At the cross, we see the wrath of God.
The cross is certainly a word about God’s righteousness, but it is also a word about His wrath. We can’t talk about the cross without talking about God’s wrath.
There is a major misunderstanding about God’s wrath. The wrath of God is not an emotion that flares up from time to time, as if God is up there throwing a temper tantrum when He is wrathful. God’s wrath is a way of describing his absolute opposition to everything wrong and unjust and unrighteous. It is less of a feeling and more of an action against wrongdoing. God’s wrath is His indignation against evil.
Paul uses a unique word in verse 25 of our text: whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood. This word refers to the removal of wrath. Throughout the early chapters in Romans, Paul has argued that all humanity is condemned by sin and therefore subject to the wrath of God. Some translations try to soften this language, I guess because they find the idea of God’s wrath to be distasteful or something like that. But if you don’t translate this word in terms of “removal of wrath,” then Paul’s argument doesn’t quite hold up through the rest of Romans. If you don’t translate this term as “the removal of wrath,” then Paul has just left us there — still under God’s wrath.
The idea of God being angry just doesn’t sit well with us sometimes.
When we moved to Huntsville twenty years ago, there was a church on University Drive; I think it was called “Impact Church.” They had this huge sign at the front of their building that had the church name on it and underneath was this slogan: “God’s not mad at you, no matter what.”
And I get what they were trying to do with that sign. But it paints this picture of God as if He’s this doddering old grandpa in the sky who could never be upset at you for anything — and that’s just not what you find in the Scriptures. Anger in and of itself is not a sinful emotion. God might be angry at me for the things I’m doing, for the way I’m living my life. God still loves me, but that doesn’t mean He can never be angry at me.
There is no place in the Bible where it says that God can’t be angry. That’s what some of the ancient Greek philosophers believed. They thought of their gods as being too lofty to be concerned with what humans were doing down here on earth. But the God of the Bible is not indifferent to His creation. He loves humanity; He cares for humanity; therefore, there are times when He is angered by the actions of humanity.
When we break our promises, I think it upsets God.
When people in power abuse their subordinates, I think God’s blood starts to boil.
When we ignore His Word and set ourselves up as the ultimate authority in our lives, I think that makes God mad.
Here is an important distinction we need to draw out, through: God’s anger is not lacking in self-control. It’s not “fly off the handle” anger that we so often demonstrate. I like the way one scholar puts it: “His anger is the settled opposition of his holy nature to everything that is evil.”
That is what we call “the wrath of God.”
Because of our sin, we were by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). But at the cross, Jesus has delivered us from the wrath of God and its consequences:
- 1 Thessalonians 1:10, … 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, For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.