The Wrath of God, Part II

In the early days of Seventh-day Adventism, some influential writers were quite explicit that the atonement did not refer to Christ’s death on the cross, but only to His work in the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary since October 22, 1844. The atonement involves Christ’s work in the heavenly sanctuary as well as His death on the cross. This is what is known as the Moral Influence Theory. This theory has, in recent years, grown in popularity among Seventh-day Adventists. In fact, this view has become so compelling for many that they have tried to make it the dominant, controlling view in Ellen White’s presentation on the atonement. The moral influence advocate lays great emphasis on Christ’s death as a manifestation of God’s love to a lost world. In its most extreme form, it has been proclaimed that Christ’s death was a requirement of God’s justice. These advocates hold that Christ’s death was only to demonstrate God’s love, which emanates a moral influence to an alienated world.

What are we to make of this theory? It is certainly true that it teaches that Christ’s death was designed to greatly impress mankind with a sense of God’s love, and it certainly shows the cross as the supreme manifestation of God’s love. These elements of moral influence are communicated to both sinners and to the unfallen beings of the universe. Through the cross, man is drawn to God’s love and from the strong hold of sin. The cross speaks to the world of His great love wherewith He has loved us and is the unanswerable argument as to the changeless character of the Law of Jehovah. But it speaks to more than mercy. Among other things, it speaks of a powerful condemnation of sin by the holy love of a holy God.

Ellen White makes it clear that moral influence was always connected with this convicting holiness of God, not just a general expression of forgiving love that excludes the satisfaction of divine justice.

God’s wrath must be understood as different from God’s chastening, for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth (Hebrews 12:6), and God’s chastening or rebuke is specifically geared toward a correction for character development, but God’s wrath is toward punishment. It is toward death. There is a significant difference between the chastening of God and the wrath of God. God wants to take out of us things that are not wholesome, that are not toward His character, so we can become like Him in character and can be saved eternally.

In Part I, we also learned that the Moral Influence Theory being taught—that the death of Christ on the cross was specifically to reflect God’s love—is not so. It is not only to reflect God’s love; it is also to speak toward God’s justice. It is God’s justice that demanded the death of “a somebody” so that sin can be overcome.

Sin is Self-destructive

There are certain statements to the effect that sin is self-destructive. Some individuals who hold to the teaching that God does not kill will often refer to the following, asking, “What do you say about this?”

“The disobedient and unthankful have great reason for gratitude for God’s mercy and long-suffering in holding in check the cruel, malignant power of the evil one. But when men pass the limits of divine forbearance, that restraint is removed. God does not stand toward the sinner as an executioner of the sentence against transgression; but He leaves the rejectors of His mercy to themselves, to reap that which they have sown.” The Great Controversy, 36.

In this statement, God does not stand toward the sinner as an executioner of the sentence against transgression, but He leads the rejecters of His mercy to themselves to reap that which they have sown. Some people say, regarding this teaching, that God does not really kill. But what God does is pull Himself away and allow the sinner, the rebellious person, to be destroyed by his or her own action.

Consider these questions: Is it not a fact that God is the source of all life? Is it not His restraining power that holds the force of evil, that gives us protection? Furthermore, is it not God who temporarily grants self-destructive sinners life in probationary time? The answer to each of these questions should be very clear to each one of us.

Does it not seem that God would be just as surely responsible for the death of sinners by the withdrawing of His life-giving power as He would by indirectly destroying them by the powers of hell? Since God is the source of all life, it is quite apparent that He is also ultimately the One who allows death.

We need to be very clear on this issue so that we are not sidetracked onto a path that the Bible does not support.

Let us consider some Scriptural references on this point.

Sodom and Gomorrah

Genesis 19 gives the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. “And the men said unto Lot, Hast thou here any besides? son in law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and whatsoever thou hast in the city, bring [them] out of this place: For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord; and the Lord hath sent us to destroy it.” “Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.” Verses 12, 13, 24, 25.

Was the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah simply the chance circumstance of atmospheric condition? Is it just that the atmosphere opened up and fire and brimstone rained down? Is that what the Bible says?

