Revelation 6:11

Sermon preached on September 23, 2012 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

What does God want your life to be like? If you listen to certain people, you will hear things like, you need the Holy Spirit,

"Because He is the Spirit of success, prosperity and superabundant wealth-accumulation! God sent the Holy Spirit to empower believers to get rich. The smearing, or anointing, of the Spirit is to clothe us with success!"

They define the good news of the gospel as,

"Poverty days are over. You can be rich!"

Someone else, whom I believe is the pastor of the biggest church in this country, puts it this way,

"God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us."

He says that Christians should trust the Lord's ability to give them the job that they deserve the house that they desire, and children that will make them proud. He will tell you things like,

"Friend, you have to start believing that good things are coming your way and they will!"

Another of their lines is,

"It's God's will for you to live in prosperity instead of poverty."

The whole idea is that God wants to bless you with earthly things. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

That happens sometimes. But the problem with such teaching is that it's not true for many Christians. They're not blessed with earthly riches and it's not because they don't have faith or aren't as good Christians than those that are blessed. No. It's just that God's will for them is different. God's plan is not to bless all His people with an abundance of earthly things. The widow that put her last two copper coins in the temple treasury shows that. God was extremely pleased with her. But she was poor. She had nothing as far as the riches of this world are concerned. And Jesus never told us that God was going to make her rich and make all her financial troubles go away.

God's plan for other Christians is even worse than poverty. His plan for them is that they be murdered for their faithfulness to Him. Our text says,

"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."

Wow. What Jesus is saying here is that

He is delaying avenging the blood of His martyrs because He's waiting for more of His people to be killed!

This is incredible. In a certain way this reminds me of what Jesus said to Peter, (John 21:18–19)

"I tell you the truth, when you were younger
you dressed yourself and went
where you wanted;
but when you are old you will
stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go."

This was to indicate the kind of death Peter would undergo.

It also reminds me of what God said to Ananias about His recent convert, Saul of Tarsus, who became the apostle Paul. When Ananias hesitated to go to Paul because he still thought Paul was an enemy, God said, (Acts 9:15–16)

"Go! This man is my chosen instrument
to carry my name before the Gentiles
and their kings and before the people of Israel.
I will show him how much
he must suffer for my name."

Peter was told that he was going to die a martyr's death. Paul was told that his life was going to be filled with suffering.

But what we have here goes beyond that. It's not just a few who are going to be killed, but many. God is not going to judge the earth until the number of their fellow servants is fulfilled, or completed.

The idea that a predetermined number of martyrs must die before God will avenge their deaths is found in both early Judaism and early Christianity. (Aune, p. 424)

God has determined that Jesus will not come until more of His people have been killed for their witness to Him. G. K. Beale writes, (Revelation, p. 394)

"The final judgment will begin when all believers whom God has decreed to suffer finally fulfill their destiny."

God in His sovereignty has set a certain number of martyrs who are to be killed. Jesus will not come until that number is reached.

This is difficult to understand.

It is very mysterious.

We know that God loves His people. We know that Jesus loved Peter. God could prevent the martyrdom of His people. Sometimes He does. He rescued Daniel from the lion's den. He rescued Peter from jail when it seemed likely that King Herod was going to have him killed. God rescued the apostle Paul by having the Romans intervene when it was certain that the Jewish mob at the temple was going to kill him. (Acts 21:30-32)

But both Peter and Paul later were killed for their witness to Jesus.

I'm not sure this text will ever refer to you sitting before me—there haven't been any martyrs in our country for a long time. But some day a preacher will get up in front of His congregation and say,

"God loves you and the plan He has for your life is for you to be murdered for His gospel. He's not going to deliver you from that."

How are we to understand this whole subject? Our knowledge here is partial and incomplete and what we do know may not fully satisfy us. But our text does hint at some things that can be helpful to us in this regard.

First of all,

we can look at this from the perspective of God's justice and see that when God finally does judge—no one will doubt that His justice was right.

Things are going to be exceedingly bad for Christians just before Jesus comes again. In Luke 18:8 Jesus asked,

"when the Son of Man comes,
will he find faith on the earth?"

1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15 tell us that He will. But the distress of the last days will be something like the distress that Jesus spoke about in Mark 13:20, regarding the destruction of Jerusalem. He said,

"If the Lord had not cut short those days,
no one would survive.
But for the sake of the elect, whom he has
chosen, he has shortened them."

The last days are going to be so bad for the church that when the Lord finally does come and end it, everyone will know that those who kill Christians deserve their fate.

