What Is the Wrath to Come?

18 Feb
Wrath to Com

from Google Images

In Luke 3:7 John the Baptist warned of the wrath to come. What is John referring to? The wrath to come is actually the coming wrath. That is, it is already present, coming continually upon the children of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2; 5:6; Colossians 3:6). The wrath itself is judgment (John 3:36; Romans 1:18; cf. Romans 8:1, 5). The particular judgment that John referred to concerned the mistreatment of the Jewish nation by the gentiles, which culminated in the Jewish war of 66-70 AD.

The destruction of Jerusalem was predicted by the prophet in Daniel 9:26. As the leaders of the nation, the Pharisees and Sadducees might have wanted to avoid the predicted judgment, but they didn’t wish to admit wrongdoing on their parts, as far as leading the nations away from God is concerned, so the wrath continued to dwell upon them. At the time of Luke’s writing to Theophilus (Luke 1:3 – cir 37-39 AD), the Roman general Petronius held his armies at Ptolemias just north of Caesarea for the winter (cir. 39 AD), intending to erect an idol to Gaius Caesar in the Temple at Jerusalem in the spring.[1] This would have forced the Jewish War with Rome about 26 years earlier than it actually occurred.

What Luke hoped to accomplish by offering his thesis (the Gospel of Luke) to Theophilus is the he (Theophilus) would cease the then current persecution against the church in Judea against the Hellenistic Jewish believers (cf Acts 8:1-4). Luke emphasized John’s message of the coming wrath, and later in his thesis (Gospel) he mentions armies (presumably Romans) would surround Jerusalem (Luke 21:20), so the leadership of the nation ought to be concerned about the coming judgment of God. More to the point, Theophilus needed to be particularly concerned, since Petronius’ armies were positioned not far from Caesarea and intended to begin a war with the Jews, if Theophilus didn’t repent of (stop) Jerusalem’s persecution of believers in Christ.

It may be of interest to know that Theophilus did cease that persecution, as is implied in Luke’s later thesis (Acts – see Acts 1:1) in the word rest at Acts 9:31. Josephus even records a remarkable turn of events in favor of the Jews. Petronius risked his own life by appealing to Caesar on the Jews’ behalf.[2] Meanwhile in Rome (according to Josephus)[3], King Agrippa had successfully gotten Caesar to decide not to place his idol in the Temple at Jerusalem.[4] Caesar wrote back to his general, Petronius, to leave the idol in the Temple, if it was already there, but, if it wasn’t already placed, he should refrain from doing so. Nevertheless, because of his delay in obeying the order of Caesar, Petronius was to kill himself.[5]

Not only wasn’t the idol placed in the Jew’s Temple, but Caesar’s letter was delayed and word of the assassination of Gaius Caesar (Caligula) came to Petronius before the order for him to commit suicide.[6] Therefore, he was saved from death, as well, because of his efforts on behalf of the Jews, according to Josephus’ account.

This is a picture of war and destruction of the Jewish nation that could have happened instead of occurring in 66 to 70 AD, which not only resulted in national defeat but the scattering of the Jews throughout the nations of the world. God had already stated that he would not complete his plans of judgment against any nation who repented of their evil deeds (Jeremiah 18:8; cf. 18:10). The problem is that the Annas family (cf. Luke 3:2) never repented. Annas was Rome’s choice to rule the Jews. He was chosen to be the high priest by Judea’s first Roman governor. His family was placed in the position of high priest more than any other family during the 1st century AD. Yet, every persecution against the nascent church was either begun or allowed to continue when a member of the Annas family held that office.

The first Jewish persecution (Acts 8:1) broke out while Caiaphas, Annas’ son-in-law, was high priest. This persecution continued under the authority of both Jonathan and Theophilus, both sons of Annas. Theophilus, however, stopped the persecution (cf. Acts 9:31). Nevertheless, the persecution was renewed again and escalated to include the Apostles, when King Agrippa ruled Judea, and while Matthias, also a son of Annas, reigned as high priest. Annas’ son Jonathan held that office for a second time under Felix, the governor, when Paul was taken and never released before being sent to Rome. Next, Ananias, the fifth son of Annas to hold the office of high priest, became determined to reach out against the most conservative of Jewish believers and had James, the Lord’s brother slain at Jerusalem. Just before the Jewish war broke out against Rome, Matthias, the son of Theophilus and grandson of Annas, became high priest. During his administration Luke wrote the book of Acts in hopes to get the Jewish authorities to cease their persecution of the Church and wrote to have Paul released at Rome. That never happened, so the coming wrath culminated in the destruction of the Jewish nation.


[1] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews (18.8.2).

[2] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews (18.8.5).

[3] At times Josephus seems to give others credit for what believers had done. Nevertheless, Agrippa may have convinced Caesar, and Luke may have also convinced Theophilus to change their then current evil orders, but it is odd how Josephus seems to follow Luke in parts of his works.

[4] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews (18.8.7)

[5] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews (18.8.8)

[6] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews (18.8.9).

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Posted by on February 18, 2019 in Gospel of Luke


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