding is that nine of the twelve disciples were martyred for their faith?
The book of Daniel indicates that God handed “His saints” over to the little horn power for 1,260 years (538-1798) of persecution. (Daniel 7:25) The book of Revelation indicates that many saints will perish during the Great Tribulation. “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. . . This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.’ ” (Revelation 6:9; 14:12–13)
God may have His own reasons why He allows His saints to be persecuted and put to death, but I will offer two reasons I believe are important. First, persecution and hardship for Christ’s sake separates the sheep from the goats, the “wannabes” from the committed. When faithfulness to God and His commandments comes with a serious price, only those who are wealthy in the currency of salvific faith are not ashamed or afraid to pay the price. (See Daniel 3 and Mark 8:34–37.) Second, God uses His suffering saints to demonstrate to unbelievers the importance of His Word and the reality of His sustaining grace. When unbelievers see the suffering that God’s saints are willing to endure because of their faith in God, they are forced to witness God’s presence and His sustaining grace within His suffering people. This is the most powerful testimony that a human being can give, and God allows His saints to suffer at times so that He might save many unbelievers.
The Bible teaches that God has three types of wrath which are outlined in the following paragraphs:
1. Redemptive and Destructive Judgments: We have discussed how persistent rebellion and degenerate behavior causes God’s wrath. When the limits of God’s patience are reached, He deals with rebellion. His wrath sometimes comes in two phases. First, there are redemptive judgments and if they are not effective, He sends destructive judgments. We find both phases of God’s wrath in the book of Revelation. The seven trumpets are seven redemptive judgments and the seven bowls are seven destructive judgments.
2. The Consequences for Wrong Doing: If we ignorantly or willfully violate a physical or moral law, an injurious consequence follows. This consequence is called “wrath.” Paul wrote, “Because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.” (Romans 4:15) If a man accidentally falls off of the roof while cleaning the gutters, he will likely suffer some injury (a form of wrath) because the law of gravity will propel him toward the ground with enough force to break his neck and other bones.
If a man engages in adultery (violating the seventh commandment), that man will suffer wrath when his spouse learns of his wrong doing. Of course, adulterers may try to cover up their transgression to avoid the wrath they are due, but sin will surely find them out. (Numbers 32:23) We reap what we sow. (Galatians 6:7) These two examples show that whether a physical or moral law is violated, injurious consequences follow and these consequences are a form of wrath.
3. The Penalty for Sin Is Eternal Death: When Adam and Eve were put in the Garden of Eden, they were placed under the obligation of law. God said, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Genesis 2:17, KJV, underline mine)
Adam and Eve were to be executed on the very day they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree because the penalty for sin is death. (Note: The death of Adam and Eve was stayed because the Father accepted the offer of Jesus to mediate for man and die in man’s place. This stay of execution will be lifted at the end of the 1,000 years and after justly suffering for their wicked deeds, the wicked will be put to death.)
This may seem strange, but the penalty for sin is death by execution. Jesus demonstrated this penalty by dying on the cross. Every sacrificial lamb that died in the temple service also demonstrated this truth. These lambs could not die of natural causes. Jesus did not die of natural causes. The death that is common to all mankind at the present time IS NOT the penalty for sin. Instead, death from accidents, old age, and disease is a consequence of sin (wrath #2).
The penalty for sin (wrath #3) will be imposed upon the wicked at the end of the 1,000 years when God executes the wicked with fire. Because the penalty for sin is death by execution, Jesus was executed on the cross. (1 Thessalonians 2:14–15) Other than Jesus who became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), no wicked person has yet experienced the penalty for sin (wrath #3).
For God So Loved the World
In review, God has three types of wrath: Divine judgments (redemptive and destructive); the consequences for wrong doing; and the penalty for wrong doing. I believe we need to know there are three distinct types of wrath because God wants everyone to know that all of His faithful children will escape the penalty for sin. This is what Paul meant when he wrote: “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath [execution for our sins] but to receive salvation [eternal life] through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us [He was executed in our place] so that, whether we are awake or asleep [in the grave], we may live together with him.” (1 Thessalonians 5:9–10, insertions mine) “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath [the penalty for sin] through him!” (Romans 5:9, insertions mine)
I hope that you can see that these verses do not support the notion of Christians leaving Earth before God’s wrath begins. On the contrary, the book of Revelation indicates several times that the saints of God will be on Earth during the Great Tribulation and for the two reasons presented earlier, they will experience persecution and wrath during the Great Tribulation. Hopefully, the following texts will now make more sense in light of the information we have covered:
“He [the beast] was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. . . . If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints. . . .This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.” (Revelation 13:7, 10; 14:12, insertion mine)
Now that we have considered that God has two levels of love and three kinds of wrath, I hope John 3:16 shines brighter than ever before. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not [eternally] perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, insertion mine) Think about this, God loved the world enough to give us His Son and the words, “whoever believes in Him” refers to individuals, like you and me.