John “saw another sign in heaven… seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete” (Revelation 15:1). What is God’s “wrath”, and is it like human wrath?
Many people see God as angry and vengeful, easily offended and intolerant of “bad” behavior, especially of anything that might be “fun”. This picture totally misrepresents God, who created mankind to live in the Garden of Eden (the Hebrew word Eden means pleasure). “God is love”, and whatever the wrath of God is, it must be consistent with His most basic characteristic, love.
Throughout the scriptures “the wrath of God” is a phrase used to describe the destructive actions which God must take against human beings. For example, in response to the sin of the children of Israel God warned them, “My wrath will become hot, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives shall be widows and your children fatherless” (Exodus 22:24).
We should not assume from this text that God is interested in having widows and orphans, or that he somehow loses control of His temper. It simply says that because of certain types of behavior (in this case the previous verses mention sorcery, bestiality, sacrifices to idols, and oppression of strangers, widows and orphans) God will “kill you with the sword”.
For God to allow or even cause death should not seem so unusual in a world of sin where everyone dies eventually. In certain circumstances most people consider death to be a blessing, such as for those who are suffering terribly from a terminal illness. And there is no more terminal illness than sin, which causes pain and suffering both to the victim and to those around him. When God finally does pour out His wrath, He has good reasons.
One of the reasons for God’s wrath is to protect His children from their enemies. David, hunted by Saul, wrote, “Deliver me from my enemies, O my God… for look, they lie in wait for my life… Consume them in wrath, consume them, that they may not be…” (Psalms 59:1,2,13).
This is the reason for the wrath of God that is expressed in the Seven Last Plagues. The oppressive religio-political system known as Babylon, led by the Beast, will attempt to destroy the people of God through the Mark and Number of the Beast and the death decree. God will intervene, not just to keep his children from dying, but also to prevent the deceived followers of the Beast from bringing upon themselves the guilt of having killed the children of God.
God sometimes has to pour out His wrath on His own children. This can happen if their sin threatens their relationship with Him, in which case He may allow trouble to chasten them and bring them to repentance. This is not to say that God will continue to inflict his redemptive wrath upon those who determinedly reject his workings. He always respects our free will, and those who reject Him will ultimately be left to the choices they have made.
The main purpose of God’s wrath is to bring an end to sin. There can never be joy, peace and harmony in the universe as long as sin exists. For the good of all of creation, God must bring sin to an end. But this means that sinners who refuse to let go of sin must cease to exist as well.
Since God must bring sin to an end but “is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), His wrath is always the last resort after every effort to bring about repentance has failed. The history of the Israelites when they went into exile is an example— “The Lord God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy” (2 Chronicles 36:15,16).
God calls the destruction of sin and sinners His “strange act” (Isaiah 28:21), strange because He is the source of life and it is His nature to bless. “I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies’ says the Lord” (Ezekiel 18:32).
God’s plea has always been, “Yield yourselves to the Lord;… and serve the Lord your God, that the fierceness of His wrath may turn away from you” (2 Chronicles 30:8). “Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die?” (Ezekiel 18:31).
The Bible definitely does not teach that God’s wrath is a way of “getting back at” or “getting even with” those who have displeased him. The idea that God would torment people for eternity as a punishment for a life of misbehavior or for rejecting and insulting Him is completely against God’s character. God destroys “those who hate Him” because they could never be happy living eternally in a universe without sin.
Thus Paul says, “It is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you… when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).
The phrase “everlasting destruction” does not mean everlasting torment, but rather destruction that lasts forever. Jeremiah put it this way, “For the Lord is the God of recompense, He will surely repay… and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not awake’, says the King, whose name is the Lord of hosts” (Jeremiah 51:56,57).
For more information on this subject and scriptural support see section 15: The Wrath of God and the sections that follow.