What does respect for leaders mean when some of them act like King Herod and Pontius Pilate? I think it means more to be afraid of them. God put them there, but they became corrupt all on their own.
Respect for leaders means that we render obedience to the laws of the government, unless governmental laws command us to go against God’s word (Acts 5:29).
It is interesting to note the historical context when the apostle Paul wrote Romans 13:1-2 (“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”) and the apostle Peter wrote 1 Peter 2:13-14, 17 (“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors… honor the emperor”).
When those apostles wrote, Nero reigned as Roman emperor. He was definitely no friend of Christians; his atrocities against them are well documented. Yet, the directives of “be subject” and “honor” applied even to him—not because his life or actions generated respect, but because he filled a seat of authority God had established.
Today, as always, there is a need to do what the apostle Paul wrote in another inspired letter: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).