Daily Devotional #15
Daily Devotional with Pastor John
Wednesday, March 2
The Souls of Those Who Had Been Slain
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.
With the breaking of the fifth seal of the scroll the vision shifts from earth to heaven. The altar is mentioned here for the first time in Revelation. This vision uses the rich imagery of the furniture placed in the most holy place of the tabernacle; the altar, which was a place of sacrifice.
The significant thing that John sees under the altar is “the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.” John is saying the death of followers of Jesus is like a priestly, sacrificial act and it has a sacrificial consequences for the world.
When the Revelation was first read to the seven churches the people who heard this line, “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain,” would have known some of these souls by name. But the making of martyrs did not end with the eventual fall of Rome. It has continued throughout history until today. The Voice of the Martyrs, a mission agency that provides information on the persecuted church around the world, estimates that every five minutes a Christian dies somewhere in the world for reasons connected to their faith.
What are these souls under the altar doing? They are calling out to the One who sits on the throne. They are making an appeal for vengeance and vindication. “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Many people object to this prayer. This is not a Christian prayer, they say. Christians should not seek revenge especially in their praying. Didn’t Jesus the Lamb teach us to love our enemies, to bless them and to pray for those who persecute us? This however, is not a prayer for personal revenge. Rather it is a prayer that justice will be done. This request does not come from hateful hearts motivated with a personal desire for revenge. Rather it comes from those who are passionate for the glory of God and desire that God’s reputation will not be tarnished by the violent acts of “the inhabitants of the earth,” which is a reference to all humankind in their hostility to the Lamb and his people. The concern being expressed is for the faithful to be vindicated so that God’s name will not be held in dishonour.
In response to their cry and appeal for speedy justice they are given a gift and a strange word of hope. Each of these sacrificial victims is given the gift of a white robe – the symbol of victory through faithful purity. The strange word of hope they are given includes the counsel to rest but the strangeness of this word of hope lies in the measure used to mark the duration of the delay – “until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.”
This is one of the reasons why people don’t want to read the Revelation. Who wants to hear that there will be more Christians killed? Who really wants to grapple with the hard facts about the ascendancy of evil? But what is important for us to keep in mind is that the reason why there are martyrs and will be martyrs in the present and the future is “because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.” Witnesses lose their lives in fulfilling the Great Commission. Christians are slain because the preach the Gospel to all nations. There is no escaping these hard realities.
With the spread of the gospel in this world in which the four horsemen are given the authority to rob our world of peace and plenty and bring death and destruction, the church must suffer, endure affliction and go through great tribulation. But with the death of each martyr the days on God’s calendar are marked off and we are brought ever closer to the great day when God almighty will be vindicated, the righteous will shine like the stars forever and the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.
- Pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who are suffering for the sake of Christ.
- Pray for the protection of many Christians in Russia, who are speaking out against the actions of their government. Pray also for Christians in the Ukraine who fear dark days ahead for the church especially if Russia is allowed to swallow up the Ukraine.
- Pray for our country. While we enjoy great freedoms there is evidence of growing antagonism and hostility toward the Christian faith.