When Jesus broke the fifth seal to open the scroll, John saw the souls and heard the prayers of the martyrs who had died for Jesus’ sake. Verses 9-10 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 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?”
The martyrs who were killed for Jesus, for the Gospel, and because they refused to deny Christ at any cost had and have the kind of faith that still affects people today. From Abel to Stephen to Cassie Bernall and the other brave witnesses at Columbine, to the beheaded victims of Isis, their testimonies encourage us, teach us, and speak to today. Hebrews 4:11 says,
“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”
Abel’s murder is described in Genesis 4:8-10,
“Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground.”
God didn’t dismiss Abel’s death as just any death. The voice of Abel’s blood cried out to Him from the ground. God loved Abel so much. He was pleased by Abel and how he lived out his faith. (Genesis 4:4). When we live that committed to Christ, there are consequences. We mature and become more Christ-like. People notice. Jesus is glorified. 2 Timothy 3:10-17 encourages us.
“You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Deep faith and love that allows us not to fear persecution or death for Jesus’ sake is the ultimate glory of Christ. We emulate Jesus most completely in the determination to hold fast to Him regardless of the consequences. Jesus says it this way in John 15:12-14,
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
In John 15:18-21 He went on to say,
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.”
People will hate us, maybe even to the point that we will be killed for Him. Of course, we have nothing to fear in death. We know where our hope lies. 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 in The Message reads,
“I need to emphasize, friends, that our natural, earthy lives don’t in themselves lead us by their very nature into the kingdom of God. Their very “nature” is to die, so how could they “naturally” end up in the Life kingdom?
51-57 But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:
Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?
It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!
58 With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.”
That is awesome! That can give us so much joy and hope. Knowing that strengthens our faith and keeps us steadfast. Revelation 20:4-6 describes the unique hope of the martyrs and those who refuse to deny Christ through the Great Tribulation.
“Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.”
Just as Abel’s blood cried out to God, so have all the martyrs cried out to God 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?”
Verse 11 reads,
“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.”
Jesus gave them each a white robe, the wedding garments of forgiven sins and righteousness. Before Jesus was crucified they removed his clothes and put a scarlet robe on Him in order to mock Him (Matthew 27:28). That scarlet robe symbolized all our sins being placed on Him. But He was crucified and His blood cleanses the filthiest robes and makes them pure and white. (Revelation 7:14). Then He told them to wait, just a little while longer. He will avenge them. He will avenge every soul persecuted, tortured, and killed for the testimony of His name. He promised. Knowing He will avenge us allows us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to love our enemies, and to bless those who persecute us. To the ones who really hate us they will either be so moved that they will be convicted and saved or they will be convicted and shamed. Romans 12:19-21 reads,
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Believer, until the time of the Antichrist most of us, especially in countries like America will not have to shed blood for the testimony of Jesus Christ. But we may and we certainly all have been persecuted in some way if we are truly faithful committed Spirit-filled followers of Christ. But remember the hope we have, remember that because of Jesus death and resurrection we will one day be resurrected as well. Physical death cannot kill us.