As I preach this gospel of grace and proclaim the goodness of God one of the major obstacles people have in accepting this is the topic of God’s wrath and judgement. I myself have struggled to come to terms with this topic and have only really found peace about it in the last couple of years.
For this reason I was really excited when I asked my friend Jonathan Welton to do a guest article on this website and he suggested that he share on this very topic of wrath!
For more information about Jonathan and how you can connect with his ministry see the end of this post.
For now however, enjoy this advanced preview of chapter 10 of the upcoming 2nd edition of Raptureless:
“The Kingdom Without Wrath”[testimonial size=”small” type=”simple”]
“If Jesus took the wrath of God on the cross, how come He brought about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70?”[/testimonial]
I get this question a lot nowadays, especially from those grappling with the reality of grace and stepping into optimistic eschatology. Unfortunately, a lot of misconceptions about grace and wrath are floating around the Church. For example, some branches of the Church teach that Jesus was the sponge that soaked up all of God’s wrath at the cross. Some go even farther, saying that God no longer has any wrath after the cross.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, many other Christians believe that God poured out His wrath at the cross, and the Church is currently living in a period of unprecedented grace. However, at the onset of the endtimes, the Church will be suddenly raptured away so that God can pour out His wrath again upon the earth, as recorded in the Book of Revelation.
In the previous two paragraphs, there are as many theological errors as there are words!
Not surprisingly, I will present another perspective. I have looked up every reference for wrath from Matthew to Jude. As a result of my study, here is what I have come to understand: God has no more wrath to pour out in the future. He finished pouring out His entire wrath in the first century and is not storing wrath for our future.
What I am about to explain will likely be foreign to many of my readers, but it is not foreign to orthodox teaching and Church history. In brief:
- The cross of Christ had nothing to do with the wrath of God.
- God’s wrath was connected to the Old Covenant.
- The Old Covenant coexisted with the New Covenant during the New Testament (see Heb. 8:13).
- The Old Covenant was removed by the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, as described in Revelation and Matthew 24 (and as we’ve already discussed in this book).
- Revelation 15:1 and First Thessalonians 2:16 indicate that AD 70 was the complete removal of God’s wrath with the passing away of the law.
God’s Wrath and the Old Covenant
The first thing we must recognize is that the crucifixion of Christ did nothing to assuage the wrath of God. Jesus was not the Father’s “wrath sponge” soaking up His anger toward sin on the cross. Although it is a popular notion, we have absolutely no indication of this in Scripture.1 The reality of what Christ did on the cross was that He operated as a perfect lamb sacrifice, thus creating a brand new covenant through which the Father could forgive sin once and for all. The cross was not the punishment of sin; the cross made a way for the Father to forgive sin. God did not punish our debt of sin; He forgave our debt of sin through the perfect sacrifice. No lamb sacrifice was ever punished for sin. Rather, the lamb’s death simply enacted covenantal forgiveness. The animal merely stood between the owner and God, and its shed blood brought covenantal forgiveness. Jesus, the perfect lamb, released perfect forgiveness (see Heb. 8:6–13).
Considering that no Scriptures point to God’s wrath being poured out at the cross, we must consider another question: What do we understand from the New Testament regarding the wrath of God? By studying every passage on wrath in the New Testament, I found that wrath is connected to the Law (the Old Covenant). This is seen very clearly, for example, in Romans 4:15, which says, “For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.”
Clearly, the wrath of God is an Old Covenant Law-based concept. When wrath is mentioned in the New Testament, it is consistently used to point to the coming destruction of Jerusalem, the final outpouring of God’s wrath. For example, in Matthew 3:7 and Luke 3:7, John the Baptist rebukes the Pharisees and speaks of their future destruction in AD 70, saying that the axe is already laid to the root and they won’t be saved by claiming Abraham as their father. He goes on to say of AD 70, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Similarly, in Luke 21:23, Jesus speaks of the AD 70 massacre of Jerusalem and refers to it as the great distress and the “wrath upon the people.”
