John 3:31–36 (ESV) — 31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
The title of this Diving Deeper lesson outline comes from John 3:36, “but the wrath of God remains on him”.
• These eight words seem to be so much at odds with John 3:16, that we must try and reconcile them.
• And in so doing, we will learn just how much the sinner is at enmity with God.
• There is no autonomous, neutral stance!
But to set up that discussion, we need to get a general sense of the “heavenly” and “earthly” elements of our text today.
1) THE HEAVENLY
John tells us that Jesus “comes from heaven”, and because of that He:
• Is above all
• Bears witness to heavenly things
• Utters the Father’s words
• Has the Spirit without measure
• Has been given all things
By implication, then, whatever Jesus teaches is the transcendent and absolute Truth!
• And with the fact of His resurrection, all that he taught was shown to have been true; his ministry was vindicated.
• John 2:22 (ESV) — 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
No surprises here, but there is another element that John discusses.
2) THE EARTHLY
John goes on to tell us those “who belong to the earth” (John the Baptist specifically and humanity generally) respond to the heavenly (Jesus) in either one of two ways.
• There is no third choice.
• There is no neutral stance.
And this was no different in the OT.
• Joshua 24:15 (ESV) — 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
• 1 Kings 18:21 (ESV) — 21 And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.
1st Choice – Believe in Him:
John describes these people as –
• Receiving the testimony (vs. 33) – “receives his testimony”
• Acknowledging the truth of God (vs. 33) – “sets his seal to this, that God is true”
• Entering into, now and at death, eternal life (vs. 36) – “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life”
o “The present tense “has” in the phrase “has eternal life” indicates that eternal life is not merely a future expectation but already a present experience” – A. Kostenberger.
2nd Choice (Man’s Default Position) – Do Not Believe in Him:
John describes these people as –
• Speaking in an “earthly” way (vs. 31) – “speaks in an earthly way”
• Rejecting the testimony of Jesus (vs. 32) – “no one receives his testimony”
• They will not see life (vs. 36) – “shall not see life”
• The wrath of God remains on them (vs. 36) – “but the wrath of God remains on them”
o Please notice that it does not come upon them, but remains on them.
o Being under the wrath of God is humanity’s default position.
o Therefore, logically, those that believe are removed outside of God’s wrath!
Based on what does this movement or transaction of believers relationship to wrath occur?
• Romans 5:9 (ESV) — 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
• 1 Thessalonians 1:10 (ESV) — 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
• 1 Thessalonians 5:9 (ESV) — 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
In order to tie this in with what we have learned thus far in John 3, who are those that are “not destined” for wrath?
• Those that Jesus’ trusts
• The born again
• Those that “look upon” Jesus’ work on the cross in belief
Now, what is the wrath of God from which believers are removed and in which unbelievers remain?
3) THE WRATH OF GOD
The clinical definition (TDNT) is that wrath is both an action of God against sin and the alienation from God by those who are under it.
• It occurs throughout history and at the final judgment.
• It is not a capricious “petty tirade” or just a “function of His personality” as exhibited by pagan God’s of the ANE.
o It is an expression of both His holiness and justice.
o “God’s wrath is not some impersonal principle of retribution, but the personal response of a holy God who comes to his own world, sadly fallen into rebellion, and finds few who want anything to do with him. Such people are ‘condemned already’” – D.A. Carson.
• It is a prerogative of God to act in wrath against creation because, as Creator, He is sovereign over it.
• “It is not a permanent attribute of God. For whereas love and holiness are part of his essential nature, wrath is contingent upon human sin: if there were no sin there would be no wrath” – TDNT.
o Do you agree with this statement?
Of course, put simply, God’s wrath means that, “He intensely hates all sin” – Wayne Grudem.
• Or, as Martin Luther put it, it is the backhand of God’s love.
In fact, to drive home the necessity of a holy God acting in wrath consider the following question that Wayne Grudem proposes:
• If you had to list attributes of a God that was not worthy of worship, what would some of those attributes be?
• Surely, sin is worthy of both being hated and judged?
Biblically, God’s wrath is well documented in both the OT and NT.
The Old Testament:
• Exodus 22:21–24 (ESV) — 21 “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 22 You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. 23 If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, 24 and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.
• Exodus 32:9–10 (ESV) — 9 And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”
• Deuteronomy 9:7–8 (ESV) — 7 Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD. 8 Even at Horeb you provoked the LORD to wrath, and the LORD was so angry with you that he was ready to destroy you.
• 2 Kings 22:13 (ESV) — 13 “Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”
• Psalm 78:21–22 (ESV) — 21 Therefore, when the LORD heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; his anger rose against Israel, 22 because they did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power.
o In fact, in Romans 11:20, Paul says unbelieving Israel was broken off so that the believing Gentiles might be grafted in to the “nourishing root of the olive tree”.
