Romans 1:18 – Wrath of God

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.


The remainder of Romans 1 deals with how God’s wrath is revealed against the unrighteousness of man.

  • “Verse 18 changes the tone of [Paul’s] argument, for Paul shifts from speaking of the revelation of God’s saving righteousness to the revelation of God’s wrath” – Schreiner.


This means, right away, we have a huge matzo ball hanging out there.

  • What is the wrath of God?
  • We need to know before we can dig into the remaining verses.




What are the stakes?

  • Before we grapple with the wrath of God, I want us to consider the stakes.
  • Factions of modern, western Christianity (especially) have huge problems with both how God’s wrath is revealed (something Paul is about to get into in detail) and even wrath’s existence (they simply redefine it altogether).



Intellectual Honesty Moment – Atonement:

There does exist debate, usually based on textual and linguistic grounds, on the relationship between Christ and God’s wrath on the Cross.

  • The debate centers on the Greek word “hilasterion” and its cognates.


The Greek word most famously appears in the following:

  • Romans 3:25 (ESV) — 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
  • 1 John 4:10 (ESV) — 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.


“Biblical scholars debate whether the Greek terms deriving from hilaskomai should be translated as propitiation or expiation” – PDTT.

  • What’s the difference?


Propitiation – Denotes “the turning away of divine wrath” – PDTT.

  • “Christ’s death appeased divine wrath called forth by sin” – DPL.
  • “If those who receive the righteousness of God through faith in Christ are saved from the wrath of God, it must be because Christ has appeased that wrath through his death for them” – DPL.
  • This is the idea that Christ bore the wrath of God in our stead while on the cross, thereby paying the penalty for our sins.


Expiation – This is “the belief that sin is canceled out by being covered over” – PDTT.

  • On this view, “Christ did not die to satisfy God’s wrath as the precondition for reconciliation. Rather, Christ’s atoning death itself accomplished reconciliation: ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:18)’” – DPL.
  • Expiation sees the cross as “God’s own gracious initiative in love toward the ungodly as well as God’s judgment against sin” – DPL.
    • Not as an outpouring of God’s wrath upon Jesus.



Way Beyond That:

But many modern scholars/pastors go way beyond this exegetical debate.


The logic usually goes as follows:

  • Jesus is God.
  • In Jesus we come to truly know who God is and who God is not.
  • Therefore, if it can’t be said about the Jesus of the Gospels, it can’t be said about God.


Tony Jones, author of “Did God Kill Jesus” plays this out…

  • “If Jesus tells us anything about God, it’s that God is love—not wrath or anger or vengeance, but pure love” – Tony Jones.


Adam Ericksen, in agreement with Jones, sums up Jones’ view:

“On the cross, Jesus reveals that God has nothing to do with wrath. A wrathful god is a mere projection of our own wrath. The true God is the God who leads us to forgive and to love our enemies as we love ourselves” – Adam Ericksen.



Needed Correction:

As just demonstrated, the wrath of God has been toned down or dismissed all together.

  • The reason, says Douglas Moo, is likely that, “the idea that God would inflict wrath on people has been rejected as incompatible with an enlightened understanding of the deity” – Douglas Moo.
  • In other words, we should be too smart and too enlightened to embrace the antiquated notion of a wrathful god.


We need to cast off any baggage that makes the wrath of God seem something foreign to God.

  • We need to stop treating “the biblical doctrine of the wrath of God…as the Victorians treated sex. It is there, but it must never be alluded to because it is in an undefined way shameful” – R.P.C. Hanson.




So what is God’s wrath?

  • Why is it so important?



Wrath Defined:

John Murray spells it out well:

“Wrath is the holy revulsion of God’s being against that which is the contradiction of his holiness. The reality of God’s wrath in this specific character is shown by the fact that it is ‘revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men’” – John Murray.

  • Wrath is the “punitive righteousness of God by which He maintains His moral order, which demands justice and retribution for injustice” – HIBD.
  • Wrath is “The free, subjective and holy response of God to sin and to the evil and wickedness exhibited by creatures in opposition to God” – PDTT.


We must understand that God’s love and His wrath are not mutually exclusive.

  • In fact, “God’s wrath must be understood in relation to his love. Wrath 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” – AYBD.


And more than that:

  • “Divine wrath is never divorced from God’s essential righteousness” – TDNT.
  • Something we will see next week when we dig into Paul’s text.


