Michelangelo's "Last Judgment" should freak us out, but rest assured, the final Day of the Lord will be FAR worse for those not in Christ.
For the LORD is enraged against all the nations,
and furious against all their host;
he has devoted them to destruction, has given them over for slaughter.
Their slain shall be cast out,
and the stench of their corpses shall rise;
the mountains shall flow with their blood.
- The Prophet Isaiah (34:2-3)
Studying and preaching Isaiah makes the reality of God's wrath and judgment very apparent. Sometimes reading so much about God's wrath gets to me, even as a bible teacher and preacher. I am overwhelmed with thankfulness for Christ enduring God's wrath in my place, but I am stricken with terror and sadness for those who have not rested upon Christ and are naked before God's wrath. That which awaits unrepentant sinners is almost to awful too contemplate.
As I try to process the terrible anger God has toward human sin,emotions can twist my understanding and thinking. I am tempted to shy away from speaking of God's wrath because it's so dreadful and awful. I don't want to depict God as awful. Yet, as a minister of God's Word, I must preach what is in the holy text. As A.W. Pink pointed out, there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness. I never want to apologize for what God's Word plainly states. The truth must be proclaimed. The fact is, many come to Christ when they hear of God's wrath. Indeed, I remember being fearful of damnation when I turned to Christ to save me. I didn't doubt that I deserved God's wrath, and that is the truth which drove me to Jesus.
Still though, as I preach through Isaiah, more and more of God's judgment is expressed and forecasted. I know many unbelievers scoff at what they see as a vengeful God. A preacher can be tempted to preach only the "softer side" of God. Just talk about God loving people in Christ. God is love. Jesus is love. God is Kind. Jesus is compassionate. But what do God's love, kindness, and grace mean if we are not exposed to the whole truth about our sin, God's righteousness, and our future judgment apart from faith in the work of Christ to remove God's wrath? Only telling part of the truth is a lie, and in this case, a damning lie.
I think it is hard for me to dwell on the wrath of God or the judgment of God because I struggle to comprehend wrath or anger apart from my sinful experience of these. But God's wrath is not like my wrath. His wrath is right and pure. In balance with the whole message of God's glorious gospel, people need to know the truth about God's just wrath and judgment. It will make yet unredeemed (but elect) sinners run to Jesus and cause redeemed ones cry out to God with thanksgiving for their salvation through Christ.
While studying another chapter about God's judgment this week (Isaiah 34) I came across a helpful post by Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh that helps me stay on Scriptural point.
Characteristics of Godly Wrath
(1) Godly wrath is vastly different from the wrath of man (James 1:20).
(2) The wrath of God is always in accordance with the standards set down in Scripture for man’s conduct and the warnings God has given for disobedience (Deuteronomy 29:26-28; 30:15-20; 2 Samuel 12:9-10; 2 Kings 22:10-13; 24:2; 2 Chronicles 19:8-10; 34:18-28; 36:15-16; Jeremiah 22:11-12; 44:2-6).
(3) The wrath of God is in accordance with the deeds of men. God’s wrath is always in direct proportion to man’s sin (Psalm 28:4; Isaiah 59:18; Jeremiah 17:10; 21:14; 25:14; Ezekiel 20:44; 24:14; 36:19).
(5) God’s wrath comes after warning of judgment (see, for example, the warnings given to men in the days of Noah (Genesis 6-9), of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), and throughout the Old Testament by the prophets).