Revelation 6:9-11

Sermon preached on September 17, 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.

I saw an interview with Steve Jobs one time where he told a joke about his predecessor as CEO of Apple, Gil Amelio. Amelio took over Apple when it was in bad shape. He made some good moves in an effort to save Apple. He cut costs but more importantly he brought back Steve Jobs. But a lot of people didn't see him as having the technical smarts to bring Apple back to profitably. So Steve Jobs got the support of the board and they ousted Amelio. Jobs didn't like Amelio and sometimes referred to him as a bozo. The story that Job told about Amelio was when the reporter Gina Smith was introduced to him at a party. She asked him how Apple was doing. Amelio allegedly replied,

"Apple is like a ship with a hole in the bottom, leaking water and my job is to get the ship pointed in the right direction."

We all say stupid things and that statement is an example. It's what's called a mixed metaphor. If a ship has a hole in the bottom, the primary focus should be on fixing the hole, stopping the leak and not on which direction the ship is pointed in. When a ship sinks it really doesn't matter what direction it's pointed in.

Some people view the petition of the martyrs in the fifth seal like that. They tell us that what they say here is wrong. They tell us that the vindictiveness here is problematic and is an ethical low point in the book. They tell us that this is unworthy of the martyrs because Jesus told us forgive those who sin against us. For instance, in Matthew 6:14–15 Jesus said to His disciples,

"For if you forgive men
when they sin against you,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men their sins,
your Father will not forgive your sins."

Also, when He was crucified, Jesus was a great example to us in how to treat our enemies. He prayed, (Luke 23:34)

"Father, forgive them, for they
do not know what they are doing."

Aren't we supposed to love our enemies? Aren't we supposed to be praying for their conversion? Saul of Tarsus was partly responsible for the death of Stephen. Yet when Stephen was dying, he said, (Acts 7:60)

"Lord, do not hold this sin against them."

Saul was one of the ones that Stephen prayed for and the Lord converted him. In praying like that Stephen was following the example of Jesus. And in 1 Peter 2:21–23 the apostle Peter wrote,

"To this you were called,
because Christ suffered for you,
leaving you an example,
that you should follow in his steps.
'He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.'
When they hurled their insults at him,
he did not retaliate;
when he suffered,
he made no threats.
Instead, he entrusted himself
to him who judges justly."

But here the Christian martyrs aren't praying for the conversion of their enemies, but for God to take vengeance on them. They want to know how long until God takes vengeance on the people who put them to death.

How are we to understand this? Have the martyred saints not learned the most basic lesson about forgiveness? Are they wrong in their cry?

The answer to that question should be obvious. Of course they are not wrong in their request. Consider who they are, consider where they are. If we consider these things it should be clear that

the request of the saints under the altar is exceedingly righteous.

This is not an ethical low point of the book. Quite the contrary. There is no sin here. These souls are in heaven. The souls of Christians are immediately made perfect when we die. The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us that when Christians come together to worship, we come not only into the presence of God in heaven, but also into the presence of, (Hebrews 12:23)

"the spirits of righteous men
made perfect,"

The souls of Christians in heaven have been made perfect. There is no sin in them. There is nothing unworthy in them. The Westminster Confession of Faith, XXXII:1 summarizes the biblical teaching this way,

"The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption; but their souls (which neither die nor sleep), having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them. The souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies;"

So the desire that the martyrs have for vengeance is not unworthy or sinful. No. It is perfect. Stephen himself would be one of the ones under the altar. G. K. Beale writes, (Revelation, NIGT, p. 392)

"This is not a cry for bitter, personal revenge… The petitioning saints are those who have been exalted to a heavenly state, now separated from the sinful influences of the world."

Their desire, their request is pure. It is without sin. It is noble and worthy.

So if we think that there's something wrong with their request all that means is that there's something wrong with our thought processes. These saints are perfect in their desires.

The second thing we should understand from our text is that

the martyred saints are concerned about the honor and glory of God.

They say, (verse 10)

"How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true,
until you judge the inhabitants
of the earth and avenge
our blood?"

They want vengeance for their blood but we should remember that their blood was spilled because of their concern for the glory of God. Or, as our text puts it, they were slain because of the word of God and the testimony they maintained. It's interesting that the word, 'slain' is used of them. It's only used 8 times in the New Testament and it's only found in Revelation. It's used mostly to refer to the Lamb that was slain. Its use in reference to the martyrs here shows a strong connection between them and the Lamb. They were put to death because of their faithfulness to Jesus. When they ask God to avenge their 'blood' they are asking God to maintain His honor. In their lives on this earth they were concerned about the glory of God so much that they were willing to die it. In life their concern was the honor and glory of God and in death (so to speak) that is still their concern.

Notice how they begin their request. They say,

"Sovereign Lord, holy and true".

G. K. Beale says this description of God is used, (Revelation, NIGT, p. 392)

"in order to emphasize that God is being asked to demonstrate his holiness and standard of truth by bringing wrongdoers to justice."

The martyrs are concerned that the reputation of God and his people be vindicated. Beale writes, (p. 392)

"The reputation of God's justice is at stake because he will be considered unjust if he does not punish sin…"

So this is not about personal vengeance. It's not about them. They're concerned about God's kingdom, about Him demonstrating His righteousness. They are leaving everything to God, but they are asking Him how long. They long to see Him glorified and His kingdom established.

