Understanding God’s Wrath in the Bible

Jesus, who was God, showed God's wrath when he cleared the temple of sellers

Understanding God’s Wrath in the Bible


Some people say a truly loving God could never be angry with anyone. Others say the Bible teaches that God is by nature a wrathful God. I believe both are wrong. But the Bible clearly speaks of God’s wrath, and not just a few, but many times. So, how could a loving God get angry? And why? In this post we will look at Scriptures that answer these questions.


We were created for his purpose and pleasure


Before we start, let’s look at a few basic truths about God. First, he made the world with clear evidence of his existence. Second, although he is majestic and eternal, he is also a personal being and not just an impersonal force—he is relational. It may surprise you, but God has emotions. Third, he created us in his image, also with emotions and the need for relationships.  So, he gave us the freedom to pursue a relationship with him or not.

From these very basic truths, we know that God has expectations of us.  He expects a response from us.


God’s wrath against the ungodly and wicked

What response does God expect of us? The apostle Paul wrote:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him…. (Romans 1:18-21)

God expects us to glorify (worship) him as God, and to give him thanks for his good gifts. No one can claim ignorance of his existence (because of his awesome creation) or of our basic obligation to thank him for providing for our basic needs. But when we ignore him and refuse to seek, glorify, or thank him, he is rightfully displeased.

In this passage, Paul is describing the wicked and ungodly, who are unrepentant and defiant toward God. God is angry with them, because they know these truths but intentionally suppress them. They are aware there is a Creator God, but they deliberately ignore him. And they even suppress any information that may help others know him. Some even worship created things instead of the Creator.

God’s wrath is justified

God made us for a love relationship with him. When we seek him and love him, he is pleased. But when we ignore and defy him, he is displeased. By willfully disobeying him, we show we don’t want to please him—we are rejecting him. He made us for a purpose, but when we refuse to live by it, this makes him angry.

So, God’s anger isn’t arbitrary or capricious. Because he is good, he is impartial in his judgments and his anger is justified.


An example from everyday life

The reason for God’s anger is shown very simply by the relationship children have with their parents. Although the anger of human parents can also be ungodly and selfish, all good and reasonable parents get angry with their children from time to time.

It’s a very basic dynamic. If a parent has taught their child not to do something but the child does it anyway, the parent will get angry. The anger is justified. But if the child was never taught not to do it, then anger is unjustified. I remember how angry my mom got with me as a teenager when she found out I was using illegal drugs, and even selling them. Her anger was quite unpleasant, but it was for my own good, as it forced me to quit.

If a child does something wrong, but then comes to the parent in shame and humility and confesses it, what then? Should the parent remain angry? No. A good parent is pleased and is thankful that their child is remorseful. Now the discipline process will be much shorter, and the punishment will be much lighter.

When does a parent get really angry? When the child does something wrong and is defiant about it. They knew it was wrong, but they didn’t care and did it anyway. And they may even have done it to spite the parents, to make them mad. That’s when the sparks fly. No parent, however patient, will put up with this.

Why does God get angry?

These same dynamics are reflected in God’s dealings with the human race. And we see them at work all throughout Scripture. There is always revelation before there is judgment and punishment. God provides a number of ways to know right from wrong: through conscience, reason, consequences, and his Word. He’s rightfully angry with those who know what’s right but prefer the wrong.  When we intentionally disregard and disobey his decrees, we are also rejecting him as God. And this makes him sad, but also angry.

When does God get really angry? When we clearly know his will—his laws and decrees—but we willingly defy him. Paul affirms that knowledge of God’s will is the key to God’s anger:

Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:32)

He has warned us many times and given us many opportunities to change, but we intentionally disobey him. This is when God has to lay down the law. So, God gets angry only when there is good reason. He doesn’t direct his anger at everyone, but specifically at those who intentionally disobey him. And it’s certainly not capricious or unpredictable.


Does God’s wrath need to be appeased?

Some religions and churches teach that the Creator is by nature an angry God. Their theologians insist that wrath is another attribute of God, reasoning that since God is immutable (unchanging), then his anger likewise never changes. This leads some to conclude that God is angry all the time and needs to be “appeased.” The focus of this type of theology is on the holiness of God: that every sin we commit offends his holiness and since everyone is sinful, then God is angry with everyone all the time. In this view, God’s wrath is his default attitude towards everyone.

But these beliefs do not accurately portray the true Creator God as presented in the Bible. In truth the Creator isn’t innately angry and doesn’t like to be known as such. My post Is the Creator a God of Wrath? explains this in more detail.


Repentance pleases God


God’s anger is not his revenge on those who offend him. It’s related to our relationship with him. God’s default attitude toward us is love, not anger. He desires all people to be reconciled with him (1 Timothy 2:4). And he is also patient and kind. He wants everyone to know how much he loves us and longs to forgive us. It’s when we deliberately reject him and defy him that he gets angry.

