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Pray for Justice. Revelation 6:9-11.
June 3, 2018

Observing common perceptions, it has been said that God created humanity in His image and humanity has returned the favor. People have created gods in whatever form pleases them to accommodate their sinful lifestyles. God rebuked such foolish people in Psalm 50:21: “You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.” God is who He has revealed Himself to be in Scripture and not what people imagine Him to be. While Scripture reveals that God is loving, merciful, and gracious—a savior of repentant sinners, one truth about Him that is decidedly unpopular today is that He is a God of vengeance against those who reject Him and salvation in His Son. (cf. Dt. 32:35-43; Ps. 64:7-9, 79:10; 94:1-2, 23; 7, 35, 40, 55, 58, 59, 69, 109, 137, 139, and 144. Isa. 34:1–3, 8; 59:17–18; 61:2, 63:4; Jer. 46:10; Mic. 5:15; Nahum 1:2; Malachi 4:1–2.) Jesus described the future time of God’s judgment, cited by futurist during the time of Tribulation as the “days of vengeance” (Luke 21:22. Cf; Rom. 12:19; 2 Thess. 1:6–9; Heb. 10:30). Yet, even God Himself declares, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek. 33:11), because “The Lord … is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).


The realization that the Day of the Lord is coming in which God will take vengeance on the wicked is a bittersweet one for believers. On the one hand we rejoice, because God’s glory will be put on display, sin will be done away with, the world will be taken back from the usurper, Satan, and God will be vindicated. But on the other hand, that day will bring about the destruction of the ungodly and their sentencing to eternal punishment. (cf. Rev. 10:8-10). In any event, what constitutes the essence of Christian discipleship in John’s eyes should not be overlooked. As we see in Revelation, 6, every believer in Christ ought to be prepared for martyrdom; for Christians … cannot express their priestly communion with their Lord more perfectly than when they accept the suffering and the glory of martyrdom” (Johnson, A. F. (1981). Revelation. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation (Vol. 12, p. 475). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.).


It is the anticipation of that coming great day of God’s wrath known as the Day of the Lord that is in view in the fifth seal of Revelation 6. The seven seals divide into two groups of four and three. Now that the four horsemen have ridden forth, the scene changes. The opening of the fifth seal reveals an altar in heaven under which are the souls of the faithful martyrs. If the first four seals portrayed the troubled times of the approaching consummation, the fifth supplies an interpretation of Christian martyrdom (Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (p. 146). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).


According to futurists, the fifth seal of Revelation 6:9-11, marks the midpoint of the Tribulation period in bridging the gap between the beginning of God’s wrath in the first half of the Tribulation and its full fury revealed in the second half. Like the horsemen of the first four seals, it also portrays a force. That force is the prayers of God’s saints for Him to exact vengeance on rebellious mankind. They pray that justice will be done. Three features become evident as the fifth seal is unveiled: 1) The Persons Involved (Revelation 6:9), 2) The Petition they Have (Revelation 6:10), and 3) The Promise they Receive (Revelation 6:11).


In understanding how God will bring about justice through the prayers of His saints, we see:

1)   The Persons (Revelation 6:9)

Revelation 6:9 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 (ESV)


As with the first four seals in Revelation 6:1-8, “when he”, that is the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone has authority to take back the universe; cf. 5:4–5) opened/broke the fifth seal this is another sequence in the unfolding of divine judgment revealed, in which John saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain. These are martyrs, were killed during the time of all the judgments. Previously we saw these judgements as:  the false peace, war, famine, and disease dominating the unbelieving world. As we see now, there will be widespread persecution of believers led by Satan, his demons, and the final Antichrist. In OT ritual sacrifice the blood of the bullock was poured out at the base of the altar of burnt offering (Lev 4:7; Exod 29:12). This blood contained the life, or soul, of the flesh (Lev 17:11). That the souls of the martyrs were “under the altaris a way of saying that their untimely deaths on earth are from God’s perspective a sacrifice on the altar of heaven.( Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (p. 146). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) As T. S. Eliot said: The greatest proof of Christianity for others is not how far a man can logically analyze his reasons for believing, but how far in practice he will stake his life on his belief. (Barton, B. B. (2000). Revelation. (G. R. Osborne, Ed.) (p. 75). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.)


