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How Long?

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I am going to continue today with some thoughts from my Bible readings. This morning I read Revelation 6 (don’t even ask why yesterday was Corinthians but today was Revelation). In the previous chapter we read about a scroll sealed with seven seals that was in the right hand of God. A loud voice called out to inquire who was worthy to open it and only one was found. The Lamb (Jesus Christ) was the only one worth of the task. He took the scroll and was praised by every creature in heaven as they proclaimed “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

The sixth chapter describes the opening of the first six seals. My attention was grabbed by the fifth seal. Verses nine to eleven read:

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 testimony which they held. And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were was completed.

This passage describes those who have had the honor of suffering and dying for their faith crying out to God, asking how much longer they will have to wait until God judges those who killed them and how long before He avenges their blood. They are told that they must wait just a little while longer. I would like to make several observations about this passage.

Under the altar

The souls of the martyrs, who had been slain for believing in God’s Word and for holding fast to their testimonies, were under the altar. This seems to parallel the sacrifices of the Old Testament where blood of the sacrificial animals was poured onto the base of the altar.

Judgment and Vengeance

As I read this passage which describes the end of the world, I was reminded of a passage that occurred at the beginning of the history of the world. In Genesis 2:18 we read “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a helper comparable to him.’” The parallel between these two passages is that they both speak of imperfection in a perfect world. In Genesis we see that even in a perfect world God decreed that it was not good for man to be alone. In Revelation we see the martyrs, who are already in paradise, free from sin and corruption, asking God when He will avenge their blood. This shows that God’s justice is perfect, holy, complete. God’s justice extends beyond the petty, prideful arguments you and I tend to be embroiled in. God’s anger and justice are always holy – never swayed by circumstance or emotion. The martyrs, having been perfected in heaven, are crying out to God to ask how much longer they will have to wait for the perfect fulfillment of God’s justice. The imperfection of those waiting to be judged clashes with the perfection they experience before God’s throne. Their cries are just. They are not chastised for their request – rather they are told to wait patiently until the time God has decreed.

How long?

The current state of the world is unnatural. The world was created to be a perfect, sinless expression of God’s wisdom and majesty. Everything was created to perfectly bring glory to God. Yet man sinned and destroyed the perfection of the world. Since that time, as we read in Romans 8, “creation groans and labors with birth pangs.” As a woman groans in agony as she prepares to bring her child into this world, so the whole earth groans in anticipation of the destiny it longs to have fulfilled. The earth’s current condition is temporary. The earth cries out wondering how much longer it will be before God returns to deliver it from imperfection. In the same way the martyrs cry out to God asking how long He will allow their blood to remain unavenged.

It seems life is mostly waiting. Anything worth having or experiencing is worth waiting for. How much more will the new heaven and the new earth be worth waiting for?

White Robe

White robes are mentioned many times in Revelation as symbols of purity and blessedness. We are told that all the saints that overcome will be dressed in white; the Laodiceans are told to wear white clothes to cover their shameful nakedness; the twenty four elders wear white; and so on. In this passage we see that the martyrs are given white robes to wear. As part of their reward for enduring shame, torture and death for the sake of their faith, they are given a white robe, symbolic of their special status as martyrs.

Until the number

This sentence surprised me. “…it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were was completed.” God has ordained that the history of the world will not end until a certain number of His servants have shed their blood for their faith. In that sense, the days of the earth are measured in the faithfulness of the saints for their Lord. However strange it may seem, God requires that many of His people pay the ultimate sacrifice for what they believe. These people will receive special honor in His kingdom based on the special privilege of dying for the One who died for them.

You could almost deduce from this passage that it would be wrong to pray for the deliverance of those who undergo persecution. After all, wouldn’t praying for the deliverance of the persecuted amount to praying against the Lord’s return? When we pray for the Lord to come quickly, are we not asking for the blood of the martyrs to be poured out?

Obviously this is not the case, yet sometimes God’s will for us seems awfully confusing. Yet I trust that His infinite wisdom far surpasses my limited, sinful wisdom. For today I will leave it at that!


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