In “day of wrath” Jefferson Vann concludes on the basis of Romans 2:5 that God has not yet poured out his wrath on anyone.
Today I just want to share a few thoughts based on Romans 2:5.“But because of your obstinacy and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous condemnation is going to be revealed!”
The biblical doctrine of hell can be expressed as the answer to three specific questions:
1. What is the nature of hell? 2. Who will experience hell? 3. When will hell happen?
There has been some discussion in the past few years about whether Jesus suffered hell for us on the cross. The discussion is applicable because it addresses all three questions.
There are a number of passages which should be consulted to find a biblical answer to that discussion, and this verse is among them. I would like to present this verse as part of my case that Jesus did not suffer the wrath of God on the cross. The passage gives us a clear indication of when the wrath of God will be experienced.
Paul’s argument in Romans 2 is that merely having the law is not enough to save anyone, because God will judge everyone on the basis of their works, and all of us stand condemned on that basis. Hell is coming for everyone who sins, regardless of how religious they are.
Paul will go on in chapter 3 of Romans to explain that since we are all condemned already — since we are all sinners — we have to trust in Christ alone for our salvation, because only Christ brings justification and redemption.
In 2:5, Paul is addressing those who condemn others for their sinfulness, but refuse to admit that they too are sinners in need of God’s remedy — Christ’s death on the cross. The verse speaks about the coming day of wrath in which God’s condemnation will be revealed.
There is no indication in this verse that the wrath of God has already been poured out on anyone — not even Christ on the cross. Instead, God is patiently reserving his just judgment of everyone until the judgment day — which is decidedly in the future.
But didn’t Paul already say that “God’s wrath is now being revealed from the sky against human ungodliness and unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18)? Yes, but there is a difference between revealing God’s wrath and experiencing it. Paul taught in Romans 1 that those who will eventually experience God’s wrath on judgment day have a number of tells which show that they are destined for that wrath. These tells are not the wrath itself, but evidences in their lives that they will suffer that wrath in the future. The tells include:
sexual immorality (1:24)
homosexuality and lesbianism (1:26-27)
a depraved mind (1:28)
every kind of unrighteousness (1:29-32)
The tells do not mean that God is already condemning everyone who dies to an eternity of suffering. They are indications that a day of wrath is coming in which God will condemn everyone who is not saved. But instead of the wrath of God, we are all now experiencing his “kindness, forbearance, and patience” (2:4) because he wants us all to repent so that we never have to experience that coming wrath!
Those who live the immoral lifestyle described in Romans 1 are not presently in hell, but their open sinful rebellion against God indicate that they deserve God’s wrath when it comes.
Those who refuse to repent are not experiencing God’s wrath — they are storing up God’s wrath to be experienced. But Paul does not say that it will be experienced at death. He says it will be experienced “in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous condemnation is going to be revealed!” Now, what do we know about the day of wrath?
It appears that Paul borrowed the phrase “day of wrath” from the prophet Zephaniah.
“A day of wrath is that day, A day of trouble and distress, A day of destruction and desolation, A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness, A day of trumpet and battle cry Against the fortified cities And the high corner towers. I will bring distress on men So that they will walk like the blind, Because they have sinned against the LORD; And their blood will be poured out like dust And their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold Will be able to deliver them On the day of the LORD’s wrath; And all the earth will be devoured In the fire of His jealousy, For He will make a complete end, Indeed a terrifying one, Of all the inhabitants of the earth. (Zephaniah 1:15-18 NASB).
Zephaniah was predicting a temporal judgment upon Judah, but the language he used looked beyond that. Several New Testament authors pick up on some of that language in their description of the final judgment of the lost in Gehenna.
wrath (Matthew 3:7; Romans 12:19).
distress (Romans 2:9; Matthew 8:12; 13:42,50)
destruction (Matthew 7:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:9)
darkness (Matthew 8:12; 24:29)
clouds (Matthew 24:30; Revelation 1:7)
trumpet (Matthew 24:31)
battle cry (Revelation 7:7,9)
blood poured out (Revelation 14:20)
devoured in fire (Revelation 20:9)
a complete end (1 Corinthians 15:24)
What Zephaniah saw coming on a national level, these New Testament authors understood was also going to happen on a cosmic level. They anticipated a coming day of violent wrath which would end in the complete destruction of the wicked.
So, Romans 2:5 in its canonical context provides an answer to the three doctrinal questions about Gehenna hell:
1. What is the nature of hell?
Hell is a coming day of God’s righteous condemnation — resulting in violent wrath which will end in the complete destruction of the wicked.
2. Who will experience hell?
The wicked are under God’s righteous condemnation, so they will experience destruction in hell, and the saved will be rescued, so that they will not have to experience it.
3. When will hell happen?
There will be a coming day of wrath in which God will condemn all those who are not rescued by repentance and faith in Christ. Hell is not happening today — not even to the dead. Instead, God’s wrath is being stored up, and we are presently experiencing his “kindness, forbearance, and patience” (2:4).
Now — to the question of whether Christ had to suffer hell on the cross. It could be argued on the basis of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement that Christ had to suffer hell in order to rescue the elect from it.
Romans 2:5 does not provide a complete answer to that question, but it is a good place to start.
First, the day of wrath that Zephaniah described was a day of destruction which would bring the evildoers of Judah to a complete end. There was no eternal torment implied. When the New Testament authors borrowed the language from the prophet, they did so knowing full well that it was the language of violent destruction.
What Christ had to experience on the cross was a sacrificial death. If he had not died on that cross, we would still be in our sins, and we would still be storing up wrath for ourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous condemnation is going to be revealed!
Think about the analogy of a sacrificial lamb. Does a lamb have to suffer torment in order to qualify as a sacrifice? No, in fact the Jews went to great links to slaughter their sacrificial animals in the most humane way possible, in order to cause the least amount of suffering. It is not suffering that atones for sin, but death. The worshiper cherishes his lamb, he does not pour out his wrath on it.
The Day of God’s wrath has not happened yet. We are living in the age of God’s grace, which is manifested by his kindness, not his condemnation — his forbearance, not his fire, and his patience, not his punishment. Instead of pouring out his wrath on his Son, the Father lovingly provided his Son as a substitute, putting him to death on the cross, so that he could rescue some of us from the penalty of our own sins.
But the day of wrath is coming. All those who refuse God’s kindness today will experience his condemnation then. All those who ignore his forbearance today will suffer destruction in his fire then. All those who test his patience today will experience his punishment then. They are storing up wrath for themselves in the day of wrath.
Jefferson Vann is a teacher, Bible translator, and avid blogger.
"My hope is that everyone who reads my writings will have an opportunity to understand the gospel, and will know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior." He has written books on theology and Bible commentary.
You can read more of Jeff's writing at Devotions | Jefferson Vann | Commands of Christ | Learning Koine Greek Together