What of the intention of God’s wrath?

“The aim of divine wrath is the establishment of the divine rule of holiness” – TDNT.


So, like God’s righteousness, wrath is a divine activity.

  • In seeking to establish the age to come – a divine rule of holiness – God acts righteously, as in the case of the Gospel, or God acts in wrath.


And, like God’s righteousness, His wrath has a past, present and future expression.

“Paul speaks of wrath as a present reality under which people outside Christ stand, and often, following the OT prophets, predicts the outpouring of God’s wrath on the future day of judgment” – Douglas Moo.


For example, Paul’s words in Romans 1 speak of the present unveiling of God’s wrath.

  • But Revelation 6 speaks of a future advent of God’s wrath.
  • Revelation 6:15–17 (ESV) — 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 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?”


God’s Wrath is Necessary:

Shockingly, God’s wrath is also necessary.

“God’s wrath is necessary to the biblical conception of God: ‘As long as God is God, He cannot behold with indifference that His creation is destroyed and His holy will trodden underfoot. Therefore He meets sin with His mighty and annihilating reaction’” – Douglas Moo (quoting Nygren).


There are at least 4 reasons why God’s wrath might be necessary.


Reason 1:

“The whole burden of human life after the fall is in itself an expression of divine wrath (cf. Gen. 3; 4; 6–8; 11). As Job 14:1ff. vividly puts it (cf. Ps. 90:7), all human life stands under the constant operation of the wrath of God” – TDNT.

  • In other words, the Bible teaches that the wrath of God is the default experience of God by the fallen world.
  • This is not to say that God’s grace and love are not manifested in many ways to a fallen world.
  • But that without action by God to mitigate His wrath, His wrath is the norm.


The Gospel of John puts it so clearly:

  • John 3:36 (ESV) — 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.
  • It doesn’t come upon “him” but “remains on him”.


Reason 2:

The NT is clear that God’s wrath is a current and real divine activity of God.

  • It was not replaced or displaced by God’s love.


Some NT examples:

  • 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 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 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!
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:9 (ESV) — 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,


Reason 3:

Jesus has been appointed to be an instrument of wrath to the unrighteous.

  • This is Jesus’ part in inaugurating the “divine role of holiness” or the age to come.
  • Revelation 6:15–17 (ESV) — 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 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?”


Reason 4:

Tim Keller argues that God without wrath is a less loving God.

“If you get rid of a God who has wrath and Hell, you’ve got a god who loves us in general, but that’s not as loving as the God of the Bible, the God of Jesus Christ, who loves us with a costlylove” – Tim Keller.

  • In other words, if you dilute & diminish God’s wrath, you dilute & diminish His love.
  • Both must be fiercely advocated.
  • They are examples of G.K. Chesterton called “furious opposites”.


In fact, as Keller says, the more fierce God’s wrath is, the more incredible is Jesus’ love for us.

  • The thing that shields us from the fierceness of God’s wrath – and it is fierce –
  • Is the equally fierce costliness of God’s love – His brutal death on the cross.


Christ doesn’t replace God’s ho-hum OT wrath with a “groovy kind of love”.

  • It is better than that.
  • His fierce love provides salvation from His fierce wrath.




In the beginning of Joshua 7 we learn that Achan disobeyed God by stealing from Jericho after its destruction.

  • As a result of this, all of Israel was found guilty of “breaking faith”.
  • Verse 10 says, “Israel has sinned” and “they have transgressed my covenant”.
  • As a result, Israel was “devoted for destruction” by God – just as Jericho was.
  • The Israelite army was defeated at the battle of Ai.


The solution to their being devoted to destruction was to “destroy the devoted things from among you”.

  • The principal for this is found in Leviticus 16.
  • There we found the principal of the sacrificial goat and the separation goat.
  • The separation goat was symbolically sent outside the sacred area of Israel’s camp into the wilderness.
  • And for Achan, this separation principal would cost him his life.


Importantly, this separation and condemnation of Achan are expressions of God’s wrath.



Separation Ordered:

Joshua 7:13–15 (ESV) — 13 Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.” 14 In the morning therefore you shall be brought near by your tribes. And the tribe that the Lord takes by lot shall come near by clans. And the clan that the Lord takes shall come near by households. And the household that the Lord takes shall come near man by man. 15 And he who is taken with the devoted things shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has done an outrageous thing in Israel.’ ”


The time has come to deal with Achan’s sin and Israel’s guilt.

