Wrath of God in Revelation

SYNOPSISIn the book of Revelation, “Wrath” refers to the final judicial sentence of God on His enemies at the final judgment. 

The book of Revelation refers to the “wrath” of God several times. This “wrath” is popularly interpreted as God’s repeated punitive actions against rebellious humanity, especially by “plagues” unleashed in the three sevenfold series of seals, trumpets, and bowls. However, despite the devastation of the “plagues,” the effort to chastise humanity fails - Men and women continue to rebel against God right up until the last moment.

The term “wrath” or orgé occurs six times in Revelation, always in reference to the final judgment. The calamities unleashed by the seals, trumpets, and "bowls of wrath" are never labeled “wrath” or orgé, although “wrath” is manifested at the end of each of the sevenfold series. For example, after the seventh trumpet sounded, His “wrath came, the time of the dead to be judged” (Revelation 6:16, 6:17, 11:18, 14:10, 16:19, 19:15).

The effect of the “wrath” of God is everlasting, not temporary. Its ultimate expression is the “Lake of Fire, the Second Death” at the "Great White Throne of Judgment." That day will change the entire cosmos and, for the ungodly, there will be no escape (Revelation 6:12-17). 

In contrast, the righteous receive everlasting life in the New Creation. What determines whether a person undergoes “wrath” or receives life is how he or she responds to the Lamb (Revelation 7:9-17, 22:15).
  • (Revelation 6:12-17) – “And I saw when he opened the sixth seal, that a great earthquake took place, and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the full moon became as blood, and the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig-tree sheddeth her winter figs when by a great wind it is shaken, and the heaven was withdrawn as a scroll rolling itself up, and every mountain and island out of their places were shaken. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rulers of thousands, and the rich, and the mighty, and every bondman and freeman, hid themselves within the caves and within the rocks of the mountains, and they say unto the mountains and unto the rocks—Fall upon us and hide us from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the anger of the Lamb, Because the great day of their anger is come, and who is able to stand?” - (The Emphasized Bible).
The fifth seal revealed the souls of martyred saints under the altar. They cried for vindication upon their persecutors, “the inhabitants of the earth.” The sixth seal is the Divine response - It culminates in the final “wrath” on the “inhabitants of the earth,” and regardless of anyone’s rank or status. The sixth seal unveils the “Day of the Lord,” a day that will transform the entire created order (Revelation 6:9-11).

The opening of the sixth seal resulted in “a great earthquake...the sun became black as sackcloth of hair and the full moon as blood.” The language is derived from Old Testament passages about the “Day of Yahweh.” Note the verbal parallels:
  • (Joel 2:30-32) – “The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awful Day of Yahweh.
  • (Isaiah 34:1-5) – “Then shall be dissolved all the host of the heavens, and the heavens shall roll up as a scroll, Yea, all their host shall fade like the fading and falling of a leaf from a vine, and like what fades and falls from a fig-tree.
  • (Isaiah 2:10-22) – “Enter into the rock or hide thee in the dust because of the terribleness of Yahweh and for his majestic splendor...For a day of Yahweh of hosts shall be upon everyone who is high and lofty, and upon everyone who is lifted up, and he shall be brought low...In that day shall the son of earth cast his idols of silver and his idols of gold, which had been made for him to worship, into the hole of the mice and to the bats, that he may enter into the clefts of the rocks and into the fissures of the crags, because of the terribleness of Yahweh and for his majestic splendor, when he arises to shake terribly the earth.”
  • (Joel 2:11) – “And Yahweh has uttered his voice before his host for great indeed is his camp, for bold is he who executes his word, for great is the day of Yahweh and awful exceedingly, Who then shall endure it?
Such passages do not describe a tribulation period of any length but, instead, a specific moment when God’s final wrath destroys His enemies. It is accompanied by terrestrial and celestial upheaval - There is no escape - “Who shall be able to stand?

This question is answered in the seventh chapter of Revelation. The innumerable multitude of saints John saw “coming out of the Great Tribulation” are found “standing” before the Throne and the Lamb, having “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Rather than “wrath,” the Lamb leads them “to life’s fountains of waters” (Revelation 7:9-17).
  • (Revelation 11:15-19) – “And the seventh messenger sounded, and there came to be loud voices in heaven, saying—The kingdom of the world hath become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign unto the ages of ages...And the nations were angered, and thine anger came and the fit time of the dead to be vindicated, and to give their reward unto thy servants the prophets, and unto the saints, and unto them who revere thy name—the small and the great, and to despoil them who were despoiling the earth. And the sanctuary of God which is in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant in his sanctuary appeared, and there came to be lightning and voices and thunderings and an earthquake and great hail.” 
Eruption - Photo by Marc Szeglat on Unsplash
Marc Szeglat on Unsplash
The seventh trumpet caused the overthrow of the “kingdom of the world.” All powers hostile to the "Lamb" were defeated and God’s kingdom was consummated. In contrast to sinful humanity, the seventh trumpet announced the everlasting rewards for the faithful from all ranks of society (“the small and the great”).

