For many, the topic of the wrath of God is an uncomfortable one. The idea of the anger of the Almighty is almost too much to comprehend, and indeed it can (should?) be. For many, it is so unbearable to their idea of God that it is even opposed to the truth of God’s love; and even opposed to the person and teachings of Jesus the Messiah. But if we look at the Bible’s definition of God’s love, and even how Jesus helps us define it in relation to our love for one another, we find it is intrinsically linked to God's wrath (and it upon the person of Jesus the Messiah).
To put it another way, you cannot have God’s love without the veracity of God’s wrath (most notably upon the person of Jesus the Messiah).
This will not be comprehensive study, but I will begin by going to the most well known passage that defines God’s love. I will bold and underline key phrases and links along the way. 1 John 4:7-11 reads,
Beloved let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.[Nerdy but necessary: For the sake of defining terms, “propitiation” is a term used relating to appeasement in atonement to an offended party (i.e. God). The OT use of the term kaphar, for example, is almost always used for atonement in the context of quenching the wrath of God (notably, Num 25:11-13; others). So also in the NT hilasmos is used in verses like Rom 3:25 and Heb 2:17. Picking up on the theme of Paul’s argument in Rom 3:25 as well as the passages used in this entry, it is easy to define "propitiation" as “the appeasement of God’s wrath” (for sin).]
Moving on: Notice how Paul links God’s love with God’s wrath in Romans 5:6-11:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.Again, God’s love was put on display through the act of propitiation. Paul cannot be clearer what that act of propitiation was to save us “from the wrath of God”. And it is only through this act “that we are reconciled”. Man to God.
Is this not the main point of the famous John 3:16? “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son…” Gave as a what? A propitiation. Again, God’s love is fundamentally linked to the giving of His Son as a wrath-removing sacrifice. This point is confirmed later in that section (John 3:36) which reads, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
Hear what this is saying: Faith removes one from being under the wrath of God. Why? Because it was poured out on Jesus according to God’s love (3:16).
Amazingly, Jesus confirms this definition/identification of the love of God with propitiation within His own command for us to love one another:
‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.’” (John 15:12-14)This passage is astounding. Like 1 John 4:7-11, this text says that our love for one another has within it the idea of substitution of Christ in our place; that is, the offering as a propitiation. In another place Jesus says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life…” John 10:17.
Here we have in Jesus’ own words that the fundamental definition of the love of God (towards Jesus and towards human beings in salvation) has as its basis His act of propitiation: that Jesus “[laid] down his life for his friends.” So not only is God’s love not without the act of the wrath of God upon Jesus, but our own love for one another has as its foundation the love-act of wrath-removal carried out by Jesus! "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another," (1 John 4:11).
Take a look how this is echoed in the famous Christ-humility passage, Phil 2:1-17. In part:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love… having the same love… in humility count others more significant than yourselves… Christ humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross…And Paul links all this to his ministry of love… “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith.”
Read that again: Paul has as his basis for his love for the church in Philippi the fact that Jesus humbled Himself as a wrath-removing substitution. It’s everywhere.
Thus, there are two essential conclusions to this:
1) God’s love cannot be fully appreciated or understood without the recognition of God’s wrath upon Jesus at the cross.
2) Our love for one another that we are called to have as disciples of Jesus cannot be fully grasped without the recognition of God’s wrath upon Jesus at the cross.
I mentioned in the beginning that many believe the idea of God’s wrath is opposed to that of His love or even the person of Jesus and His teachings. But this position is not a biblical one. It is a position created by man. At its worst, it is idolatry whereby man creates a definition for a word (in this case, “love”) and then demands that God meet that created definition. If He doesn’t, He is no longer God. (how many times have you heard, “my god would never… [fill in the blank]”. This is idolatry. Scripture does not support it and as we see above, that position even stands opposed to elemental points of Scripture. Worse yet, opposing the doctrine of propitiation puts one in opposition to the person, work, and teachings of Jesus the Messiah.
God’s love is defined in the way the Word of God defines it. And the Word in the flesh, Jesus Christ, confirms it further. Let us love one another with that same love…
… no pressure.