9 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 witness they had borne.
10 They cried out with a loud voice,
“O Sovereign Lord, holy and true,
how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
Today the fifth seal is open and the sight is just as terrifying as the four horsemen who were sent out when the first four were opened. When the fifth seal is opened, John sees under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.
These then are the souls of those who have been killed for being a Christian, those whose lives have been taken for their testimony and their witness. The fact that they are under the altar goes back to Leviticus 4.7 wherein the remaining blood was poured at the base of the altar to be offered to God. These souls then are those who have poured out their blood – given their lives – for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. The ultimate sacrifice…their lives…for the truth that was in them.
In v.10 they cry out to God and ask how long before His judgement will come upon those who have taken the lives of these faithful brothers and sisters. Normally, we don’t think of the souls of Christians crying out to God for vengeance, do we?
“God, how long before you smite someone…he/she really deserves it!”.
Somehow that doesn’t fit with what we know about God and how we are shown to live through the Word of God.
Rather, then, we can see these souls crying out to God and asking Him when He will keep His promise – which we know He always does.
“When will you put your promise into action, God?”,
sounds a lot different to
“Avenge me God!”,
We know God pays attention when blood is spilled, Genesis 4.10 and Numbers 35.33 tell us that, and we also know that all of His promises are yes and Amen.
Interestingly, the words the number of, were added by translators, meaning that John possibly meant that the souls of these martyrs are told to wait until the character of their fellow servants and brother should be complete, rather than a simple numerical number, as if God is poised in heaven waiting for more to be killed in the name of Jesus.
So, character…character of those who gave their lives for Jesus…character of those who follow Jesus…it is our character that makes us a martyr, not the way in which we die.
We are all called to put to death our former ways, die to self, live to Christ, become a martyr for Jesus in the bigger sense of the word, not the narrow ‘you must die’ sense.
So, the character of a martyr…how can you live with that today?