Revelation Lesson 20 - The Marvel of a Martyr's Prayer
The Marvel of a Martyr’s Prayer
It has been estimated that more Christians have been martyred for Christ in the last 50 years than in the church’s first 300 years.
“Persecution in the Early Church,” Christian History, no. 27
Today, the news reports from around the world, among those who follow Christ, much of the persecution against Christianity is in countries governed by Islamic rule.
In fact, anyone who makes the statement that Islam is a peaceful religion is making one of the most naive statements of the 21stcentury. Islam believes that all who do not follow Allah are infidels, in collaboration with demons and unworthy of life.
I was copied on an email from a non-published prayer list from a missions organization asking prayer for a young believer in Iran who was arrested 3 weeks ago just south of Tehran. A committed evangelist in his 30’s, this man was arrested, taken to prison, accused of conspiracy against the Iranian government and conspiracy against Islam. After weeks of trying to get in touch with him, a few friends were able to talk to him and he confirmed their worst fears. His torture to deny Christ has been horrific; one leg and one arm broken, fingernails ripped off; his head so badly beaten that he is having trouble seeing. The believer’s aren’t sure if he’ll ever be released.
Another young man in that same region, on this same prayer list, was also arrested and put into prison. His wife was told he would be in prison a long time. This committed believer happens to be the son of a martyred pastor.
Add to these testimonies the suffering and martyrdom in places like Sudan and China and North Korea and Vietnam and Kazakhstan and Iraq and you have a host of countries who are putting believers to death . . . they are literally multiplying martyrs.
Which is not a foreign concept to the New Testament believer is it? Jesus Christ said to His followers, “If you want to follow me you have to be willing to take up your cross.” (Matthew 16:24)
His original audience knew what He meant . . . they knew that the cross symbolized a humiliating, brutal, painful death.
He wasn’t talking about taking up a gold cross to wear on your bracelet or around your neck or to hang from your rear view mirror; and He certainly wasn’t talking about the aches and pains and difficulties of life.
He was talking about the ultimate sacrifice of life itself.
Perhaps it would make more sense for us in this century if Christ had said, “Pick up your electric chair and follow me” or “Take up your hangman’s noose.”
That’s what He meant; “If you want to follow Me, take up that which symbolizes your own execution . . . carry around with you an open, willing resignation to die.
In fact, Jesus Christ further predicted to His followers that there is coming an hour when people who kill you will believe they are doing God a favor. (John 16:1)
They believe they are rendering service unto God. The word for service translates “worship”. They believe they are worshiping God by killing Christians.
We can understand how that might work like never before.
Certainly, persecution like this has existed since the inception of the church.
But there is coming an hour, Jesus Christ said – when it will be unleashed like never before.
This is the hour of wrath unleashed not only by God upon the earth, but by unbelievers upon those who accept Christ during the Tribulation.
Persecution against the Jews and Christians alike during the Tribulation will be unimaginable.
In fact, so rampant is this coming holocaust that Revelation will record for us that the number of martyrs who die during the Tribulation will be impossible for man to count (Revelation 7:9).
The coming world madness will include bloodlust and killing to an extent never seen before on planet earth.
LISA, INSERT FIRST SLIDE HERE
As the Tribulation period opens, if you were with us in our last studies, 4 horsemen appeared one after another. Perfectly paralleled with Jesus Christ’s warnings in Matthew 24, these horsemen thunder across the planet triggering global horrors.
The white horse and its rider bring a counterfeit peace which will ultimately set the stage for global deception.
The rider of the red horse comes next, bringing global unrest and bloodshed.
Next comes the black horse and its rider carries in his hand a set of scales, representing global famine.
As bad as it gets . . . as horrific and devastating as all of this is, it only gets worse.
The fourth rider appears on a pale green horse and lets loose such pestilence that 1/4th of the world’s population dies. If you can imagine, in the space of 3 years, several billion people die.
If someone wants to make a fortune in the Tribulation, build coffins.
