“Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
but righteousness delivers from death.”
The great temptation in our day is to cast aside the biblical doctrine of the wrath of God. Some preachers have simply discarded it as an archaic doctrine that carries no weight for our contemporary culture. Other preachers mention divine wrath so infrequently that their hearers know nothing about it. This leaves many Christians sincerely believing that God does not burn with righteous anger against both sin and the sinner. Biblically speaking, however, “the idea that God is not angry with sinners belongs neither to the OT nor to the NT. God is a personal moral being who is unalterably opposed to evil and takes personal actions against it.”
Because the God of the Bible is the thrice holy God, he is absolutely opposed to sin and evil (Psalm 5:5; 11:5). The culminating display of this holy opposition that God has to both sin and evil is his wrath. Though modern ears do not like hearing this, the wrath of God is the only appropriate ethical and moral response that an infinitely pure and holy being can have towards evil. Therefore, as our proverb above says, there will most certainly be a day of wrath. It is more certain than the rising up the sun tomorrow morning.
Days of Wrath
We see days of wrath all throughout the Bible. Early on in the book of Genesis, God justly judges the world by sending a flood that wipes out all but eight of the inhabitants of the earth (Genesis 6:5-8). Later in Genesis, God justly judges the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by causing fire and sulfur to rain down upon them, thus killing the occupants (Genesis 19:23-29). In Exodus, God judges the gods of Egypt along with those who worship them through a series of ten disastrous plagues (Exodus 7-11). Afterwards God judges Pharaoh and his army by causing the Red Sea to overwhelm them (Exodus 14:26-29). And space does not permit us to talk about all the other times God’s wrath consumed those who sinned against Him.
The Day of Wrath
These days of wrath serve as microcosms of THE Day of wrath that is spoken about in Scripture. In a way, these displays of God’s wrath are meant to prefigure THE Day of God’s wrath (Matthew 24:37-39). They are minor depictions. This is not meant to lesson our view of these days of God’s wrath. It is meant to heighten our view of THE Day of God’s wrath.
One Day, both the great and the small, both the rich and the poor, and both the intelligent and the unintelligent will stand before the Lord Jesus Christ in order to give an account of their lives (John 5:27; Revelation 20:11-15). On that Day, the Lord will render to each one according to what he has done in the body (Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:6; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12). For those who persist in wrongdoing, who perpetually live in ungodliness, and who constantly seek their own self-interest, there will be wrath and fury (Romans 2:8-9). For the “cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur” (Revelation 20:8).
The lake that burns with fire and sulfur will never quit burning (Luke 3:17). The ungodly will be forced to drink “the wine of God’s wrath” (Revelation 14:10). For all of eternity, they will be “tormented with fire and sulfur” in the presence of both angelic beings and the spotless Son of God (Revelation 14:11). Of their suffering there will be no end. Of the wrath of God there will be no end. This Day of wrath will exceed all other days of wrath. It will be wrath unlike anything the world has ever seen.
Riches Won’t Deliver You
As the Day of wrath approaches, our hearts are stirred to seek refuge. We want to know what will profit us on that day – what will keep us from the wrath of Jesus Christ. And because our hearts are sinful, they are drawn to riches as a source of refuge. “Somehow,” we think to ourselves, “these riches will keep me safe and secure.” And as we seek to accumulate wealth, we begin viewing our riches as an impenetrable city and as an unscalable high wall (Proverbs 18:11). “If anything can deliver me from the wrath of God,” we say, “surely it is vast amounts of wealth.”
Our proverb above, however, teaches us that riches will not help us on the Day of wrath (Proverbs 11:4; Zephaniah 1:18). Jesus Christ is a just judge that shows no partiality. He is not like worldly judges that are enticed to show favor to the rich man. No, Jesus Christ is much different. The Lord Jesus Christ has a heart that is not wooed by worldly wealth. As he judges the world, riches will not keep him from rendering a righteous judgment.
He will judge the world in complete righteousness. He will render authoritative judicial verdicts based off ALL the evidence. Then, once he reveals all the evidence, his wrath will consume the wicked in “the fire of his jealousy” (Zephaniah 1:18). And on that Day, the wicked who are rich will fare just like the wicked who are poor.
Righteousness Will Deliver You
In light of this Day of wrath and fury, what will deliver us from Christ’s righteous judgment? And the overwhelming biblical teaching is that righteousness is the only thing that will deliver us from the looming righteous judgment that is about to happen. Our proverb above says that “righteousness delivers from death” (11:4). It is those “who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality” that will receive eternal life (Romans 2:6). Those who do good are the ones that will receive “glory and honor and peace” (Romans 2:10). All that matters on the Day of wrath is righteousness. Everything else will be consumed by unquenchable fire. Righteousness alone will deliver.
But where is a sinner to go to get righteousness? How can a sinner who is both positionally and practically unrighteous become both positionally and practically righteous? And the Bible answers this with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through Christ’s active obedience to the law of God, and through his passive obedience in enduring the curse of the law due sinners, unrighteous sinners can be declared positionally righteous by God, and be made practically righteous through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
When a sinner turns away from sin and lays hold of Jesus Christ through faith, they are gifted with the free gift of righteousness (Romans 1:17; 3:22; 4:5; Philippians 3:9-10). Since God the Father gifts us with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, we sinners have been gifted with the very righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Since God the Father has graciously united us to Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ has become our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). And being found in Christ Jesus, we are now positionally righteous before God.
And just as a branch derives life from its union with the vine, so we, as redeemed sinners, derive spiritual life from our union with Jesus Christ (John 15:1-8). Though formerly we were slaves to sin, now we can live out a life of practical righteousness before God (Romans 6:12-14; 1 Peter 2:24). The Holy Spirit of God works within us to empower and enable us to live righteously (Romans 8:12-17). So, in Christ Jesus we are not only positionally righteous, we are also endowed with spiritual strength so that we can practically live righteously before God.
This is why union with Christ through faith is the only way that anybody will be able to stand on judgment day. If you stand before Jesus Christ without the righteousness that he procured for sinners in his atoning death, then you will endure wrath and fury. However, if you have been united with Christ through faith, then you are positionally righteous before God. Not only that, through the Spirit of God you have at least some practical righteousness as well. Therefore, the Day of wrath will not be a day of wrath for you. Just as Noah found safe refuge from the flood within the ark because he was righteous before God (Genesis 7:1), so you will find safe refuge from the wrath of God because you are positionally righteous in Christ Jesus, the very ark that delivers sinners from the impending wrath that is to come.