The rebels are the usurpers of Gods law and authority, not those who stand against them.
The qualifier is “he is a MINISTER of God to thee for GOOD” and “IF thou do that which is evil” then “be afraid, for he beareth not the sword in vain” because “he is the MINISTER of God” to execute His wrath upon him that does evil.
The title “minister” implies that he has been given his office by God and has a duty before God who is the ultimate authority and law giver to obey and enforce His law against the evil doer for your good.
If they cross the line they usurp their God given power and are unjust law breakers that wield the sword in vain.
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. -Romans 13:3,4
It is clearly a prescriptive passage not a descriptive passage describing the current authorities.
Look at what the Scriptures say about what proper, God ordained, government is supposed to look like. We know that God is perfectly holy, righteous and just, and He has His ministers in different spheres of life.
We have families in which God has placed the Father as the head with his wife as his help mate, we have our churches in which God has His ordained ministers that we are to submit to, as the ones who are to watch over our souls as under shepherds, held accountable to the Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
Then we have the civil magistrate who is Gods minister to us for good.
Now in any one of these spheres we can have rebellious man in the position of leadership and they can seek to lead autonomously instead of following Gods law. That is when we have tyranny and oppression.
Now look at Romans 12 and 13 then I Timothy I, in light of this.
Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. 18If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. 19Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. 20Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.21Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. -Romans 12:17-21
Paul is stating that if it be possible live peaceably with all men and to not avenge yourself but give place unto wrath. Then immediately following in chapter 13 Paul tells us who is to be the revenger of God’s wrath on those evil doers.
1Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.2Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.3For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. -Romans 13:1-5
The civil magistrate is to be Gods minister of wrath and a minister of God to us for our good because they do not bear the sword in vain. They must obey Gods law-word. When they go beyond and usurp power unjustly then they bear the sword in vain and our conscience is not bound to obey them.
But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; 9Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; 11According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust. -I Timothy 1:8-11
With that said we must be wise in how we deal with tyranny. We must also be ambassadors of the King in all interactions with other image-bearers of God. I will speak the truth of God’s law to whoever I am dealing with in all situations. I am not a pacifist by any means. But our defense must start with verbiage, and Lord willing that verbiage can diffuse the situation.
As far as the “big picture” standing against tyrannical systems, interposition plays a key role. And until then we must weigh the factors in wisdom.
For example, I pay my taxes because it is wise to do so in the situation we live in. If I can stay free from being kidnapped by the state by paying my taxes at 20-30% then even if it is an unjust law and theft by the state, it would be a worse sin to not provide for my family because of being imprisoned. But there may come a time for the people to rise up against the tyrannical rebels and the best way to do that is the lesser magistrate interposing with our support.
I am not advocating for revolt as an individual. Romans 12 clearly states what I am to do. Romans 13 explains the duty of the magistrates.
We as individuals are to call upon the lesser magistrates to interpose against the higher magistrates when they try to impose tyrannical laws.
If and when the lesser magistrate interposes, then we are to rally behind them in support against the usurping higher magistrate.
We must be wise and weigh the options as we endeavor to change our society and bring it under conformity to the law-word of God as His ambassadors.