Premillennialists interpret the term "wrath" as referring to the great tribulation occurring along with the rapture and the 1,000 yearmillennium. I should mention I don't agree with the view that there is a yet-future 3–1/2 or 7 year Great Tribulation.
The Bible is clear: the word "wrath" refers to God's judgment against sin upon the wicked and unbelieving.
The "day of the Lord" is merely the "day" in which God pours out His "wrath."
Uses of the word "wrath"...
Premillennialists who believe in a pretribulational rapture understand "wrath" to be the great tribulation — 7 years (or 3–1/2 years) of intense global judgment. They base this on verses such as 1 Thessalonians 5:9.
For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:9)
The question is what the word "wrath" means in this passage. Some possibilities (and my votes)...
An example of God's judgment (wrath) on the nation of Israel:
But the children rebelled against me: They did not follow my decrees, they were not careful to keep my laws — although the man who obeys them will live by them — and they desecrated my Sabbaths. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and spend my anger against them in the desert. (Ezekiel 20:21)
1 Thessalonians 5:9 itself contains ample evidence for the view that "wrath" doesn't refer to the great tribulation. Paul is speaking directly to the church in Thessalonica in 51 A.D. and tells them they will not suffer wrath. But they were not in the great tribulation (and never would be) so this verse has no application for them unless they understood it to mean final judgment.
1 Thessalonians 2:16 is fatal to the premillennial idea of the wrath of God referring to the great tribulation. Paul tells them the wrath of God has finally come upon the ungodly Jews who killed Jesus and persecuted the true church. Therefore, this word "wrath" is not equal to the great tribulation of the Premillennialists.
In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last. (1 Thessalonians 2:16)
What does the word "wrath" mean here? Some possibilities (and my votes)...
But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)
Note that the "wrath" is a result of their "heaping up their sins to the limit" which is an ongoing occurrence. Paul is merely saying God will even judge the sins of Jews. They are not exempt from judgment based on national identity but must receive salvation the same way as everybody else — through faith in Christ.
Final judgment on the unbelieving, God-rejecting, wicked. This occurs immediately after the second coming of Christ at the great white throne judgment.
Premillennialists of the pre-tribulational rapture variety claim that 1 Thessalonians 1:10 is speaking of Christians in the far future (from the time this book was written) who are waiting for the rapture to save them from the great tribulation which happens soon after.
To wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead — Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Thessalonians 1:10)
This idea would not encourage the Thessalonians in the least unless they also believed the rapture would happen in their lifetimes (but if they believed this they were wrong — why would Paul deceive them like this?)
This passage only makes sense if it means that all believers of all time will be blessed by the second coming of Christ in which he finally judges sin, destroys death and gives us the final blessing — eternity with the Lord in glorified bodies. This is the amillennial understanding of the passage.
Colossians 3:6 clearly defines the nature of God's wrath. Paul is referring to sinful activities which result in the coming of God's wrath. Why would God destroy the world for 7 years (3–1/2 years) in a global great tribulation for the sins of unbelievers living at the time the book of Colossians was written?
Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. (Colossians 3:6)
What Paul is saying is that the wrath of God (final judgment) is coming for all who reject God's redemptive plan through Christ's death in our place. Christ's second coming is the same event as the final judgment (great white throne) followed immediately by the eternal state for believers and eternal damnation for unbelievers.
In Ephesians 5:5-6 Paul confirms there are 2 final conclusions...
For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person — such a man is an idolater — has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 5:5-6)
The word "wrath" has application to the first and second death of Revelation 20.
The first death of the reprobate ungodly is the suffering of God's wrath in his soul at the moment of physical death. The second death will be his suffering of God's wrath in hell in soul and body after the final judgment.
Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. (Revelation 20:14)
Premillennialists commonly believe that when Jesus "rules the world with an iron scepter (rod)" that this refers to an autocratic political rule:
Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. (Revelation 19:15)
However the usage of the phrase "iron scepter" refers to judgment and destruction.
You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery. (Psalms 2:9)
Their homes are safe and free from fear; the rod of God is not upon them. (Job 1:9)
Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! (Isaiah 10:5)
Therefore, Revelation 19:15 refers to final judgment.
God's wrath is upon everyone and is only removed through faith in Christ. Therefore, the word "wrath" does not refer to the great tribulation since this event will not affect all unbelievers. Rather, the word "wrath" refers to final judgment.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him. (John 3:36)
Premillennialists would consider the "day of God's wrath" as referring to the great tribulation. But Paul is not merely talking about the unbelievers during the great tribulation — he is talking about all unbelievers. Therefore the word "wrath" refers to judgment against all unbelievers. This is, of course, final judgment.
But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:5)
In Revelation 14:9 it is significant that God only pours out His wrath on those who worship the beast and who receive the mark. Therefore, the word "wrath" doesn't refer to the great tribulation since at that event there would be believers present.
A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb." (Revelation 14:9-10)
In Psalm 2:12 the word "wrath" does not refer to the great tribulation, nor does it refer to the millennial rule of Christ (ala premillennialism). The warning is to remind us that God hates sin and will judge sin. We should never trust in God's patience as an excuse to sin because His hatred of sin "can flare up in a moment."