So the request of the martyrs is

about things being set right. It's about God's justice being displayed and His kingdom established by the defeat of His enemies.

The suffering and evil in the world is such a tragedy. Just about everyone recognizes that. Some people today use all the suffering in the world as a reason to deny the existence of God. They say,

"How can there be a God with all the suffering in the world? If there was a God He wouldn't allow it."

Now they're wrong in their conclusion. God does exist. But the thing is He doesn't do things on their timetable nor does He deal with evil as they would like. They don't seem to realize that they're part of the problem.

But they are right about one thing—that all the evil in the world is bad. It needs to be dealt with. It needs to be put right. The martyrs are asking for that.

Their request is very specific. They're asking how long until God judges the inhabitants of the earth and avenge their blood.

So it's not just a request that evil be put away—it's a request that those who do evil be put away.

This is significant. You all know the saying,

"Hate the sin and love the sinner."

That's good advice for Christians in this day and age. We are not to hate those who persecute us. We are to show love for everyone.

But that's only part of the story.
Can God put away evil without putting away sinners who refuse to repent? Is there a great separation between sin and the people who commit the sin? Deuteronomy 18:12 reads,

"Anyone who does these things
is detestable to the LORD,
and because of these
detestable practices the LORD your God
will drive out those nations before you."

Sin makes people detestable. Sin is not just an outward quality like something we wear. It's an inward quality. Not only is sin detestable to God, but sinners are detestable to Him. That's why He drove the Canaanites from the land before Israel. They were detestable to Him.

The saints under the throne realize that sin is not something that is separate from those that commit it. They know that it's not just an external force but that it's part and parcel with the creatures that commit it. As Jesus said in Matthew 15:18–19

"the things that come out of the mouth
come from the heart,
and these make a man 'unclean.'
For out of the heart come evil thoughts,
murder, adultery, sexual immorality,
theft, false testimony, slander."

Or as He said in Luke 6:43–44,

"No good tree bears bad fruit,
nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.
Each tree is recognized by its own fruit."

They martyrs in heaven know that sin and sinners are both an offense to God. Sin consists of rebellion against God's being, against His goodness, holiness and righteousness. The martyrs are offended that those who rebel against God and do evil are allowed to continue.

Not only that, but the martyrs seem to have insight that we don't have.

Their prayer is against certain people. The martyrs may know who are reprobate—those who will never repent. Their prayer is against them.

We know that Jesus spoke of an unforgiveable sin—the sin against the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 12:32) We know that the apostle John spoke of a sin that is 'unto death'. (1 John 5:16) John wrote,

"There is a sin that leads to death.
I am not saying that he should pray about that."

The martyrs under the throne may have been given insight into this. The term, 'the inhabitants of the earth' points it this. Robert H. Mounce writes, (Revelation, NICNT, p. 148-149)

"'The inhabitants of 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)."

G. K. Beale adds, (Revelation, NIGT, p. 392)

"We may speculate that they [the martyrs under the altar] are able to pray curses onto people because they now have God's knowledge of who is ultimately rebellious and reprobate."

The prayer here is a prayer against the reprobate, against those who have persisted in fighting against the Holy Spirit to such a degree that they have committed the unforgiveable sin. The time for their redemption is past and there is, as Hebrews 10:26–27 says of the fate of those who kept on sinning after they have received the knowledge of the truth,

"no sacrifice for sins is left,
but only a fearful expectation
of judgment and of raging fire
that will consume the enemies of God."

The martyrs seem to know who falls into that category.

Now what does this mean for us in practical terms?

First of all,

this text shows us how close the honor of Christ, the honor of the gospel should be to our hearts.

The evil on the earth ought to grieve us to the heart. To think that all things were created for the glory of Jesus and to see how so many hate Him and are doing everything they can to thwart His rule. They despise Him, His Word, His people.

What are you living for? What is your treasure? Are you living for your comfort, your pleasure, your work, your family, your reputation? Are you content when you get those things?

You should not be. If you get those things they are to be helps to enable you to be more zealous about the establishment of Christ's kingdom. You are to seek His kingdom first. The fact that Jesus is despised in our society ought to grieve you to the core of your being.

And sin, oh, how you ought to abhor it!

You should have a moral repugnance against all sin, especially your own. Sin dishonors Jesus. Yet people today delight in it. They call it good. They despise Jesus and His commands. They rush headlong into evil.

Jesus loved sinners, but how he abhorred sin, the sorrow it caused, and those who hardened themselves in it. We see this when Jesus came to Bethany after his friend Lazarus died we read in John 11:33 that He was outraged and deeply troubled. Mary and Martha were grieving over the death of their brother. We're not sure of everything that was going on there, but when Jesus, saw what sin did, the grief it caused, and also the hardness of heart and hatred of many against Him, He was morally outraged. Some translations say that Jesus 'groaned' or was 'deeply moved' but some commentators suggest that such translations are hardly adequate to express the anger that Jesus displayed against sin, evil, unbelief.

Christians, you should be longing for Jesus to put everything right. He has done so much for sinners. Yet they despise Him. Near the end of Revelation Jesus said,

"I am coming soon."

John replied, (Revelation 22:20)

"Amen. Come, Lord Jesus."

That should be our desire.

Lastly, for those who are not Christians this means that

you need to accept Jesus.

The message of the Gospel is that the vengeance we read about in the Bible does need not need to fall upon you. Jesus came to the earth to save sinners. If you trust in Him you will not perish but have everlasting life. Go to Him today.