Righteousness and Wrath

The proclamation of the Gospel reveals two forces at work in the world - “righteousness” and “wrath,” and they will produce two very different results - “salvation” for some, and “destruction” for others. In the end, “righteousness” will produce salvation, resurrection, and New Creation for those who embrace the Gospel, but the coming “Day of Wrath and God’s righteous judgments” will mean condemnation and destruction for the men and women who reject the “Good News” announced by Jesus and his Apostles.

Which result a man will reap on the final day is dependent on his response to the Gospel in the present, for the proclamation of the “Good News of Jesus Christ” is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

Sunset Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash
[Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash]

In the Gospel, the “
righteousness of God is being revealed from faith for faith.” And in this clause, “being revealed” translates the present tense verb, apokaluptetai, which means, to “reveal, disclose, unveil, uncover.”

The present tense signifies an action in progress, and this “revealing” of His righteousness is an ongoing and dynamic process - (Romans 1:16-17).

HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS


And this “righteousness” is revealed whenever Jews and Gentiles hear and respond in faith to the Gospel. Thus, there is a present tense to His “righteousness,” and He demonstrates it by saving men who believe and obey the proclaimed message.

But at the same time, His “wrath” is also “being revealed from heaven” against all those “who possess the truth in unrighteousness,” and this is evidenced by the very sins practiced by the wicked. God gives unrepentant men over to the very sins they crave (“Wherefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness”).

The sins of the wicked demonstrate they are under “wrath,” and their trespasses validate God’s impending judicial sentence that will be executed on the “Day of Wrath.” Elsewhere, Paul even refers to such men as the “children of wrath” since they are under divine “wrath” already - (Romans 1:18-32, Ephesians 2:3).

Thus, Paul contrasts two present processes - “righteousness” and “wrath.” Both occur in the present age whenever the Gospel is proclaimed, and both will be consummated when Jesus returns. That day will mean salvation for some, but “everlasting destruction” for others.

THE COMING DAY


But there is also a coming “day” when God will impose His judicial ruling on both the righteous and the unrighteous. For the latter, it will be the “Day of Wrath,” but for the former, a “time of salvation”:

  • But after your hardness and impenitent heart, you are storing up for yourselves wrath on the day of wrath and revelation of the judicial sentence of Godwho will render to every man according to his works — To those that by patience in well-doing seek glory and honor and uncorruption, everlasting lifeBut for those that are factious and obey not the truth but obey unrighteousness will be wrath and indignation, tribulation, and anguish on every soul of man that works evil, of the Jew first, and also of the GreekBut glory and honor and peace to every man that works good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek, for there is no respect of persons with God - (Romans 2:5-11).
  • And this, knowing the season, that already it is time for you to awake out of sleep: for now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed. The night is far spent, and the day is at hand: let us, therefore, cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” - (Romans 13:11-12).

Paul’s logic means the wicked and the righteous receive either “wrath” or salvation on the same final day. The sinner may already be under the “wrath of God,” but that is a process that will culminate in his final sentence on that day. For the “Sons of Disobedience,” His “wrath is coming,” but the righteous will receive “salvation” on that same day - (Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:6).

To the church in Thessalonica, Paul writes that Jesus is in the process of “rescuing us from the coming wrath.” Deliverance occurs whenever a man “turns from idols to serve the living and true God.” And his use of two present tense verbs clarifies that the process is ongoing - “rescuing” and “coming” – (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

JUDGMENT AND SALVATION


But one day, the final “wrath” will come. For the unprepared, the “Day of the LORD” will arrive “like a thief in the night,” bringing with it “unexpected destruction… and in no way will they escape.”

Believers, on the other hand, will not experience “destruction” because they are living in the “light” in this life, and therefore, God has not appointed them “for wrath, but for acquiring salvation.”

Thus, in his Thessalonian correspondence, Paul links the time of “wrath” with the “Day of the LORD.” But elsewhere, he also associates the “gathering” of the saints to Jesus with that same day.

Thus, both salvation and wrath will be dispensed when Jesus “arrives” to gather his elect and judge the wicked - (1 Thessalonians 5:1-9, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, 1 Corinthians 1:8).

IN REVELATION


In the Book of Revelation, when the “Lamb” opens the “Sixth Seal,” the entire creation is shaken to its core. The “stars of heaven fell…and every mountain and island were moved out of their place.” All men will flee in a futile attempt to hide from the “wrath of the Lamb.” It will be the “Great Day of the Wrath” of the “Lamb” and of “Him who sits on the Throne,” and no one will be “able to stand.”

Not coincidentally, the language used to portray the “Sixth Seal” draws heavily from several Old Testament passages that describe the “Day of Yahweh” - (Revelation 6:12-17, Isaiah 2:1013:9-10, Joel 2:28-32).

In Chapter 7 of Revelation, and in contrast to the opening of the “Sixth Seal,” John sees the men who have the “Seal of God” portrayed as an “innumerable multitude” that is in the process of “coming out of the Great Tribulation and standing before the Throne and the Lamb.” This group is composed of men who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” and so, unlike the wicked, they are empowered to “stand” before him – (Revelation 7:9-17).

When the “Seventh Trumpet” sounds, the “twenty-four elders who sit before God on their thrones” will declare that the “time of your wrath is come, the time of the dead to be judged and to give their reward to the saints.” On that day, the wicked will be judged and the righteous rewarded – (Revelation 11:15-19).

When the “Seventh Bowl of Wrath” is emptied, a “great voice” declares, “It is finished.” Just as John was informed at the start of the series, the “seven last plagues” bring the “wrath of God” to completion.

This means that “Babylon,” the “Great Harlot” will drink fully of the “cup of the wine of the fury of His wrath. Consequently, “every island fled away, and the mountains were not found,” a verbal link to the “Sixth Seal” where “every mountain and island was moved out of its place.” In short, the same final day is in view in both passages – (Revelation 15:1, 16:17-21).

The vivid images in Revelation tell the same story as the Apostle does in his epistles. The “Day of Wrath” is coming when those who reject the Gospel will reap their just reward. Like the men of Judea who “killed the Lord Jesus” and opposed the proclamation of the Gospel, they have “filled up their sins,” and on that final day, “wrath will come upon them to the uttermost” - (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16).

In the end, what differentiates the wicked from the righteous and their respective fates is how they respond to the Gospel of Jesus in the present. For anyone who embraces it in faith, it is “the power for salvation.” But for all who reject it, Christ’s return will become a “Day of Wrath,” and they will receive their just desserts.


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