Thus, we can see that the wrath of God was not poured out on the cross, but it was poured out at the destruction of Jerusalem. The death of the perfect Lamb on the cross has provided us with a New Covenant of forgiveness. By contrast, the Old Covenant provided Laws that, when broken, caused the wrath of God to come upon people. For those standing inside Christ in the New Covenant, there is absolutely no wrath, judgment, or anger. Yet for those in the first century who were not willing to enter into the New Covenant, who rather killed Jesus and persecuted the early Church, an accumulation of wrath was building up against them. In fact, Jesus went so far as to essentially say that all the sin of the Old Testament would be held to the account of the AD 70 generation (see Matt. 23:35–36).
It was that contemporary generation that Paul referred to as the children of disobedience who were destined for God’s wrath.
Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience (Ephesians 5:6).
For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience (Colossians 3:6 KJV).
The Book of First Thessalonians gives us the clearest indicators that the wrath of God was not poured out at the cross upon Jesus but was actually being filled up until the Days of Vengeance (see Luke 21:22). Then God took His vengeance out on those who killed His Son (see Matt. 22:41). They had even declared the judgment upon their own heads (see Matt. 27:25), and He avenged the early Church for the persecution they faced between AD 30 and AD 70 (see Rom. 12:19). Let’s look more closely at several verses from First Thessalonians (being sure to notice their first century relevance):
Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10b).
For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last (1 Thessalonians 2:14–16).
This last passage clearly speaks of the children of disobedience, who clung to the Law, which brings wrath (Rom 4:15), and continued to persecute the first century Church until the wrath of God was filled up (see 1 Thess. 2:14–16) and poured out upon them in AD 70. In other words, God judged the Old Covenant, and those who clung to the sinking ship drowned with it. Those who turned to the New Covenant of Christ were saved from the Day of Wrath. As I mentioned previously, out of the approximately 1.1 million Jews who were killed in the slaughter of AD 70, not one Christian died.
To further understand the period of time between Jesus’ death on the cross (the inauguration of the New Covenant) and the wrath of God poured out at the destruction of Jerusalem (the end of the Old Covenant), let’s look at a sometimes confusing reality: The Old and New Covenants coexisted for forty years.
The Old and New Covenants Coexisted
Most Christians do not have clarity regarding the Old Covenant and the Old Testament, the New Covenant and the New Testament. The lines between these terms are blurry. The general tendency is to draw the dividing line between the end of Malachi and the beginning of Matthew and declare the Old Testament as the Old Covenant and the New Testament as the New Covenant; yet that is a very inaccurate formula that leads to major interpretive problems.
A good starting point is to understand that not all of the New Testament is New Covenant and not all of the Old Testament is Old Covenant. For example, the New Covenant did not start in Matthew 1:1. It wasn’t until Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant by His death that a New Covenant was formed. Also, from Genesis 1:1 until Exodus 20 (when Moses met with God on Mount Sinai), the Law had not yet been given, and the Old Covenant had not yet been formed. Therefore, understanding the covenant interactions with human timelines is of great importance.
This can feel foundation-shaking for many Christians, who only recognize the division between the Old and New Testaments. When many first grasp that not all of the New Testament is New Covenant, the first response is to try to draw a new line between the Old and New Covenants—perhaps after John the Baptist (representative of the Old Covenant) is beheaded, or after the Mount of Transfiguration, or after the Last Supper, or after Jesus’ death, or after His resurrection, or after Pentecost, and so forth. Ultimately the truth sets in: There is no simple line to be drawn between the Old and the New.
This is because they coexisted, side-by-side from the crucifixion until the Old Covenant was completely removed in AD 70. That is why Hebrews 8:13 says “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” The Book of Hebrews was written decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Yet in Hebrews 8:13 we learn that the Old Covenant had been made obsolete and outdated (because of the perfect Lamb’s sacrifice on the cross) but was still in existence, still clinging on for a little longer.
Jesus came as the King in the manger and demonstrated His Kingdom during His ministry. He spoke of the New Covenant at the Last Supper and inaugurated it upon the cross by declaring that the establishing of the New Covenant was now finished. However, the Old Covenant, although obsolete and outdated, had not yet disappeared, as Hebrews 8:13 makes clear. Therefore, throughout the New Testament we see Jesus the King, His established and growing Kingdom (see Matt. 13:31–33), and the New Covenant inaugurated at the cross—but, the Old Covenant had not disappeared yet.
