Societies are governed by powers ordained by God.. “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” (Rom.13:1-2) Power rests in the capacity for rulers to exact vengeance. The power came from God. “. . . he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”(Rom. 13:4) This constitution could well have occurred when God revealed His will after the flood in Noah’s day. “’Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man.”(Gen 9:5-6) It is God’s wisdom that earthly order be maintained through vengeance. It is based on man being made in the image of God. For this reason, God requires a lawless act being met with retribution; not paper for blood, but life for life. There is no indication that God has abrogated this requirement from earthly society. This is as fundamental as Adam ruling over Eve, or working by the sweat of our brow. It is needed to survive. When a society strays from this requirement it drifts into anarchy. Solomon wrote: “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” (Eccl.8:11) The particulars of how this essential requirement came to be institutionalized is not described in the Bible. But we can see the reality of people banding together for security. Within that band a systematization of law develops. Life for life is the mainstay. The Lord did not ordain feuding. Rather He has laid a fundamental requirement for justice within a constituted society. Value and attainment of good (home, neighborhood, employment, etc.) has a greater opportunity to flourish within the bounds of security. These pleasant things are reflections of being made in the image of God. Vengeance sustains the honor and security of such, at least to the degree required for humanity’s journey to the end of time. In the process, nations emerge and collapse. But always, those who are governed prevail. It seems those societies which maintain the balance of life’s goodness and vengeance are societies governed best.
Payback, getting even, a dish best served cold – these are expressions of those who would take the law in their own hands, operating outside of a society’s arrangement and God’s law as well. Whether it is a personal vendetta or the Hatfields and McCoys, vengeance outside of the law is murder. Vengeance exercised within the law is justice.
How does the church of Christ handle such a thing? The church functions on the earth as a society ruled from above. Christ, who sits at the right hand of God, is the head of the church. The Lord has not authorized the church to exercise vengeance. No longer can the adulterer and adulteress be stoned, nor the one who hits his parents. The covenant through which earthly government and religion (legitimately) function as one entity is over. Members of the church are subject to civil authorities. This is with regard to their place among the societies of the world. “Honor the King.”(IPet.2:17) “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” (Rom.13:7) Such directives respect the right of earthly vengeance in the hands of the government. In addition, vengeance is fundamental to the plan of salvation. It is fundamental to the church’s earthly existence and to her ascension into glory.
How could the gospel have spread so rapidly without the stability of the Roman Empire? It seems obvious that Paul, Barnabas, and Silas could not have traveled so freely without the peace of Rome. God used the Roman judicial system so that Paul could bring the gospel even to the household of Caesar. It was possible because he (the ruler) did “not bear the sword in vain.” The power of vengeance has high ground.
The word ‘salvation’ begs the question; “Saved from what?” Jesus saves us from the vengeance of God. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36) / “. . Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (I Thes.1:10) Therefore, the gospel is predicated upon the return of the Lord “. . .in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (IIThes.1:8)
What is so important about believing in Jesus, that the failure to do so is made subject to God’s wrath? “For God so loved the world. . .” The precious goodness of God toward us is so great, the failure to receive redemption would place ourselves outside of mercy. In this case we are not just dealing with the honor of being made in the image of God, it has to do with the opportunity to be fulfilled as the sons and daughters of the living God. To scorn such a thing is worthy of wrath. If the prospect of wrath was absent in the face of such scorn it would render worthless the precious love of God.
“’Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’says the Lord.” (Heb.10:30) In the hands of God, vengeance is a proper thing. Saints who were beheaded for the sake of Jesus are shown crying out; “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev.6:10) Their desire was not rebuked, but rather vindicated. “Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” (Rev.6:11)
It seems an awkward thing, that the very saints who professed Christ on earth are shown yearning for vengeance after their deaths. Yet is is harmonious with God. Their cry demonstrates the just cry against souls who will be judged without mercy because they have shown no mercy. God knows who the merciless are. Our lot upon the earth is to turn the other cheek. Because as long as the earth abides, mercy is abundant toward all who repent. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (II Pet.3:9) What is His promise? “. . .the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” (II Pet.3:7)