Thursday, May 2, 2019
Is Christ an Avenger?
that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things,1 Thessalonians 4:6 (NRSV)
This is the only time that Paul or any other New Testament writer calls Christ an avenger. Jesus never speaks of himself using this term.
An a avenger is one who brings vengeance, and the Bible has much to say on this topic. For example St. Paul writes:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:19-21 (NRSV)
So vengeance is the province of God and does not belong to us. So one can speak of God and Jesus as avengers only in the sense that ultimate justice is determined by God. Looking at some of the other ways we describe Christ might help us see why the term may not really explain who Christ really is.
The first confession of the early followers of Christ was to call him "Lord". This was the confession that Christ is sovereign and one with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Avengers are reactive. They are responding to the actions of others. When we confess Jesus as Lord, we are confessing that God is in control. The outcome is assured. God is acting first for the salvation of all and we are the one's responding to events initiated by God. In superhero movies like the Avengers series, they are never in control of events they are reacting and surviving.
The followers of Christ, shortly after his resurrection began to call Jesus "Savior." Jesus doesn't merely avenge, Christ saves. Salvation looks very different than vengeance. Vengeance is temporary and cyclical, it only lasts until the next slight. Salvation is permanent and eternal; it breaks the cycle of sin and retribution. Vengeance is about hurting the perpetrator back and causing wounds as payback. Salvation is healing and making whole. Vengeance is filled with anxiety while salvation is peace in every sense of the word. Vengeance kills, but salvation gives life.
So the central witness of Scripture shows that Christ is God's Son who is sovereign and wills that all who believe will be saved. God jealously holds on to vengeance because of its destructiveness, while Christ offers salvation freely because it renews, redeems and restores people and things. Scripture teaches us that God is Justice and God determines what Justice is. While vengeance may be a tool in bringing about Justice, it is rough and incomplete one. It can only get one so far.
This is clearly seen in the only instance I could find where God was called an avenger in the Old Testament. The verse is in Psalm 99.
O Lord our God, you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them,but an avenger of their wrongdoings. Psalms 99:8 (NRSV)
The psalmist is describing God as the King who loves and is committed to Justice. In this psalm the avenger is also the forgiver. God drives out the evil but restores the relationship with the evil doer. The psalmist then advocates that our appropriate response to this is worship. This theme is picked up in the last book of the Bible, the Revelation of St.John. In your Bible you may notice that Christ is called that "Almighty'. This is the English translation of the Greek term ὁ παντοκράτωρ which really means ruler of all. The Bible concludes with a picture of God's promised salvation in the new heaven and earth that requires no sequel.
So, is Christ an avenger? Well, yes he is, but He is so much more. I pray that you may nurture your faith by seeking out God through your interaction with Scripture. This way your picture of God will be defined by the Word of God Himself and not merely the culture. For we have a Lord and we have a Savior for whom a costume is not necessary.