The first chapter of 1 Thessalonians touches on 3 subjects that are easy to gloss over or avoid all together: the subject of election (i.e. that God chose us before we chose Him), affliction (the Thessalonians are commended for having receiving the word in affliction and remaining faithful even though things were hard), and the wrath of God (vs. 10). Quite a trio for one small chapter!
In looking at the third topic, Paul commends this church for “turning from idols to serve the Living God and waiting expectantly for the return of the one who saves from the wrath to come.”
Discussing God’s wrath in our day is not often a welcome topic. It can elicit stereotypical, puritanical images of an angry deity who delights in dangling helpless humans over the flames of Hell and thereby offend modern sensibilities. So the tables are turned and God’s character goes on trial if we see even the existence of hell and judgment as inexcusably……. judgmental.
Paul and Jesus certainly didn’t view God’s wrath and judgment in this way. It was a given that God was both merciful and holy. His wrath against unrighteousness was seen as a proper and just response to the sin that is killing his beloved creation! Imagine you are watching a movie where a horrible villain commits unspeakable offenses. When the time comes for the still-unapologetic monster to receive a just penalty, the one who dispenses justice, says “You are free to go – there is no punishment for your crimes.” We would -and should – be offended that the judge shirked his duties! Romans 1:18 and 2:5 tell us that God is not that sort of judge.
Where the gospel meets the wrath of God is that the Bible teaches that all of us deserve wrath because of our sin. Sin is that offensive to a holy God! However, He has wondrously provided a way of escape for all who will take it. Listen to Jesus’ words in John 3:36
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.
Justice has been accomplished because the wrath against sin was poured out on Jesus while he suffered on the cross. The penalty has been paid for those who will take it and receive the mercy that is offered!
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 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. It was to shor his righteousness at the present time. So that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26)
- What is the difference between righteous wrath and unrighteous anger (James 1:20)? Have you seen righteous wrath expressed well?
- We know the Thessalonians were under tremendous strain and pressure for their faith. Why would being encouraged that God was going to settle the accounts justly be so important for them?
- Are there aspects of God’s wrath that you find difficult to deal with? How can the words of Romans 3 quoted above help turn the difficulty into opportunities to rejoice?