Ellen White states: “The Lord rained brimstone and fire out of heaven upon the cities and the fruitful plain; its palaces and temples, costly dwellings, gardens and vineyards, and the gay, pleasure-seeking throngs that only the night before had insulted the messengers of heaven—all were consumed.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 162. So, both the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy make it abundantly clear that it was God who carried out His strange act.

Korah, Dathan, Abiram

You know, I am certain, the story of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, but read quickly through it, so we can be clear what the Bible says on these issues: “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the congregation, saying, Get you up from about the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. And Moses rose up and went unto Dathan and Abiram; and the elders of Israel followed him. And he spake unto the congregation, saying, Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest ye be consumed in all their sins. So they gat up from the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, on every side: and Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood in the door of their tents, and their wives, and their sons, and their little children. And Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me to do all these works; for [I have] not [done them] of mine own mind. If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; [then] the Lord hath not sent me. But if the Lord make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that [appertain] unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the Lord. And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that [was] under them: And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that [appertained] unto Korah, and all [their] goods. They, and all that [appertained] to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation. And all Israel that [were] round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the earth swallow us up [also]. And there came out a fire from the Lord, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.” Numbers 16:23−35.

Was the judgment of God on Korah, Dathan, and Abiram only a tragedy of a long dormant, Semitic, geographical fault line in the Sahara Desert? No, it was not. It was not an event that coincided with their behavior and just happened, whereby the earth opened up and the men fell in.

Commenting about this, Ellen White wrote: “When Moses was entreating Israel to flee from the coming destruction, the divine judgment might even then have been stayed, if Korah and his company had repented and sought forgiveness. But their stubborn persistence sealed their doom. The entire congregation were sharers in their guilt, for all had, to a greater or less degree, sympathized with them. Yet God in His great mercy made a distinction between the leaders in rebellion and those whom they had led.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 401.

This is so serious and so solemn for leaders to understand the part that they must play in the program of God. They must understand their position, because God will deal differently with them than even their followers.

“The people who had permitted themselves to be deceived were still granted space for repentance. Overwhelming evidence had been given that they were wrong, and that Moses was right. The signal manifestation of God’s power had removed all uncertainty.” Ibid.

Ellen White called their death the divine judgment and the signal manifestation of God’s power. It was not a geographical fault line that just opened, and they fell in and died. No, it was the divine wrath. Why? There was persistence in evil; failure to repent when evidence was given of wrong. Is that a message for us?


You perhaps have heard someone exclaim, “Uzzah was doing a good favor, yet God killed him. God is unkind.” Well, let us review the incident.

“Again, David gathered together all [the] chosen [men] of Israel, thirty thousand. And David arose, and went with all the people that [were] with him from Baale of Judah, to bring up from thence the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the Lord of hosts that dwelleth [between] the cherubims. And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that [was] in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drave the new cart. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab which [was] at Gibeah, accompanying the ark of God: and Ahio went before the ark. And David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of [instruments made of] fir wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on cymbals. And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth [his hand] to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook [it]. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for [his] error; and there he died by the ark of God.” 11 Samuel 6:1−7.

Did Uzzah suddenly sustain an untimely cerebral vascular accident, commonly called a stroke, and die? Was that what happened? Was it just unfortunate that he died at that time, that God did not kill him?

God’s servant states: “Uzzah was angry with the oxen, because they stumbled. He showed a manifest distrust of God, as though He who had brought the ark from the land of the Philistines, could not take care of it. Angels who attended the ark struck down Uzzah for presuming impatiently to put his hand upon the ark of God.” The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, 410. “The fate of Uzzah was a divine judgment upon the violation of a most explicit command.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 705.

Mrs. White tells us also that Uzzah throughout his life had disregarded the Word of God. He never took God’s word seriously. “The fate of Uzzah was a divine judgment upon the violation of a most explicit command. Through Moses the Lord had given special instruction concerning the transportation of the ark. None but the priests, the descendants of Aaron, were to touch it, or even to look upon it uncovered. The divine direction was, ‘The sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die.’ Numbers 4:15. . . .

