The Fifth Seal Broken
When the first four seals were broken open by the Lamb, each of the four living creatures, God's herald-seraphs, announced the entrance of a coloured horse into John's vision. Now the drama, which describes the narrative under the fifth seal, is released without any further introduction. The four horsemen of the apocalypse have shown God's judgement sweeping out onto a rebellious world, like the horsemen of Zechariah 6:1-8. The final horseman in John's vision is Jesus Christ Himself (Revelation 19:11-16), as He gloriously defeats Satan.
The final three seals relate to the church (Revelation 6:9-11), the cosmos (Revelation 6:12-17) and the eruption of God's judgement from heaven (Revelation 8:1-5). In today's reading the martyrs are seen. 'Martyr' comes from the Greek word for 'witness': they have been killed because they spoke out, proclaiming the salvation-authority of Jesus and His kingdom. Their message was a personal testimony (1 Corinthians 2:1), founded on God's Word and energised by the Holy Spirit who indwells all who have received Jesus Christ; but it stirred up violent antagonism resulting in cruel death for many.
The martyrs' plea was for God to avenge their deaths. The cry, "How long", is often repeated in Scripture (Isaiah 6:11; Jeremiah 47:6; Zechariah 1:12; Luke 18:1-8). There is an unresolved injustice which only God can settle, and He will vindicate His people who have been scorned and despised, ill-treated and killed over many centuries (Luke 11:51). It did not take God by surprise - Jesus was clear that His people would suffer in that way (Matthew 24:9; John 16:2). But neither is God passive, He will avenge His people (Romans 12:19). Yet the martyrs in the vision were given white robes to indicate that they are righteous before God, and told to wait until more have been killed and their numbers completed.
All these distresses have been known for generations. They are 'the beginning of birth-pains' of Christ's kingdom (Matthew 24:8). But they will increase and intensify. Today, more people are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ than at any other time in history. The authority-claim of Jesus over all the world is as despised now as when He was crucified. We need Revelation to remind us that God is not unaware, inert or careless about His people. He will execute justice, but not before this world has finished doing its worst to His people. An early Christian hymn says, "… If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us …" (2 Timothy 2:11-12). We are called to live in this refining crucible, and only those who love Him will choose to last the course. Do not offer cheap faith; it proved costly to Jesus and may prove increasingly costly to us and our children. Present the true gospel in your words to explain your love for Christ; let Him motivate your lifestyle rather then letting others intimidate you.
© Dr Paul Adams