For this reason, I believe the second most significant event in Christian history (the death and resurrection being foremost) was the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. From Christ’s prophecy of the destruction of the Temple in Matthew 24 until its fulfillment, there was a forty-year period of transition (AD 30–70). Theologians refer to this time as a transition generation, a time when the Old Covenant was fading out and the New Covenant was rising. This was exemplified in the Old Testament by Israel’s wilderness journey, which allowed time (also forty years) for the older slave-minded generation to die away and for the next generation to take their place.
We can also see this picture in the story of King Saul, who remained king for forty years after God rejected him. During the same forty years, God anointed David and prepared him to take Saul’s place. Lastly, we find an example in what Paul writes in Galatians regarding Ishmael and Isaac see (Gal. 4:21–31). He clearly shows that Ishmael represents the Old Covenant and Isaac represents the New Covenant—and that Ishmael and Isaac have an overlapping time of coexistence. The same is true of the New and Old Covenants in the New Testament. Because of these forty years of coexistence (AD 30–70), we lose any chance of drawing a simple and clean line between the Old and New Covenants.
With this in mind, as we approach the New Testament, we must review each passage with new lenses because not everything is New Covenant. For example, Jesus says that we must forgive or else the Father will not forgive us (see Matt. 6:15), yet Paul writes that we forgive because we are forgiven (see Eph. 4:32). These two statements directly contradict each other. This difference can be reconciled by understanding that Jesus’ statement was rooted in the Old Covenant, which no longer has personal application, whereas Paul’s verse is the reality of the New Covenant, in which we dwell. This may be hard for some to swallow, but we must remember that part of Jesus’ mission on earth was to show His listeners the futility of trying to hold up the Law. His statement in Matthew 6:15 falls into that category, and we know that because it contradicts the gospel of the New Covenant.
We must also recognize that (as we’ve already discussed) the Church from AD 30–70 was looking toward and anticipating the coming destruction of Jerusalem as the removal of the Old Covenant. As Ishmael persecuted Isaac, so the Old Covenant persecuted the New Covenant (see Gal. 4:21–31). Clearly, the two coexisted during that forty-year period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem.
The End of God’s Wrath in AD 70
The destruction of Jerusalem introduced the end of God’s wrath, as First Thessalonians 2:16b so clearly describes: “…the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” Also in Revelation 15:1, it says, “Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished” (ESV). Here we see that, as God poured out His wrath on Jerusalem in AD 70, He put an end to the Old Covenant once and for all. At His coming in judgment against Jerusalem, Jesus made war against the apostate Old Covenant system and completely annihilated it. Once He poured out His wrath on the Old Covenant system, we entered the Kingdom Age accompanied by the glorious truth that God does not have any more wrath to pour out on the earth, ever.2
What about Deliberate Sin?
This revelation of God’s grace and the end of wrath has led to much confusion among believers. Some wonder, “But what if someone deliberately keeps on sinning?” Won’t that bring wrath upon them?
The confusion comes from a few passages in the Book of Hebrews. For example: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left” (Heb. 10:26).
The issue is that these passages in Hebrews have not been put into their biblical/historical context. Specifically, Hebrews 8, 9, and 10 require a contextual understanding for proper interpretation; without it, we can easily end up with a God who is very judgmental toward His very own stumbling children.
The first thing we must understand is that the Book of Hebrews was written somewhere between AD 30 and AD 70. As we just discussed, during that time period, the King, the Kingdom, and the New Covenant had been established, yet the Old Covenant continued to linger until the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem.
Hebrews 9:1–9, speaking of the Old Covenant tabernacle, repeats this key concept again: “They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.” Again the author declares that the Old is only going to last until the time of the “new order.”
The rest of chapter 9 goes on to show the blood of Jesus is the New Covenant, which replaces the blood of the goats and bulls of the Old Covenant. In chapter 10, the theme continues with Jesus as the high priest that replaces all the Old Covenant high priests. In verse 9 we find again “Then He said, ‘here I am, I have come to do your will.’ He sets aside the first to establish the second.” The theme of the Old being replaced by the New is inescapable. Yet, unfortunately, many today are trying to drag the Old into the New.