This all happens in the opening 3 ½ years of the Tribulation, paralleled with the warning of Christ in his Mount Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 & 25; in fact, it all happens in the same sequence as He predicted, you have:
-first, global deception
-next, global unrest
-then global famine
-and then global pestilence and death.
There has never been a time when the results of all four horsemen have occurred in overlapping sequences of time; there has never been a time in world history when world madness like this has been experienced in this sequence, to this extent.
And this is just for starters.
The Four horsemen represent the first four periods of the Tribulation as the first four seals are peeled off the scroll.
The scroll unrolls a little further with the removal of each seal. And the record of human history and judgment ordered by God the Father and administrated by God the Son – the Lamb – you remember, Who is the only one worthy to open the scroll.
So as the scroll unrolls, we catch brief glimpses of the future unveiled. The future is revealed – this is the revelation of Christ and His future plan – hence the name of the Book – The Book of Revelation.
There are still 3 more seals to be opened as the coming world madness only deepens and intensifies.
Let’s pick our study back up at Revelation chapter 6, where the 5th seal is about to be opened. Let’s read what happens next in verse 9.
LISA, INSERT SECOND SLIDE HERE
9. When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they maintained.
Let me quickly ask and answer 5 or 6 questions.
First, who are these people?
They are martyrs who’ve already died during the onset of persecution in the Tribulation.
One author put it this way, “The Lord [in our day], by the power of the Holy Spirit on earth, bridles the passions of men; but let the presence and power of the Spirit be withdrawn, and the world’s enmity to Christ and those who are His shall burst out in fierce and bitter persecution even unto death. In other words, hell will break lose as it were on the earth after the Rapture of the church and the unregenerate nations of the world will unleash a bloodbath on anyone claiming the name of Christ.”
Edward Hindson, Revelation: Unlocking the Future (Tyndale, 2002), p. 84.
There are those who would say these are the martyred from the entire church age – not simply those martyred during the tribulation.
The primary problem with that view is simply the fact, as we will see in a moment, they are praying for justice against their tormentors who still alive on the earth. They are praying in heaven while their persecutors are alive on earth.
These martyred ones parallel Christ’s words in His Mt. Olivet prediction that there will be martyrs during the beginning days of the time of trouble – a reference to the Tribulation. (Matthew 24:8-10)
In other words, the persecution Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24, corresponds in the same sequential order with this fifth seal in Revelation 6; it is intensified persecution which begins in the first half of the Tribulation and escalates into the second half, after the antichrist is fully revealed in all his satanic power.
Adapted from Robert L. Thomas, Revelation: Volume 1 (Moody, 1995), p. 192
These are the souls here in verse 9. They are the first group of believers executed for their faith.
This is who they are.
The next question you might ask is, what exactly are they?
Souls from the Greek word psuche (ysuce). Sounds like misty spirits floating around heaven.
The word translated “souls” can be translated lives. These are the lives of those who were slain.
The same Greek word appears again in Revelation 12:11 in reference to the martyrs who did not love their life (yuchn) even when faced with death.
The fact that they are given white robes certainly implies some sort of intermediate, temporary body, while they and all those who’ve died in Christ, await the resurrection and glorification of their former bodies.
When Lazarus and the rich man died and Christ revealed what happened – the rich man in torment asked that Lazarus dip his finger in water and give him a drop of water on his tongue. (Luke 16)
Lazarus had to have a body in order to have a finger. And even this deceased, now tormented unbeliever had to have a body in order to have a mouth and tongue to taste the water.
So, these martyrs will be given a special robe . . . you can’t hang a robe on a floating mist – a robe signifies the fact that they have been given an intermediate body until they receive their final resurrection body.
Adapted from Gordon, p. 163
Next question: Where are these martyred believers?
The text tells us in verse 9 that they are beneath the altar. What, are they hiding? Are they crouched down there all scrunched together in some sort of huddle?