Please turn to Matthew 24 (p.829)


The persecution of believers, which historists, saw in the first century, and preterists, saw in 70 AD, spiritualists see in this church age, and which futurists see as beginning early in the first half of the Tribulation, will intensify dramatically after Antichrist sets himself up as God. At that time, according to Rev. 13:7 he will “make war with the saints and … overcome them”. With the whole world worshiping Antichrist as God, believers will be considered blasphemers for opposing him. That will bring upon them persecution from Antichrist’s false religious system. Revelation 9:21 speaks of the proliferation of murders at this time; many of the victims will no doubt be believers, the victims of mob violence. They do not …compromise the gospel in order to avoid persecution but boldly maintain their witness in the desperate situation. (Osborne, G. R. (2002). Revelation (pp. 285–286). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.)


In His Olivet Discourse, Jesus also spoke of the intensifying persecution that will mark this time:

Matthew 24:16-22 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (ESV)

  • The only defense against the sudden onslaught of persecution, Jesus said, will be immediate flight. Those unable to flee quickly enough, such as pregnant and nursing women, will be slaughtered. Inclement winter weather and Sabbath-day restrictions on travel could also hinder those attempting to flee. So severe will the persecution become that none would survive unless God shortened the time of persecution. Revelation 7:9–14 indicates that the slaughter will be on a massive scale, resulting in victims from every nation too numerous to count.


John described the martyrs he saw under the altar as souls because their bodily resurrection had not yet taken place (cf. 20:4). For the futurist, they are the firstfruits of those who will be saved throughout the Tribulation. Some of them will be Jewish, foreshadowing the salvation of Israel as a whole at the end of the Tribulation (Zech. 12:10; 14:1; Rom. 11:26–29). The text does not define which altar is in view, nor does the scene in heaven parallel the earthly temple (or tabernacle), which had no throne (Rev. 4:2). The altar John saw is most likely emblematic of the altar of incense in the Old Testament (Ex. 40:5), because of the association of incense with prayer (cf. 5:8; 8:3–4; Ps. 141:2; Luke 1:10).


John gives two reasons why the martyrs will be slain: for/because of the word of God, and for/because of the witness/testimony which they had borne/maintained. They will correctly interpret what they see going on around them in the world in the light of Scripture. They will proclaim from the Bible God’s judgment and call on people to repent and believe the gospel. Antichrist and his followers, however, will not tolerate their bold preaching and will persecute and kill them. Because of the witness/testimony which they had borne/maintained refers to their loyalty to Jesus Christ (cf. 1:2, 9; 12:17; 19:10; 20:4), which was demonstrated by their proclamation of the Word of God in the face of life-threatening hatred and hostility. In a world removed of the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit, merciless persecutors will murder those who faithfully and courageously proclaim the message of judgment and salvation. Here the martyred saints are clearly pictured as those sacrificed for Christ. (Osborne, G. R. (2002). Revelation (p. 285). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.) The Greek word martus, which gives us our English word martyr, simply means “a witness” (see Rev. 2:13; 17:6). These saints were slain by the enemy because of their witness to the truth of God and the message of Jesus Christ. The forces of Antichrist do not accept the truth, because Satan wants them to be deceived and accept his lies (see Rev. 19:20; 20:10; also 2 Thes. 2:9–12). (Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 588). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.)




Very clearly, believers do not escape the world’s troubles. Quite the opposite—down through history, thousands upon thousands of faithful servants of God have faced death because they stayed true to him. It is still happening today and it will go on happening until the end comes. Most of them are not famous and never make it onto the television news. They are unknowns, like the woman evangelist killed in Nigeria one day, the group beheaded in Indonesia the next, the pastor murdered in Karnataka State in India the day after that, or the nameless prisoners being beaten to death in the prison camps of North Koreanameless to us but known to God—and many thousands of others, tortured, shot, beheaded, starved, bombed, in Iran, Sudan, Indonesia, China, Mexico and too many other countries to name. They are the martyr church, a great stream of faithful witnesses.( Wilmshurst, S. (2008). The Final Word: The Book of Revelation Simply Explained (pp. 83–84). Darlington, England: Evangelical Press.)


All believers who in their hearts treasure God’s revealed Word and the gospel of Jesus Christ by confessing his name (Rom. 10:9–10) view their testimony “as a badge of allegiance to Christ.” Holding God’s truth in one’s heart and testifying to it with one’s mouth identify the true believer who is willing to die for the faith.( Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Vol. 20, pp. 232–233). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.)


