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by Reverend Anthony R. Locke
Sermon Series in Revelation # 15
English Standard Version
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.
One of the reasons the Book of the Revelation seems hard to understand, is because we try to map everything into successive calendar events. We are conditioned by the evangelical Christian culture to ask, “When will these events take place?”
That question places a false expectation on the reader to organize each verse into an eschatological chart. That’s not why we have this book.
When Jesus told the disciples about the coming destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem, they asked “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” Matthew 24:3. Jesus answers the what, not the when.
Jesus answered, But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only Matthew 24:36. There is a soft rebuke for their carnal calendar curiosity. If we knew the when, then we would procrastinate our repentance.
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Jesus offers three reasons for giving us the what to expect data of Revelation in Matthew 24.
First, the Bible provides data about future events to encourage us to persevere. Matthew 24:12-13 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. We must keep our eyes on Jesus and serve Him only as we journey in a secular world. Sin will increase. Even our church friends will despise their faith and live like Jezebels. We must persevere in our faith.
Second, we must keep ourselves ready. I like to call this the moral imperative of a holy life. 1 John 3:3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Matthew 24:44 Jesus says Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Third, Jesus provides knowledge of future events so that we will have confidence to share the Gospel. Matthew 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
This third purpose leads us into our text on the Fifth Seal about the Martyrs. Notice that there is another scene change in John’s vision. All the events were happening within the context of a Throne Room. For these three verses John sees events happening in a Temple.
The Bible has always said that the Old Testament temple was not the reality. Hebrews 9:24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.
Sacrifices were poured out on the altar. The blood represented the life which was spilled and then pooled, or you could say rested, under the altar.
The blood of Jesus was literally spilled on the cross. It was then poured out on the Heavenly altar. His life was lived for God and His people. He gave all for the Father’s will and our salvation. He held nothing back for Himself.
The Apostle Paul thought of his whole life as an offering to God. 2 Timothy 4:6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.
In John 12 Mary broke the glass top off a perfume bottle that cost a whole years wage and then poured out that expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus. For Jesus it was worth it.
John sees the souls of the saints who have lived and died for Jesus. They were killed by evil men, but now their souls are in a holy place. They are protected and precious. They were poured out for God on an altar of total sacrifice. They have no regrets. Jesus was worth it.
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.
Did you know that half of all Christian martyrs have died within the last 100 years?
Those who currently live in China, Burma, Egypt, Syria, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan or Vietnam face a great possibility of death for their witness to the Word.
To testify to the Word of God while living in any Communist or Muslim country is to make your life a target for public persecution, humiliation and death.
Estimates are that almost 200,000 Christians die every year for their witness. Do you know their stories? We will learn them well when we get to Heaven. Here’s a few you might not know.
- In 1630 there was a purge in Japan where 300,000 Christians were killed by being crucified upside down on the beach during low tide so that they would drown slowly as the tide rose.
- From 1920-1930 in Russia 200,000 Christian leaders were crucified on the doors of their church and then stripped and soaked with water so they would freeze to the door. Imagine finding one of our elders nailed and frozen to the wooden doors of our church on a Sunday morning in late December.
- Historians estimate that from the resurrection to 1900 about 15 million Christians were martyred, but in the last hundred years there have been almost 30 million who have died for Christ. This is the Age of the Martyrs. And these numbers increase every year.
- In the Newberry ARP Church there is an elder named Robert Renwick. He is a descendent of the Renwicks out of Scotland. During the 1680’s Reverend James Renwick was killed for his preaching. Historians have identified him as the Last Martyr of Scotland.
- The third most published religious book of all time is Foxes Book of Martyrs printed in 1563. Only the Bible and Pilgrims Progress were read more. Incidentally, John Calvin’s The Institutes of the Christian Religion is fourth on the all time most printed list.
- Last year I preached a sermon on the Legacy of William Tyndale and told how he was burned at the stake. We heard about the aged Polycarp in the Letter to the Church at Smyrna. Jesus personally mentions Antipas who was roasted in a giant bronze bull on the altar to Zeus.
And we will all learn these stories well in Heaven as they are told over and over again to the glory of God.
And what does the Bible tell us about these poor lost souls? Was the blood of Antipas left under the altar of Zeus? No. Their souls might have appeared to be destroyed by the Devil, but in truth, they are cherished by the Father. Their death is like a bottle of sweet perfume poured out in total sacrifice for God. Their blood is protected and precious.
In verse 10 they are crying out for God to fight for His own family. It’s confusing to watch God not bring immediate justice on those who kill His children.
God must look very weak to the world. Satan appears to get the advantage and the departed saints cry out “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” This isn’t a prayer for vengeance, but for God to correct the weak opinion about Himself that the world paints for His inaction.
God looks like He is not sovereign, not interested in rewarding holiness and not faithful to protect His people. So these martyrs cry out O Sovereign Lord, holy and true . . . How long!
The persecuted saints have been asking this question for generations. They could use King David’s words Psalm 35 Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me! Take hold of shield and buckler and rise for my help! Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers! Say to my soul, “I am your salvation!” 17 How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions! 23 Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication, for my cause, my God and my Lord! 24 Vindicate me, O Lord, my God, according to your righteousness, and let them not rejoice over me!
Yet in the midst of this human injustice, in the face of this social evil, God the Father remains silent. That really messes with people’s heads. Delayed justice makes lawlessness increase.
Do evil men really get away with murder? No. God’s enemies are storing up wrath and on the day of wrath God’s righteous judgment will be revealed Romans 2:5.
God confronts their false assumption in Psalm 50:21 These evils you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.
In the mean time, God is already rewarding His people. God gives them 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.
The Church is to be militant in their witness. The Word of God still needs believers willing to put their life at risk, their reputations on the line and their jobs in the balance. We must persevere in the faith, be disciplined in godliness and ready to share the Gospel.
We must live for Jesus. We should be pouring our life out as a sacrifice for His Kingdom.
Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
We are 1 Peter 2:5 like living stones, being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Let’s be like Paul who said Acts 20:24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
And what should we expect when we share the Gospel?
Jesus tells us in John 15:20 Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.
2 Timothy 3:12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,
But the Revelation tells the rest of the story. We are 2 Corinthians 4:9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
Martyrs give faithful witness to the Word of God regardless of the consequences. I do not believe that you have to loose your life to qualify for these eternal rewards. Living for Jesus without regard for your life is enough.
Revelation 12:11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
Never forget the end of the story. God tells you in advance what will happen so that you will live today in the eternal realities of tomorrow.
Jesus Himself sums up this sermon in Matthew 20:28. Jesus said, And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
There are good reasons for God to provide us information about Heaven and the end of this world. God is working to encourage us to persevere, to live holy and to be witnesses of the majesty of Jesus.
Peter reminds us that 2 Peter 1:16 we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
Are you willing to go against the tide of our culture and bear faithful witness to the Word of God? Are you willing to share without equivocation what God thinks about the murder of the unborn? Are you ready to tell the world God’s holy design and purpose for marriage? Can you bear that testimony full knowing the hate speech and intolerance that you will endure?
Like Paul Harvey, God tells you the Rest of the Story, so that your mind will not be swayed by the trouble you endure in this life. We are laying up treasures in Heaven.
The greatest treasures we can enjoy in Heaven are people. When we witness we invest in the most precious commodity ever. When a friend repents of their sin and by faith receives the grace that God has to offer in Jesus Christ, we engage in Heaven’s greatest songs of dance and joy.
Jesus promised Psalm 126:5-6 Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.
May God bless our lives as we live in light of these promises. Amen.
 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
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