Tagged: Christian martyrs

Praying for the persecuted church

Second ComingUmar Mulinde grew up in a strict Muslim home in Uganda. His grandfather was an imam (religious leader), and Umar was trained in Islamic thought, which went unchallenged until he left home for college.

One Sunday Umar visited a church for the first time and was so impressed with the gospel that he surrendered his life to Christ. Three Muslim friends saw him leave the church and attacked him.

He assumed the beatings would stop. He was wrong.

Continue reading

Until their fellow slaves were killed (Rev. 6:9-11)

Previously: A white robe was given (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)

Until their fellow slaves were killed

The martyrs are told to rest “until [the number of] their fellow slaves and their brothers, who were going to be killed just as they had been, would be completed” (v. 12). It appears that many more will experience martyrdom before the return of Christ. While we may wonder why God doesn’t put a stop to the killing – some brashly question whether He is able to do so – we may be confident that He is sovereign over human history, causing or allowing all things for reasons we may not fully understand. God has determined that a number of saints will give their lives because of His word and the testimony they have. Only God know when this number – like the measure of sins being filled up by the wicked – will reach capacity.

According to the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, the total number of Christian martyrs in the 20th century alone reached 45 million. How many millions of others have given their lives from the time of Stephen, the first martyr, until now is impossible to know with certainty. But no doubt there is ample room beneath the altar in heaven for those who have identified with the slaughter of the Lamb.

R.J.D. Utley writes, “One of the major truths of this book is that God is in control of all things, even the death of Christian martyrs! All of history is in His hand. God is not surprised by any events, actions or outcomes. Yet there is still pain, suffering and unfairness in this fallen world. This concept of a completed number of martyrs (cf. I Enoch 47:4) is a symbolic way of referring to God’s knowledge and plan for mankind. This is similar to Paul’s concept of ‘the fullness of the Gentiles’ (cf. Rom. 11:12, 25) which refers to God’s knowledge of all the Gentiles who would be saved” (Utley, Hope in Hard Times – The Final Curtain: Revelation, Vol. 12, Study Guide Commentary Series, 63).

Four views

Briefly, here is a summary of the four major views of these verses:

  • Most historicists see the fifth seal fulfilled during the rule of Diocletian, who persecuted the church in the last days of his rule from 284 – 304 A.D.
  • Preterists argue that the souls under the altar are those of first-century Christians slain at the hands of the Jewish persecutors.
  • Futurists contend that these saints are killed during the yet-future Tribulation.
  • And spiritualists say this passage reveals the present state of those who already have died for their faith.

In any case, interpreters agree that Jesus comforts His martyrs, grants them rest and assures them that His judgment, whenever it falls, will be swift and sure.

Next: The sixth seal (Rev. 6:12-17)

A white robe was given (Rev. 6:9-11)

Previously: O Lord … how long? (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)

In response to the martyrs’ question about God’s plans for His day of vengeance, the Lord provides each of them with a white robe, and they are told simply to “rest a little while longer” (v. 11). We see white clothing in other places in Revelation:

  • In Christ’s letter to the church at Sardis, He tells them, “but you have a few people in Sardis who have not defiled their clothes, and they will walk with Me in white, because they are worthy. In the same way, the victor will be dressed in white clothes” (Rev. 3:4-5a, emphasis added).
  • In Rev. 3:18, Jesus urges the Laodiceans to “buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, and white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed …” (emphasis added).
  • And in Rev. 4:4, we see that the 24 elders are dressed in white clothes. Surely these white clothes represent the righteousness of Christ.

In Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet (Matt. 22:1-14), the one thrown into outer darkness is not dressed in appropriate attire. It’s not that he is too poor, or ill-advised; rather, he refuses to wear one of the white robes the host provides freely to all guests. The white robes given to the martyrs in Revelation 6 no doubt symbolize that they were made white by the blood of the Lamb, and that those clothed in Christ’s righteousness may wait in confident expectation that He will avenge their untimely deaths.

Maimonides, one of the great Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, says the Jews used to array priests, when approved of, in white robes; “thus the sense is, they are admitted among the blessed ones, who, as spotless priests, minister unto God and the Lamb” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown, Rev. 6:11).

The martyrs also are told to rest “a little while longer.” None of them presses the issue by asking, “How long is that?” It seems enough to have God’s assurance that He will be true to His word. The timing of the Lord’s plans for the ages is known only to Him and remains a mystery and at times a matter of considerable debate for us. One reason the Book of Revelation is so difficult to interpret is because of the timing of its content. Have most of these prophecies been fulfilled, as preterists argue? Are they fulfilled at various stages in human history, as historicists contend? Are they yet future, as futurists believe? Are they to be interpreted figuratively rather than literally, as spiritualists argue? Or is there perhaps some element of truth in all of these interpretations, as eclectics say? One thing we all can agree on is that God, who is “holy and true” (v. 10), will fulfill His promises. That truth alone enables the saints to rest.

Nowhere in this passage do the saints seek to take vengeance into their own hands. They know what the Lord has said: “Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay … As surely as I live forever, when I sharpen My flashing sword, and My hand takes hold of judgment, I will take vengeance on My adversaries and repay those who hate Me” (Deut. 32:35, 40b-41).

It is interesting to note that when Jesus reads from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue in Nazareth and declares that “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled” (see Luke 4:16-21), He stops quoting the prophet in mid-sentence. He has declared that his earthly ministry involves preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom to the captives, recovering sight for the blind, setting free the oppressed, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. But then, abruptly, He stops. If He were to go on, the next line reads, “and the day of our God’s vengeance” (Isa. 61:2). Clearly, Jesus reserves that day of vengeance for a future time more closely associated with His second coming. When we finally get to Rev. 19:2 we see that “He has avenged the blood of His servants …”

The length of the martyrs’ rest is implied but not implicit. It is “a little while,” eti chronon nikron, yet a little time, just a little while. God’s timing is not ours. Peter writes, “Dear friends, don’t let this one thing escape you: with the Lord one day is like 1,000 years, and 1,000 years like one day” (2 Peter 3:8). His delay is an opportunity for repentance (2 Peter 3:9). And judgment most certainly will come, followed by new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:10-13).

Next: Until their fellow slaves were killed (Rev. 6:9-11)