I have two numbers for you:
If they don’t mean anything to you, that’s understandable, but hopefully, by the end of this post, they will mean something to you. And hopefully, you understand that the point of this post isn’t to lower these numbers. I’m 100% positive the people these numbers represent would refuse to be excluded if given the opportunity.
We’ll start with the latter. 4,305 represents the number of Christians who were martyred in 2018. As of March of this year, it was estimated that 11 Christians are martyred each day.
John speaks to this very fact in our next passage in Revelation.
At this point, the roller coaster i described a few weeks back has dropped again. We started in the station (where John gave us an introduction to our journey in this book in 1:1-9) until it accelerated us out and over the first hill (which was John’s vision of the resurrected Christ in 1:10-20). John then took us through some dives and inclines as he described the holy, catholic church (2:1-3:22). Then we went up another hill as John took us into the throne room of heaven (4:1-5:14). And now it continues its downward plunge that began with the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
John writes as follows in Revelation 6:9-11,
When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the people slaughtered because of God’s word and the testimony they had. They cried out with a loud voice: “Lord, the One who is holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?” So a white robe was given to each of them, and they were told to rest a little while longer until ⌊the number⌋ would be completed ⌊of⌋ their fellow slaves and their brothers, who were going to be killed just as they had been.
As i pointed out in the previous post, there is nothing to make us think that Christ is opening this seal at a later time. We are in the midst of this today, and we have been since the time of John’s writing this book in A.D. 90. I will expand on this fact in the following sections.
When Jesus opens the fifth seal, John gets a view of the martyrs of the church. I firmly believe that based on the end of our text, if John received this vision today, there would be an innumerable multitude of martyrs John would see, compared to what he saw when Christ gave him this vision. Now indeed, there were many martyrs already when John wrote this–Nero, Titus, and Domitian had all ruled from Rome, not to mention the other seven since the time of Christ’s ministry in Galilee (cf. Luke 3:1)–but many millions have been martyred since that day, as my opening statistics sought to show.
It is important to note what constitutes a martyr in Scripture. You are not a Christian martyr if you get murdered in a home invasion as a Christian. You are not a Christian martyr if you fight the government when they try to revoke your constitutional rights and you end up dead. You are not a Christian martyr if you die of old age. (This is not to say that Christ is not still ultimately in control of your destiny if these things happen, but that is not John’s primary point here.) John tells us clearly what a Christian martyr is in verse 9.
The people slaughtered because of God’s word and the testimony they had.
To be a Christian martyr, you must perish because you testify for God. You must hold out the Word of God, and someone must say, “I hate you for that,” and they must kill you. Or, you must be known as a Christian, and someone must say, “Recant your faith or die,” and when you refuse to recant, they kill you. Or–like the early martyrs–you must stand before the government and be told, “Either bow to us as supreme or die,” and when you refuse, they kill you for it. The specifics matter little, but the simple fact is that to be a martyr, you must be slaughtered for your belief in Jesus, and for your refusal to recant from that belief.
Jesus wants to comfort Christians by having John let them know that even in the most horrendous physical circumstances–initiated because they claim the name of Jesus–Jesus is still in total control. Persecution is no reason to doubt the love and sovereignty of Jesus.
John hears these martyrs crying out. And at this point in history (today), the cry is probably exponentially louder:
“Lord, the One who is holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?”
The martyred saints cry out to God, “Avenge us! Make it right. Prove to the world that we were in the right the whole time.” There is nothing wrong with this type of prayer. There are similar prayers in Psalms. Psalm 137 is a prime example. But the noteworthy point about this type of prayer is that it doesn’t seek its vengeance. It looks to God for revenge. As God said, “Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: ‘Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord'” (Romans 12:19).
In other words, as the Judge of all the earth who must do right (Genesis 18:25), God will avenge the spilled blood of His people. And He will do it righteously. This begins to unpack the idea of Christ being in control of Christians. They don’t get killed apart from His sovereign plan, and as such 1) they are safe in His possession in heaven, and 2) their deaths did not go unnoticed. Wrongs will be made right.
And then we see how God responds to the martyrs.
A white robe was given to each of them, and they were told to rest a little while longer until ⌊the number⌋ would be completed ⌊of⌋ their fellow slaves and their brothers, who were going to be killed just as they had been.
This explains that God grants martyrs perfect righteousness. Just like Jesus promised the overcomers in Sardis (3:5), the martyrs receive Jesus’ perfect righteousness. Because they didn’t count their lives too valuable, they overcame the world and were victorious. Just like Jesus controls the holy, catholic church, so also Jesus controls individual believers.
No believer is outside of Jesus’ control. The martyr dying for Jesus should be at peace in his soul. She should know that she is about to be able to testify for Jesus one final time. A martyr should go to death boldly. One second, trapped in a sin-filled body, the next second, free from sin in the presence of the ultimate Lover of his/her soul. There’s no higher calling in life.
Jesus controls Christians, because not only will Christ not return until the gospel of the kingdom has been preached to every nation (Matthew 24:14), but He will also not return until the last martyr has been martyred (Revelation 6:11). This is a point that is too often overlooked. But Christ controls both aspects. And, if you think about it, both aspects are intimately connected. The preaching of the gospel will win converts, but it might also lead to martyrdom. Whether God blesses your ministry with visible fruit (converts) or His physical presence (martyrdom), He is in control, and you can trust Him.
Not only will Christ not return until the gospel of the kingdom has been preached to every nation (Matthew 24:14), but He will also not return until the last martyr has been martyred (Revelation 6:11). This is a point that is too often overlooked.Tweet
Christ controls Christians.
But if you’re not a believer, that doesn’t mean that you are off the hook. Christ controls you too. And if you’re honest, you think talking about martyrdom is crazy talk. “Why would anyone willingly die for an invisible guy in the clouds?” you scoff.
That’s just the thing. We believe that we don’t stay dead. You believe that you become worm food and that’s all you have to look forward to. And if your beliefs prove true, then the worms get a meal sooner. But if my beliefs prove true, then not only does martyrdom lead me straight into the arms of the One who gave His life to save me–the most beautiful Being in the universe–but you will be in eternal torment if you fail to believe.
I beg you to believe this moment. God might never call you to be martyred. But He might. I don’t know. The fact of the matter, though, is that regardless of being martyred or not, everyone dies eventually. Are you ready to die? Are you willing to bet your eternity on the faint hope that you rot in the ground after death? There is historical proof that Jesus was a historical man, and no one has ever been able to produce His body! If someone wants to discredit Christianity forever, produce Jesus’ body! It has never been done. Jesus rose from the dead 2,000 years ago so that those who believe in Him need not ever fear death.
Everyone dies eventually. Are you ready to die? Are you willing to bet your eternity on the faint hope that you rot in the ground after death? There is historical proof that Jesus was a historical man, and no one has ever been able to produce His body! If someone wants to discredit Christianity forever, produce Jesus’ body! It has never been done. Jesus rose from the dead 2,000 years ago so that those who believe in Him need not ever fear death.Tweet
Trust Him today!
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks for reading.
The next entry can be found here.