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Character of God

God’s Wrath in the Teaching of Jesus

It seems like God gets angry all the time in the Hebrew Bible, but then Jesus arrives on the scene with a message of good news and everything changes! Right? It’s not quite that simple. In this episode, Tim, Jon, and Carissa survey the consistency between God’s anger in the Old and New Testament and the restorative promise of God’s anger.
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Episode Details

October 12, 2020
47 min

Episode Details

October 12, 2020
47 min

Show Notes

QUOTE

“Jesus thinks there’s a flood coming and another Sodom and Gomorrah coming. And the only way to avoid it is if Israel starts living by the Sermon on the Mount. To live by the Sermon on the Mount is to live by the ethic and the values of God’s Kingdom.”

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The story of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, shows us that God’s anger always comes with the promise of preserving a righteous remnant.
  • Jesus taught what true repentance looks like, living out the ethics of the Kingdom of God and embodying the message in the Sermon on the Mount.
  • Jesus drinks the “cup of God’s wrath” that Jeremiah foretold, fulfilling the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible and the story of Israel. Jesus then made it possible for anyone to be received by God in favor.

The Restorative Promise of God’s Anger

In part one (0:00–11:45), Tim, Jon, and Carissa discuss the difficult topic of divine anger, the center attribute of the character traits God uses to describe himself in Exodus 34:6-7.

In this episode, we zoom out to survey God’s anger at a macro level throughout the entire biblical story. The narrative storyline of the Hebrew Bible repeats itself again and again, leading to the surprising climax of Jesus’ life and sacrifice. Though God's people continuously rebel and are given over to judgment, the prophets saw a day when God would fulfill his promises to Abraham and David.

Isaiah 54:7-9
“For a brief moment I forsook you, But with great compassion I will gather you. In an outburst of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, But with everlasting lovingkindness, I will have compassion on you,” Says the Lord your Redeemer. “For this is like the days of Noah to me, When I swore that the waters of Noah Would not flood the earth again; So I have sworn that I will not be angry with you Nor will I rebuke you.”

Here, Isaiah compares Israel’s Babylonian exile to the great flood. God’s judgment is a “flood” of anger, but that’s not the only meaning behind the comparison. Just like he did with the flood, God will save a remnant through which he will demonstrate his compassion. The prophets always maintain this expectation of God’s compassion for the nation of Israel, and the psalmists speak often of God’s enduring favor on a personal level.

Psalm 30:2-5
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; You have kept me alive, that I would not go down to the pit. Sing praise to the Lord, you his godly ones, And give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning.

In the Hebrew Bible, we see God hand his people over to be ruled by pagan nations, who act as arbiters of God’s judgment. But God’s anger is not an isolated attribute. He may get angry, but his loyal love means he won’t abandon his people. Tim concludes part one with the observation that, as with any good father, there is a restorative role to God’s anger. If God’s people turn away from what makes God angry, he promises his favor.

John the Baptizer: The New Old Testament Prophet

In part two (11:45–20:45), Tim, Jon, and Carissa move us into the events of the New Testament. At the beginning of each Gospel account, we encounter John the Baptizer, who calls for people to turn from their sins to escape God's wrath.

Matthew 3:7-10
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father;’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

John represents a new Jeremiah or a new Ezekiel, warning of a new movement of God’s anger that is coming. He calls the leaders of Israel “serpents’ seed” and says that God will have to clean house all over again.

Matthew 3:11-12
As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove his sandals; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will thoroughly clear his threshing floor; and he will gather his wheat into the barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Carissa points out that John's words are a warning and that God's anger always leaves room for restoration. John understood that God's judgment was coming upon Israel through the tangible presence of the Roman empire. John’s message shows us that the anger of God in the Hebrew Bible is still very much present in the face of rebellion.

A Prophet Who Brings Good News

In part three (20:45–25:45), the team talks about the role of God’s anger and judgment in the teachings of Jesus. At the onset of Jesus’ ministry, he almost never mentions God’s anger and instead talks more about God’s generosity, mercy, care, and love.