It’s helpful to understand that this word translated underneath doesn’t refer to space but to relationship. They are related to the altar (perhaps close by).
R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation (Augsburg, 1943), p. 234
The question then is, which altar?
Well, the Greek noun used here for the altar is always used to refer to the golden altar of incense – patterned after the altar of incense in the Old Testament tabernacle and Temple days.
And this is a perfect fit here. Why; because the prayers of God’s people are seen as ascending before God. The prayers of God’s people are often in scripture symbolized by incense.
John the Apostle sees the personification of prayer; later on in chapter 8 where he writes, “And much incense was given to the angel so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God.” (8:3, 4)
Next question: Why exactly were these people killed?
John’s record leaves absolutely no doubt – the latter part of v. 9b. John records, Because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained.
They died because they would not recant of their new found faith in Christ alone.
Simply put, their loyalty and love for Jesus Christ cost them their lives.
Sam Gordon, Revelation: Worthy is the Lamb (Ambassador, 2000), p. 161
Listen, what we’re seeing today around the world today is only the prelude for persecution which will be unleashed in the Tribulation.
Today is only the sign of things to come.
I’ve recently finished reading D. A. Carson’s brief biography of his father Tom Carson, entitled, The Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor (Crossway Books, 2008). Tom Carson pastored in French speaking Canada for years . . . faithfully serving as a missionary pastor to a small church that averaged around 20-30 people. He made a surprising comment in his journal that in the 1930’s, 40s and 50’s, the pastors in Canada who preached the gospel averaged 8 years in jail.
That was only 60-70 years ago.
For us as Americans, we may not see such hatred for the gospel that would bring open persecution and jail sentences for those who preach the gospel . . . at least not yet?
Why the dislike . . . why the hatred . . . why, even now, the prejudice bound up in the heart of man?
I personally don’t understand the built in dislike of people from other ethnic backgrounds or nations. I’m fascinated by it.
I’m fascinated by the nations around us . . . cultures intrigue me as I’ve traveled throughout the world. And these cultures are now moving into our community and our church.
I learned recently that Raleigh is now the fastest growing Hispanic region in America.
In fact, MSNBC (with I rarely watch) reported last month that Raleigh is now the number one place to live in America. Imagine that – the best place to live in America.
That’s just not true – it’s Cary!
I have living in my neighborhood a family from India. I was driving home last week, and as soon as I turned into the neighborhood, I smelled curry . . . a block before I got to their house I could smell it . . . it just cleared my sinus’ right up. Fascinating difference in diet.
I said to a friend from Taiwan some time ago, “You know, the thing that’s tough about you guys is that I can never tell you apart – you all look exactly alike.” He laughed and said, “We say the same thing about you.” I said, “Really?” He said, “Yes, all you Americans look alike.” I guess I do look a little like Robert Redford . . . (use your imagination) . . . people listening now on the internet or radio are going to imagine me with a thick head of blonde hair . . . it’s true!
All prejudice and hatred of ethnic groups is traced to the fallen sinful nature of man. And the cure for it is not education, the cure for it is salvation.
Try and explain why people hate the Jews.
That hatred especially can only be explained by Satanic
influence on the heart of the unredeemed to stamp out ethnic Israel and thus make God’s promise of their return and redemption null and void.
The only way you can explain the hatred of Jews is inborn hatred for the Jewish Messiah.
At the end of World War II, after the atrocities of the holocaust were fully revealed and Hitler’s men brought to trial for their crimes against humanity – primarily their murder of millions of Jews – Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi leader under Hitler said, “I shall leap in my grave, for the thought that I have five million lives on my conscience is to me a source of inordinate satisfaction.”
Jacob Presser, The Destruction of Dutch Jews, quoted by David Jeremiah in Escape the Coming Night (W Publishing, 1990), p. 125
Listen, the only way you can explain the hatred and persecution of Christians especially during the Tribulation is that the unredeemed world will unleash demonically inspired hatred for Jesus Christ and those that will follow Him will die by the millions!