Because of their sins, the prophet Jeremiah exhorted the people of Judah:

“So put on sackcloth and lament and wail, for the fierce anger of the Lord has not turned away from us.” (Jeremiah 4:8)

In this example and throughout the Bible, if the people who sinned didn’t repent, then God stayed angry. But if they did repent, seek God, and embrace his will, his anger was “turned away.”¹ Like human parents, the Lord is pleased when people are remorseful and want to be reconciled with him. He’s delighted when we respond back to him in love (2 Peter 3:9). He welcomes the prodigal with open arms (Luke 15:11-24). There may still be some consequences for the bad behavior, but the important thing is that the relationship is restored.

Discipline versus wrath

Jeremiah spoke of both discipline and wrath when he pleaded with God:

Discipline me, Lord, but only in due measure—not in your anger, or you will reduce me to nothing. Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the peoples who do not call on your name. (Jeremiah 10:24-25)

Jeremiah knew that God is merciful to those who acknowledge him and disciplines them when they sin. But to those who reject him and refuse to seek him, he pours out his wrath.


Jesus demonstrated both God’s love and anger

A review of the gospels shows how this played out in Jesus’ ministry. He presented God as loving, kind, and longing for people to come to him in faith. Jesus was kind and compassionate with those who were broken and burdened by sin. He spoke forgiveness and grace to them to draw them to repentance.

But he was angry with the unrepentant and arrogant and those who were abusive toward others. He was also angry with those who were defiant toward him and his teaching, and especially angry with those who profited personally from God’s holy place of worship. He demonstrated God’s anger by driving out the money changers and sellers from the temple.


How does God show his anger?


To direct us toward the right path, God first shows his anger using softer measures, then more severe measures as time goes on. The Bible mentions the following ways.

1) Consequences for bad choices

When we sin against others or God, we first experience the direct consequences of our bad decisions. These are not God’s anger so much as just the results of ignoring the commands he established for human behavior. These include pain, broken relationships, and financial loss. Life becomes much harder and less enjoyable. For believers in Christ, God uses consequences to discipline and correct.

A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord.  (Proverbs 19:3)

But the consequences of our bad choices aren’t always immediate. This allows us to think there are no consequences.

2) God gives us over to our evil desires

If someone continues in sin and doesn’t repent after many opportunities, God “gives them over” to their own sinful desires.  We could say this is stage two of God’s anger. Continuing Paul’s discussion in Romans:

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…. (Romans 1:24-25)

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind…. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.  (Romans 1: 28-29)

These verses apply more to the unbeliever and the unrepentant. God gives them what they really want, along with all of the damage that results. And they become more like the sinful people they admire. Some call this God’s “passive wrath.”

3)  Physical Judgment

The next stage of God’s wrath is when he takes action against rebellion and gives a physical punishment. On a personal level this might be by inflicting sickness or misfortune. On a group level it could be a natural disaster. Or it could even be allowing a foreign power to invade, as when the Babylonians invaded Israel in the time of Jeremiah. This is a much stronger form of his anger—stage three. There are many examples of this in the Bible. One of the most well-known is when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness (Genesis 18:16-19:29).

Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, destroying all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. (Genesis 19:24-25)

Of course, most invasions are the result of sin and oppression by an aggressor. And not all natural disasters or illnesses are the results of God’s wrath. We need to remember that we as humans cannot judge the reason behind someone’s sickness or misfortune or why a natural disaster has occurred. Only God has this knowledge, and those to whom he might decide to reveal it.

4) Physical death

Physical death is God’s universal punishment for sin and is the fourth stage. Moses, in Psalm 90, prayed to God:

You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”  (vs 3)

Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death— they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered. We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation.  (vs 5-7)

All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. (vs 9)

Was Moses saying that when anyone dies, God is angry with them? No. He’s reminding us that the punishment for sin was and still is death. Death is the great leveler—it brings us back to reality. Our impending death causes us to think about getting right with God. Everyone dies, so the wise person will live out their life before God in humility, well before they die.

5) The Final Judgment

If impending death isn’t enough to lead someone to repentance, then God will settle accounts with them after they die, on the final Day of Judgment. At that event, he will punish those who never repented of their sin and unbelief. This will be the last but most intense anger God ever gives: a severe, final, and irreversible punishment. Paul speaks of this in Romans 2:

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.  (Romans 2:5)

But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.  (Romans 2:8)

At the final judgment, God’s anger will be given in full force to the wicked and unrepentant—those who defy him and refuse to acknowledge him. God gave them many opportunities to know him, worship him, and give him thanks, but they refused.  Jesus told us that their death is final—a total destruction of the person, both soul and body in Gehenna (Matthew 10:28).