• Isaiah 30:27–28 (ESV) — 27 Behold, the name of the LORD comes from afar, burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke; his lips are full of fury, and his tongue is like a devouring fire; 28 his breath is like an overflowing stream that reaches up to the neck; to sift the nations with the sieve of destruction, and to place on the jaws of the peoples a bridle that leads astray.
• Jeremiah 50:25 (ESV) — 25 The LORD has opened his armory and brought out the weapons of his wrath, for the Lord GOD of hosts has a work to do in the land of the Chaldeans.
The New Testament:
• Romans 1:18 (ESV) — 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
• Romans 2:5 (ESV) — 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
• Colossians 3:6 (ESV) — 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
• 1 Thessalonians 2:16 (ESV) — 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!
• Revelation 6:16–17 (ESV) — 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
BTW – As evidenced by just a few NT verses, “It is not accurate to say, as some have said, that God is a God of justice in the Old Testament and a God of love in the New Testament. God is, and always has been, infinitely just and infinitely loving as well. And everything he does in the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, is completely consistent with both of those attributes” – Wayne Grudem.
• And of course, our text today makes this clear as well, “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him”.
From a survey of these verses, we can see examples of sins that have incurred the wrath of God throughout history.
• Covenant Trespass
• Pagan Arrogance and/or Israel’s Enemies
• Unbelief – as clearly revealed in our text.
Curiously, the first four examples are more prevalent in the OT, with the fifth being more prevalent in the NT.
• It seems that with the advent of the new covenant, the focus of God’s wrath, at least for the NT writers, became the unbelief of sinners.
• In point of fact, in a slightly different tone from the OT’s words about Israel’s Pagan oppressors, Paul says the following about the necessity of obedience to the governing authorities [Rome]:
o Romans 13:4 (ESV) — 4 for he [secular ruler appointed by God] is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
o BTW – this demonstrates another avenue through which God’s wrath is revealed.
• So, why is there comparatively less talk of God’s wrath against Israel’s enemies like Rome, or the pagan temple cults, etc., in the NT?
I think the answer can be found in one of the most violent and costly occasions of God’s wrath.
Matthew 26:39 (ESV) — 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
• Let the cup of what pass from Him?
• Most believe Jesus’ words allude to the “cup of his wrath” as spoken of in the OT.
• Jeremiah 25:15–16 (ESV) — 15 Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. 16 They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.”
• Isaiah 51:17 (ESV) — 17 Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering.
In my opinion, this narrowing of focus was intended to ultimately point us directly to the relationship between God’s wrath and Jesus.
• The cross was the place where God’s wrath was born by the Son of Man for the sake of believers
o Part of the advent of the new covenant spoken of in Jeremiah 31.
• In fact, going back to our definition of God’s wrath, we see both elements in play on the cross.
o Not only did Jesus bear the wrath of God (action of God), He was also alienated from God while bearing that wrath – “My God, My God, why have your forsaken me?”
Therefore, even the exercise of God’s wrath points us, urges us, and directs us towards Jesus, as both its recipient for our sake, and even as its arbiter at His 2nd Coming!
Moving on, so that we can, again, tie God’s wrath in with what we have learned thus far in John 3, let’s now consider the following:
• We previously learned, concerning Christ’s work on the cross, that “…all men are the intended beneficiaries of the cross in some sense. 1 Timothy 4:10 says that Christ is “the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” [But all men are not] intended as the beneficiaries of the death of Christ in the same way” – John Piper.
• See lesson on John 3:16-21 for the details.
Our text today provides further insight into this principal.
• We have seen that believers are no longer under God’s wrath and that they have entered into eternal life, in some sense, even while they yet live.
• Yet, unbelievers are, in some sense, not yet finally condemned and even “live long and prosper”.
• Why is this?
o Romans 2:4 (ESV) — 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
o 2 Peter 3:9 (ESV) — 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
It appears that God’s patience mitigates the immediate exercise of His wrath on mankind.
• John told us in verse John 3:16 that God loved a sinful world.
• And the fact that this planet, and all that it contains, continues to exist from moment to moment, bears witness to the fact that an expression of this love is God’s patience.
But the world should never mistake God’s patience as evidence of a “neutral” state before God.
• For as we have said already, John makes plainly clear that there are only 2 responses to Christ – Believe or Do Not Believe.
• And, in spite of God’s patience for the unbeliever, “the wrath of God remains on him”.
• Even Peter follows up his talk of God’s patience in verse 9 with the following from verse 10:
o 2 Peter 3:10 (ESV) — 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
Lessons for Us:
• John’s third chapter presents us with one of the deepest discussions on salvation and its relationship to the new birth, the Holy Spirit, Jesus work in the cross, God’s love and God’s wrath that you will find in the Bible.
• John makes clear that humanity can respond to all of this in either one of two ways.
• And we are fully responsible before God for whichever choice we make.
• What about you –
o Are you a born again believer that chose to trust in Jesus’ testimony and his work on the cross?
o Or, do you still “belong to the earth” and reject the testimony of Jesus Christ?
o There are no other options!
o You, right now, are either removed from God’s wrath or you remain under it.