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A. The Wrath of God
Romans 1:18 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
For teachers using this commentary, the most important “classroom” issue surrounding the wrath of God is definition—from God’s point of view. People see petulance and anger displayed consistently in society, and so naturally think that God’s anger and wrath are the same as what they see around them. Because the potential for outbursts of wrath is high in the human dimension, and because most of those outbursts are of the “unrighteous” variety (based on selfish or carnal motives), people are uncomfortable and insecure with the whole concept of wrath emanating from a loving God.
A key verse in this regard is James 1:20: “For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” The same word (orge) is used here as is used for God’s wrath in Romans 1:18, but James clearly separates the two. The wrath of man does not produce righteousness, therefore it is unrighteous. And yet the very same word applied to God parallels his righteousness: “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day” (Ps. 7:11). Wrath is a manifest part of God’s righteousness, whereas it is an evidence of our un righteousness.
The key to understanding God’s wrath (and taking it out of the realm of emotion, impulse, and arbitrariness) is judgment. Paul says in Romans 2:5, “You are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” Wrath comes as a result of judgment (a decision), and judgment comes as a result of comparison with a standard. Therefore, God’s wrath is always a function of his having judged something against the standard of his righteousness or his established order.
There are three ways (times) in which God judges and exercises wrath: first, on a continual, present-tense basis, as described in Romans 1. Second, on an incidental basis through the agency of earthly or heavenly agents and means: angels (2 Sam. 24:17); Israel (Ezek. 32:9–31); the Gentile nations (Isa. 10:5–6); forces of nature (Judg. 5:20); even snakes (Num. 21:6); civil rulers (Rom. 13:4); and his Son (Ps. 2:5–12). Third, at the end of history when his wrath will be exercised permanently and finally against all manner of wickedness, human and angelic (Rom. 2:5; 1 Thess. 1:10; Rev. 6:16–17). The reasons for the exercise of his wrath are generally two: to maintain and/ or restore order (either natural or spiritual), and retribution against those who have violated God’s order willfully without repentance.
God’s wrath (his judgment against violations of his standards) is not issued quickly. Scripture is clear that “the Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger … nor will he harbor his anger forever” (Ps. 103:8–9; see also Exod. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Neh. 9:17; Pss. 86:15; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nah. 1:3). God’s wrath is deliberate and is always measured against a righteous standard, which is the primary characteristic that sets it apart from the wrath of man. The wrath of God flows out of, and is always exercised to accomplish, the righteousness of God.