By Dane Skelton
A recent message from 2nd Samuel 6 touched on the holiness of God expressed in judgment for irreverent acts. In that Old Testament story God struck down Uzzah for touching the Ark of the Covenant. In a similar story in the New Testament God struck down Ananias and Saphira for fraud in the Church (See Acts 5). This message understandably generated some questions about God and the gospel. One friend summed it up well, “I thought it was all about forgiveness, that God would forgive anything. So I’m having a hard time understanding. Can you explain?” I offered my friend a copy of Mart De Haan’s excellent article on the subject (reprinted at the end of this email). But I’d also like to add a few thoughts of my own.
The conventional wisdom has it that there are two Gods represented in the Bible: the Old Testament God of judgment and wrath and the New Testament God of love and forgiveness. A cursory reading of the two testaments would seem to support that idea. Global flooding, catastrophic plagues, Haiti-like earthquakes swallowing up offending people and fire falling from the sky on hapless sinners punctuates the Old Testament (OT) narrative. In the New Testament (NT) major sinners seem to catch a big break. Nothing bad happened to Pilate who caved to political pressure and crucified the innocent Jesus. Fraudulent tax men, prostitutes, adulterers and people who ignored the other ceremonial parts of the Mosaic Law were welcomed in Christ’s presence. Forgiveness full and free is proclaimed to all who believe in his name.
So what gives? Are there two Gods? Or are we missing something(s)?
One important thing to remember when reading the Old Testament is that the Bible is a progressive revelation. From Genesis to Malachi (the last book in the OT) and from Matthew to Revelation the story of God’s work of rescuing man from sin is moving toward a climax in the person of Jesus Christ (John 5:39). Each book tells us something that we didn’t know or illustrates an earlier teaching about the holiness, righteousness, and justice of God. But, as De Haan points out, the OT reveals the love and mercy of God every bit as much as it reveals his wrath. We just tend to forget those parts.
A second important thing to remember is that the New Testament reveals the wrath of God every bit as much as it reveals his love and mercy. De Haan mentions Jesus cleansing the temple. In Acts 12 Herod Antipas was struck down for taking praise that belonged to God alone. We’ve already mentioned Ananias and Sapphira. In Acts 13 Elymas the sorcerer is temporarily blinded for “perverting the right ways of the Lord.” Most telling, Jesus himself renders one of the most damning rebukes in the whole Bible against the sins of hypocrisy and violence in Matthew 23. And finally, the judgments and wrath foretold against all kinds of sin and unbelief in the last book of the New Testament totally eclipse anything seen in the Old Testament. The Revelation of Jesus Christ portrays the returning King of Creation with awesome terror.
He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Rev 19:13-16 NIV; See also 2 Peter 3:1-18)
If the wrath of God is revealed as clearly in the NT as in the OT then why aren’t we seeing more of it in the present?
That is the most important thing to remember: for everyone who believes, Christ has absorbed the wrath of God for all time. That is what makes God “just and the justifier of the unjust.” (Romans 3:22-26; Romans 5:8-9; 1 Thess. 1:8-10). He poured out his judgment and wrath on his own son so that those who put their hope in him may escape the wrath that will come (John 3:14-18). Until then our calling, the mission we have been given from God, is to tell everyone we can find that God loves them so much that he has made it possible to avoid judgment through faith in God’s son.