Revelation 6:9-11 (click here)
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. 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?” 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. (Revelation 6:9-11)
When saints are martyred…where is God?
Is he absent? Is he far? Is he not in control? Questions flood our mind. Martyrdom is not something of the ancient past. The reality of its existence was shoved in the world’s face as 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians were brutally killed by ISIS.
The horrific reality is that such extreme persecution is much more prevalent than we would like to admit. Most of it is simply not filmed and distributed through the internet. Persecution, and yes, martyrdom are very real and present realities. This has always been the reality of the Church. We are a people who are “being killed all the day long…we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
Yet, I thought that if God was on our side, who could be against us? Where is God when Christians are being killed?
He is present. He is sovereign. He is victorious.
The simple truths seem impossible…but “impossible” happens to be our God’s specialty.
Jesus promised us that there would be persecution and death. Luke 21:16-18, “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” Yet in the very next verse he makes this outrageous claim, “But not a hair of your head will perish.”
How can we be put to death, but not a hair of our head perish? Jesus is asserting his sovereignty over everything that happens to his followers and that he can make promises that are more powerful than death itself. There is no ultimate perishing for his followers.
This is what we see to be true in Revelation 6. Everyone who has experienced martyrdom cries out to God to fulfill all his promises, to vindicate them, to deal with evil and make all things new. They know God can do this because he is sovereign. They cry out, “O Sovereign Lord!”
They are told the promise will be fulfilled, but not until the number of martyrs is complete. God has sovereignly set a limit on the persecution of his church. He is totally in control and will not let our persecution last forever. That is a promise!
We are “being killed all the day long,” but we will not always be “regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” Those words come from the end of Romans 8 which goes on to promise that we are “more than conquerors through him who loved us.” It is this same chapter that claims, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
All of this victorious language in the face of persecution is rooted in an eternal perspective. Who can be against us and ultimately win? No one! Even if they put us to death, ultimately, not a hair on our head will perish…for God himself has rescued us from death through Christ! He will raise us all to eternal life with him!
God sovereignly allows the persecution of his saints in the present for through persecution we come to know him and make him known (more on how suffering accomplishes this here), but we have a promise that all persecution will end.
We will ultimately be called “more than conquerors” and those who have “overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony.” Even if it costs us our life’s breath, let us cling to Christ amidst any and all persecution…for Jesus won’t let physical death rob you of one hair on your future resurrected, glorified body.
That’s a promise from the sovereign King who is always present and in control.
*The complete SVCC Lenten reading guide is available here.