When Jesus visits the synagogue in his hometown, Nazareth, he’s handed the scroll of Isaiah, and he reads from it.

Luke 4:18-19 (quoting from Isaiah 61:1-2)
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Because he anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.

Tim points out that Jesus actually doesn’t read Isaiah’s full train of thought here. The closing line should go on to say, “To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God,” but Jesus leaves off that part about God’s anger. Jesus isn’t afraid to tick people off, so what is he doing here? He’s starting a movement that he sees as happening within a narrow window of time. There’s an opportunity before the arrival of the day of wrath for all to embrace the Gospel of the Kingdom he comes to offer.

God's character hasn't changed since the events of the Old Testament, and Jesus represents an opportunity for repentance before God hands Israel over to judgment at the hands of Rome. When God deals with sinful humanity, he is both merciful and just.

Repentance, Practically Speaking

In part four (25:45–37:17), Tim, Jon, and Carissa look at Jesus’ warnings, the drumbeat undergirding his overarching message of good news. Tim points out some key examples of warnings throughout Jesus’ teachings.

Matthew 7:24-27
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.

Jesus’ listeners, raised on the story of Noah, would hear this exactly how Jesus intended it—a flood is coming. A flood of God’s wrath and judgment will fall on Jerusalem if they continue to rebel.

When Jesus sends his disciples out to proclaim the good news, he gives them instructions that end with a warning.

Matthew 10:14-15
Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that city.

Carissa points out that Jesus sounds a lot like the Old Testament prophets here. What's different, Tim says, is that Jesus gives a new and specific path to repentance through living out the Sermon on the Mount and embodying the Kingdom of God.

For all his reticence to speak of God’s anger at the beginning of his ministry, we eventually see a shift. In Matthew 11, for instance, Jesus pronounces woes of judgment over the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaid, who had rejected him.

Matthew 11:21-24
Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.

Jesus’ continual allusions to God’s judgment in Israel’s history make his message clear: judgment is coming. But in Luke 13, he gets explicit about how God’s judgment will arrive. Jesus warns that Rome will be the instrument of judgment for all of Israel if they refuse to repent.

God, still angered by the sins of humanity, sent Jesus as the ultimate emissary of his favor, the supreme messenger of good news, to form a new covenant family. But it all hinged on Israel’s willingness to repent and follow Jesus. Jesus’ language to describe judgment grows increasingly graphic as his crucifixion approaches.

Luke 19:41-44
When he approached Jerusalem, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.

Luke 21:20-24
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

Jon points out that in these passages we see yet another example of Jesus bringing fulfillment to the Hebrew Bible and the story of Israel.

Tim, Jon, and Carissa conclude by asking the question: What did Jesus think he was doing by offering a way out through repentance and living according to God’s Kingdom?

Jesus is calling into question the status quo. In the midst of a people angry and increasingly violent in reaction to Roman rule, Jesus says, “love your enemies.” He stands in the midst of Israel as one of the marginalized people he came to dignify and says, “repent and follow my counter-cultural way, and you will be saved.”

Jesus the Atoning Lamb

In part five (37:15–end), Jon ties it all together by reminding us that Jesus came to a people bent on rebellion––not just spiritual rebellion against God but political rebellion too. Jesus calls for peace and love toward all people, even those we count as enemies.

But the story doesn’t end there. Jesus rides into Jerusalem, weeping because he knows the leaders of Israel have rejected him. God’s anger is coming. So Jesus arrives in Jerusalem during Passover, knowing he intends to put himself in the place of his enemies, so that the leaders of Israel can kill him. Jesus offers himself as a righteous intercessor on behalf of his people. In so doing, he drinks the cup of God’s anger Jeremiah spoke of (Jeremiah 25:15).

Show Music

  • “Defender Instrumental” by Tents
  • “Snacks” by No Spirit
  • “Tending the Garden feat. Keenebac” by Stan Forebee
  • “Anywhere But Here feat. Philanthrope” by Dotlights
  • “Better Together Forever” by Team Astro

Show produced by Dan Gummel. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.

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