So this seal opens and we’re shown this company of martyrs.
We know who they are, what they are, where they are and why they are there; now let’s notice what they are saying.
Verse 10. And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
That doesn’t sound like a very spiritual prayer request, does it? How long Lord until you wreak vengeance on our persecutors?
This is what is known as an imprecatory prayer. The verb, imprecate, means to call down judgment and calamity upon someone.
John MacArthur, Revelation: Volume 1 (Moody Press, 1999), p. 188
David turned several of these imprecatory prayers into songs.
In Psalm 79:10, “Let there be known among the nations in our sight, vengeance for eth blood of Your servants which has been shed.”
Later in Psalm 94, David prayed, “O Lord, God of vengeance, God of avenging acts, shine forth! Rise up, O Judge of the earth, render recompense to the proud. How long shall the wicked, O Lord, how long shall the wicked rejoice . . . they crush Your people, O Lord and afflict Your heritage . . . but God will destroy them in their evil; the Lord our God will destroy them.”
These martyrs are asking the same question – when will you act O Lord.
And upon what do they expect God to act – they say it here in verse 10. You are a God of holiness and truth.
In other words, “When will You bring your holy justice to bear and fulfill the truth, promised in Your word?”
Evidently they all have read Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians who speaks of that future day when he writes, “For after all it is just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction.”
(2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)
Listen, in persecuting Christians the world ultimately scorns Christ. And the believer is wise to warn people that they will be judged one day by Christ.
Adapted from William Hendriksen, More than Conquerors: An interpretation of the Book of Revelation (Baker, 1940), p. 106
Listen to a church leader who was born just 65 years after Revelation was recorded by John; this is Tertullian’s warning to the unbelievers of his day; “You are fond of spectacles (he’s referring to the arena where Christians were publicly killed); expect the greatest of all spectacles, the last and eternal judgment of the universe. How shall I admire, how shall I rejoice when I behold so many proud monarchs and fancied gods, groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates who persecuted the name of the Lord, liquefying in fiercer flames than they ever kindled against the Christians; so many philosophers blushing in red hot flames with their deluded scholars; so many celebrated poets trembling before the tribunal of Christ.”
William Barclay, Revelation: Volume 2 (Westminster Press, 1976), p. 12
How far we’ve come today. Preachers boast about the fact that they never use the words judgment and certainly not the flames of hell.
How unlike the Gospel which both warns and wins. How unlike the perspective of these redeemed who have but one prayer request and that is the holy and just wrath of God upon those who hate and persecute and kill His children.
But it’s more than that . . . they desire to see God, who is holy and true, eternally vindicated . . . and this is a true believer’s great desire.
That’s why David sang about it and Paul promised it and these martyrs now pray for it.
The aorist tense of the verb krazo (krazw) – they cried out – indicates that this wasn’t a repeated prayer – but a one time, concerted offering of prayer that John is able to eyewitness.
Cleon Rogers Jr & III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament (Zondervan, 1998) p. 627
And God responds to them in verse 11, And there was given to each of them a white robe – a stole (stolh)
The word refers to the stately robe that was sweeping and long – like a graduation gown indicating great respect and honor and stateliness.
The very things they lost on earth in their humiliation and ill treatment is now returned above and beyond with this special, stately robe.
God further tells them in verse 11, that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed.
In other words, God answers them by telling them to enjoy heaven and leave the timing of His judgment of the world to Him.
Let me make a number of observations from this scene in heaven . . . in fact, you need to get ready to rewrite some of your perception of God, but your perception of heaven.
- First, God not only knows about those who’ve suffered and died, He plans for even more to die through suffering.
He said to these martyrs, “there are still more brethren to be killed the same way you were.”
- The next observation that follows is that it is evidently God’s will for many to die peacefully in their faith, but for millions of others to die violently for their faith.
