O Lord … how long? (Rev. 6:9-11)

Previously: The souls of those slaughtered (Rev. 6:9-11)

The scripture

Rev. 6:9 – When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those slaughtered because of God’s word and the testimony they had. 10They cried out with a loud voice: “O Lord, holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?” 11So, a white robe was given to each of them, and they were told to rest a little while longer until [the number of] their fellow slaves and their brothers, who were going to be killed just as they had been, would be completed (HCSB).

O Lord … how long?

John hears the martyrs in heaven cry out, “O Lord, holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?” (v. 10). A more literal translation asks, “Until when will You exact vengeance for our blood?” Warren Wiersbe raises an interesting question about the verse in his commentary: “But is it ‘Christian’ for these martyred saints to pray for vengeance on their murderers? After all, both Jesus and Stephen prayed that God would forgive those who killed them.”

Wiersbe then offers this insight: “I have no doubt that, when they were slain on earth, these martyrs also prayed for their slayers; and this is the right thing to do (Matt. 5:10–12, 43–48). The great question, however, was not whether their enemies would be judged, but when. ‘How long, O Lord?’ has been the cry of God’s suffering people throughout the ages (see Pss. 74:9–10; 79:5; 94:3–4; also Hab. 1:2). The saints in heaven know that God will eventually judge sin and establish righteousness in the earth, but they do not know God’s exact schedule. It is not personal revenge that they seek, but vindication of God’s holiness and the establishment of God’s justice. Every believer today who sincerely prays, ‘Thy kingdom come!’ is echoing their petition” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 6:9).

If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit there are times we seek God’s justice for our own gratification and not for His glory. We tend to want justice for our enemies and mercy for ourselves. It is the old nature emerging in our words and deeds – and even in the words and deeds of those who walk most closely with the Lord. When a Samaritan village refuses to welcome Jesus, for example, James and John are quick to ask, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54). Jesus quickly rebukes His followers for their fleshly desires in the following verse.

Of course, there is a day coming when the Lord will vanquish His adversaries. Paul writes in 2 Thess. 2:8b, “The Lord Jesus will destroy (“consume” KJV) him [the lawless one] with the breath of His mouth and will bring him to nothing with the brightness of His coming.” And the writer of Hebrews warns that there is a penalty for willful sin, “a terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire about to consume the adversaries” (Heb. 10:28).

The martyrs in Revelation 6 are not questioning God’s righteousness; they call Him “holy and true.” Nor are they challenging His patience, for they know He does not want anyone to perish, but all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). It appears they are simply asking God to reveal His timetable – a request He declines, but not without providing the saints with comfort and assurance.

Next: A white robe was given (Rev. 6:9-11)