The Apostle Paul said, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Our Lord said, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you (John 15:20). It seems from these verses and plenty more like them that the Christian life is one in which persecution should mark daily living. We do not fully appreciate what we have been given in the United States, and we must understand that both throughout history and even in our own day, our freedoms are the exception, indeed, even an anomaly. And although I do not believe that people should pray for persecution, it still seems to me that our great freedoms are as much curse to the Church as blessing as such boons tend to breed spiritual apathy and indolence.
With the opening of the fifth seal, the scene moves from earth to heaven where we are introduced to an altar under which are the souls of those who had been martyred “for the word of God and the witness they had borne.” We are reminded that the blood from sacrifices was thrown at the foot of the altar under the old covenant. Thus, the fact that these souls are under the altar symbolizes both their personal sacrifice and the protection they now enjoy with God. These are the ones who took up the cross to follow Jesus—even unto death (Matthew 16:24-26), which is every believer’s calling.
They cry 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?” Their testimony that God is holy and true speaks to our God’s fidelity that He shall indeed one day judge the earth. Some take offense at their cry for vengeance over their enemies. Commentators dance around this verse saying that the martyrs only express concern that God vindicate His reputation for righteousness. I do not deny this, but neither do I squirm at the notion that these martyrs do indeed cry for holy vengeance on those who denied them their lives. Did not Moses sing and the women dance over the bodies of the Egyptians lying dead on the beach! Does not David say, “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord” (Psalm 139:21), together with other psalms which express the same sentiment? Am I to judge their words? I am not smart enough to reconcile love of enemies with calls for holy vengeance in every instance, but I do know that such calls can be righteous and holy, and surely this one is. In the meantime, they are comforted and informed that God has not filled out the number of those who shall seal their testimony with blood, indicating again that He is indeed, “Sovereign Lord.”