“The Philistines, who had not a knowledge of God’s law, had placed the ark upon a cart when they returned it to Israel, and the Lord accepted the effort which they made. But the Israelites had in their hands a plain statement of the will of God in all these matters, and their neglect of these instructions was dishonoring to God. Upon Uzzah rested the greater guilt of presumption. Transgression of God’s law had lessened his sense of its sacredness, and with unconfessed sins upon him he had, in face of the divine prohibition, presumed to touch the symbol of God’s presence. God can accept no partial obedience, no lax way of treating His commandments. By the judgment upon Uzzah He designed to impress upon all Israel the importance of giving strict heed to His requirements. Thus the death of that one man, by leading the people to repentance, might prevent the necessity of inflicting judgments upon thousands.” Ibid., 705, 706.

Mrs. White tells us that the fate of Uzzah was a divine judgment. What does that say to us who are called the remnant people of God today? David, in Psalm 19:12, prayed, “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.” The question I would ask is, What are those secret faults in our lives that we practice over and over and over again in spite of instruction, in spite of information? What about those things that we rationalize, saying that God understands, that God knows we are struggling? But we have been struggling for years, and we keep on excusing our sinful lifestyle.

Godly Action

What God will do first of all is place us into an environment where we are rebuked and chastened. Sometimes God allows certain things to happen in our lives for which we are tempted to blame other people. When certain things happen to us, which is really the chastisement of God on us for our private sins about which no one else knows, we are tempted to blame other people. But if we stop and reflect honestly, we would conclude that it is out of the love and mercy of God that these circumstances happen to us.

Peradventure this chastisement, this rebuke, this trial, should bring us closer to God. But what do we do? We blame others; we fail to take responsibility; we fail to repent. As a result, God says, “You fail to repent, but in love, I am going to deal with you a little more.” So He turns up the heat, and He allows more affliction to come our way. He does this not because He hates us, not because He wants to hurt us, for the Bible says that the Lord does not willingly afflict the children of men (Lamentations 3:33), but because He sees in us vessels that can be made of honor to be placed in His palace.

So He allows other things to come our way to get our attention concerning those sins with which we are not yet ready to deal. Rather than blaming others, we should stop and honestly take responsibility for our sin problems and then resolve in our hearts that we are going to make a change. Until we do this, we are moving in a direction that may take us out of the environment of the chastening of God to the environment of the wrath of God.

That is what happened to Uzzah. For his lifetime, he kept on disregarding the Word of God. In spite of counsel and instruction, he kept on disregarding the Word of God, and one day, God drew the line. Yes, it was a simple situation. The ark rocked, and he was going to help the Lord. Not only did he die, but he lost eternity. He will not see us in heaven.

This is a counsel and a warning to all of God’s people. Let us be honest with ourselves. Let us search our hearts, and let us see if indeed there are secret sins in us that we have been denying for years, or for which we are blaming others, refusing to take responsibility. God has been going after us in love in order that He might save us.

Ananias and Sapphira

Do you remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira given in Acts 5:1–11? Were their deaths only timely coronaries? God’s messenger wrote:

“Infinite Wisdom saw that this signal manifestation of the wrath of God was necessary to guard the young church from becoming demoralized. Their numbers were rapidly increasing. The church would have been endangered if, in the rapid increase of converts, men and women had been added who, while professing to serve God, were worshiping mammon. This judgment testified that men cannot deceive God, that He detects the hidden sin of the heart, and that He will not be mocked. It was designed as a warning to the church, to lead them to avoid pretence and hypocrisy, and to beware of robbing God.” The Acts of the Apostles, 73, 74.

The deaths of Ananias and Sapphira were the signal manifestation of the wrath of God. Thus, Christians, as well as unbelievers, need to remember that the same God who punishes them today condemns all falsehood.

Hidden sins are destroying our church today—those sins that we have not learned to confess, that we have been hiding and denying, and for which we are not taking responsibility. God has been working on us, but we have become hardened as we continue denying that we have these problems. One of the most surprising things is that church members will blame other people for their behavior, even in the face of evidence. They do not realize that God wants to help them.

Divine Wrath

We need to understand this issue of God killing unjustly, so was the cross a manifestation of God’s holy wrath against sin, or was the cross only to demonstrate God’s love to us as sinners? It was not just a reflection of God’s love; it was also a reflection of God’s wrath.

