If God is love, why is He angry with man? What does the book of Revelation say about the wrath of God? When and why will God pour out His wrath on humanity?
The book of Revelation is a vision of the future given to the apostle John, who recorded it for us in the Bible. The book begins with messages to seven churches and the opening of seven seals by Jesus Christ.
As explained in our article “The Book of Revelation,” which gives an overview of this book, these seals “reveal details of major events leading up to the return of Jesus Christ and even after. In brief, the first five include four symbolic horses (sometimes called ‘the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’) followed by great tribulation. Although the fulfillment of the first four of these seals has been ongoing since the time of Christ, they will intensify prior to Christ’s return.”
When we analyze the first five seals as recorded in Revelation 6, it becomes obvious that God has not been the author of these terrible events that have plagued and will continue to plague mankind well into the end times.
For example, God is not the source of religious deception—the meaning of the first seal represented by a white horse (verse 2). Neither is God responsible for the deaths of faithful martyrs who will lose their lives in the tribulation of the fifth seal (verses 9-12).
For a more detailed explanation of the first four seals, see “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: What Are They?”
As the vision of the sixth seal unfolds, John saw great cosmic disturbances, including a great earthquake, a darkened moon and stars falling to the earth (verses 12-14). After this, John saw men hiding “themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains” (verse 15). Their reason for hiding is the introduction to the subject we will now study.
The wrath of the Lamb
Explaining why they have tried to burrow into the earth, these men “said to the mountains and 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?’” (verses 16-17, emphasis added throughout).
This passage marks a turning point in end-time events. Satan, the one “who deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9) and the one whom Jesus described as a “liar” and “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44), has been the unseen power behind the horrible events that are part of the first five seals. Until this point in time, mankind has suffered from the wrath of Satan.
The sixth seal, accompanied by great supernatural signs, announces the wrath of God—the punishment that God is going to bring upon earth’s inhabitants because of disobedience to His laws and way of life.
The seventh seal, which is also known as “the Day of the Lord,” is the major theme of the book of Revelation. It includes God’s wrath on rebellious humans at the end of this age and includes the return of Jesus Christ to earth and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.
From the time of the Old Testament, God had warned that eventually this time of punishment would come. Speaking of this day of reckoning, which Isaiah called “the day of the LORD’s vengeance” (Isaiah 34:8), the prophet wrote, “For the indignation of the LORD is against all nations, and His fury against all their armies” (verse 2).
Later, Isaiah added: “For behold, the LORD will come with fire and with His chariots, like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by His sword the LORD will judge all flesh; and the slain of the LORD shall be many. ‘Those who sanctify themselves and purify themselves, to go to the gardens after an idol in the midst, eating swine’s flesh and the abomination and the mouse, shall be consumed together,’ says the LORD” (Isaiah 66:15-17).
Through the prophet Joel, God spoke of “the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD” (Joel 2:31). This man of God wrote of God’s army that will vanquish all who come against it. “The LORD gives voice before His army, for His camp is very great; for strong is the One who executes His word. For the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; who can endure it?” (verse 11).
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul warned people of this coming time of judgment saying, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18).
One of the multiple reasons for God’s anger against these people is “because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God” (verse 21). The full account of Paul’s warning, found in verses 18-32, is an insightful study showing why those who practice disobedience “are deserving of death” (verse 32).
Prelude to God’s wrath
Prior to pouring out His wrath upon earth’s inhabitants because of willful sin and refusal to obey His instructions, John saw God sending an angel to announce: “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” (Revelation 7:3).
Although some faithful people will lose their lives as martyrs in Satan’s wrath, God here seals 144,000 of “the tribes of the children of Israel” (verse 4) and “a great multitude … of all nations” (verse 9).
The innumerable multitude that comes “out of the great tribulation” (verse 14), are people who will be “sealed” in order to mark or identify them for the supreme blessing of being before God and serving “Him day and night in His temple” (verse 15). Apparently describing their change into spirit, the vision continues: “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (verses 16-17).
The point behind this prelude to God’s wrath is to show that He cares for people and offers protection to those who obey Him. Because He loves mankind and is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9), God’s practice has always been to send prophets to warn people to repent of their sins prior to inflicting punishment for disobedience.
Just as God sent prophets to warn the inhabitants of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah to repent of their sins before He allowed their nations to be overthrown, God will send representatives at the end of this age to warn people to repent. Through the prophet Malachi, God gave both advice and an announcement of a future prophet.
“Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:4-6).
Explaining this prophecy to His disciples, “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist” (Matthew 17:11-13).
Prior to John’s birth, an angel had told his father, Zacharias, that after he grew up, his son would go “in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17).
While it is clear that John the Baptist was a fulfillment of this prophecy, the wording in Matthew 17:11-12 and Malachi 4:4-6 allows for the understanding that there could be another prophet or prophets who will come in the same “spirit and power of Elijah” at the end of this age. The apparent reference to the second coming of Jesus Christ and the warning that He could come and strike the earth with a curse—that is, utter destruction—give this indication. The setting for these events is the end of this age—not the time of John the Baptist.
Just as the Elijah of the Old Testament turned the hearts of the ancient Israelites from the worship of Baal, a false god, to worship of the real God, it appears that an end-time Elijah or a similar work will help people repent of their sins and obey the laws God gave through Moses.
The Bible also speaks of two witnesses who will come with Elijah-like powers and prophesy during the end time for 3½ years. These representatives of God will likewise warn people to repent. Perhaps the 144,000 and the great multitude spoken of in Revelation 7 will largely come from the work of these representatives of God. For additional study, see the article “Two Witnesses.”
Why God’s wrath will come
Unfortunately, the Bible also indicates that most people during the end time will not heed the warnings to repent that God will give through His prophets. Even as God pours out His wrath upon the earth, the book of Revelation tells us that most humans will continue in their defiance of God and His instructions.
After several plagues representing God’s wrath are poured out upon mankind, we find this sobering statement: “But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts” (Revelation 9:20-21).
After more punishment has come, we again read: “And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues; and they did not repent and give Him glory” (Revelation 16:9). Rather than learning from what they had suffered, John added that “they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds” (verse 11).
Lessons for us
While punishment is never pleasant, there are important lessons we can learn from this future wrath of God. We need to understand that God’s wrath is real and that He has expectations of us. Even though He is a God of love, sin still exists and it carries a terrible penalty.
Because God loves us, He implores us to repent of our sins and begin living as He commands. As our Creator and as our wise Father in heaven, God knows what is best for us and urges us to choose the way of life that leads to happiness in this life and the reward of an eternal life of joy and happiness in the future. (Read more in our article “The Wrath of God: How to Survive.”)
After the wrath of God is complete, the Kingdom of God will be established here on earth. Satan will be bound so he will no longer be able to deceive and influence humanity. Humans will then have the opportunity to learn God’s ways and enjoy unprecedented prosperity.