I remember sitting at a Christian youth conference listening to a speaker discuss the results of a life without Christ. He was one of those loud, borderline obnoxious speakers trying his best to get the attention of a thousand or so complacent middle and high schoolers. Hell was his theme, and toward the end of his talk he revealed something to us that shocked me to the core. “What does Jesus ultimately save you from?” he queried us.
My first thought was to answer what he had been talking about all night—hell. My guess was echoed aloud when he singled out a student and asked him to answer.
“Hell?” the teen said.
“Nope, wrong. Anyone else?”
“Sin!” a few chorused.
Then a small voice piped up: “God?”
I was completely confused, as were most in the room, but as the speaker explained how Jesus’ death on the cross saves us from God, I saw the statement was true. Yes, Jesus does save us from many things: our sins, eternity in hell and even dissatisfaction in this life, but who ultimately set forth the rules and consequences of sin, thus earning us an eternity separated from Christ’s glory and joy? Because sinful man’s ultimate punishment lies with God and His wrath, then when Jesus died on the cross, He was dying to save us from Him. The book of 1 Thessalonians says, “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath" (emphasis added) (1 Thes. 1:9-10, NIV). And whose wrath is it that Christ is saving us from? God’s.
Although the modern evangelical church rightly tries to avoid the stigma of preaching only “fire and brimstone,” the Bible is clear that God’s wrath is a fearsome reality. Plenty of verses show us this: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them" (Romans 1:18-19, ESV). And, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient" (Ephesians 3:6, ESV). Revelation 19:15 says this about Jesus displaying the wrath of God during the end of this world: “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (ESV).
Oftentimes, we may describe God’s punishment for our sins as merely being separated from Him for eternity. This is correct, but that picture is incomplete. God cannot tolerate sin in any form because of His holiness, and He is directly involved in the acting out of punishment against the unrighteous. Revelation says God’s wrath is like a winepress. A similar picture is seen in Isaiah 63:3-4. “I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with me; I trod them in my anger and trampled them in my wrath; their lifeblood spattered on my garments, and stained all my apparel. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption had come" (ESV).
The text in Isaiah 63 should cause us to tremble—to know that God would so ferociously destroy those who reject Him that His garments will be stained with blood—but it should also make us fall down in thankfulness that we do not have do endure His wrath.
His Son already has.
If Christ merely saved us from a horrible life in this world or from merely being annihilated out of existence, then His death is belittled. But the more we understand the severity of the punishment for our sins and the catastrophic and violent results of a sinful, unrepentant life, the more precious the cross of Christ becomes.
While Jesus was here on earth He ushered in the Kingdom of God with many miraculous acts like healing the sick and giving sight to the blind. He fed the poor and taught that we should love our enemies, which were groundbreaking for that time and culture. We all ought to follow His example, and this is where the current emergent church is excelling. But may we not lose sight of Christ’s most radical act of all—taking on the curse of sin and the full wrath of God even though we were completely deserving of it.
When we turn on the evening news and see the plight of Sudan, the tragedy of a government not feeding its countrymen in North Korea or the selective abortions of millions of babies around the world, it should make tears well up in our eyes and move us to act. However, if we address these issues but do not tell of the impending wrath that has been laid upon us due to our sinfulness and the hope of Christ’s redemption, what have we accomplished? If we feed millions and stop global violence but do not preach that God’s Son came into this world to redeem them from the torment of hell, they may be rescued in this life but our efforts ultimately will have been for naught.
As Christians we should follow the emerging church’s example of having a sold-out passion for correcting social injustices by helping the poor and sick and repressed, but we must not ignore clear Biblical truths, including being saved from God’s wrath. Yes, it may make the Gospel seem unattractive to some of our friends or neighbors, but it is the reality of the situation we all find ourselves in. It is not for us to hide truths we think will turn people off. We have been commanded to preach the Gospel to all nations and let God handle the results.
Because of God’s love toward His enemies (Romans 5:10), He sent His Son into the world to not only heal and feed, but to take on His Father’s justified wrath against them—the most radical thing Jesus accomplished.
That is what we must tell the world.