Is the Wrath of God Eternal?
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As Jesus explained eternal life, He divided people into two categories in John 3:36.
Category One. He who believes in the Son has eternal life.
Category Two. He who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides upon him.
Some people noticed that the term “abides” (“μένει”–present active indicative) occurs in the present tense. Therefore, in their minds, the wrath of God (“ἡ ὀργὴ τοῦ θεοῦ”) is not eternal, but only temporary on earth. Before we accept that conclusion, we should first examine the rest of the verse and then examine other passages that reference the wrath of God to see if the wrath of God lasts into eternity.
The present tense in New Testament Greek can convey a variety of meanings. In John 3:36, the verb “has” (“ἔχει”–present active indicative) indicates that the person believing in the Son now has eternal life (“ζωὴν αἰώνιον”–see The Concept of Ages in the New Testament). Yet, no one seriously contends that eternal life now does not continue into the eternal future. While Jesus chose the present tense to describe eternal life as the believer’s present possession, Jesus did not mean that eternal life does not continue in the future. In fact, because Jesus contrasted eternal life with the wrath of God, we cannot rule out the possibility that Jesus was also inferring that the wrath of God continues into the eternal future. Now we can dig more deeply into the Scriptures to learn more about the duration of the wrath of God. Does it continue into eternity?
Storing Up Wrath
God described unrepentant sinners as you who are storing up (“θησαυρίζεις”–present active indicative) wrath (” ὀργὴν”) for themselves in the day of wrath (“ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ὀργῆς “) and revelation of the righteous judgment of God (Romans 2:5). Some people argue that this future day of wrath describes the time when God will pour out His wrath upon the inhabitants of the earth during the Tribulation (seven years of God’s judgments poured out upon the inhabitants of earth at that future time). God, however, indicated that people alive during Paul’s day will face the “righteous judgment of God” (“δικαιοκρισίας τοῦ θεοῦ”) in the future; at that future time, God’s righteous judgment will be revealed to them. Those unbelievers, during their lives on earth, are storing up wrath to be revealed in the future day of wrath, at the time when God will judge the unrighteous. So God was not alluding to the future judgments during the Tribulation, but the judgment of God upon unbelievers at the Great White Throne judgment following the Millennial Reign of Christ and the Final Rebellion (see Afterlife). God then explained that God will give the reward of eternal life to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality. But to those people who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath (“ὀργὴ”) and indignation (“θυμός”) (Romans 2:8). Therefore, because wrath and indignation await the unrighteous at the time of future judgment at the Great White Throne judgment, we know that God’s wrath will be revealed in His righteous judgment and condemnation of the wicked in the Lake of Fire. So, this passage shows that the wrath of God continues after earthly existence and continues into the Lake of Fire. The amount of suffering in the Lake of Fire coincides with the amount of evil done on earth by that person.
Saved from Wrath
God revealed that having been justified by the blood of Jesus, we will be saved (“σωθησόμεθα”–future passive indicative) from the wrath (“ὀργῆς”) of God through Jesus (Romans 5:9). Therefore, because the saints will be saved from the future wrath of God, we know that the wrath of God not only abides upon the disobedient today, but they also face a future time of wrath.
Vessels of Wrath
God described a potter who made two kinds of vessels from one lump of clay. He made one vessel for honorable use and the other vessel for common use. Likewise, although God is willing to demonstrate His wrath (“ὀργὴν”) and to make known His power, He endured with great patience vessels of wrath (“σκεύη ὀργῆς”) crafted (“κατηρτισμένα”) for destruction (“ἀπώλειαν”) (Romans 9:22). Please take notice that the vessels of wrath were created by God for destruction, speaking of the eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire.
Children of Wrath
God indicated that unbelievers are by nature (“φύσει”) children of wrath (“τέκνα ὀργῆς”) (Ephesians 2:3). Therefore, not only does the wrath of God abide upon unbelievers (John 3:36), but the unbelievers are by their very nature children of wrath. In contrast, believers are no longer children of wrath by nature, but have become the workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). Because Paul described the nature of unbelievers as children of wrath, we see that he was not describing wrath abiding upon them because of their works, but because of their nature, similar to being vessels of wrath. Do not misunderstand, the wrath of God also abides upon unbelievers because of their works.
