What’s the deal with the wrath of God? I mean, the Bible tells us that God is love. And yet, numerous times in Scripture, God is angry, punishing those who fall out of line. So, how are we to understand the wrath of God? The New Testament uses this term to refer to three different things as determined by the context:

  1. The “coming wrath” describes the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D.
  2. God’s wrath refers to the Day of Judgement at the end of time.
  3. God’s wrath is the natural consequence of sin.

The “Coming Wrath”

The events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem feature heavily in the prophetic parts of the New Testament. Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are entirely dedicated to these events, as is Revelation. (Cf. Revelation 6:16-17; 14:10, 19, 15:1).

John the Baptist questioned the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptising people. He said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Luke has John saying this “to the crowds coming out to be baptised by him.” What a novel way to start a sermon!

Jesus said, How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. The land refers to first-century Israel.

Paul spoke of this in 1 Thessalonians: and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. More on that in a moment.

Jerusalem’s Destruction

Jesus warned of the events leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, “And when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that the time of its destruction has arrived. Then, those in Judea must flee to the hills. Those in Jerusalem must get out, and those out in the country should not return to the city. For those will be days of God’s vengeance, and the prophetic words of the Scriptures will be fulfilled (Luke 21:20-22). In other words, the so-called “end times” prophecies that some Christians still use to traumatise God’s people were fulfilled in the first century. Let that sink in.

History reveals that Jesus’ followers understood His prophecies. The believers obeyed the warnings and fled Jerusalem to a town called Pella in the southern hills (those in Judea must flee to the hills), thus saving themselves. Not a single Christian perished in the destruction of Jerusalem. Christians left Jerusalem, thus escaping what Jesus referred to as great tribulation. The destruction of Jerusalem occurred three and a half years later, at the end of the Great Tribulation.

And so, this is what Paul foretold in 1 Thessalonians in the early 50s: and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Judgement Day

God’s wrath can also refer to the Day of Judgement at the end of time. Judgement Day is God’s guarantee of ultimate justice. Think of all the times when there hasn’t been justice in this life. Maybe you’ve experienced this or seen the fate of others who have suffered unfairly, and you’ve asked yourself, where is the justice in life? Well, wait. The New Testament is replete with forewarnings about Judgement Day:

Jesus said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” And, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” That’s because they’ve trusted someone who’s been there (death) and returned.

Paul wrote extensively about Judgement Day as an expression of God’s wrath. Consider Romans 2:5: But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. (Cf. Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6). God’s Judgement is a punishment, not a beating.

Suffer the Consequences

The final meaning of God’s wrath in Scripture is allowing people to suffer the consequences of their choices. Paul’s letter to the Romans is handy here: The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people. The rest of chapter one shows how Paul defines this wrath of God: God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts. God gave them over to shameful lusts. God gave them over to a depraved mind. (Vs. 24, 26, 28)

God is like a parent who says, well, that’s not how I want you to behave, but if you persist with having your way, you’ll also need to be prepared to wear the consequences of your choices. People have free will, and God does not control us.

Controlled Anger

God is a loving father who is angry at injustice. Righteous anger is an ethical expression of authentic love as inferred by the Greek word translated “wrath. Orgē comes from the verb oragō meaning, ‘to teem, or swell.’ God’s wrath is not a sudden outburst but a controlled, passionate response to wickedness and unfairness: His anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime. Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

God loves all people, but that love doesn’t mean that certain behaviours don’t anger God. God’s wrath will be satisfied by ultimate justice being done and appropriate punishment being given. But, as the Psalmist declares, “He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever.” That is good news for everyone.

Where does the church belong?

During my four-plus decades as a Christian, and a member of the church, I have heard many declarations of who and what the church is and its rightful place:

We are to be “the head, not the tail.”

We are to rule and reign on the earth.

And take dominion.

Dominion theology, which I will write about in a future blog, is a politically-oriented doctrine that seeks to found a nation governed by Christians, Christian “values,” and understandings of Biblical law. In other words, the church rules society through the government.

But are any of these legitimate statements that describe the church’s role as laid out by Jesus? Let’s find out.