“Upon Christ as our substitute and surety was laid the iniquity of us all. . . . The guilt of every descendant of Adam was pressing upon His heart. The wrath of God against sin, the terrible manifestation of His displeasure because of iniquity, filled the soul of His Son with consternation. . . . Salvation for the chief of sinners was His theme. But now with the terrible weight of guilt He bears, He cannot see the Father’s reconciling face. . . .

“Christ felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race.” The Desire of Ages, 753.

When Christ died on the cross, He did it for every human being, so that we can be set free, so we can escape the wrath of God. Whoever turns his or her back against the love and the wonderful service of Christ, however, will experience the full wrath of God. “It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father’s wrath upon Him as man’s substitute, that made the cup He drank so bitter, and broke the heart of the Son of God.” Ibid.

“He, the Sin Bearer, endures the wrath of divine justice, and for thy sake becomes sin itself.” Ibid., 756.

Active or Passive

Another question we need to have answered is, Is God’s wrath active or passive? Some people think God is such a wonderful God that He will not discipline.

“As Christ bore the sins of every transgressor so the sinner who will not believe in Christ as his personal Saviour, who rejects the light that comes to him, and refuses to respect and obey the commandments of God, will bear the penalty of his transgression.” “Ellen G. White Comments,” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, 471. [Emphasis in original.] The choice is ours; we can accept the gift that is offered now and be delivered.

A Way of Escape

I am not talking about a God that does not love; I am talking about a God of love Who has provided a way of escape for all of us. We need to understand that if we despise the grace of God, as Paul says, in Hebrews 2:3, “How shall we escape?”

How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation after we have received all of this information, knowledge, and nurturing? How shall we escape if we fail to take responsibility? Rejection of God’s offer of life through the justifying merits of Christ’s death will mean only eternal death. If we reject Christ, we are accepting death. Without Christ’s substitutional death, sinners will receive just retribution.

Therefore, we may ask, Will the lake of fire be merely a passive act on God’s part? David declares in Psalm 11:6, “Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire, and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: [this shall be] the portion of their cup.” It is not an imagination; it is a reality.

The prophet Malachi prophesied of the future destruction of the despisers of God’s grace in Malachi 4:1, 2, and the apostle Peter confirms the destruction of the earth in 11 Peter 3:10.

John the revelator saw and wrote the following, “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom [is] as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet [are], and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” Revelation 20:7–10.


Ellen White says, “God is to the wicked a consuming fire.” The Great Controversy, 673. The Israelites stand as a reminder of the awesome reality of the certainty of Jehovah’s wrath upon all those who reject the offer of salvation. They reached the borders of Canaan, the promised land, and the record declares, “Their hearts were filled with murmuring, rebellion, and hatred, and He could not fulfill His covenant with them.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 68.

What is the condition of our hearts? There are many private issues in our hearts. It is not the smile that you put on; it is not the nice talk; it is what is inside. It is how we treat each other. It is the issues and the private sins that are there—the murmuring, the complaining, the never satisfied attitude, the ingratitude.

For 40 years, unbelief, murmuring, and rebellion shut out ancient Israel from the land of Canaan. The same sins have delayed the entrance of modern Israel into the heavenly Canaan. As Moses and the children of Israel stood on the promised land, Moses well remembered the words of judgment that Jehovah had pronounced sometime before to the children of Israel because of their rebellious attitude and being stiff necked. (See Numbers 14:29–32.)

For us who are living on the borders of the eternal Canaan, it would do us well to ponder the words of the prophet of Patmos: “And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.” Revelation 7:1–3.

Are you being sealed? In other words, are you preparing yourself through character formation, working with God daily, and getting rid of those private sins in your life, so that the angel can do his job of sealing you so that you can be among the number that stand on the sea of glass? My prayer is that when it is all said and done, you and I will not experience the wrath of God, but that we will accept His chastening. As James says, “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2), because they are designed for our benefit.

Pastor Ivan Plummer ministers through the Emmanuel Seventh Day Church Ministries in Bronx, New York. He may be contacted by telephone at: 718-882-3900.