Paul is talking here about rulers in general, who uphold certain laws to guarantee a civil and peaceful harmonious lifestyle amongst their citizens. Paul is referring to the submission to and the enforcement of civil and criminal laws, such as theft or murder.
Paul is not talking here about the Hitlers or Neros, etc., who are encouraging their citizens to betray Christians or the Jews, so that they can be killed. We need to remember Christ’s statement to OBEY the Pharisees in all that they tell the people, but later, Peter did not obey them when they told him not to preach in the name of Christ. Christ would not obey them, either, to follow their rules of ceremonial washing, or to have no contact with “sinners.” So, Christ was talking about matters which were not in conflict with God’s word. (Notice, too, that John the Baptist openly rebuked Herod for committing adultery with his brother’s wife (Luke 3:19-20). Also, Daniel refused the obey the order of king Darius, not to pray to God, and his three friends disobeyed the order of king Nebuchadnezzar to worship the golden image).
In John 19:11, Christ told Pilate, “‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the GREATER sin.”
Christ is giving here an implicit forewarning of accountability and judgment on those — including rulers — who are evil. We are to be ambassadors of Christ and of the Kingdom of God. As such, we still need to be subject to the laws of man, as long as they are not in conflict with the laws of God.
Also, in Luke 4:6, Satan states to Christ that all authority over the kingdoms of this world have presently been given to Satan, and that it is he who gives it to whomever he wishes. Christ does not dispute this claim. In fact, we read that Satan is the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2) and the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), who still has a throne on this earth (Rev. 2:13). He and his demons are the current rulers over this world (Eph. 6:12), inspiring civil leaders to obey their will (1. Cor. 2:7-8).
Today, this world is cut off from God, and it is subject to the rule of Satan. God had placed Lucifer on the throne of this earth, but he rebelled and became known as Satan. When he inspired Adam and Eve to sin, God gave mankind 6000 years to find out for themselves that we need God. Still, God decreed that Satan is to remain on his throne, until Jesus Christ comes back to replace him and to restore the government of God on this earth. In that sense, there is “no authority except from God” (Romans 13:1), and all authority “has been given from above” (John 19:11), in that God has not yet replaced Satan and his demons and in that they cannot do anything which God does not ALLOW them to do. At times, God might even directly intervene to insure that a particular person takes over rulership in a particular country, so that God’s overall plan for mankind can be fulfilled (Ex. 9:16). But, we are not to follow them, or their laws, when they are opposing God.
The Broadman Bible Commentary has this to say about Romans 13:3:
“…State officials as rulers deserve the loyalty of Christians only when they do approve good conduct (vv. 3-4a). The corrupt politicians who appeal to the Christian conscience to protect their unjust reign of terror and tyranny should be totally repudiated… As God’s public servant the ruler is to promote the good against the bad.” (p. 257).
The German “Lexikon zur Bibel,” by Fritz Rienecker, points out, under “governing authorities” [“Obrigkeit”]:
“The Bible instructs us, because of God, to obey the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-14), and to pray for them (Jer. 29:7; 1 Tim. 2:2). The reason is, that every authority is appointed by God and that it is His servant (Romans 13:1,4)… There is, however, a limit to obedience. That limit is reached, when the instructions of the authority prevent a human being from obeying God (Acts 4:19; 5:29). This freedom, not to follow the will of the authority, Peter defends before the spiritual authority of his own people.”