Depending on our motives, praying for God’s wrath can be a legitimate cry for justice. That is the cry of the heart you see reflected in such psalms as Psalm 94:1-2:
O LORD, the God who avenges, O God who avenges, shine forth.
Rise up, O Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve.
While the desire for God to set things right is valid, Jesus introduced a new attitude to have toward our enemies.
Jesus didn’t teach us to pray against our enemies. He didn’t encourage us to request bloodthirsty revenge or the judgment they deserve. Instead, He called His followers to actually pray for their enemies (Matthew 5:43-45). This was nothing short of revolutionary for his Jewish listeners. In a time when the Jewish religious leaders touted radical vengeance as a virtue, Jesus introduced a whole new way of doing business. He taught that true sons of God are not only concerned for their neighbors, but for their enemies as well.
This seemingly outrageous mindset was an important part of the new era Jesus’ death and resurrection would establish. His willingness to give up his life for a world of people at enmity with their Creator (Romans 5:6-10) and His resurrection from the dead would make it possible to have a restored and better way of life with others—friend or foe. Praying for our enemies also reflected God’s ultimate plan to rescue and to reconcile both Jews and Gentiles to Himself.
It’s a mistake to assume that praying for our enemies means we are to be passive and to let them take advantage or walk all over us. There are times to take a stand and strongly oppose our enemies like the day Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers and drove them out of the temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 21:12-13). And the writers of the New Testament call us to appeal to civil authorities to enforce laws that are meant to hold evildoers accountable and keep them in check (Romans 13). Holding others accountable for their actions and seeking justice, however, are not the same as praying for and pursuing revenge.
Though we should never stop longing and working for justice, Jesus took praying for vengeance off the table. By word and example, Jesus urged his followers to replace a heart for revenge with a heart to see our enemies reconciled to God and us. His life, death, and resurrection empowers us to envision the glory of God restored in others, to seek peace and reconciliation when possible, and to leave the matter of vengeance up to a holy and wise God who will mete out revenge in His perfect time and in His perfect way (Romans 12:17-21).