The arrival of God in judgment means the day of His “wrath” or orgé, the time to “destroy them who were destroying the earth.” It also is the time when He rewards the saints - Both the righteous and the unrighteous receive their just desserts on that day.
  • (Revelation 14:6-11) – “...And another, a third messenger, followed them, saying with a loud voice—If anyone doeth homage unto the beast and his image, and receives a mark upon his forehead or upon his hand, he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is prepared unmixed in the cup of his anger, and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone before holy messengers and before the Lamb, And, the smoke of their torment unto ages of ages ascendeth, And they have no rest day or night, who do homage unto the beast and his image, or if anyone receives the mark of his name.”
The preceding passage describes the final judgment. An angel pronounced everlasting condemnation on every man who gave his allegiance to the Beast - He would partake of God’s undiluted wrath. This “wrath” is everlasting in its results - Condemned men “have no rest day or night.” This is the "Lake of Fire," the “second death” from which there is no reprieve (Revelation 20:11-15).
  • (Revelation 16:17-21) – “And the seventh poured out his bowl upon the air.— And there came forth a loud voice out of the sanctuary from the throne, saying— Accomplished! And there came to be lightning and voices and thunders, and a great earthquake took place—such as had never taken place since men came to be on the earth—such a mighty earthquake, so great, and the great city became divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and Babylon the Great was brought into remembrance before God to give unto her the cup of the wine of the wrath of his anger, and every island fled, and mountains were not found. And great hail as talents cometh down out of heaven upon mankind, and men blasphemed God by reason of the plague of hail—because the plague thereof was exceeding great.”
The seven “bowls of fury” are called the “seven last plagues” - When unleashed, the “fierceness of God is completed.” The bowls are “full of the fierceness (thumos) of God” - “fierceness” translates thumos or “fury,” a different Greek noun than orgé, which is used elsewhere for “wrath” (Revelation 15:1-8).

The seventh "bowl of wrath" produces “flashes of lightning, and voices, and claps of thunder, and a great earthquake...and great hail as talents,” the same phenomena seen following the sounding of the seventh trumpet. The verbal parallels demonstrate the same event is in view, the time of God’s “wrath” on the Day of the Lord (Revelation 11:19). 

Matterhorn Photo by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash
Matterhorn by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash

After John saw the "Lamb" standing on Zion, an angel declared that the time had come for "Babylon" to drink of the “cup of the wine of the fierceness of God’s wrath,” just as the men and women who took the "mark of the Beast" drank of this same cup, so "Babylon" must drink His “wrath” (Revelation 14:10). 

Every island to flee and mountains are not found.” This clause parallels the Day of the Lord unveiled in the sixth seal when “every mountain and island was shaken out of its place.” The same judgment is in view.
  • (Revelation 19:15-16) – “And he treadeth the wine-press of the wrath of the anger of God the Almighty. And he hath upon his mantle and upon his thigh a name written—King of kings and Lord of lords.”
The "Rider on a White Horse" arrives to judge the nations and "tread the wine-press of the wrath of God," the same “winepress” seen previously in Revelation 14:17-20 - (“Gather the clusters of the vine of the earth and cast them into the great wine-press of the fierceness of God”).

The “winepress” was “trodden outside the city.” “Trodden” translates the Greek verb pateō, the same one used for the "Rider on a White Horse," another verbal link between the visions of chapters 14 and 19. The "Rider" does not unleash another in a series of plagues but, instead, ushers in the final “conflict” between the "Lamb" and the "Dragon." The final judgment is at hand; all accounts are about to be settled (Revelation 19:15).

The next paragraph shows the final battle poised to commence. Imagery from Ezekiel’s vision of “Gog and Magog” is used. It is not a “literal” war between conventional armies but, instead, a battle between the "Lamb" and his cosmic enemies: The "Beast," the "False Prophet," and the "kings of the earth." No actual battle or its aftermath is described. The "Beast and the False Prophet" are simply taken and cast “alive into the Lake of Fire that burns with brimstone” (Revelation 19:17-21).

The same “battle” was portrayed in the sixth bowl of wrath, the “great day of the battle of the Lord God Almighty,” a passage that also borrowed language from the vision of “Gog and Magog.” In the end, the result is the casting of God’s enemies into the "Lake of Fire," for they have drunk from the “cup of His wrath” (Revelation 16:12-16).

Thus, “wrath” in the book of Revelation is not one in a series of punitive and temporal judgments. It is nothing less than God’s final punishment on the wicked and His cosmic enemies - The "Dragon," the "Beast," the "False Prophet," and "Babylon."

Consistently, “wrath” refers to God’s final judgment unleashed on the day of the Lord, not to individual plagues and catastrophes. The "saints" are present before the "Lamb" at that event, but they do not “drink” from this cup. Instead, God vindicates and rewards them.

Finally, although Revelation mentions the “great tribulation,” at no point does it refer to it as “wrath.”

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