In understanding how God will bring about justice through the prayers of His saints, we see:

2)                  The Petition (Revelation 6:10)

Revelation 6:10 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?”(ESV)


Prayer will play a vital role in the outpouring of God’s judgments on the earth. This prayer in Revelation 6 is very different from the one by the martyr Stephen (Acts 7:60) in which he prayed for his killers to not be held guilty by God. This prayer of the martyrs is more like the imprecatory Psalms. A prayer for pardon is appropriate in a time of grace. But when grace is finished and judgment comes, prayers for divine, holy retribution are fitting. Such prayers are not from a desire for revenge, but are a protest against all that is sinful, unholy, dishonoring to God, and destructive to His creation.


Please turn to Luke 18 (p.877)


Many Christians act as if prayer were a mere formality that has little effect. Yet, amazingly, the prayers of the Tribulation martyrs will move God’s hand of judgment. Jesus illustrated that same principle in the parable of the persistent widow and the unrighteous judge:

Luke 18:1-8 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ ” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? zWill he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (ESV).

  • God’s vengeance is not to be equated with petty human vindictiveness and bitter desire for revenge. God’s holiness, righteousness, and justice demand that He take vengeance on unrepentant sinners. Vengeance belongs to God alone because all sin is ultimately against Him and an offense to Him (cf. Ps. 51:4). The knowledge that God will one day execute vengeance on those who reject Him does not justify any personal vengeance on the part of believers. The opposite is true. God requires that we would show love to our enemies (Prov. 25:21) as Paul instructed in Romans 12:19–20: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ ” Neither Jesus (Luke 23:34), Stephen (Acts 7:60), nor Paul (1 Cor. 4:12) sought personal vengeance on their oppressors.
  • The prayers of the Tribulation martyrs will participate in activating the torments of the sixth and seventh seals along with the trumpet and bowl judgments which follow.


God’s hand of judgment will move in response to the martyrs because their prayers will be urgent, fervent, impassioned, and consistent with His purpose and will. That theycried out” (Krazō ) expresses a strong word that emphasizes the urgent need and denotes strong emotions (cf. Matt. 9:27; 14:26, 30; 15:22; 20:30–31; Mark 9:24). As we have seen,  the twenty-four elders and the angels loudly praised God (Rev. 5:12), and the Tribulation martyrs will petition Him with a loud voice. In keeping with their call for vengeance and justice, they address Him as the “Sovereign Lord, holy and true”. “Sovereign Lord” does not translate kurios, the common New Testament word for Lord, but the stronger term despotēs (“master,” “ruler”). It speaks of God the Father’s might, power, majesty, and authority.  The martyrs base their appeal for vengeance on two of God’s attributes. Because God is holy, He must judge sin (cf. Ps. 5:4–5; Hab. 1:13; Acts 10:42; 17:31; Rom. 2:16; 3:6; 2 Tim. 4:1); because He is true, He must be faithful to His word and keep His promises (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Luke 21:33). Revelation 3:7 applies this phrase holy and true to Jesus Christ, thus affirming His deity and full equality with His Father. Holy and true”  are inseparable in their description of the Deity. The martyrs call on God to be holy and true to his being when their blood on earth is crying out for justice. God’s name and honor are an unavoidable issue, for his people were made in his image and purchased for God by the blood of the Lamb (5:9). The saints are appealing to him to let his holiness and truth shine forth. Inattention to their plea would indeed mean a blot on his being. (Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Vol. 20, p. 233). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.)


The martyrs’ question “How long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” does not reflect a personal vendetta on their part. They are not trying to tell God what to do or when to do it; they are asking Him the question because they have a holy desire to see Satan and Antichrist destroyed, iniquity defeated, the wicked judged, and Jesus Christ reigning in glory on the earth. How long is a well-known cry of suffering Israel, reflecting the perplexing question of the righteous as to when their pain will end (cf. Pss. 13:1; 35:17). Although, the martyred witnesses had prayed for God’s justice, yet God’s answer to them was to wait. For a person of faith, it is good when God answers our prayers with a “Wait” or a “No.” Too often, people think that the only good answer to prayer is an immediate and thunderous “Yes!” That is not biblical faith, however. God shows his great love when he says no or wait because he knows best and is sovereign. We must remember that God loves His people and that his answers may not be what you expect. Trust him and pray for strength to endure. (Barton, B. B. (2000). Revelation. (G. R. Osborne, Ed.) (p. 76). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.)


