Jesus and Vengeance

TODAY’S READING: PSALMS 56-61

Psalm 58:10 says, “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.”

Since David was a man of war and bloodshed, it is not too hard to believe that he thought the righteous would rejoice at the sight of vengeance. As a king, David would have lived a life of vengeance, punishing the enemies of Israel in retaliation for inflicting harm upon Israel.

But, do the righteous really rejoice at vengeance?

Not if we are to believe Jesus.

Isaiah 61:1-2 says, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.”

Jesus quotes this passage of scripture at the start of his ministry in Luke 4. But, Jesus did something interesting when he quoted this scripture.

Verses 17-21 say, “And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Did you see what Jesus did?

He stopped quoting Isaiah right when it says “and the day of vengeance of our God.” To a Jewish audience under Roman persecution, a Jewish audience who’s promised land, God’s land, was occupied by a foreign invader, Jesus was just getting to the good part. Jesus was just about to say that Israel was going to be vindicated, that God was going to take vengeance on Rome and set Israel free.

But, instead of saying that the vengeance of God was here, Jesus stopped, closed the scroll, and sat down.

The vengeance of God wasn’t coming.

Okay, so maybe vengeance wasn’t coming now but later.

Surely when Jesus, the son of God, king of Israel, the Messiah was crucified by the Roman empire, the foreign invader, that would be the time for God’s vengeance. If anything deserved vengeance, then it was the execution of Jesus, the son of God, “the righteous.” Surely, Jesus would rejoice at seeing the vengeance of God upon those that wrongfully executed him.

But, instead of crying out for vengeance from God, Jesus said from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Instead of rejoicing at vengeance, “the righteous” asked his Father to forgive those who were doing evil against him.

Okay, so maybe vengeance wasn’t coming now but later.

Don’t you know that Paul in Romans 12:19 and the writer of Hebrews in 10:30 quoted the Old Testament, which recorded God saying, “Vengeance is mine. I will repay.”

Yes, God will repay.

But, the question is how?

When we think of vengeance by our natural minds, we think of repaying someone in kind for what they did to us. We will get back at them equally, or worse. We take vengeance.

But, Jesus addressed how we “get back” at someone in Matthew 5:38-44.

“You have heard that is was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”

Jesus tells us to repay, to take vengeance against, those that are evil entirely different than we would naturally. Instead of returning evil with evil, Jesus says that we should return evil with good.

In the same passage that Paul quoted the Old Testament with God saying, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” he also summarized Jesus by saying, “Repay no evil for evil…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17, 21)

So, when God takes “vengeance,” he does it with good, not evil.

So, how is that vengeance?

Let’s look at the definition of vengeance. It means punishment inflicted in retaliation for injury or offense 1) with great force of vehemence or 2) to an extreme or excessive degree.

God’s “punishment” is to do good to you for the injury and offense you caused his son. Having someone do good to you in return for your evil can be quite maddening, even punishing to your evil and wicked ideas for and intentions toward God.

And, not only is God “punishing” you with good, God does good to you with great force and vehemence to an extreme and excessive degree. God repays your evil with so much good that you will not be able to tolerate it. And, all that good will burn up all your evil thoughts and intentions.

So, yes Jesus takes vengeance. But, his vengeance is repaying evil with good with great force to an extreme and excessive degree. “The righteous” rejoices at that kind of vengeance.

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