A biblical understanding of the atonement made by the Lord Jesus should lead to great assurance of salvation for the Christian. Another practical benefit of Christ’s atonement is that it shows us the righteousness and justice of God. And Christians need to be reminded of the Lord’s absolute justice in light of the gruesome and heartbreaking opposition and persecution of Christians around the
The atonement the Lord Jesus made for our sins allows us to trust the Lord to be just and righteous. Ironically, if we deny that God demands justice and punishment for our own law-breaking and wrongdoing, we are left without hope that God will ultimately make things right in this world.
Christians around the world suffer opposition and intense persecution, sometimes even paying for their Christian confession with their own lives. We look around and we see the oppressed, the persecuted, the trampled on. We see the afflicted, the wronged. Horrific crimes and actions take the front page of our newspapers and the lead spot on the evening news. If God is not going to exact
justice and punishment on those who commit grievous wrongs against Christian believers, do these horrors simply go unchecked, unpunished, and passed over?
Further, in the absence of a God who pays back wrong and brings punishment on the guilty, might Christians who are persecuted and afflicted take justice into their own hands and pursue retribution? Actually, the New Testament makes the case that, because holy vengeance belongs to the Lord, individual Christians are not to pursue retributive justice in this world. As an individual
Christian, I am not called to pick up the sword and bring punishment down on the heads of my enemies if I am persecuted for professing the name of Christ. Paul makes exactly this case in Romans 12:14-21. Christians are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Rather than personally exacting justice on those who wrong us for being Christians, we are commanded to “leave it to the wrath of God” (v. 19). Why? Because vengeance belongs to the Lord and he will repay (v. 19, quoting Deut 32:35). If God will exact punishment and justice against those who treat Christians with scorn and contempt, why would he not exact punishment and justice on those who treat him with scorn and contempt?
Also, Paul encourages the believers in Thessalonica that, on the day of theLord’s return, God will repay those who afflict Christians and will bring vengeance on those who do not know God and trust in the Lord Jesus (2 Thess 1:5-10). In this case, present comfort and encouragement to remain steadfast and firm in the face of persecution and affliction is grounded in God’s coming
vengeance on the day when Jesus returns in glory. Paul is seeking to strengthen these afflicted believers, not by downplaying the wrath of God against wickedness, but by intentionally calling attention to it. But how can we take comfort that, when the Lord returns, we will not suffer this
vengeance, this wrath of God poured out, this punishment repayed? Because for God’s people, that punishment and that wrath has already been poured out on he Lord Jesus.
When Christ returns, what these Christians in Thessalonica are told to expect is “relief” (v. 7) because the wrath of God due to them for their own wickedness and guilt has already been borne by the Lord Jesus. What a glorious God we worship and what a glorious gospel we embrace! Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!
Scott Muilenburg is the pastor at First Christian Reformed Church in Edgerton, MN. He is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and is happily married to his wife, Becca. They have three young children.