Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (June 2013)
God’s wrath upon sinners is one of His attributes which is lately not often proclaimed. But the principle stands firm that God abhors sin and will not leave it unpunished. At the final judgement He will condemn all unrepentant sinners to the lake of fire. However, it is not God’s will to condemn sinners and He still calls all of them to repent: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turns from his way and live” (Ezek. 33:11).
Sinners who do not respond to the call to repent are practically in a state of rebellion against God because of refusing to live in accordance with His command of righteousness. They deny His supremacy, disregard His warnings against sin, give full expression to their evil lusts, and further invite His anger by worshipping idols. Through their own actions they compel God to turn them away into eternal darkness at the final judgement.
The Lord has given each of us a free will to decide for ourselves how we want to live and whom we wish to serve. He intimidates nobody as He wishes people to freely love Him by accepting His Son, Jesus Christ, as their Saviour. Although all people have a free choice, they are not free from the consequences of their choices. Those who refuse to obey the truth by serving and loving their Creator will be held accountable: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
It is not only to the glory of the Lord but also in your interest to heed the call to repent. Those who refuse the worldwide offer of salvation by preferring a life of sin above a live of righteousness, will inevitably have to bear the consequences of their way of living: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7). The evil works of sinners will witness against them and they will painfully experience that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).
The final judgement is certain: “...for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29). Although the resurrection of the wicked will only occur at the end of the millennial reign of Christ (Rev. 20:5), it will certainly come to pass. The wicked will be raised from the dead to be physically tormented forever – that is everlasting death.
During Old Testament times, the Lord often poured out His judgements upon evil people, e.g. in the times of Noah and Lot. In this way He extended a clear warning to all people that there is a very high price to be paid by those who harden their hearts and choose the way of rebellion against Him. However, in New Testament times the situation has changed. God commanded that the Christian gospel should first be proclaimed to the entire world before the unbelievers and rebels would be judged. Seven judgements have been determined for the period after the coming of Christ. They are the following:
According to Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is death. The same principle applied in the Old Testament: “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4). God’s righteousness and the immutability of His Word demand judgement on sin. On Golgotha, the Lord Jesus took God’s punishment for the sins of the whole world upon Himself: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him” (Isa. 53:5). Jesus “committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:23-24).
The moment when the burden of the world’s sin was laid upon Jesus, a dark cloud separated Him from His Father. He fully served the death penalty which God had imposed upon sinners, and subsequently arose triumphantly from the dead. He now offers forgiveness for sins and a new life to all repentant sinners who receive Him as their Saviour. The fact that the Lord Jesus has paid the price for our sins means that we will not come into judgement: “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1; cf. John 5:24). For the same reason believers will escape the coming tribulation period (Rev. 3:10).
For centuries during the Old Testament, Israel was being prepared on the coming of the Messiah. The temple service with its shadowy sacrifices was a preparation for the once for all sacrifice of the Messiah who, as the Lamb of God, laid down His life for the sins of humanity. It is obvious that if Israel would not accept the atoning sacrifice which the Messiah brought on their behalf they would, as God’s chosen people, be under His judgements. Because of this they would also forfeit the privilege of being special instruments in God’s hand to evangelise the world. The Great Commission would be entrusted to Christ’s disciples among all nations.
Jerusalem and its inhabitants, who constituted the core of the Jewish nation, were judged by God in 70 AD after the leaders of the nation had committed treason against the Messiah by rejecting Him. The Lord Jesus said to them: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together ... but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matt. 23:37-38).
In Luke He said: “For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:43-44). Israel’s unbelief was severely penalised.
However, there was escape for the true believers from the judgement which ended in Israel’s Diaspora: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled” (Luke 21:20-22). Divine wrath was poured out upon Israel and their capital city, but before that time the Messianic Jews had fled to Pella across the Jordan. They did not come into the judgement of the apostate Jews.
Israel’s dispersion would continue throughout the church dispensation (Lev. 26:33) until, at the end of this period, they would return to their land and their city to face their Messiah again at His second coming. On this occasion the whole remnant of Israel will fully accept Him (Zech. 12:10; Matt. 23:39).
