Infliction of punishment in return for an injury or offense; retributive action. The Greek word ek·di·keʹo, rendered “avenge,” literally means “from justice,” suggesting that the action represents justice achieved. As used in the Bible, “vengeance” usually applies to retribution paid by God in behalf of justice, but it may also refer to a person’s executing that which he may view as just or as equalizing matters to his own satisfaction.
Belongs to Jehovah. Unless a person is qualified as executioner of vengeance by appointment of Jehovah, or by being designated as such by his Word, he does wrong if he attempts to avenge himself or others. “Vengeance is mine, and retribution,” says Jehovah. (De 32:35) God is addressed by the psalmist: “O God of acts of vengeance, Jehovah.” (Ps 94:1) Accordingly, the individual is condemned by God if he bears a grudge or seeks personal vengeance for real or fancied wrongs done to himself or to someone else.
The Scriptures point out that God’s anger rests upon all sinners and transgressors, and that only through God’s undeserved kindness in providing the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ is there a basis for mitigating or withholding the full retributive justice against the sinner. (Ro 5:19-21; 2Co 5:19; Heb 2:2, 3; see RANSOM.) God acts in full harmony with his righteousness when thus forgiving sin, and he is also righteous in bringing judgment upon sinners who reject his provision; such cannot escape divine vengeance.
Jehovah’s vengeance has a purpose. Jehovah’s vengeance brings relief and benefit when he acts in behalf of those who trust in him; additionally, it procures praise to him as the just Judge. The psalmist says: “The righteous one will rejoice because he has beheld the vengeance. . . . And mankind will say: ‘Surely there is fruitage for the righteous one. Surely there exists a God that is judging in the earth.’” (Ps 58:10, 11) Therefore, the primary purpose for God’s taking vengeance is to uphold his sovereignty and glorify his own name. (Ex 14:18; Ps 83:13-18; Isa 25:1-5; Eze 25:14, 17; 38:23) His action also vindicates his servants as being truly his representatives and delivers them from undesirable circumstances.
A fixed time for God’s vengeance. The Scriptures indicate that God has a due time for large-scale expressions of his vengeance upon his enemies. The prophet Isaiah was commissioned to proclaim “the day of vengeance on the part of our God.” God’s vengeance was expressed against ancient Babylon, the oppressor of his people, when the armies of Medo-Persia were used to break her power in 539 B.C.E. (Isa 61:1, 2; 13:1, 6, 9, 17) Jesus Christ, when on earth, quoted part of Isaiah’s prophecy (61:1, 2) and applied it to himself. (Lu 4:16-21) Though the record does not say that he quoted the part concerning “the day of vengeance,” in actuality he did proclaim that “day,” which came upon Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Jesus foretold the encampment by armies (of the Romans) around the city, telling his followers to flee from Jerusalem when they saw this, “because these are days for meting out justice [“days of vengeance”], that all the things written may be fulfilled.”
Jesus Christ further said, before his death and resurrection: “Concerning that day and hour [of executing judgment on the present-day system of things] nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mt 24:36) He thereby revealed that vengeance was sure to be executed at a time known and set by God. He illustrated the sureness of God’s action in his due time in behalf of his name and his servants, speaking of a judge who, because of a widow’s persistence in asking for justice, decided: “I will see that she gets justice [“I shall exact vengeance for her”].” Jesus applied the illustration to God, saying: “Certainly, then, shall not God cause justice to be done for [“do the vengeance of”] his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night, even though he is long-suffering toward them?”
Furthermore, in the apostle John’s vision recorded in the book of Revelation, John saw the souls of those slaughtered because of the word of God and because of the witness work they used to have, crying out: “Until when, Sovereign Lord holy and true, are you refraining from judging and avenging our blood upon those who dwell on the earth?” The answer they received shows that there is a definite time for the vengeance to be carried out, namely, when “the number [would be] filled also of their fellow slaves and their brothers who were about to be killed as they also had been.”
Appointed Executioners. The Lord Jesus Christ is God’s Chief Executioner of vengeance. The apostle Paul comforts Christians with the words: “It is righteous on God’s part to repay tribulation to those who make tribulation for you, but, to you who suffer tribulation, relief along with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels in a flaming fire, as he brings vengeance upon those who do not know God and those who do not obey the good news about our Lord Jesus. These very ones will undergo the judicial punishment of everlasting destruction from before the Lord and from the glory of his strength.”
In the Christian congregation. The apostles were appointed under Jesus Christ to care for the Christian congregation and to protect it from uncleanness and loss of Jehovah’s favor. In harmony with his God-given authority, the apostle Paul wrote to the congregation at Corinth, which was experiencing divisions and troubles from “false apostles”: “We are holding ourselves in readiness to inflict punishment for [“to avenge”] every disobedience.”
Older men appointed to care for the congregation were authorized to carry out “vengeance” to the extent that they could take steps to bring about justice and to reestablish the congregation in righteousness before God, by correcting the wrong that had been done. This the governing members of the Corinthian congregation did, after Paul corrected them, and thus Paul wrote in his second letter to them: “What a great earnestness it produced in you, . . . yes, righting of the wrong [“vengeance”]!” These men showed godly repentance after Paul’s first letter and cleared out the wicked man therein referred to, doing all they could to right matters before Jehovah. (2Co 7:8-12, Int) However, those men were not authorized to carry out on the wrongdoer the full penalty demanded by justice
Rulers. Governmental rulers, whose duty it is to see that justice is carried out, may be the ones who execute vengeance upon evildoers, including any Christians who break the laws of the land that are in harmony with what is right and that are consistent with the authority allowed those rulers by God. In such case, these rulers are indirectly executing God’s vengeance, as the apostle Paul writes: “For those ruling are an object of fear, not to the good deed, but to the bad . . . it is God’s minister, an avenger to express wrath upon the one practicing what is bad.”
Imperfect Man’s Tendency to Seek Vengeance. It is a tendency of fallen, imperfect men to seek vengeance upon those who do them injustice or upon persons whom they hate. The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife is in danger of retributive vengeance from the husband, as the Proverbs say: “For the rage of an able-bodied man is jealousy, and he will not show compassion in the day of vengeance. He will have no consideration for any sort of ransom, neither will he show willingness, no matter how large you make the present.” (Pr 6:32-35) Nonetheless, vengeance taken by a person on his own initiative is usually carried out in uncontrolled anger and is to no good purpose, but brings God’s anger against the avenging individual.
Enemies of God and of his servants. Those who hate God have shown hostility toward God’s servants, seeking to wreak vengeance upon them. This is not a true bringing about of justice, but it is a desire or action as a result of people’s hostility toward what is right and righteous, and it is an attempt to get rid of those righteous ones whose words and course of action convict them of wickedness. (Ps 8:2; 44:15, 16) In some instances God’s servants have been killed with the perverted idea that justice was being carried out. (Joh 16:2) In executing this claimed or supposed “vindictive justice,” however, they have not pleased God but, rather, have stored up vengeance for themselves. At times, it is true, Jehovah used the nations, such as Babylon, to bring his own vengeance on his people Israel when they broke their covenant with him. (Le 26:25) But those nations, on their part, acted because of hatred and malice, expressing their own vengefulness, and for this Jehovah, in turn, took vengeance upon them.