The martyrs are crying out for justice. God is slow to anger, even when His people are killed. He is patient with sinners. This people who kill the martyrs, are, as Romans 2:4 says, showing,

"contempt for the riches of his kindness,
tolerance and patience,"

Paul goes on to tell them that God's kindness was supposed to lead them to repentance. But they continue killing God's people.

From that perspective we could conclude that when God does judge and avenge the blood of the martyrs, those who killed them will be seen by everyone as deserving God's wrath. They persisted in their sins and everyone will know, including they themselves—that they are totally without excuse and deserve to face God's wrath. Philippians 2 tells us that every knee will bow before Jesus and acknowledge that He is Lord. Their punishment will be deserved.

But we should also look at this from another perspective. The fact that these martyrs are '
under the altar' and the fact that they are said to have been 'slain'

shows that there is an incredible bond between them and the Lamb.

We saw last week that the reference to them being 'slain' linked them to the Lamb who had been 'slain'. We are also told that these martyrs have been slain for the Word of God and the testimony they maintained. They died because of their witness for Jesus and His gospel.

The reference to the altar harkens back to the Old Testament sacrificial system where the blood of the victim was poured under the altar. We know that this was looking forward to the great and unique death of Jesus. But here it's not the blood of animals, nor the blood of Jesus that is under the altar—but the souls of the martyrs. This ties them to Him and shows their bond with the Lamb.

Now we are not to think that their sacrifice is anything like the work of Jesus. Jesus' sacrifice was unique and perfect. He made atonement for our sins. His sacrifice as redemptive. The sacrifice of the martyrs was not. But we do see a strong link between them and Christ. In certain ways they are united to Him. There is a link between Christ's sacrifice and their sacrifice. For example, in Colossians 1:24 the apostle Paul wrote,

"Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you,
and I fill up in my flesh
what is still lacking in regard
to Christ's afflictions,
for the sake of his body, which is the church."

How can Paul claim that his sufferings are filling up what is still lacking in regards to Christ's afflictions? Douglas J. Moo writes, (The letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (PNTC; p. 150)

"Paul is not, of course, suggesting that the redemptive suffering of Christ requires any supplementation… Paul is convinced that Christ's death on the cross is completely and finally capable of taking care of the human sin problem. It is not that there is anything lacking 'in' the atoning suffering of Christ…"

Moo quotes from elsewhere in Colossians to prove this. Colossians 1:19–20 says,

"For God was pleased to have
all his fullness dwell in him,
and through him to reconcile
to himself all things,
whether things on earth
or things in heaven,
by making peace through his blood,
shed on the cross."

And Colossians 2:15 says of Christ's work,

"And having disarmed
the powers and authorities,
he made a public spectacle of them,
triumphing over them by the cross."

So Christ's work was unique, sufficient, perfect. But Moo continues,

"but that there is something lacking 'in regard to' (TNIV) the tribulations that pertain to Christ as the Messiah as he is proclaimed in the world."

The role of the martyrs in witnessing is key here. The martyrs suffer death because they are witnessing for Jesus. Witnessing is so important that it takes precedence over their lives.

F. F. Bruce writes, (The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, NICNT; p. 82)

"Paul and his fellow-preachers, having themselves received the peace which was made 'through the blood of his cross,' now fulfill their ministry by presenting that peace for acceptance by others. But in the fulfillment of that ministry they are exposed to sufferings for Christ's sake, and these sufferings are their share in the afflictions of Christ." "At the back of Paul's mind there may be the rabbinical concept of the messianic birth pangs which were to be endured in the last days… in the period leading up to the parousia. Jesus, the Messiah, had suffered on the cross; now his people, the members of his body, had their quota of affliction to bear, and Paul was eager to absorb as much as possible of this in his own 'flesh.' The suffering of affliction now was, for the followers of Christ, the prelude to glory at his advent, and such was the incomparable and 'eternal weight [Col, Phlm, Eph, p. 84] of glory' to which they could look forward that the hardships of the present were described, in relation to it, as 'this slight momentary affliction' (2 Cor. 4:17).

The events leading up to the coming of Jesus are significant for demonstrating the glory of Christ. That's one of the main things of the book of Revelation.

These Christians that are alive near that time, some of them will die for their faith and they will be great witnesses to the glory of Jesus—and to His saving power for them. They will be shining lights to the glory of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 4:9 the apostle Paul wrote,

"For it seems to me that
God has put us apostles on display
at the end of the procession,
like men condemned to die in the arena.
We have been made a spectacle
to the whole universe,
to angels as well as to men."

