“And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.” Revelation 6:9-11
We are living in the period of the first four seals, with the fifth revealing the souls of the saints waiting in heaven for Judgment Day, and the sixth seal about to be opened, leading into the seven trumpets and seven vials of wrath (Cf. Rev. 6:1ff.; Matt. 24:1ff.).
“And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held….”
Here, much like in Rev. 7:9-17, we see the souls of those in heaven who had been persecuted and even suffered death for their witness to the truths revealed in God’s Word and for their faith in Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice upon the cross for the forgiveness of their sins and life eternal.
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:10-12): “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
And the saints in heaven “are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14; cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18).
“And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?”
They prayed for the day of judgment upon the ungodly who opposed God and His Word and rejected His Son, our Messiah and Savior (cf. Psalm 2). They sought God’s perfect vengeance on those who persecuted them for their faith in Christ and took their lives from them.
This should not surprise us, for we too pray for God’s eternal kingdom to come, for His will to be done and for His deliverance from all evil in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13; cf. Luther’s explanation in the Small Catechism).
And our psalm for today requests this (Psalm 149:6-9): “Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand; to execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people; to bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; to execute upon them the judgment written: this honour have all his saints. Praise ye the LORD.” Cf. Psalm 139:19-22.
“And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”
Here we see God’s patience, His longsuffering, with this evil and sin-sick world. As Peter writes (2 Pet. 3:9), “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
God says, “Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11).
Thus, we see that God’s will and desire are that all would repent of their evil ways and look to Christ Jesus and His cross for mercy and forgiveness!
And note that these martyrs were told “that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”
The Bible clearly tells us “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” and that “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:12,13). It is why it is so important that we hold fast to Christ in faith and continue in His Word Cf. 2 Tim. 3:12-17; Cf. John 8:31-32).
And the number of those who will be slain for their faith in Christ and their testimony to the truth of God’s Word is not yet complete. It could be that we too, or our children, could face severe persecution and even death to follow Jesus and to trust in His name.
According to the Pew Research Center, Christians are now the most persecuted religious group in the world. The “Christian Post” says, “The persecution of Christians around the world is expected to increase in 2019, with a watchdog group sharing particular concern for believers in Nigeria, China, and India.”
We heed Jesus’ warning: “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38; cf. Matt. 10:28).
And we hold fast to Christ because He alone is our Light and our Salvation (Psalm 27:1ff.). “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Act 4:12; John 14:6).
O Lord Jesus, I give You thanks for preserving in the true faith the multitudes of those who have been martyred or died in the faith before me. Keep me in the true and saving faith, trusting alone in You and Your cross for my salvation, and grant that I remain faithful to You unto death that I may receive the crown of life which You won for all by Your death upon the cross and will give to all who hold fast to Your name. Amen.
[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.]