Jesus’ Example

Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday is an excellent time to explore the question of the church’s rightful place.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt on the first Palm Sunday, making an unmissable statement to first-century people. If Jesus were on government business, seeking to take control (dominion), he would have ridden the adult donkey, not the colt. If he had sought to overthrow Rome’s regime and found a new kingdom, horses and chariots would have been Jesus’ choice. But Jesus chose a colt, a donkey under four years old. What a statement!

The people treated him as royalty that day, spreading their garments and waving palm branches as they would for a king. A few days later, they demanded the release of Jesus Bar-Abbas (Jesus, son of god, abba) instead of the actual Jesus, Son of God. The crowd is fickle. Nothing has changed.

Imagine a grown man riding a small animal. No doubt Jesus looked anything but kingly that day, but he was making a point. The people, including his followers, expected a king to take charge, overthrow Rome, and establish his kingdom with Israel in control. When they didn’t get their way, they killed him.

Even after the resurrection, his disciples asked, “Are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They still didn’t get it.

Jesus’ Teaching

Jesus did not come to be served but to serve. He taught and demonstrated this throughout his ministry. The night before his death, Jesus assumed the position of the lowest household servant and washed his disciples’ feet, saying, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

On one occasion, two of Jesus’ followers talked their mum into asking Jesus if her boys could sit at Jesus’ “right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” The other disciples were miffed. Jesus used this amusing incident to get his point across. He spoke about how earthly rulers exercise authority by lording it over people. You know, taking dominion, being the head and not the tail. Jesus said, “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”

The theme of servanthood then resonates throughout the New Testament.

Getting it Right

The centuries following Jesus’ resurrection have demonstrated what it looks like when the church gets it right – and when it forgets its rightful place and seeks to dominate. Christians and churches are to serve others, not control them. God doesn’t DO control, and neither should his people. Consider all the good in this world as a result of Christians taking their rightful place of servanthood.

“Over the centuries, the church has founded schools, hospitals and orphanages; Christians have campaigned for prison reform, better housing and an end to the slave trade; they have helped to establish a huge number of charities to support the poor, the underprivileged, prisoners and their families, the homeless and those seeking justice. Christians were involved in setting up many of the best-known charities, including Oxfam, the Salvation Army, the Samaritans and the RSPCA.”

Wherever there is poverty and injustice, you will find Christian people who behave like Jesus—serving others amid disasters and advocating for the voiceless in the corridors of power.

But, then …

But, when we forget Jesus’ example and take control instead of serving, we get it dreadfully wrong. Consider the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the witch trials as glaring examples. One of the worst things that ever happened to the church was Constantine declaring Christianity the Roman Empire’s official religion. The church took charge and became wealthy and powerful. And the world entered the Dark Ages.

More recently, “Christians” have committed child sexual abuse, and churches have covered it up to protect their power and reputation. We’ve sought to dictate and control what others can and can’t do and lobbied against the rights of people we disagree with. When we act this way, we cease to follow the example of Jesus, the servant, and society at large thinks less of Christians and the church. They take a step away from Jesus. The gospel suffers, and the church declines.

The Real Gospel

I want to be understood here. I am not saying that the Christian message is all about good works. But people deserve to see the genuine gospel in action. It is a message of God’s love for people and a desire for reconciliation without “counting people’s sins against them.” When we behave like we’re in charge, when we domineer and always want our way, when we seek to protect OUR rights above the rights of others, we cease to be like Jesus.

Let’s take up the towel and the basin of water and wash others’ feet. That’s the church’s rightful place.


I have spoken many times about the goodness of God, but I’ve never taught about the goodness of people, and I cannot recall ever hearing a sermon about it. The truth is, I sometimes feel we Christians are a little too preoccupied with sin, especially other people’s sins. It is as if the Bible began with Genesis three rather than chapter one. We fixate on all the evil in the world and what bad people do and surmise that people are inherently evil.

So, let’s examine what the Bible says about people’s inherent goodness.

But What About … ?

If you felt resistance when you read the opening paragraph of this blog, I encourage you to be aware of it. It’s a typical response in your brain to information that goes against long-held beliefs. Your brain will respond first by resisting the new information. Next, it will explain why this new information is wrong, highlighting Bible verses that contradict the new information. But, what about…?

