As I mentioned, I’ve been reading through the prophets over the last few months. One thing that has really stood out to me is God’s wrath – particularly as I’ve read through the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah, of course, was prophesying to God’s people in Judah. The condemnations and punishments he proclaimed on behalf of God were specifically for that people in that time (and not to inform specific government policies in modern secular governments – another story for another day). But, there’s a lot I think we can still learn. A lot of really terrifying things, as it turns out.
So we know that from essentially day one of settling in the Promised Land, the Israelites did not uphold their end of the covenant God made with them. They forgot who rescued them from slavery in Egypt, who fed them in the desert and fought with them as they came into the land they were to posses. God is patient across generations and over hundreds of years. He begins to warn his people to turn back to him with their whole hearts, or they will face judgement.
Through Jeremiah, God makes this gut-punching statement:
“I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger and in fury and in great wrath.” (Jeremiah 21:5)
Ugh. Honestly, I read that sentence and had a physical reaction to it. Can you imagine? Flip just a few books before earlier in the Bible and you will read “The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you,” (Deuteronomy 1:30), and “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the Lord will do to all your enemies against whom you fight,” (Joshua 10:25). For those who listened to Jeremiah, how terrifying that must have been to hear. God himself, the creator of the universe in all of His power, might, and righteousness, was going to fight against his people.
If that doesn’t make you freak out, I honestly don’t know what would.
And then I realized – oh man – this is me, without Jesus.
Just a little farther along in Jeremiah, God says:
“Execute justice in the morning,
and deliver from the hand of the oppressor
him who has been robbed,
lest my wrath go forth like fire,
and burn with none to quench it,
because of your evil deeds.’”
“Behold, I am against you, O inhabitant of the valley,
O rock of the plain,
declares the Lord;
you who say, ‘Who shall come down against us,
or who shall enter our habitations?’
I will punish you according to the fruit of your deeds,
declares the Lord;
I will kindle a fire in her forest,
and it shall devour all that is around her.” (Jeremiah 21:12-14, emphasis mine)
This immediately reminded me of Revelation:
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11-15)
Judged according to what they had done.
Now, there’s this idea out there that judgement and hell are only for those really bad people. Like, Hitler-level-bad. Have you been mostly good? Didn’t get any coal in your stocking at Christmas? Eh, you should be fine. This idea is that people are, in general, mostly good.
But Jesus – who, remember, is God – the one who wrote the Old Testament! – said:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
I don’t know about y’all, but I am not good. Not by any stretch of the imagination. And, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to insult you, but you aren’t good either. My guess is that you’ve maybe gotten angry once or twice in your life. Maybe you’ve lied – even a little white one! Maybe you’ve gossiped, which steals the reputation of another person. Maybe you’ve overeaten. You’ve probably put other things before God in your life.
Why do I think you might have done these things? Because I have. And I suspect we’re not all that different.
So here’s the good news.
God knew that the Israelites couldn’t be good on their own. He gave them a covenant, and asked them to make sacrifices to atone for their sins. When Jesus came, he brought a new covenant. He was the sacrifice made for us, so that when we stand before the final judgement and are asked to give an account for our deeds, we can rest on the deeds of Jesus.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
“…And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,” (Hebrews 5:9)
Praise God from whom all blessings – like security from justified wrath, and the assurance of salvation – flow.