The belief that God wills everyone to die prosperous and healthy isn’t Biblical. In fact, this was the question of the hymn writer who penned, “Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, while others fought to win their prize and sailed through bloody seas?”
The will of God for some is relative peace . . . but for many today and in the future . . . real persecution and pain.
Last week Benny Hinn was in town holding a crusade, promising people healing and prosperity. The News & Observer called me and asked me if I’d like to give them a quote of what I thought. I said, “Sure.” Frankly, I consider these divine appointments to not only speak the truth but to help this reporter understand the gospel. And so we talked for about 10 minutes as I explained the truth about God’s grace in suffering and the coming day of incredible wealth and health for those in heaven. Okay, and somewhere in there I said that Benny Hinn was a con man. What do you think ended up in the newspaper? That was the only sentence . . . which is fine – that’s the truth too.
Take a look at John’s eyewitness account of people who did not die because they lacked faith, they died because of their faith!
I find this observation incredibly encouraging to all who suffer for Christ around the world, even now, God not only knows how many have suffered but the exact number of martyrs who will. In other words, no one dies by accident.
The text reveals that the number of martyrs will be completed as planned (paraphrase of 11b), which then testifies to the ultimate triumph of God’s children and the future vindication of God’s wrath.
Now, the opening of this 5th seal, which reveals the marvel of the martyr’s prayer, also challenges the normal perspective about those who’ve gone to heaven.
Let me put these in the form of misconceptions:
- Misconception #1: Being in Heaven means we never ask questions – we’ll know everything.
Not true. Only God knows everything without having to learn anything – we will still have to learn and the good news is we’ll have eternity to do so.
These martyrs are asking God, “How long are you going wait – when are you going to bring your holy vengeance.”
They didn’t know the answer. Listen, being immortal doesn’t mean we’re omniscient – or all knowing.
If we were all knowing we’d be God.
However, just because we don’t know everything, even when we’re in heaven, that doesn’t mean we’ll not remember anything.
- That’s another misconception about heaven: that being in heaven means we’ve forgotten what happened to us on earth.
Oh? These martyrs remembered. Even though in the presence of God, granted an audience with God, told to enjoy the respite of heaven – they remembered how they died!
But wouldn’t that ruin heaven?
One author said, “This text argues against the prevalent belief that to remember any unpleasant things would automatically strip us of happiness in heaven. But heaven’s joy is not dependent upon an erased [memory], but a renewed mind.
Adapted from Randy Alcorn, In Light of Eternity (Waterbrook, 1999), p. 87
For all of us, we will one day stand before Christ at the Bema seat and do what? Give an account (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Sounds like will remember what happened in and through our lives on earth, certainly with the help of Christ.
John writes later in Revelation 19, that in the New Heaven and Earth, the clothes we wear will be a testimony of our deeds on earth that brought glory to God. (Revelation 19:7-8)
In heaven then, we’re not going to forget what we did for the glory of God, we will be robed in the testimony of every act and deed and word administered for His glory.
No wonder Paul said, “I’m giving everything I’ve got to run the race to win the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24)
The joys of heaven are not ruined by remembering . . . the joy of heaven is in a reformed, perfected, sinless perspective. It is in discovering the depths of God’s grace.
Heaven does not require some form of eternal amnesia.
Listen, Jesus Christ Himself has chosen to retain in His glorified body the prominent scars of His crucifixion (John 20:27). Will that ruin heaven for Him? Will it ruin heaven for us who realize fully it was our sin that scarred Him?
No, it will make heaven that much sweeter as we understand more fully the depth and glory of the forgiveness and grace of God. And in the plan of God for heaven He intends to remind us of His grace forever!
By the way, this makes hell all the more horrible. They will live with their memory. The unrepentant man who died and went into torment hadn’t forgotten his own family – he cried out for someone to go and warn his 5 brothers to not follow after him.
Adolph Eichmann will have his memories too – and he will not be leaping in his grave for joy.
