Revelation – The Blood of the Martyrs – 14
Revelation 6:7-17 – 7 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.
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.
12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
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We ended last week’s message with seeing Jesus open the fourth seal. When he opened that seal, a pale horse brought death, massive death that outweighs the worldwide death toll of the coronavirus by 317 times. It will be devastating. Death is always devastating. No one is ever really ready for it even when they think they are. It leaves a hole in families and friendships and in the world itself. We were made to live, so death goes completely against the life we were created for. It is a product of the fall. Death came because sin came (Rom 5:12). And now when this seal is opened, death will come about as judgment for sin, God’s wrath being poured out.
But there’s a different kind of death also mentioned here that is a product of this seal being opened. And it is a beautiful, horrible death. We see it starting in verse 9, and it’s where we ended our message last week. Martyrdom. People dying for their faith in Jesus.
We ended last week considering this question: Are you living in such a way that would merit your martyrdom? Would you be willing to die for following Jesus, and are you living in such a way that would lead to your martyrdom if we lived in a context where that was likely? Are you living your life in such a way that you would die for Jesus?
Jim Hamilton says of this passage, questioning why it is recorded here in scripture, “This scene is for me and you. This scene is to strengthen us to be faithful unto death, to tell us that some of us may be martyrs, so that we can be preparing ourselves for that now. Why is this passage here? To prepare us for martyrdom.”
Here’s something we see about these martyrs and what we should see about ourselves. They didn’t compromise God’s truth even though it cost them their lives. That’s why they died. They not only believed God’s Word, but they shared it and lived by it no matter what the cost. “The Greek word martus, which gives us our English word martyr, simply means “a witness.” These saints were slain by the enemy because of their witness to the truth of God and the message of Jesus Christ.”
One commentator said, “One of the repeated emphases of the entire New Testament is that it is the very nature of the church to be a martyr people. When Jesus taught that a man to be his disciple must deny himself and take up his cross (Matt 10:38; 16:24), he was not speaking of self-denial or the bearing of heavy burdens; he was speaking of the willingness to suffer martyrdom. The cross is nothing else than an instrument of death. Every disciple of Jesus is in essence a martyr; and John has in view all believers who have so suffered.”
The New Testament shouts this over and over. Paul, in 2 Timothy 3:12 said, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” And Paul knew persecution well…better than anybody (2 Cor 11:16-33). It was part of his calling (Acts 9:16).
The world you live in will persecute you if you live out what the Bible teaches. And I have become ever more convinced lately that what someone believes, they should live it out to its fullest conclusions. I have always said, “What you believe determines how you live.” But I see a lot of people saying they believe in Christ and not living like they do. Not living for and by the Word of God and giving witness to it. I’m guilty of this a lot. If I really believe that heaven and hell are real, I should be evangelizing constantly. If I really believe that the ethics the Bible presents are for human flourishing, I shouldn’t be silent about that.
I want you to think about the world we live in and your place in that world. Do you fit in, or do you stick out?
There are so many stories of martyrs I could tell. There are so many books written about them. There are incredible ministries like “Voice of the Martyrs” that seek to keep the stories of those being persecuted in front of us all. Of all the stories, I think we should hear a story of people your age since we are considering the question for ourselves if we fit in or stick out and if we are living in such a way that could lead to martyrdom.
On December 2, 2014, the Christian Post carried a story titled, “Vicar of Baghdad: Four Iraqi Christian Kids Beheaded After Refusing to Convert to Islam, Telling ISIS Militants ‘No, We Love Jesus.’” That story contained the following:
“Four Iraqi Christian children, who were all beheaded by the Islamic State, refused to betray Jesus and graciously died in his name when the ISIS militants gave them one last chance to say the Islamic words of conversion, the Rev. Canon Andrew White revealed in a recent interview…White recounted the recent incident when ISIS militants beheaded four kids, all who were under the age of 15, when the kids refused to say that they would follow the Prophet Muhammad and told the ISIS fighters that they will always “love” and “follow” Jesus.
Isis turned up and they said to the children, ‘You say the words that you will follow Muhammad.’ The children, all under 15, four of them, they said, ‘No, we love Yasua [Jesus]. We have always loved Yasua. We have always followed Yasua. Yasua has always been with us,’ White said. [The militants] said, ‘Say the words!’ [The children] said, ‘No, we can’t do that.’ They chopped all their heads off.”