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalms 2:12)
Premillennialists usually use Zephaniah 3:8 to refer to the great tribulation. However, it doesn't fit. In the great tribulation God doesn't assemble all the nations nor does He gather the kingdoms until the very end — instead, God pours out judgment upon the whole world. This passage fits the amillennial viewpoint better since at the time of the final judgment God does gather all the wicked together for the great white throne judgment.
Therefore wait for me," declares the LORD, "for the day I will stand up to testify. I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them — all my fierce anger. The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger. (Zephaniah 3:8)
Psalm 21:9-10 is clearly talking about final judgment.
At the time of your appearing you will make them like a fiery furnace. In his wrath the LORD will swallow them up, and his fire will consume them. You will destroy their descendants from the earth, their posterity from mankind. (Psalms 21:9-10)
This is evident from the context which refers to eternal blessings.
Surely you have granted him eternal blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence. (Psalms 21:6)
As believers in Christ we are spared God's wrath. However, we still have trials and hardships as God tests us.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! (Romans 5:9)
The "day of the Lord's wrath" is not the great tribulation (ala Premillennialism) because in that event God does not make a sudden end of all who live on the earth — rather, God makes a very slow end (3–1/2 years). But in the amillennial viewpoint the "day of the Lord's wrath" is a very sudden event — it is the second coming of Christ followed by the great white throne judgment.
Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord's wrath. In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth. (Zephaniah 1:18)
Psalm 79:6-7 is not about the great tribulation but rather concerns final judgment on the unrighteous. As believers we call out to God whenever we see injustice in this world and we know that those responsible will ultimately be judged for their wickedness. We would prefer that they come to know the Lord so He can forgive them for these sins.
Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the kingdoms that do not call on your name; for they have devoured Jacob and destroyed his homeland. (Psalms 79:6-7)
This passage requires special discussion since it is used by Premillennialists:
Of David. A psalm. The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies. Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy majesty, from the womb of the dawn you will receive the dew of your youth. The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." The Lord is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath. (Psalms 110:1-5)
First an analysis of this passage from a Premillennial perspective:
This passage is better interpreted from an amillennial viewpoint:
The final judgment is associated with signs in the heavens and on earth.
Therefore I will make the heavens tremble; and the earth will shake from its place at the wrath of the LORD Almighty, in the day of his burning anger. (Isaiah 13:13)
These signs in the heavens and on earth are so severe that none could possibly survive them — therefore they refer to the final destruction of the earth and final judgment.
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!" (Revelation 6:12-16)
Isaiah 26:19-20 is a very peculiar passage. From an amillennial viewpoint the meaning is that the righteous will not be judged at the final judgment (God's "wrath") but the wicked will be judged.
But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead. Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. (Isaiah 26:19-20)
We are not to seek revenge but to allow God to be the one who judges sin and wickedness.
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)
Who are the objects of God's wrath? When does this wrath take place? Romans 9:22 is not referring to the great tribulation but rather the final judgment.
What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath — prepared for destruction? (Romans 9:22)
The word "wrath" is often used for God's righteous judgment against a nation and/or individuals for wickedness. This includes judgment against the nation of Israel.
A few verses in which God pours out His wrath against His chosen nation Israel.
I will pour out my wrath upon you and breathe out my fiery anger against you; I will hand you over to brutal men, men skilled in destruction. (Ezekiel 21:31)
So I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols. (Ezekiel 36:18)
Judah's leaders are like those who move boundary stones. I will pour out my wrath on them like a flood of water. (Hosea 5:10)
In this verse God directs His wrath on a king of Israel.
So in my anger I gave you a king, and in my wrath I took him away. (Hosea 13:11)
In this verse God directs His wrath on Edom.
Edom may say, "Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins." But this is what the LORD Almighty says: "They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the LORD." (Malachi 1:4)
Notice that this wrath is directed against Israel and the Jews. Therefore, this passage is not referring to the great tribulation of the premillennialists since that event affects the entire world.
How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. (Luke 21:23)
God even uses ungodly nations as instruments of His wrath.
They come from faraway lands, from the ends of the heavens — the LORD and the weapons of his wrath — to destroy the whole country. (Isaiah 13:5)
The book of Habakkuk deals with this as a main theme.
This prophecy refers to the overthrow of the Babylonian empire.
See, the day of the LORD is coming — a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger — to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. (Isaiah 13:9)
The "king" is probably King Herod and the "Time of wrath" is probably the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in the Jewish War of 67-70 A.D.
The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place. (Daniel 11:36)
In Luke 21 there is an extended passage which parallels Matthew 24. The context is the destruction of the temple. In this passage the word "wrath" merely means the judgment from God upon the rebellious nation of Israel. This mirrors the usage of the word in the previous passages.
"As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down." "Teacher," they asked, "when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?" (Luke 21:6-7)
"When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near." Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. "There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." (Luke 21:20-27)
Note the following chronological sequence of events:
Josephus confirms that the events of the Jewish War happened exactly as specified.
The punishment by political rulers for rebelliousness against the state (the assumption is that the government is at least partially righteous).
God uses the political rulers He has appointed to maintain order in society. We are to obey them as long as they don't demand that we disobey God.
Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:2-4)
Since God is in control of all things even our trials and difficulties could be considered examples of God's wrath.
Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. (Psalms 88:16)
The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; God's terrors are marshaled against me. (Job 6:4)
For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears because of your great wrath, for you have taken me up and thrown me aside. (Psalms 102:9-10)