One of the ways the Lamb's glory will be displayed is in His union with His people—in spite of great opposition they show their faithfulness to Him and witness to His glory. They suffer because of that and then they will be raised to life.

The pattern of their lives follows the pattern of Jesus' life—suffering followed by glory. Jesus told us that if they persecuted Him they would persecute them. (John 15:20) Our lives are modeled on Christ's in that suffering precedes glory. (1 Peter 2:21, Hebrews 12:2-3) Romans 8:17 says,

"Now if we are children,
then we are heirs—heirs of God
and co-heirs with Christ,
if indeed we share in his sufferings
in order that we may also
share in his glory."

1 Peter 4:13 says,

"But rejoice that you
participate in the sufferings of Christ,
so that you may be overjoyed
when his glory is revealed."

Martyrdom is not a defeat for Christians. It is a victory. In their deaths of witnessing to Him, Jesus will bring history to its culmination. It will be glorious. Out of seeming defeat these martyrs rise to life. Jesus will be with them and say to all, (Hebrews 2:13)

"Here am I, and the children
God has given me."

Then these martyrs, like all the saints, are going to be, as Ephesians 1:12 says,

"to the praise of His glory."

That may be part of what is about. In those days the Lamb's glory is going to be displayed in the salvation of His people.

What does all this mean for us?

First of all, this means that

you need to be prepared to suffer for the gospel.

In our society it is easy to keep quiet about your faith in Jesus. That's what they want us to do. If you don't keep quiet about it, you'll sometimes have to suffer.

You need to be prepared for bad things to happen to you for your faithfulness to Jesus. It is sometimes God's will that His people suffer. But the fact is that you need to be prepared for it. 1 Peter 4:12 says,

"Dear friends, do not be surprised
at the painful trial you are suffering,
as though something strange
were happening to you."

Peter goes on to talk about how it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God.

If you believe the false prosperity preachers and you believe that only good things are going to come your way and great difficulty comes—you won't be able to handle it well. You'll get very discouraged and depressed. You'll think that God has let you down. Satan will tell you that you're not really a Christian.

You need to be prepared for bad things to come your way. You need to be a good witness during those times.

Secondly, this means that you need to have a profound respect for the wisdom, majesty and providence of God.

We understand so little of these things. God's plans are often baffling to us. They are very mysterious.

There are three things to note here.

First, we need to recognize that

God's ways are higher than our ways.

But we know that God's plans are wise. Isaiah 55:8–9

"'For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,'
declares the Lord.
'As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.'"

We need to know that God's plan is perfect. Romans 12:1–2 says,

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers,
in view of God's mercy,
to offer your bodies as living sacrifices,
holy and pleasing to God—
this is your spiritual act of worship.
Do not conform any longer
to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the
renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test
and approve what God's will is—
his good, pleasing and perfect will."

God's will is perfect. You can't improve on it. Go though the difficulties that God sends your way knowing that He knows what He is doing and has a perfect plan.

Secondly, this means that

we need to accept God's providences that are difficult. We need to be compliant, humble, teachable under them.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. His providences may be difficult. But we are to embrace them and seek to be good servants under them. He is the Lord, let Him do what is good in His eyes. (1 Samuel 3:18; 2 Samuel 15:26) As Hebrews 12:9–11 says,

"God disciplines us for our good,
that we may share in his holiness.
No discipline seems pleasant
at the time, but painful.
Later on, however,
it produces a harvest of righteousness
and peace for those
who have been trained by it."

Thirdly, this means that

even in suffering you need to praise God and even more importantly, glorify Him in your actions.

Being good witnesses for Jesus is key. It's so important. You need to praise Him in difficult times.

The prophet Habakkuk shows us the way here. When Judah was overrun by the Babylonians, he wrote, (Habakkuk 3:17–18)

"Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep
in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior."

But we need to do more than praise God in difficult times. We need to persevere, even to death if necessary. That's one of the main ways we bring glory to God. Earlier I mentioned how Jesus told Peter about how He would die. John wrote, (John 21:19)

"Jesus said this to indicate
the kind of death by which
Peter would glorify God."

How important God's glory is. There is no one like the Lamb. For you, surviving, saving your life—is not be your main goal—rather it's living, and dying, if necessary—for the glory of the Lamb. When we get to glory we will say with the apostle Paul, (Romans 11:33)

"Oh, the depth of the riches
of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!"

For those of you who are not Christians, this means that

you need to go to Jesus now.

He is being patient with you. But His patience will not last forever. You need to go to Him now.