“Jesus came to save me from the wrath of God.”
Much of mainstream Christianity preaches a Father who is interested in absolute justice and a Son who is concerned with compassion and mercy, and yet by the words of Messiah Himself, He and the Father are one and the doctrine He preached is His Father’s doctrine.
John 10:30 I and my Father are one
John 7:16 Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me
And so we see that Yeshua (Jesus) and the Father must have the same focus. If Yeshua is focused on saving people from the wrath of the Father – then by definition, that has to be the Father’s focus as well. So is wrath the focus of anyone at all? No, the focus of God has always been centered completely around relationship because God is focused on His Covenants. The working definition of a covenant is:
Covenant: a solemn and binding agreement of choice between parties to enter into a relationship that governs the behavior of both parties towards each other eternally. Unlike modern contracts, which can be voided at will, a covenant is deeply personal and defines the type of relationship between the parties, be it between a greater and lesser king (Suzerain vassal), marital, or grant.
Entering into a covenant was always by choice. Being faithful to a covenant was also a choice, as was unfaithfulness. Being born into covenant was not by choice but was considered to be a great blessing – it gave you immediate allies, which in the ancient Near East was an incredibly valuable state of affairs. Now God invented covenants (just look at His first words to Adam to rule and have dominion and care for the garden, and the gift of a wife – here we have all three of the Covenants that I mentioned: Suzerain-vassal between a greater King (God) and a lesser king (Adam), Grant (Land and Wife given to Adam), and Marital (between Adam, Eve and God)), but He wasn’t the only One to use them. To speak of covenants in the ancient Near East is like speaking of the US Constitution with other Americans, everyone knows what it is and the conditions we are obligated to under it.
Once two parties are bound by covenant, the terms become deadly serious. We see that the Covenants with Abraham (for offspring, a great name and the Land), Israel (at Sinai), and ourselves (through Messiah) were all entered into voluntarily and were ratified with blood and with solemn oaths. Abraham could have chosen not to “go,” the Israelites could have chosen to stay in Egypt, and we could have chosen to remain cut off from God and His Covenants for eternity. We made a choice to live His way:
Ro 10:8-10 But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
That word translated confess is homologeo, and it means “to covenant.” Confessing belief in Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah isn’t some sort of “get out of hell free card” – it is entering into the “covenants of promise” spoken of by Paul in Ephesians 2; the renewed covenant in the blood of Messiah doesn’t simply get us a “personal relationship” with Messiah, but obligates us to a full covenant relationship with the Father, on His terms. And His terms are the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
And so we read the Hebrew scriptures and see the actions of God and if we have not been taught the terms of His Covenants, we see Him as wrathful. But let’s take two things into consideration:
(1) The events between the Exodus out of Egypt and the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities happened over the course of approximately 700 years for the Northern Kingdom of Israel and 850 years for the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The evil that befell the Nations only took place after a great many years of patient warnings.
(2) The people who did not want to be a part of His Covenant had the option of living the lives they wanted somewhere else, but when they chose to be in Covenant with YHVH and the pagan gods, and to worship them on His Land, they just as righteously incurred a penalty as would a woman sleeping with another man while still married and in her husband’s own bed.
God put up with an unbelievable amount of covenant betrayal over those long centuries. Wrath? Was that His focus? Clearly not – I have known people who are wrath focused and they are out of control, or barely in control. A wrathful mindset is at odds with a restoration mindset and the Father’s goal has always been the preservation and restoration of the family. He does what He needs to do in order to make that happen, even at the ultimate cost of the suffering and death of the human body that the Word of God took in the person of Yeshua. Yeshua didn’t die to save us from the wrath of God, Yeshua died to restore the broken relationships that the Father is focused on.
And yet there is indeed wrath, we see it throughout scripture – but we need to look at it with kinder and more understanding eyes. If a King gave an order and then watched one of his subjects willfully violate that order right in front of everyone, challenging his authority so that he either had to punish or lose control over everyone, we would not call his response wrath, we would call it simple justice. If a husband found his wife in bed with another man for the hundredth time and he tossed her and her belongings out the door we wouldn’t call that wrath either. If a father had his own drug addicted son thrown in jail for stealing from the family after years of trying everything else, including rehab, we wouldn’t call that wrath, but instead tough love. But when God does it, we call it wrath – instead of the righteous anger that sees a betrayal of covenant, or the oppression of a covenant partner. When God told the Israelites not to do any work on the Sabbath, and on the very first Sabbath one guy out of millions decides to go and collect wood, that was a treacherous act of defiance from a man who had just been released from a life of slavery by the Hand of God Himself – He wasn’t even willing to take a day off to honor that God, but instead chose to dishonor and shame Him in front of millions of people. God had to be concerned, at that moment, not only with His honor in the sight of the Nation, but also with the welfare of that Nation. For their sake, for the future justice and righteousness of the Nation, He couldn’t let it slide or they would never be willing to do the hard things like take care of the oppressed, the widows, orphans, poor and foreigners. Wrath is about the protection of the Covenant and those within it; it is about jealously guarding the constitutional laws of the Kingdom of Heaven so that we will do no evil towards one another, and about passionately guarding those within that Kingdom. It is about love.
Love defined in scripture is not a feeling, but a loyalty – loyalty towards those with whom we are in covenant and compassion towards those outside of that covenant whom the covenant protects (the oppressed). When God’s loyalty is met with disloyalty, and when those whom He is in Covenant with are oppressed, the reaction is wrath in the forms of covenant lawsuits and judgment (as we see in Revelation towards both the Body of Messiah and the Kingdom of the Beast). When we who are in Covenant act disobediently and treacherously, we become subject to the righteous judgments of God in order to discipline us and bring us into a repentant state so that relationship can be restored. When those outside the Covenant oppress us, we are to cry out for justice and relief and God will begin to judge our oppressors (even if we don’t see the results right away) out of His love (Covenant loyalty) towards us. Our job is to remain faithful to the Covenant so that we ourselves do not become rightfully subject to His discipline.
So did Yeshua die to save us from God’s wrath? No, because wrath isn’t the intention of God, but relationship. Being delivered from that wrath is simply a side-effect of that restoration of relationship. And relationship, like wrath, is a matter of the choices we make in honoring or dishonoring the Covenant we entered into through the blood of Yeshua. So our focus, in what we do and what we preach, has to be centered first and foremost on covenant loyalty and relationship – or the wrath we preach will have no context whatsoever.
I Thess 5:9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ
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