Chapter 10 continues to speak of this amazing New Covenant until we get to verse 25: “Not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” This fascinating verse has been used by pastors for years to encourage people to keep going to church, but this is a false application. The context here is that the early Church was meeting from house-to-house daily until AD 70, when every one of their houses would have been burned to the ground in the destruction of Jerusalem, which was the “day” they saw “approaching.”
Directly following Hebrews 10:25 is verse 26, which we began this discussion with: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left” (Heb. 10:26). The context of this verse is Jesus’ delivery of this amazing New Covenant, along with the promise that the lesser, outdated, and obsolete Old Covenant is about to be destroyed and removed by the “approaching Day” of judgment.3
From Hebrews 10:26–39, the rest of the chapter speaks of those who go back from the New Covenant to the Old Covenant. It says that God is coming to “judge His people” (the Jews) (Heb. 10:30) and that “In just a little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay” (Heb. 10:37). This is not a reference to the final return of the Lord (that is in our future), but to Jesus’ coming to bring destruction upon Jerusalem. Thus we see that this promise of judgment against God’s people referred to a specific and unique period of time, when the Old and New Covenants coexisted, and it referred to people who, after accepting the New Covenant, later turned back to the Law.
If we don’t put Hebrews 10:26 into its proper context, as I have done here, we end up very confused by the way it contradicts other passages in the Bible, such as:
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One (1 John 2:1).
So when we sin, is Jesus our advocate or is our sin being counted against us and building up wrath? For years, I was terrorized by the Hebrews 10:26–39 passage until I understood the context. God’s judgment, spoken of in these passages and others, was for the Jews of the first century who would not accept what Jesus’ blood did on our behalf and, thus, trampled the Son of God under foot. Now, under the New Covenant, if we sin, Jesus is our lawyer. He is on our side, standing as our defender against the accuser of the brethren. We are not now and never will be the subjects of God’s wrath. He poured it out on the earth, once and for all, when He judged the Old Covenant at the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem. Yes, at the end of time, there will be a final judgment before God’s throne, but this is not something believers need to fear. We are not destined for wrath; we are forever covered by His grace!
- God’s wrath was connected to the Old Covenant.
- God did not pour out His wrath on Jesus on the cross. The cross was not the punishment for sin, but it made a way for God to forgive sin by cutting a New Covenant of forgiveness.
- The New Testament references to wrath are primarily speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem that was coming in AD 70. This was the final pouring out of God’s wrath on the earth.
- The first century Jews who received witness of their Savior, but refused to accept Him, were the “children of disobedience.” They clung to the Law and the Old Covenant and, therefore, chose to be judged with it, bringing the wrath of God upon themselves.
- The Old Covenant and the New Covenant coexisted during the New Testament (AD 30–70), in the time between Jesus’ death and resurrection (inauguration of the New Covenant) and the destruction of Jerusalem (elimination of the Old Covenant).
- Some of the statements in the New Testament were written from the perspective of the Old Covenant and the Law rather than the gospel of grace.
- The Old Covenant was forever destroyed by the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (as described in Revelation and Matthew 24).
- Revelation 15:1 indicates the complete removal of God’s wrath and the passing away of the law. God does not have any more wrath to pour out on the earth, ever. (All that remains is the final judgment before the throne of God.)
- When a believer sins, God responds with grace, not judgment.
For more about Jonathan check out his website The Welton Academy.
I personally consider Jonathan to be one of the most important people on the planet! He is a theological genius, walks out a supernatural lifestyle and has a great understanding of the finished work of the cross. (A dangerous combination! :) )
I highly recommend that you check out his itinerary and consider doing one of his courses if he is in your area, if not I highly recommend you consider signing up to be a part of his online Supernatural Bible School… spaces are extremely limited so check it out now!
This article is a new chapter written for the 2nd edition of his book “Raptureless” which will be out in the very near future. If you would like to read the 1st edition you can do so for free at Raptureless.com