The day of “wrath” is coming when the wicked will pay the ultimate price for their disobedience to God – Romans 2:5.
According to Paul, the proclamation of the gospel unveils two forces that are at work in the world – “righteousness” and “wrath.” But they will produce two very different results – “salvation” and “destruction.” Which result anyone reaps will depend on his or her response to the gospel, for it is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”
In the gospel, the “righteousness of God is being revealed from faith for faith.” Here, “being revealed” translates a present tense verb, apokaluptetai, meaning “reveal, disclose, unveil, uncover.” The present tense signifies an action in progress, that is, this is an ongoing process – (Romans 1:16-17).
The “righteousness” of God, His faithfulness, is revealed whenever Jews and Gentiles respond in faith to the gospel. Thus, there is a definite present tense to His “righteousness,” which He demonstrates by saving men and women who respond in faith.
However, at the same time, His “wrath” is also “being revealed from heaven” against all “who possess the truth in unrighteousness.” Present “wrath” is evidenced by the very sins practiced by the wicked. God gives those who reject His gospel over to the very sins they crave (“Wherefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness”). Their sins demonstrate that, even now, they are under “wrath.” And they validate God’s coming judicial sentence on them. Elsewhere, the Apostle even refers to such men as the “children of wrath,” for they are under divine “wrath” – (Romans 1:18-32, Ephesians 2:3).
Thus, in Romans, Paul contrasts two present processes: “righteousness” and “wrath.” Both occur in the present age whenever the gospel is proclaimed. But there is also a coming “day” when God will impose His judicial ruling on both the righteous and the unrighteous. For the latter, it will be the “day of wrath,” but for the former, a time of salvation:
- (Romans 2:5-11) – “But after your hardness and impenitent heart you are storing up for yourselves wrath on the day of wrath and revelation of the judicial sentence of God, who will render to every man according to his works: to them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, everlasting life; but for them that are factious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish on every soul of man that works evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek; but glory and honor and peace to every man that works good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek, for there is no respect of persons with God.”
- (Romans 13:11-12) – “And this, knowing the season, that already it is time for you to awake out of sleep: for now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed. The night is far spent, and the day is at hand: let us, therefore, cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.”
In the preceding passages, Paul’s logic indicates that the wicked and the righteous receive either “wrath” or salvation at the same time, presumably, on the same final day. The sinner may already be under the “wrath of God,” but that is a process that will culminate in his or her final sentence on the last day. For the “sons of disobedience,” His “wrath is coming.” Likewise, the righteous will receive “salvation” at that time; that is, everlasting life in the age to come – (Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:6).
For example, to the church in Thessalonica, Paul wrote that, even now, Jesus is “rescuing us from the coming wrath.” Deliverance occurs whenever a man or woman “turns from idols to serve the living and true God.” And his use of two present tense verbs clarifies that the process is ongoing, “rescuing” and “coming” – (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
But one day, the “wrath” will come. For the unprepared, the “Day of the LORD” will arrive “like a thief in the night,” bringing with it “unexpected destruction… and in no way will they escape.” Believers, on the other hand, will not experience “destruction” because they live in the “light,” and because God has not appointed them “for wrath, but for acquiring salvation.” Thus, Paul identifies the time of “wrath” with the “Day of the LORD.” But elsewhere, he also associates the “gathering” of the saints to Jesus with that same day. Thus, on the same final day, both salvation and wrath will be dispensed – (1 Thessalonians 5:1-9, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, 1 Corinthians 1:8).
In Revelation, when the “Lamb” opened the “sixth seal,” the entire creation was shaken to its core. The “stars of heaven fell…and every mountain and island were moved out of their place.” All men fled in a futile attempt to hide from the “wrath of the Lamb.” It was the “great day of the wrath” of the “Lamb” and of “Him who sits on the throne.” Regardless of political or social status, no one was “able to stand” before the onslaught of the “wrath of the Lamb.”
Not coincidentally, the language used to portray the events of the “sixth seal” draws heavily from several Old Testament passages about the “Day of the LORD” – (Revelation 6:12-17, Isaiah 2:1013:9-10, Joel 2:28-32).
In contrast to the opening of the “sixth seal,” John saw the men who had the “seal of God” portrayed as an innumerable multitude that was “coming out of the great tribulation standing before the throne and the Lamb.” This group was composed of men who had “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” and so, they were well able to “stand” before him – (Revelation 7:9-17).
When the “seventh trumpet” sounded, the “twenty-four elders who sit before God on their thrones” declared that the “time of your wrath came, the time of the dead to be judged and to give their reward to the saints.” On that day, the wicked were judged and the righteous rewarded. And with God’s “wrath,” those men who were “destroying the earth” were themselves “destroyed” – (Revelation 11:15-19).
When the “seventh bowl of wrath” was emptied on the earth, a “great voice” declared, “It is finished,” just as John was informed at the start of the series. The “seven last plagues,” the “bowls of fury,” would bring the “wrath of God” to its consummation. That meant that “Babylon,” the “Great Harlot” that had persecuted the saints would drink fully of the “cup of the wine of the fury of His wrath.” As a result, “every island fled away, and the mountains were not found,” a verbal link to the “sixth seal” when “every mountain and island was moved out of its place” – (Revelation 15:1, 16:17-21).
The vivid images from the Book of Revelation tell the same story as the Apostle in his epistles. The “day of wrath” is coming when the disobedient who rejected the gospel will reap their full reward. Like the men of Judea who “killed the Lord Jesus” and opposed the proclamation of the gospel, they have “filled up their sins,” and so, on that final day, “wrath will come upon them to the uttermost” – (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16).
In the New Testament, the “day of wrath” coincides with the “Day of the LORD.” The arrival of that day will mean the destruction of the wicked. But it will also result in the salvation of the saints, those who are being “rescued from the coming wrath” by the Lord Jesus Christ. The same day will bring final destruction on the unrighteous but vindication and reward for those who embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the end, what differentiates the wicked from the righteous, and their respective fates, is how they respond to the gospel. For anyone who responds in faith it is “the power for salvation.”
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