Coming Wrath of God
In contrast to the wrath of God presently abiding upon unbelievers (John 3:36), Paul wrote that the wrath of God (“ἡ ὀργὴ τοῦ θεοῦ”) is to come (“ἔρχεται”–present active infinitive) upon the sons of disobedience in the future for their evil behavior today. Therefore, we know that unbelievers live today with the wrath of God abiding upon them (John 3:36), and also face the wrath of God in the future for their evil deeds today (Colossians 3:6).
Placed for Wrath
God contrasted the eternal future of the saints with the eternal future of people placed (“ἔθετο”) for wrath (“ὀργὴν”) (1 Thessalonians 5:9). The term placed (“ἔθετο”) has a fairly consistent usage in the New Testament to describe the act of placing, seizing, or setting something: God placed the times and the epochs by His own authority (Acts 1:7); Paul placed in his heart to go to Jerusalem (Acts 19:21); God placed people as overseers (Acts 20:28); God placed the members in the Body of Christ just as He willed (1 Corinthians 12:18); God placed the spiritual gifts in the church (1 Corinthians 12:28). Therefore, God has not placed believers for wrath, but implied that unbelievers will be placed for wrath in the future, in the same way believers will be placed for eternal life. That place for wrath will be the Lake of Fire.
Future Repayment of Wrath
God commanded believers never to take their own revenge (“ἐκδικοῦντες”). Instead, they must give a place for the wrath (“ὀργῇ”) of God. God promised that He would take vengeance (“ἐκδίκησις”), and “I will repay (“ἀνταποδώσω”)” those who do evil to the saints (Romans 12:19). This verse follows the theme of the future wrath of God, which compels God to repay those who do evil. Notice the wrath here is future and connected to repayment to the evil.
In the future, after the Final Rebellion on earth, the devil will be thrown into the Lake of Fire and brimstone (Revelation 20:10). He will join the beast and the false prophet, who were thrown into the Lake of Fire more than a thousand years previously. Together they will be tormented (“βασανισθήσονται”–future passive participle) day and night forever and ever. The torment they suffer in the Lake of Fire coincides with the fury of fire described in Hebrews 10:27.
Terrifying Expectation of Judgment
God also described a “terrifying expectation” (“φοβερὰ ἐκδοχὴ”) of judgment (“κρίσεως”) and the fury (“ζῆλος”) of a fire which will consume the adversaries (Hebrews 10:27). This judgment occurs in the future, because it is an expectation, realized with severe punishment for people who trampled under foot the Son of God, and have regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29). The future judgment brings fear in the present.
Punishment and Eternal Fire
Jude described Sodom and Gomorrah as cities that sinned in the past, but are now “set before” (“πρόκεινται”–present middle indicative) believers as present examples of undergoing (“ὑπέχουσαι”) the punishment (“δίκην”) of eternal fire. Note the timing here. Sodom and Gomorrah already experience eternal fire as punishment for their deeds. God tied punishment to eternal fire, and indicated that Sodom and Gomorrah suffer that eternal punishment right now, long before the Great White Throne judgment in the future (see Afterlife). Therefore, we may conclude that the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah started to experience punishment in the eternal fire thousands of years ago, it continues in the present, and will continue into the future.
Rescued from Wrath
Jesus rescues (“ῥυόμενον”–present middle participle) believers now from the wrath to come (“ἐρχομένης”–present middle participle), as believers wait for the Son of God to come back to earth (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Just as God rescued (“ἐρρύσατο”–aorist middle indicative) us from the domain of darkness at the time of personal rebirth, so also in the future believers will be rescued from the wrath to come. So, the wrath of God will come upon unbelievers in the future, but believers will be rescued from that time of wrath.
The wrath of God abides upon unbelievers today. The Scriptures also indicate the wrath of God will come in the future and continue for eternity. Beings in the Lake of Fire experience the wrath of God, because they never believed in Jesus for salvation. At the Great White Throne judgment, all unbelievers, and only unbelievers, will appear to be judged according to their works. Then Jesus will do judgment upon them and sentence them to suffer commensurate with their wickedness. Some will receive many stripes, and other just a few. Believers, however, have passed out death into life at the moment of salvation. Not only are believers no longer children of wrath by nature, but they have become partakers of God’s nature. God rescued believers out of the domain of darkness and will rescue them in the future from the wrath to come. The saints will live forever with no fear of the wrath of God, because Jesus took all the wrath of God the saints deserved upon Himself at the cross and satisfied the wrath of God once and for all for each believer.