What about the rich young guy that called Jesus a “good teacher?” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone.” Is Jesus saying he isn’t good? Not at all. He wants the young man’s perspective. Jesus asked him, “Are you saying you recognise I am God?

The same Greek word, translated as “good,” is applied to people elsewhere in the gospels (Cf. Matthew 25:23; Luke 6:45) because people are inherently good.

“If you, then, being evil …”

But didn’t Jesus call people evil in his Sermon on the Mount? Yes, he did. Jesus said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Jesus’ choice of words is interesting. He didn’t use the Greek word referring to an evil character. Neither did he use the word meaning degenerate. In fact, instead of translating the word “evil,” it could refer to annoyance: “Even though you sometimes find your children’s requests irritating, you still give them good gifts.” Jesus refers to the hassle of parenting and how much better a parent the Heavenly Father is compared to us. He is not calling people wicked; instead, he recognises our inherent goodness towards our children, even during stress or reluctance.

No One is Good?

Then there’s David’s statement in Psalm 14, “there is none who does good, not even one.” Paul quotes this statement in Romans chapter three, where he concludes the beginning of his letter seeking to prove the universal sinfulness of human beings. He presents this as a black background upon which he places the gem of God’s grace. And that’s the point. All people are sinful, and no amount of good deeds can save us. But do not fear because God has come to our rescue, and God’s amazing grace can restore us.

Elsewhere in the Bible, this same Hebrew word is used to describe good people (2 Samuel 18:27; Proverbs 12:2; 13:22; 14:14). People are inherently good.

God’s Image

God declared humans to be VERY GOOD. He created them in his image and likeness as the crown of creation. And we must start at the story’s beginning rather than at chapter three. The Bible begins and ends with goodness, so surely that should be our focus.

Humans are made in God’s image, and nowhere does the Bible say that image was destroyed by the Fall. James says, “Sometimes [the tongue] praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. All People are in God’s image, and that image is good.

Sin taints the image, but it doesn’t destroy it. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, and those who follow him are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Generally speaking, people are still very good. Yes, we all “miss the mark” of God’s perfect character, but that doesn’t mean we’re powerless to live good lives. Most people do.

People are Like Trees

In his warning to “Watch out for false prophets,” aka bad religious people, Jesus encouraged his followers to discern people’s fruit. He tells a short parable about trees, but he’s talking about people. Good trees (people) bear good fruit, and bad trees (people) bear bad fruit. Thus, by their fruit, you will recognise them, Jesus concludes. Jesus recognised the inherent goodness in most people, but he also challenged us to remain vigilant, especially when it comes to dodgy religious people.

The Bible’s Good People

The Bible is packed with good people ~ Ruth, Cornelius (Acts 10), Noah, Mary and Joseph, Esther, Boaz, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. And the nameless ones like Pharaoh’s daughter and the Ethiopian Eunuch.

Then there’s the Good Samaritan. Sure, he was a fictitious character in one of Jesus’ stories. But, interestingly, Jesus highlighted human goodness in a parable with which religious Jews would struggle. Samaritans were mixed-race Jews, having intermarried with Assyrians during the captivity of Israel. Centuries-long hostility between the two peoples meant they would have little or nothing to do with each other.

And yet, here is Jesus suggesting that the hated “other” is a good person and demonstrates their goodness by being kind to their enemy.

Look Around You

Unfortunately, people are often drawn to negative information. News sources invariably focus on the unusual and critical rather than good news stories. If you consume a lot of “news,” you will believe the world and its people are worse than they are.

The Christian’s emphasis on sin causes us to focus on people’s badness rather than their best. A futurist version of Bible prophecy sees the world worsening (although it isn’t). It’s no wonder we minimise human goodness.

But open your eyes and reflect on the world around you and the people you know. There is so much good being done by descent people. Some of them are Christians.

As my Rabbi friend wrote recently, if God had created us as perfect, he would have denied us the profound joy of being human, to improve. The process of being today a better human than we were yesterday and the hope of being better people tomorrow. If we were robbed of that sacred imperfection, we would be imprisoned by our perfection.


(Please note: I do not deny people’s sinful nature and need for a Saviour. Neither do I deny that some people are intrinsically evil).