In New Testament times, after the Diaspora of Israel due to national unbelief, the Lord does not judge nations or communities as He did in the times of Noah and Lot, and also in Egypt during the exodus of Israel. We are now living in the time of grace, not of judgement. That does not mean that God has relinquished the rule of judging unrepentant sinners; He will still do it, but the time of judgement will only follow after the church dispensation, which will be formally concluded by the catching away of the true church. That is the reason why evil organisations, governments and false religions could continue to exist for many centuries without being judged. But their judgement will certainly come, and in the meantime they are filling up the measure of their guilt.
The first judgement after the church dispensation will be the judgement seat of Christ, where only believers will appear. After that, the Lord will judge the wicked during the tribulation period: “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now if the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Pet. 4:17-18).
Directly after the rapture, all Christians will appear before the judgement seat of Christ. The works which they have done after repentance will be tested, and rewards of grace given to the overcomers. Paul said to the church in Rome: “For we shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ. ... So then each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:10-12). To the Corinthians he said: “Each one will receive his own reward according to his own labour. ... Let each one take heed how he builds on [the foundation, Jesus Christ]. ... Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become manifest. ... If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:8-15). Christians are admonished to do works which are worthy of repentance as that will ensure that they do not, at the end of their lives, appear before the Lord empty-handed.
The day of the Lord, when Christ will be revealed as Bridegroom, Judge and King, will be introduced by the rapture of the church and the beginning of the seven-year long tribulation period. After 3½ years of false peace under the leadership of the Antichrist, the next 3½ years of his reign will lead to a great tribulation such as has not been since the beginning of the world, nor ever shall be (Matt. 24:21). During this time, 21 judgements of God will be poured out upon the world, i.e. the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowl judgements of which we read in the book of Revelation. The Lord Jesus said that if these days were not shortened no flesh would be saved (Matt. 24:22).
The tribulation period will see an outpouring of divine wrath upon sinners which will be unprecedented in world history. Isaiah also refers to this time: “Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it” (Isa. 13:9). The Lord adds to this: “I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will halt the arrogance of the proud, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible” (Isa. 13:11). This will be a time of the large-scale annihilation of wicked people who rejected the Triune God, His Word and His righteousness, while persecuting and killing His worshippers.
Terrible plagues will be poured out on earth during this time: “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26). People will be so terrified by the severity of natural disasters that they will flee to the mountains, and call out to the rocks: “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev. 6:16-17). This day of wrath refers to God’s judgements upon an unrepentant humanity.
Few people will survive this time of horror: “The earth is also defiled under its inhabitants. ... Therefore the curse has devoured the earth, and those who dwell in it are desolate. Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left” (Isa. 24:5-6).
The Antichrist will contract a marriage with the false world religions, thereby imitating the bond between Christ and His bridal congregation. However, religious Babylon, the bride of the Antichrist, will not have a long and pleasant marriage. She will only ride the beast for 3½ years, while enjoying great privileges and high esteem in his kingdom before being thrown down and killed. John describes her execution as follows: “I will show you the judgement of the great prostitute who sits on many waters. ... And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to fulfil His purpose” (Rev. 17:16-17).
When the Antichrist declares himself to be God in the middle of the tribulation period, he will no longer be the universal messiah of an alliance of world religions. All faiths will then be abolished and their places of worship destroyed or converted for other uses. The only option to the deceived followers of false religions will be to worship the Antichrist as God and to bow down before his image. Those who refuse to do so will be executed (Rev. 13:15).
Right from the beginning, the bride of the Antichrist will have a short period in which to enjoy the glory of her relationship with the beast – 1260 days from her marriage until the time of her sudden humiliation to becoming a religious slave faced by the death penalty if she refuses to worship her cruel master as God. What a terrible price she has to pay to find favour in the eyes of the beast! She has to sear her conscience, turn her back upon the living God and His Son, Jesus Christ, be prepared to be terribly abused, and on top of it all conclude a covenant with death – all that for the proverbial bowl of lentil soup! That is the way of death which was also trodden by Esau and Judas Iscariot.
