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The Cry of the Martyrs. Rev. 6:9


The Cry of the Martyrs

Text: Revelation 6:9 

Revelation is full of symbols. And we interpret those symbols in the light of scripture, and because the genre is Jewish, in the light of OT Scripture. Now it is really important when we come to look at this passage. There are important symbols, and they have an OT background. 

1 The Position of the Martyrs. When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.

There’s an altar, in the OT sense, a structure where animals are bound, and then ritually slaughtered. And below the altar are souls, again a symbol! These souls have been slaughtered, because they are Christians. Let’s think about that:-

  • Why did they die? These people have been slain for two reasons. Let’s take the obvious one first…
    • For their testimony. They had a testimony of saving faith in Christ. Now, just to make such a profession in John’s day would be to put yourself at risk of death. The Romans didn’t care who you worshipped, so long as you worshipped Caesar as god. But the Christians couldn’t and wouldn’t. Caesar is NOT Lord. Jesus is Lord, and him alone. That was their testimony. Not a long, funny laugh a minute, tragic story all about me and my big problems, until I met Jesus and asked him into my heart and life has been just fine since, and I’m living my best life now. Their testimony was “Jesus is Lord” He is MY Lord, and there is no other god beside him, and even if they come and take me away and kill me, Jesus is Lord. And they did.  They died…
    • For the Word of God. Do you love the Holy Bible, the Scriptures? Enough to DIE for its precepts? Because the Word of God is the opposite to the sinful laws and immoral culture of mankind. Obeying the Word of God will bring you into conflicts with the authorities of this present world, and that may bring down severe punishments upon you. The Covenanting struggle in Scotland was essentially about obedience to God’s Word, – many gave their lives. In modern days it is no different.  Will you obey God, rather than man? Let’s move on…
  • Why an altar?  There are NO altars in heaven, because there are no sacrifices there. READ Hebrews 10:11-13  Again this is heavy symbolism, and we must look for the meaning behind the symbol. The sacrificial system in the OT was not a means of salvation.- it was to point people to Christ. These martyred souls are under the altar, under the blood! Again it is symbolic, it is the blood of Christ, slain for sinners, that washes away all our sins, Hebrews 9:22  

There’s an important point here. Martyrdom itself has no saving merit. These souls are not in heaven because they were obedient unto death or because of their bravery. They are in heaven because of Jesus, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood has cleansed them from their sins. 1 John 1:7  Now, let’s see…

2 The Plea of the Martyrs. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

Instantly we are met with a difficulty. These are holy martyrs, people who have been obedient unto death and Jesus is their Lord. Jesus demands obedience from his followers. John 14:15  READ Matthew 5:43-48 So, if it is a commandment of Christ that we do not seek vengeance on our persecutors, and these souls are those who have been killed because of the Word of God, why are they calling out for vengeance?  cf Acts 7:59-60 There’s two reasons:

  • Because of Christ’s honour. Hendricksen suggests that these souls are seeking vengeance, not for themselves but for Christ. When a Christian believer is persecuted by this world, the persecutors are rebelling against their Creator and the only Redeemer of God’s elect. they are dishonouring Christ. Acts 9:5   When Saul was persecuting Christians he was persecuting Christ. 
  • Because justice, ultimately is God’s prerogative. Sometimes we seek justice in this world, and we do so through the proper legal channels.  But as far as the persecution of the church is concerned, true justice is not often found in the legal systems of this world. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:35, in Romans 12:19  

So, these obedient martyrs, in complete obedience to the commands of Christ, have laid down their lives, for Christ, for his honour, and are content to leave the final judgement in his hands.

3. The Peace of the Martyrs. Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer,

There’s an important question that we haven’t asked yet, but that we should ask. “Why does God allow such dreadful things to happen, and in this context, why does God allow Christians, his own elect people, purchased by the blood of Christ, to suffer and die? This verse, V10 helps us a little…

  • They get a white robe. This robe is not theirs by nature. It is given to them, imputed to them. It is a robe of righteousness, given by Christ, and it is given to every one of his elect redeemed people. You will have one too. It is given by Christ, whose righteousness has been imputed to us, – legally transferred to our account, at the cross.
  • They are given rest. When we are saved we find true rest, in Christ. Our souls are at ease, for the soul’s natural enmity with God is at an end and we are at peace with God. Romans 5:1  So, it is well with my soul! But our true rest is in heaven. Hebrews 4:9-11  These saints are resting – and they must rest a little longer, knowing that God’s perfect time for judgement will come. 

So, to answer our question, – why do these things happen, and why to God’s people… the answer is that suffering is for this world only, and the devil is doing is best to dissuade people from trusting Christ and being rescued from this world of sin. We must not be fixated with this present age, for there is eternity ahead, when we shall rest from our labours, and await God’s judgment in his time.

When will that time be? Look at V11, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed. God’s plan for this world is unfolding, and more suffering will occur, but one day the very last believer will die for Christ, and the very last soul among the people of God will be saved, and Christ will return.

Perhaps we will get just a little bit of insight into that judgement day, in our next lesson.

© Bob McEvoy July 2022

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