One of the most well-known passages from Isaiah comes from chapter 9. Many even among the unsaved are familiar with verses 6 and 7 from their annual Christmas church visit - "For to us a son is born..." It's the conclusion of an oracle that spans several chapters telling of the future for Judah, warning of impending judgment but concluding with a promise of incredible hope - the Messiah is coming!
So it's a bit jarring to read on, and see that in verse 8 the message of judgment starts up again. This time it's a message for the northern kingdom of Israel, and it ain't pretty. God promises to raise up enemies for them, to crush them, to throw them into civil war, to destroy them (before restoring them through Jesus and the faithful remnant, 10:20 through 11:16). In every earthly way imaginable, they will be brought down, crushed, and defeated. This was soon fulfilled when Assyria conquered them, scattered them into exile, and desecrated their land with Samaritans. It was as awful as anything any people has ever experienced.
Which makes this phrase all the more chilling:
For all this his anger has not turned away,
and his hand is stretched out still.
In the short passage introducing the coming judgment, from 9:8 to 10:4, this phrase is repeated four times. This means that four times God pronounces terrible judgment on Israel, and says even that's not enough. Unimaginable earthly suffering wasn't enough to satisfy His wrath. Bringing them to complete ruin wasn't able to satisfy the demands of divine justice. For all that God did to them, even after all the pain and suffering He unleashed on them for their sins, He was still angry with them and His hand was still stretched out against them.
Which brings us to the cross and to hell.
See, there are some major errors being taught in the church about God's wrath. A lot of them put forth a faulty view of hell, while others misrepresent the cross. One common erroneous view of hell is that it's simply earthly suffering; it's common to talk of AIDS sufferers as experiencing "hell on earth" (f'r instance, Rob Bell does this in Velvet Elvis chapter 6, in interviews, etc). Another common view is that God does not punish sin, but suffering is merely the natural result of sin (recently put forth in The Shack, among others). He has no wrath against sin, only sadness at the mess we get ourselves into. But this passage (and many, many more like it) clearly refutes both ideas - God clearly portrays Himself as actively punishing sin, declares His burning anger against it, and proclaims that no matter how much wrath He may pour out on sin in this lifetime, it doesn't come close to satisfying His anger or ending the judgment. No, hell is not earthly suffering. No, God does not just sadly look on passively while we endure the unwanted side-effects of sin. He is angry with sin, and pours out wrath on it that far exceeds the worst we could take in this life.
Which brings us to the cross. It seems that lately there have been a lot of attacks on the Biblical teaching of penal substitutionary atonement. That is, the Bible clearly teaches that on the cross, Jesus took on the sins of his people, and God unleashed all of His wrath for those sins upon him. By doing this, Jesus made a perfect propitiatory sacrifice (the wrath of God against those sins was completely satisfied forever), and those of us who are in Christ are forgiven and no longer face God's wrath. This is the heart of the gospel. And of course, it's constantly under attack. Among other attacks, emerg* guru and universalist heretic Brian MacLaren has dug up an old line ridiculing the Biblical teaching on substitutionary atonement as "divine child abuse", while William Young (author of The Shack) finally admitted in a recent interview that he denies the Biblical teaching.
What all these errors have in common is a serious refusal to believe God regarding the seriousness of sin. They all come from the same starting point, the foolish belief that sin really isn't that bad. The problem, of course, is that God's word is perfectly consistent: yes, sin really is that bad, and the fitting punishment is eternally great. And the solution is the infinitely great sacrifice of Christ, satisfying the wrath of God and providing salvation for his church. The Word of God is perfectly clear on this; these errors don't arise from a misunderstanding of ambiguous scripture. They come from a stubborn, arrogant, insolent, rebellious refusal to believe what God has clearly proclaimed. I implore you, do not fall into the same trap as these men and many others like them. Believe God. He knows what He's talking about.
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