  • The reason for this is clear – “You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things form among you” (vs. 13).
  • “When Achan sinned, the blessing of God stopped for the people corporately; when judgment was applied, blessing returned and victory followed” – James Boice.


BTW – This edict by Yahweh is consistent with His words to Joshua in Joshua 1.

  • There He made it clear that their inheritance of the Promised Land was conditional.
  • Joshua 1:7 (ESV) — 7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.


The solution to the problem is severe – an expression of God’s wrath.

  • Like Jericho and its inhabitants, Achan will be devoted to destruction.
  • Because he has transgressed the covenant” and “done an outrageous thing” he “shall be burned with fire” (vs. 15).
  • “He in effect had become a Canaanite by his actions” – David Howard.


The stark contrast between Rahab the Canaanite and Achan the Israelite is significant.

  • Rahab, by her confession, had been ushered into the elect of Israel.
  • Achan, by his covenant sin, had been devoted to destruction as a Canaanite.
  • What lessons can be learned from this contrast?


We need to take notice of two things in these verses about God’s wrath.


(1) It Can Be Patient

  • Yahweh does not immediately do what He has a right to do – devote all the Israelites to destruction.
  • (A) In fact, He identifies the problem for Joshua.
    • Act of covenant faithfulness and grace?
  • (B) And He also identifies the solution to the problem.
    • The separation and destruction of the responsible party.


In other words, by identifying these two things God provides opportunity for restoration.

  • “Behind such unwelcome disclosure shines the clear desire of God to restore his people to his favour” – Dale Davis.


(2) It Is Not Flippant

  • God expressing His wrath is not like a man throwing a rage-filled, angry tantrum.
  • It flows from His holiness.
  • It flows from His moral law.
  • It flows from His covenant faithfulness.



Confession Made:

Joshua 7:19–21 (ESV) — 19 Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.” 20 And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: 21 when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them. And see, they are hidden in the earth inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”


Remarkably, Achan confesses all he has done.

  • This confession of his transgression praises and glorifies God – according to Joshua.
  • The fact that Achan confessed makes what happens next all the more startling.



Wrath Expressed:

Joshua 7:22–26 (ESV) — 22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and behold, it was hidden in his tent with the silver underneath. 23 And they took them out of the tent and brought them to Joshua and to all the people of Israel. And they laid them down before the Lord. 24 And Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver and the cloak and the bar of gold, and his sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep and his tent and all that he had. And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. 26 And they raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore, to this day the name of that place is called the Valley of Achor.


Are you serious?

  • They “took Achan”, the treasure ANDhis sons and daughters and his oxen and donkeys and sheep” (vs. 24).
  • And then “burned them with fire and stoned the with stones” (vs. 25)


In spite of Achan’s confession, God orders his death.

  • But as strange as this may seem, God also orders the death of his entire family.
  • This almost seems blood thirsty and over reaching.
  • This was the destruction of Achan and his entire family line.
  • He and his family would not longer be part of God’s call to Israel to be fruitful and multiply.


What are we to make of this?

  • We can say at least two things.


(1) We know that God spoke over and over of the consequences of covenant sin.

  • Deuteronomy 17:2–5 (ESV) — 2 “If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, 3 and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, 4 and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, 5 then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones.


(2) We know that Israel was a theocracy.

  • Meaning, among other things, that God was the judicial system, the Supreme Court.
  • Justice was meted out through Him.
  • His holiness was the standard of innocence.
  • If He condemned He was justified to do so.


But we are still left emotionally traumatized.

  • Especially with the death sentence on his children.


Was it that his children, perhaps knowing about the hidden treasure, were also seen as responsible for the profaning of Israel’s camp?

  • That seems a stretch.
  • We just don’t know.
    • Some argue that they weren’t killed.
  • The bottom line is that our modern sensibilities will not find satisfactory resolution to this question.


Note of Hope – There is an interesting note on the Valley of Achor (trouble).

  • We can’t forget that God is in the transformation business.
  • A business that involves not only His wrath but also His grace.
  • Hosea 2:14–15 (ESV) — 14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. 15 And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.



Conclusion – Our Need for Christ:

Here are some final words from Jonathan Edwards.

“The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood” – Jonathan Edwards.