Jesus saves us from God’s coming wrath


But Paul tells us there is very good news: Jesus can save us from God’s coming wrath. Speaking of believers in Christ, he said:

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  (Romans 5:9)

Paul describes God’s wrath in this verse as a future event. This can only mean the “stage five” wrath at the final judgment. On judgment day God will save the believers from the terrifying punishment of Gehenna, through their faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Isaiah prophesied of the day when God would turn his anger away from those who repent and trust in the Messiah:

In that day you will say: “I will praise you, Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.”  (Isaiah 12:1-2)


Christ’s death reconciled us to God 

The good news is that although we are all sinful, God provided a remedy for our sin. The apostle Paul wrote:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…  (Romans 5:1)

Those who trust Christ for salvation are justified or acquitted of guilt before God. God’s remedy for sin was the death of Jesus his Son, and when we accept this remedy for ourselves, we reconcile with God, and we have peace with him. When we hear the gospel, realize our sinfulness and come to him in humble repentance and faith, he’s no longer angry but he’s delighted with us. But God’s anger remains on those who know about this remedy and don’t accept it. They know the truth but defy God by willfully and continually suppressing it.


Our response

God’s not angry with everyone, only those who reject and defy him. Admittedly, this describes most people in the world. But my prayer is that you as a reader are not in defiance against God. If so, you should know that although he loves you, he’s angry with you.

Have you reconciled with your Creator? If not, the solution is simple. Accept the remedy God provided for your sin through Jesus Christ. Reconcile with him and turn to him in repentance and faith. When you do, you will have peace with God. I pray you will do so soon.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. (John 3:36)





¹ See Numbers 25:4, Deuteronomy 13:17, Joshua 7:26, 2 Chronicles 29:10, 30:8, Ezra 10:14, Jonah 3:9, and John 3:36.

Christ in Scripture is listed on Feedspot Top 200 Christian Blogs.

2 thoughts on “Understanding God’s Wrath in the Bible”

  1. One thing that life has taught me is that one must be willing to take a stand; both a stand for what is good, and a stand against what is bad. If a father worked hard to provide a good, safe home for his children, but tolerated the bad behavior of an intruder who would disrupt the peace of his home, that would be illogical and ineffective.

    The same is true of our Heavenly Father, whom seeks to provide redemption for mankind. If God were to turn a blind eye to wrongdoing, we would never be able to experience righteous conditions. In order for there to truly be peace requires that all of creation be in harmony with God’s will.

    2 Peter 3:9 tells us: “ The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” God takes no delight in the death of the wicked, but he cannot allow wickedness to persist, unchecked, either. He gives an opportunity for all to repent, and indeed some do. But He also sets limits upon His patience, for the sake of the righteous.

    Some people have the mistaken notion that God was wrathful in the Old Testament and loving in the New Testament. This is not accurate. The Old Testament was, for the most part, about God’s dealing with Israel. This was a nation that was miraculously delivered from Egypt and entered into a covenant with God. He had every right to hold them to the standards that they agreed to, and even when they broke His laws, He was patient with them and sent prophets to warn them, before He finally allowed them to be taken into captivity by the Babylonians, and even at that, He restored them to their land in due time. Yes, there was wrath, but all things considered, our God’s response was patient. More importantly, His response served the cause of righteousness and justice. By the time the Babylonians acted, God’s covenant nation had fallen to idolatry and some of the disgusting practices that had caused the Hittites to be vomited from the land. As horrible as that Babylonian invasion was, it was not undeserved. Had God not been in control of His anger, He could have made things much worse for them.

    All the way back to Deuteronomy 28, it was prophesied what would happen if Israel was disobedient. These prophecies have come to pass and the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have been through a lot over the ages. As bad as this has been, it will result in the salvation of a remnant of Israel, and fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. Even in His wrath, God remembers His promises and works towards the good of all who wish to serve Him.

  2. Boghos L. Artinian MD


    Are their pitiful shrieks still reverberating
    In the burned-down churches of Armenian towns, O Lord?
    Is their unclotted blood still seeping
    In the soil of our desecrated lands?
    Are a million ghosts haunting the very homes
    In which their physical twins were massacred, O Lord?
    Is the earth shaking under the feet of murderers
    And toppling their dwellings on their heads?
    Are the heavens raining fires to chastise
    Earthlings so blind to injustice?
    Where is your legendary wrath, O Lord,
    For the horrible deeds of the Ottomans

    Boghos L. Artinian

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Guidelines for Posting Comments

  • Comments on the website should be relevant to the content of the article.
  • Your comment will not appear automatically as it needs approval.
  • Christinscripture.com has the right to edit comments or not publish comments that are inappropriate or not relevant to the article.
  • Posting on Christinscripture.com will not put you on a mailing list. 
Personal Email for Scott ➤

Scroll to Top