The Antichrist’s final target will be Christ Himself, as well as the heavenly army which will follow Him on the day of His second coming. He will realise that the coming of Jesus will bring about the end of his kingdom, and for that reason he will do everything in his power to fight against the true Messiah. That will be a completely futile exercise because Jesus is the King of kings who has all power in heaven and on earth. This confrontation will lead to the final downfall of the Antichrist and all his followers. It will not be a long and hectic battle but the immediate destruction of the hostile powers who tried to fight against Christ.
According to Zechariah 14:12-13, a plague of the Lord will be poured out upon the nations that besieged Jerusalem during the battle of Armageddon. They will be devoured in an instant by the fire of God’s judgements. Daniel says that this mighty king who imposed a reign of terror over the entire world will “come to his end, and no one will help him” (Dan. 12:45).
John describes this judgement as follows: “And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshipped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh” (Rev. 19:19-21).
This judgement will occur after the second coming of Jesus Christ, prior to the institution of His thousand-year reign of peace on earth. Directly after His coming Christ will first be reconciled to the remnant of Israel. Zechariah says that the Jews who survived the great tribulation, will look on Him whom they have pierced and bitterly mourn for Him (Zech. 12:10). They will then all be saved. The Lord says the following on this wonderful event: “They will call on My name and I will answer them. I will say, This is My people; and each one will say, the Lord is my God” (Zech. 13:9; cf. Rom. 11:26; Jer. 31:34). After that, Christ will turn to the Gentiles and divide them into two groups – the saved and the unsaved. In Matthew 25 we read the following on them:
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. ... Then the King will say to those on His right hand, Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. ... And the King will answer and say to them, Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me. Then He will also say to those on the left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:31-41).
The expression “these My brethren” clearly refers to a third group who were not among the condemned goats or the saved sheep. The only possible group implied here is the Jews who are the biological brothers of Jesus. They will pass through a particularly difficult time during the great distress of the tribulation period (Matt. 24:15-21) since the powers of the Antichrist will be determined to annihilate Israel. Members of Gentile nations who will, during this time, go out of their way to assist and protect the Jews, will demonstrate the fact that they disregard the orders of the Antichrist and are motivated by the love of the true Christ in extending a helping hand to the fugitive Jews. It will be very dangerous to render assistance of this nature, as the Antichrist will regard it as treason if the Jews who have revoked their covenant with him, are in any way supported or assisted.
The works of these pious Gentiles won’t save them but it will be a practical proof and consequence of their salvation. They will rule with Christ in His kingdom, while the wicked people who joined the Antichrist in persecuting the Jews will be condemned.
All the lost souls of all ages will rise from their graves during the second resurrection at the end of the Millennium, to be eternally condemned to the lake of fire. John says: “Then I saw a great white throne. ... And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. ... And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:11-15).
The Book of Life contains a record of all the saved people. The fact that these people’s names do not appear in this book is proof of their unsaved state. The statement in Revelation 20:5-6 that they had no part in the first resurrection is a clear indication of their unsaved status. Furthermore, they will also be judged in terms of their evil works that were recorded in the other books.
John 5:24 says that the children of God have eternal life and will not come into judgement, but have passed from death into life. Romans 8:1 also confirms the fact that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ. For that reason, those who are saved during the millennial reign of peace will not appear before the great white throne to be condemned. They will be among the redeemed whose names will appear in the Book of Life.
The millions of lost souls are heading for a terrifying eternal future in the burning lake of fire. They did not fear God, in spite of the fact that He is the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell. In that horrible place their worm will not die and the fire will not be quenched (Mark. 9:44). According to Revelation 14:11, the smoke of their torment will ascend forever and they will never have any rest. Daniel says that hell will be a place of everlasting shame and contempt (Dan. 12:2).
Such are the dreadful consequences of God’s wrath upon sinners. However, in God’s love and mercy He offers us an alternative: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). There are only two final destinations for humanity – heaven or hell. The Lord Jesus said that unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). All that remains for such a person is the fearful expectation of judgement, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries (Heb. 10:27). The choice is ours.
We are in the final moments of the dispensation of grace, in which lost sinners can still repent and turn to God for salvation. After that, the judgements of the tribulation period will take effect, when millions of hardened sinners who willingly sided with the Antichrist, will die in the fearsome and worldwide judgements of God.