By Edgar J. Dye
God’s vengeance is affirmed in the Scriptures as a fact of the past (Jer. 5:1-9; 2 Pet. 2:4-6; Jude 5-7), as a present reality (Rom. 13:1-5; 1 Pet. 2:13,14; Jude 6), as a future possibility (Matt. 25:31-46; Rom. 2:1-11; Heb. 2:1-3; 10:28-30; Rev. 20:10-15; 21:8), and always as something which belongs only to him (Deut. 32:35; Psa. 94:1; Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30), which has been, is, and will be executed by him according to his will.
Vengeance is defined by Thayer, 194, as “to avenge one’s blood on or at the hand” (Rev. 6:10; 19:2); “a revenging; punishment” (Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30; Deut. 32:35); “the punishment of one” (1 Pet. 2:14) “. . . render vengeance on one” (2 Th. 1:8). Vine (I, 90), says it is used “in 1 Th. 4:6, of God as the Avenger of the one who wrongs his brother, here particularly in the matter of adultery.” Take note that vengeance is not the same as revenge or that which men delight in when they have received some injury at the hands of their fellow-men, and hence is never right, but ever condemned by God Almighty.
God’s vengeance is vindicated as being holy and righteous in its character which is in harmony with his infinitely holy and righteous nature. God’s vengeance proceeds “out of justice,” not, as often with human vengeance, out of a sense of revenge for injury or merely out of a feeling of indignation. For Divine judgments are holy, “true and righteous” (Rev. 16:7), and absolutely free from many element of self-gratification or vindictiveness by way of taking revenge in the exercise of it.
In Romans 3:5,6 Paul’s treatment of the reasonableness and righteousness of the question of God’s vengeance is concise and conclusive in recognition of its belonging to God’s justice in dealing with men in sin and disobedience to his holy will. He also reminds us of the righteousness of it in 2 Thessalonians 1:6 by declaring that “it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you” (or to the troublers), just as it is a righteous act of God to recompense “to you who are troubled rest.” This tribulation is further identified in vv. 8,9, 10 as the Lord “in flaming fire taking vengeance on them,” and as a punishment “with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power,” “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels . . . when he shall come to be glorified in the saints, and to be admired in all them that believe in that day” (cf. Rom. 2:5-11).
Thus Divine vengeance is the avenging of sin, which is essential to upholding divine justice in righteousness. As just Judge of the world, God must avenge transgressors of Divine law.
God is declared to be a God of “goodness and severity,” a holy, righteous and just Being who blesses the faithful with “life eternal,” while at the same time he will punish the unbeliever and evil doer with “everlasting punishment” (Rom. 11:26; Matt. 25:46; Rom. 1:18-20; Col. 3:1-6,23,24; Rev. 21:8).
Vengeance to our minds has a tendency to convey a meaning which makes it unsuitable for application to God. Men often find it very difficult to separate personal feeling and unrestrained passion from it. Perhaps studying about the family avenger of Numbers 35, the revenger of blood, will help men understand divine vengeance. That family revenger took vengeance; but he imported no personal feeling into his vindication of outraged family sanctities. Vengeance was the solemn duty of his position, office and relation.
Remember, God is not only the lover of holiness but the hater of all sin (Prov. 6:16-19). With all the fervor of his infinite love and the majesty of his unlimited power he approves and rewards holy and righteous activity, Also, with all the fervor of his justice and severity he disapproves and abhors all evil and in justice takes vengeance on it.
Jeremiah 5:1-9 reveals Jerusalem as a profligate people ripe for God’s vengeance as a past example illustrating the reality of it. For since no upright or godly person could be found there (vv. 1,2); since all were spiritually incorrigible (v. 3); since all were insolently impious (vv. 4,5); since there was no ground for pardon or pity in their case (vv. 7,8); and since all this necessitated direct punishment and destruction, God’s vengeance would fall upon them (vv. 6,9).
Jude offers three examples of God’s vengeance. The first (v. 5) is that of the unbelieving Israelites in the wilderness. He reminds them of how God dealt first in mercy, “how that the Lord having saved the people out of the land of Egypt,” then he dealt with them in judgment taking vengeance on them, for “afterward he destroyed them that believed not.” His vengeance overtook them by means of plague, fire, serpents, earthquake and sword, with all except those twenty years old and under being destroyed in the wilderness. The second example (v. 6) is the case of the fallen angels. The existence of evil angels is elsewhere expressly asserted, being spoken of as “angels that sinned” (2 Pet. 2:4), as devils “who enter(ed) into men” during the personal ministry of Christ (Lk. 8:30), and as beings to be judged by the saints (1 Cor. 6:3). Because they revolted and defected from God or “kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation,” they have been “reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.” Thus there is a present vengeance of God in that they are “kept” – presently “kept in everlasting bonds under darkness.” And there is a future vengeance because they are presently kept “unto the judgment of the great day.” The third example (v. 7) of God’s vengeance is the case of the cities of “Sodom and Gomorrah . . . suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” because of “giving themselves over to fornication and going after strange flesh,” and have been “set forth for an example” to all – including you and me – of God’s hatred of sin, to express his desire to prevent our ruin (cf. Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11), and to warn of the inexcusableness of all who sin in the face of such examples.
Peter (2 Pet. 2:5) adds to this number the case of the ungodly world of Noah’s day who suffered God’s vengeance in being destroyed by the flood (cf. Gen. 6-8). Additionally, there are many other examples of God’s vengeance: Leviticus 10:1,2; Numbers 11:1-3; 16; Joshua 7. Let us be grateful to God for such timely warnings against sin!
Romans 13:1-5 and I Peter 2:13,14 teach that civil rulers of our day bear from God a certain delegated power to punish present-day public offences – to “avenge” evil; they are sent of God “for vengeance on evildoers.”
Romans 2:6,8,9; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; Hebrews 10:24-31; 12:28-29; and Revelation 21:8 all contain solemn warnings that God’s vengeance in Divine justice will be recompensed to those who “know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,” “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance.” That is, at his second personal coming.
There will be no escape from it as punishment for sin, so say Proverbs 11:21; Matthew 10:28; 23:33; Romans 2:3; Colossians 3:25; Hebrews 2:1-3; 12:25. Divine vengeance is most assuredly in store for all transgressors of divine law who die in their sins. Furthermore, it will be eternal punishment in hell, which has been prepared for the devil and his angels (Dan. 12:2; Matt. 10:28; 18:8,9; 25:41; Mk. 9:44-46; Rev. 14:10; 20:10).
Divine vengeance is never inflicted without ample warning, for God wants all to be saved (I Tim. 2:3-6; 2 Pet. 3:9-15). It is based on the highest and holiest principles of justice and equity consistent with the very nature of God. But God’s vengeance in the final judgment at the last day through Jesus Christ, his Son, will be a terrible awakening to the impenitent wicked.
The Scriptures reveal the fact of God’s vengeance in the past and present. They issue solemn warnings of it in the future at the final judgment which reminds us of the certainty of it, the nature of it, the time of it, the duration of it and the terribleness of it.
But thanks be to God’s grace, love and mercy there is a divine plan whereby all men can escape the experience of it: His scheme of human redemption through the blood of his Son by means of the gospel of Christ, revealed in Scripture in terms simple and plain enough for all to understand, believe and obey and thus be saved eternally by grace through faith.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 19, pp. 590-591
October 3, 1991