A text that reveals how important “historical” wrath is for the earliest Christians, and this use is characteristic of the OT and Judaism, is found in 1 Thessalonians 1:10:
We begin with verse 9:
For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead?Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.
1. First, Jesus’ coming (?) from heaven rescues “us” (Paul and believers in Christ) from the coming wrath.
2. This would undoubtedly refer to the sorts of things we see in 1 Thess 4–5. There words like “destruction” (5:3) and “wrath” (5:9).
3. Wrath is the opposite of “salvation” in 5:9.
4. There is an earthly, historical judgment looming over all of this discussion.
This is also how to read 1 Thess 2:16 (in context):
14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God?s wrath has overtaken them at last.
I consider it quite possible that this is the predominant sense of “wrath” in the early church; that those Christians saw God’s wrath mostly in terms of an act of God in history in which judgment would be enacted — injustice destroyed and justice established. That wrath, sometimes, was directed at Israel’s leaders.
But, this wrath is God’s wrath and it can’t be swept aside as the impersonal workings of history; if it is historical, it is God who makes history works this way so it is still connected to God.
Nearly always this sense of wrath is (1) a warning about what will happen to rebellious sinners who do not believe and (2) a consolation for believers to know they won’t experience it.