But for the redeemed, though we remember so much of our lives on earth, we will be granted the perspective of heaven and choose not to dwell on sins and sorrows that diminish the joy of heaven.
Frankly, it just won’t matter anyway, for our perspective will be like Joseph who suffered for years only to be promoted and blessed beyond words and with a clarified perspective he could rejoice and say to his brothers, “You meant all the things you did to me for evil, but God meant it all for good.”
- Misconception #3: Being in heaven means if we do have questions we’ll get immediate answers.
I find it fascinating that these martyrs are praying for God to act. They literally have a prayer request – and the answer from God is, ‘Wait!”
And then God doesn’t really give them an answer. In fact, He simply redirects their attention away from His coming judgment to their rest and joy in heavenly activity.
But they ask! And they are told to wait!
- But His response explodes yet another misconception – that in heaven there is no more time.
God’s answer to the martyrs in verse 11 is, “for a little while longer”. You could translate it, “for a little time yet.”
Thomas, p. 447
You can’t wait for a little more time to elapse unless there is time.
You say, “But doesn’t the Bible say, “And time shall be no more?”
No . . . a hymn writer wrote that . . . and he ruined a perfectly good hymn.
Actually, the King James Version translates Revelation 10 and verse 6 by writing, “there should be time no longer.” That seems to be the background of this misconception.
It’s a perfectly fine translation of the text as long as you understand the context. With context in mind you could amplify verse 6 to read, “there will be time no longer standing in the way of God’s next act of judgment” which is referenced in the next verse.
In fact, with that context in mind, your translation may read, “And there will be delay no longer.”
Buddhism believes that eternity is the absence of time and it’s all sort of nothingness.
Heaven is vastly different.
The Tree of Life will yield its fruit every month.
How do you have a month without the passing of time.
You say, “But how can we have months since we won’t have a moon or the sun.”
The Bible doesn’t say that either. In the new heaven and earth, earth will be remade with all its qualities brand new – as in the Garden of Eden.
What the Bible does say in Revelation 21:24 is that the new city of Jerusalem will have no need of the sun or of the moon.
The sun is shining outside above the clouds right now, but we have no need of it in here because we have another source of light.
So also, in the New Jerusalem suspended perhaps above the Old City of Jerusalem – in that eternally new City – there will be no need of the sun because of the resident divine glory.
Adapted from Robert L. Thomas, Revelation: Volume 2 (Moody Press, 1995) p. 479
But on the remade earth, there will be seasons and months, harvest and events. All elements of time!
In fact, one of the things we see over and over again occurring in heaven is music – and music requires what – time!
Meter, tempo, rests, ritard, all of these are essential components of music and each of them are related to time.
Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Tyndale, 2004), p. 260
I remember taking piano lessons and, because I struggled with math, I struggled with time. How many beats per measure – how fast or slow to play quarter notes and half notes and whole notes and how to balance the musical equation.
So my piano teacher of 8 years would often reach over during my piano lesson and turn on the metronome; an instrument of great torture. And I would have to play with it ticking.
I know from experience that you can’t have music without a progression of time.
For now, time is an enemy. It won’t hardly move when you’re having a root canal, but then it runs away when you’re talking to a friend long distance. You get behind it or ahead of it or you even miss it.
In Heaven, time will never work against us. You will never, ever run out of it.
Ibid, p. 261
And what of these martyrs who’ve been told to go and spend their time enjoying the rest of heaven? We’ll find them in the next chapter singing great praise to God.
If we could interview them today, what would they have to say to us?
They would certainly commend to us our God who is holy and true and gracious and creative and generous . . . the One who has prepared Heaven for us all who believe in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
By the way, if you haven’t . . . there is still time. My friend, in your life time – time will eventually come to an end.
What you do with Christ now will determine how you spend your time throughout all of eternity.
I believe these martyrs would urge you to place your faith in the timeless Savior and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And they would most assuredly tell us who do believe to live on earth with the coming new heaven in mind.
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