The phrase “those who dwell on the earth” is a semitechnical designation for the human race in its hostility to God. In 11:10 they are those who rejoice over the death of the two witnesses. In chapter 13 they are pictured as worshiping the beast (vv. 8, 12), and in chapter 17 as intoxicated with the wine of the great prostitute’s adulteries (v. 2). Their names are not written in the book of life (17:8), and they are subject to the coming hour of trial (3:10; 8:13). (Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation (pp. 148–149). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)


As was the case with murdered Abel, the very ground cries out for their blood to be required at the hands of their killers. The time of grace is nearing its end. No longer do God’s people ask God to forgive their enemies. The time is fast approaching when God will judge His enemies, and the Lord Jesus Christ will take His rightful place as earth’s ruler. But since these martyrs are from the first half of the Tribulation, the “beginning of birth pangs,” that time is still a little way off.


Commentary: We must come to the point where what matters most to us is faithfulness to God. Faithfulness to the word of God and the gospel must be more important to us than pleasure, more important to us than leisure, and more important than life itself. We must value faithfulness to God and his word more than we value the ability to go on living our peaceful, happy lives. That is what it means to be “faithful unto death.” Knowing that others who have been faithful unto death before us are now in the presence of God can liberate us from any fear we may have about what comes after death. Death is not the end. This life is not the ultimate reason for your existence. You exist for the glory of God. Live in a way that testifies to that reality. Die in a way that testifies to that reality.( Hamilton, J. M., Jr. (2012). Preaching the Word: Revelation—The Spirit Speaks to the Churches. (R. K. Hughes, Ed.) (p. 181). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.)


Finally, in understanding how God will bring about justice through the prayers of His saints, we see:

3)      The Promise (Revelation 6:11)

Revelation 6:11 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. (ESV)


Please turn to Revelation 20 (p.1040)


Two elements make up God’s response to His martyred saints: a symbolic gift, and a spoken word. The gift that they were each given by God as they arrived in heaven was a white robe (stolē; a long robe flowing to the feet). These long, brilliant white robes were a reward of grace (Rev. 7:9, 14), symbolizing God’s gift of eternal righteousness, blessedness, dignity, and honor (cf. 3:5). They symbolize all the glory that redeemed saints will enjoy in heaven. These were not actual robes, since what is depicted in this vision is before the resurrection of the bodies of the redeemed, which occurs for Tribulation saints at Christ’s return (20:4–5).


From a pre-millennial perspective, Revelation 20 describes this:

Revelation 20:1-5 20 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. 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. (ESV)


Along with this gift came God’s spoken word, namely that they should rest for a little while longer. That is not a rebuke for impatience, since impatience is a sin and perfected people in heaven do not sin. Rather, it is an invitation to stop the cry for vengeance and to continue to enjoy the bliss of heavenly rest until God’s time for wrath arrives. The phrase for a little while longer (cf. John 7:33; 12:35) indicates that that time will not be long delayed. As indicated earlier according to futurists, this seal is best seen as describing a period in the middle of the seven years of tribulation. There is a verbal similarity to the phrase in Revelation 10:6, “there will be delay no longer,” which obviously ends the delay of which God spoke to the martyrs in Rev. 6:11. Some time will clearly elapse between Rev. 6:11 and Rev. 10:6. God’s day of judgment and vengeance is about three and a half years ahead, and will not come until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers/brethren should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. God sovereignly predetermined the exact number of those who would be killed. The petitioners were told to enjoy heaven’s rest until that number had been reached. “The word to the souls under the altar gives them reassurance that God will eventually avenge their blood, but the time for the culmination of that vengeance has not yet arrived. One feature that must yet transpire beforehand is the increase of their number through additional martyrdoms. The earth dwellers under the dawning leadership of the beast from the sea will take an even greater toll of human lives before Christ finally intervenes through His personal arrival back on earth. Until then, the already martyred are told to rest and enjoy their state of blessedness already attained”. (Robert L. Thomas. Revelation 1–7: An Exegetical Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1992], 499)


Likely, the description of “Fellow servants and their brothers/brethren” are two classes of people. The first group was alive and willing to die like the martyrs, though they may not. The second group were those who will be killed.


God’s reply in the prayers for justice provides a glimpse into the complicated problems of why evil is allowed to reign. God simply allows it for His own purposes, which are best from the viewpoint of His total plan, though difficult to understand from our limited viewpoint. It was difficult for these martyrs to understand why God would allow these evil murderers to live, but He asks them to trust Him to work out all things in the best way (Ryrie, C. C. (1996). Revelation (p. 57). Chicago: Moody Press.).


(Format Note: Outline & some base commentary from MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1999). Revelation 1–11 (pp. 187–197). Chicago: Moody Press.)


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