It is Christ who executes the wrath of God (Revelation 6:16-17; 19:15), and when he does, something occurs in the hearts of the gentile governments that causes them to be angry when the rule of the whole world is turned over to our Lord (Revelation 11:18; 19:15). This is a spiritual matter, and the anger of the nations becomes focused upon God’s people (Luke 21:23; cp. Revelation 12:14-17). This could mean Christians or Jews or both. John the Baptist claimed God’s wrath was about to come at that time in the 1st century CE (Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7), and that men should not trust in their own righteousness or the flesh to save them from it. Absolutely no one is able to stand before Christ (Revelation 6:17).
Jesus warned about the wrath that was coming upon the Jews (Luke 21:23). The parable of the vineyard concerned Jerusalem being given over to the gentiles (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19). The vine was cast into the winepress of the wrath of Almighty God (Revelation 14:19). Jerusalem, who is that great city and is spiritually called Babylon the Great (Revelation 16:19; 17:16; Revelation 11:8; cp. 2Thessalonians 1:8-9), received the fierceness of the wrath of God in 70 C.E. Josephus shows how their entire society broke down in that the lawful institutions intended for the protection of the innocent were no longer in use. Anarchy ruled the day. Nevertheless, the instruments of God’s judgment (wrath) upon the Jews shall be judged in their own time (Revelation 6:10; 19:15; Romans 3:5-6).
The wrath of God has resulted in the Jews losing their nation and their being persecuted and hated for nearly 2000 years. While this itself is not the wrath of God, it is the result of men living under God’s wrath. Men, under God’s wrath, had singled out the Jews to be punished, as though their destruction was each one’s private vendetta (Romans 2:5, 8; Revelation 14:8; 18:3). The wrath of man is like the appetite of a vulture that satisfies itself upon the weak. Therefore, when God’s protection was removed from the Jews and his wrath had weakened them, the wrath of man tortured, consumed and destroyed them.
One may ask why this was permitted to happen to the Jews and not to the rest of the world. Have the gentiles shown themselves to be better keepers of the things of God? Have the gentiles believed Christ? The answer, of course, is “No!” As for why the Jews and not the gentiles receiving God’s wrath is concerned, we are all the recipients of the wrath of God, but the Jews, indeed, have been dealt with more severely. This is because judgment must first begin with the house of God (1Peter 4:17). This Scripture primarily refers to Christians, especially Jewish Christians; but truly Israel, in the physical realm, is still God’s chosen people. He still deals with them as his own nation. This is what has always separated them from the nations round about them. Therefore, before God’s judgment could be poured out upon of the gentiles, it would first rest upon his own house, Israel. Jesus said that judgment for all the righteous blood that had been shed from Able to Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, would come upon the heads of that generation of the Jews that rejected Christ.
Secondly, the times of the gentiles must be fulfilled. God has a timetable and this includes the Gospel going to the gentiles to take from them a people of his own. What happened to the Jews, happened also as a warning to all nations (1Corinthians 10:11; cp. Jude 1:7). What kindles the wrath of God is a hard heart of unbelief and rebellion (Mark 3:1-6; Hebrews 3:7-19; 4:1-11).
There are a few things we should consider. First of all, if we have a preconceived notion of what the wrath of God is supposed to be, then we will never see the truth concerning his wrath (Matthew 9:10-13). In other words, if I believe my understanding is already sound and in no need of change, Christ, through the Spirit will not disturb my wisdom. He comes to those who have ears to hear (Matthew 13:9). When I come to him, it must be with an attitude of humility (Psalm 139:23-24) not as though I already knew what he desired to tell me. The apostles were constantly running ahead of Jesus and in so doing were not following him. They thought they knew his mind, but found they did not (Luke 18:35-43). Many of us do this today by going beyond what is written (1Corintinas 4:6), and in so doing contradict his holy word (John 10:35).
Secondly, we need to keep in mind God’s wrath is not executed in the same manner as our own wrath. My wrath, however justified, will never work the righteousness of God (James 1:20). Furthermore, the ways and thoughts of God are not my natural ways and thoughts. I should, therefore, not presume to know his mind (Isaiah 55:6-9; Romans 11:34) in those things he has reserved for himself (Deuteronomy 29:29; 32:35; Psalm 62:12; 94:1-2). Rather, if I desire to know the mind of God, it is imperative that I submit myself to him (Romans 12:1-2) and not come to him as though I am already rich (1Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5-8, 12-13).
As I consider my own righteous indignation at evil behavior, what I would probably do to bring about a better world would be to severely punish the wicked. With all the force I could muster, I would prevent them from carrying out their will, even to the point of destroying them completely. Is this not what we perceive the word of God says that our Lord will do in his time?
Having this in mind, why should anyone consider thinking that God will not do exactly as any one of us would do, if we had the power to change the world according to our will? Why should I even consider that God prefers that a man continue to sin freely without being forced to stop his perversion (Revelation 22:11)? It is precisely because vengeance, judgment and matters pertaining to death are not mine but the Lord’s (Psalm 68:20; Deuteronomy 29:29; Hebrews 10:30). God is not so much interested in our outward behavior as he is in changing our hearts (Matthew 23:25-28; Mark 7:14-24). If he changes the heart, our outward behavior would change as well. However, if our outward behavior is changed by force, our hearts remain untouched, just as the heart of the one called Legion (Luke 8:28-30) remained unchanged throughout the periods that he was chained by men. At the first opportunity, our outward behavior would change back to reflect our evil heart. Moreover, even perversion has a purpose in God’s plan (Revelation 3:15), not that our sins help him (Romans 3:5-6), but he will not allow anything to adversely affect what he wants to do. In fact, he will use our own evil hearts to bring about what he desires (Romans 9:15, 18-23; 11-26-35).
What does all this mean? Nothing less than the fact that even God’s wrath expresses his mercy and love for his wayward children (Jeremiah 2:19)! The fact, that the wrath of God gives me over to become grossly perverted, does not prevent the Lord from expressing love and mercy when he permits light to break into my dark heart. When I come to myself (Luke 15:17-18) and see the depth of my own perversion, I repent, and so shall all mankind!
The wrath of God, therefore, is not some future event. I have lived under God’s wrath before I trusted in Jesus (Ephesians 2:2-3). However, now I am commanded to walk in God’s love and not partake of his wrath, which has come upon the whole world (Ephesians 2:3; 5:6; Colossians 3:6). Therefore, it is possible that I, as a Christian, can become a partaker of the wrath of God (Romans 13:5; Revelation 18:4). This is by far not God’s intention (1Thessalonians 5:9). I am justified by the blood of Christ and, therefore, saved from the wrath of God coming upon the world. This picture is illustrated in the Old Testament by the Israelites being saved by the blood of the lamb placed on the side posts of their homes (Exodus 12:7, 12-13, 29; cp. Romans 5:9). The judgment of God was upon everyone who was outside the homes that were protected by the blood. It is there, under the blood of Christ that I am commanded to remain until his coming for me (1Thessalonians 1:10). It seems so sad and ironic that the wrath of God would rest upon the Jews, whose experience gives us this picture of escaping the wrath of God through the blood of Christ. Their hard hearts of unbelief, which grew steadily worse and worse until they, God’s chosen and entrusted with his word, finally forbade the preaching of God’s word (1Thessalonians 2:16), thus treasuring up wrath for themselves until 70 C.E. (Romans 2:5). May the light of God shine upon each of our hearts, to the end that we would open ourselves to the word of God and permit him to save us from his wrath, through the blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.