Could this be your testimony? Would this be your testimony? If you truly follow Christ, you will be persecuted. Jesus knew this. He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). And he knew it would be even more pronounced in the end times. Remember from last week, Matthew 24 is a parallel, with more detail, of what we are reading in this chapter. Hear some of what Jesus says.
Matthew 24:9-13 – 9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
On average there is one Christian killed every five minutes. More have died for their Christian faith in the 20th century than in all previous nineteen centuries combined. This is a horrible statistic, but it’s also a glorious and beautiful statistic. That many people love and know Jesus in such a profound way that their life is showing it and they are willing to be killed for it.
Martyrdom and persecution are often God’s means of saving others. We see this with the apostle Paul, who, while he was Saul of Tarsus, joyfully gave approval for the first martyr for Jesus, Stephen (Acts 7:58). We see this from the early church fathers, soon after Jesus died and the apostles died for their belief in him and their proclamation of him. Tertullian is famously quoted as saying, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” People of other faiths believe in what was told to them. The early Christians believed in what they saw and knew. Other faiths, like Islam in the story you just heard, kill people for not believing their way, saying “If you don’t believe, I will kill you.” Christianity spread because Christians were being killed, having people say, “If you believe in Jesus, I will kill you.” If you’re willing to die for your faith, your faith is certain. And if your faith is certain, there’s nothing you wouldn’t do to spread it. This has, mysteriously, always been part of God’s plan, even to the end.
The conversion of the nations involves the suffering of God’s people as witnesses to the truth. As horrible as the death of the martyrs may be, it serves a purpose in the God’s eternal plan of salvation. There is a specific number in the mind of God that must be reached before Jesus returns. We see this in verse 11. Again listen to Jim Hamilton about this verse: “This verse states that there is a “number” of martyrs that has to be completed. This verse states that God will not avenge the blood of the martyrs until all the martyrs that are to be killed have been killed…Why would God have an appointed number of martyrs who have to be killed before he avenges their blood? I suspect it has something to do with the way that believers’ saying that God is better than life and sealing that confession with their life’s blood testifies to the supreme value of knowing God.”
Sadly, when we suffer even a tiny bit for being a Christian, we immediately question whether God is good. We begin to doubt whether or not he can be trusted. Has he lied to us? Is he incapable of stepping in and stopping those who hurt us? If God were truly good and holy, would he not put an end to persecution once and for all? Well, listen. One day he will. But to suffer for Christ now is never a cause to question God’s goodness. In fact, it is an honor to be considered worthy to endure persecution for his name’s sake.
At least, that is what Peter and the other apostles believed. We read in Acts 5 that after they were severely beaten for refusing to stop preaching about Jesus, “they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Jesus]. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:41-42).
They were persecuted for proclaiming Jesus, and they still continue to cry out. (vs 10) The voice of the martyrs cries out for God’s justice. And God hears their cries, as we see verses 12-17.
And instead of repenting, what we see these people do is foolishly try to hide. You can’t hide from the Almighty God. Nobody is exempt from his justice. We get what we deserve unless we cling to and believe in and follow the one who took what we deserve. And to follow him means to lay down your life for him. You either do it now willingly and enjoy life forever, even if death surrounds you now. Or it will be forced upon you when that day comes. And you can’t run and hide anymore. It’s your decision. Lay down your life for the one who laid down his life for you.
 James M. Hamilton, Jr., Revelation, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 183.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2007), 1053-4.
 George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 104.
 “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs” is a classic. “Early Christian Martyr Stories” by Bryan M. Litfin will give you a glimpse into the early martyrs and their stories. “The Insanity of God” by Nik Ripkin is a modern accounting of the persecuted church that all should read.
 Daniel L. Akin, Exalting Jesus in Revelation, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary (Nashville: B&H, 2016), 146.
 “Vicar of Baghdad: Four Iraqi Christian Kids Beheaded After Refusing to Convert to Islam, Telling ISIS Militants ‘No, We Love Jesus.’” Christian Post, December 2, 2014.
 Hamilton, Jr., Revelation, 183.