Look: “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?’” (Revelation 6:15-17)
The day of Jesus’ return, when He will judge the living and the dead and usher in the new heavens and the new earth, will not be a happy time for those who have relied on their own wisdom, who have wielded power without the call or guidance of God.
It won’t be a happy day for anyone, “slave and free,” if they haven’t trusted in Christ to spare them from the wrath that we reap when we set out to be our own gods (Genesis 3:5).
In fact, absent repentance and faith in Christ, we cannot be saved from the wrath to come (Matthew 3:7).
Wrath, as I understand it, is less an action of God, than it is the inevitable result of living life contrary to the will of God. We choose wrath when we choose not to follow Christ. Wrath (and death) belong to us when we fail to turn from sin and fail to trust in Christ, Who alone can give us new life and grace. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
According to John’s vision, those who have gone their own ways (Isaiah 53:6; Proverbs 16:25), will beg God to destroy them rather than to be forced to come into the presence the blinding holiness of the Lamb or deal with His wrath.
Listen: As uncomfortable as it is, I need to share this truth with others.
God says, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23)
People need to hear about the wrath to come in order to know God’s desire for them to avoid it.
Also, I must be careful that in “handling the holy,” I don’t take God and His grace for grantedH, that I not become immune to His call for continuing repentance and belief in Christ.
This must be part of what the preacher in Hebrews 6:4-6, is getting at when he says: “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (I readily confess not to fully understanding all of the implications of these words.)
Finally, I need to call out self-righteousness, in myself and others. There are broods of hypocritical vipers in Christ’s Church today (Matthew 3:7). They’re weeds among the wheat and Christ will deal with them at the judgment (Matthew 13:24-30). They’re wolves in lamb’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). They’re “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27-28). They turn Christian faith into a series of dos and don’ts. (Although they themselves fail to keep their preferred versions of “Biblical morality.”) People must be warned about them and their capacity to tempt us away from humble faith (Galatians 6:1).
Respond: Daily, it seems, in ways I haven’t experienced before, I am being called upon to speak the hard truth about:
- How the God of the universe views sin and self-righteousness.
- How God wants desperately to save us and how Christ’s death and resurrection brings that salvation to those who repent and believe.
- How we must not see the gift of salvation as our achievement or reflective of our virtue. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Wrath is real. People who have run from God throughout their lives or made God into a pliant caricature who approves of our sins, will run from wrath on the day of Jesus' return. But God’s grace overcomes wrath for those who repent and believe, not just as a rote affirmation or in a single thrilling moment, but all through our lives--in this ups, the downs, and everywhere in between--as we live in humble communion with Christ and His Church.
Today, help me to heed this call, the call You give to every Christian, Lord. In Jesus’ name.[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]