Friday, April 23, 2010

John Piper on God's Final Wrath

The wrath of God like this: the wrath of God is God’s settled anger toward sin expressed in the repayment of suitable vengeance on the guilty sinner.

Four Characteristics of the Final Wrath of God

1. The final wrath of God is eternal—having no end.In Daniel 12:2 God promises that the day is coming when “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

Jesus spoke of the eternity of God’s wrath in numerous ways. Consider three. In Mark 9:43-48, he said,

And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.

So twice he calls the fires of hell “unquenchable” that is, they will never go out. The point of that is to say soberly and terribly, that if you go there, there will be no relief for ever and ever.

Second, in Mark 3:29 Jesus says, “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” This is a startling statement. It rules out all those thoughts of universalism that say, even if there is a hell, one day it will be emptied after people have suffered long enough. No. That is not what Jesus said. He said that there is sin for which there will never be forgiveness. There are people who will never be saved. They are eternally lost.

Third, in Matthew 25 he told the parable of the sheep and the goats to illustrate the way it will be when Jesus comes back to save his people and punish the unbelievers. In verse 41 he says, “Then [the king] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” And to make crystal clear that eternal means everlasting he says again in verse 46, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” So the punishment is eternal in the same way that life is eternal. Both mean: never-ending. Everlasting. It is an almost incomprehensible thought. O, let it have its full effect on you. Jesus did not intend to speak this way in vain.

After the teaching of Jesus, the apostle Paul put the eternity of God’s wrath this way in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9:

The Lord Jesus [will be] revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

Destruction does not mean obliteration or annihilation, any more than the destruction of the enemy army means the defeated soldiers do not exist any more. It means they are undone. They are defeated. They and stripped of all that makes life pleasant. They are made miserable forever.

Finally, the great apostle of love, the apostle John, who gives us the sweet words of John 3:16, used the strongest language for the eternal duration of the wrath of God: “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Revelation 14:11). And Revelation 19:3, “The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” These are the strongest phrases for eternity that Biblical writers could use.

So the first thing we must say about the wrath of God at the end of the age that comes upon those who do not embrace Christ as Savior and Lord, is that it is eternal—it will never end.

2. The final wrath of God will be terrible—indescribable pain.
Consider some of the word pictures of God’s wrath in the New Testament. And as you consider them remember the folly of saying, “But aren’t those just symbols? Isn’t fire and brimstone just a symbol?” I say beware of that, because it does not serve your purpose. Suppose fire is a symbol. Do people use symbols of horror because the reality is less horrible or more horrible than the symbols? I don’t know of anyone who uses symbolic language for horrible realities when literal language would make it sound more horrible.

People grasp for symbols of horror (or beauty) because the reality they are trying to describe is worse (or better) than they can put into words. If I say, “My wife is the diamond of my life,” I don’t want you to say, “Oh, he used a symbol of something valuable; it’s only a symbol. So his wife must not be as valuable as a diamond.” No. I used the symbol of the most valuable jewel I could think of because my wife is far more precious than jewels. Honest symbols are not used because they go beyond reality, but because reality goes beyond words.

So when the Bible speaks of hell-fire, woe to us if we say, “It’s only a symbol.” If it is a symbol at all, it means the reality is worse than fire, not better. The word “fire” is used not to make the easy sound terrible, but to make the exceedingly terrible sound something like what it really is.

So Jesus says in Matthew 13:41-42, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (see verse 49). Then he adds at least three more terrible images of God’s wrath besides fire.

1.He pictures it as a master returning and finding his servant disobeying his commands, and he “will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51). The wrath of God is like cutting someone in pieces.
2.Then he pictures it as darkness: “The sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12). The wrath of God is like being totally blind forever.
3.Finally he quotes Isaiah 66:24 and says “Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). In Isaiah 66:24 God says, “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
In Revelation 6:15-16, the apostle John adds that the wrath of God—indeed the wrath of Jesus himself—will be so terrible that every class of human beings will cry out for rocks to crush them rather than face the wrath:

Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb."

The last picture of horror that I will mention is the final one of the Bible, namely, the lake of fire. It is called the “second death” in Revelation 20:14, “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” Revelation 2:11 says that those who conquer—that is, believers in Jesus—“will not be hurt by the second death,” implying that those who do not believe will be. Revelation 20:15 makes that explicit: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Then verse 10 adds, “They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

Therefore, I consider it a gentle understatement to say, “The final wrath of God will be terrible—indescribable pain.” And putting the first and second truths together: This terrible, indescribably painful wrath will last for ever. There will be no escape. Now is the day of salvation. Now is the day of God’s patience. After you die, there will be no offer of salvation and no way to obtain it.

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