Etching above from The Illustrated History of the World Published by Ward; Lock & Co; 1890
9 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.
I. Although the Four Horseman do not ride to punish Christians, they are “fair game” for persecution in times of upheaval.
In Revelation 6:1-8, the judgment of the ungodly nations is portrayed. The Four Horsemen are not riding against Christians! They are riding in punishment of nations that deliberately forget God. Psalm 9:17 (ESV) states — The wicked shall return to Sheol (hell), all the nations that forget God.
J. A. Alexander writes of this verse —
17. The wicked shall turn back even to hell…all nations forgetful, of God. The enemies of God and of his people shall be not only thwarted and repulsed, but driven to destruction; and that not merely individuals, but nations. (see Alexander below.)
Europe’s rebellious nations rejoiced when Nietzsche proclaimed, “Gott ist tot!” (“God is dead”). Nietzsche thought this could be a good thing for some people, saying: “… at hearing the news that ‘the old god is dead’, we philosophers and ‘free spirits’ feel illuminated by a new dawn.” “Nietzsche was an atheist for his adult life and didn’t mean that there was a God who had actually died, rather that our idea of one had.” (see Hendricks below.)
How has that worked out for them? Are not they dead while God Almighty still lives!
Christians, who still hold to the Scriptures, are caught in the middle between God and His judgment on unbelievers. Unbelievers cannot strike out directly at God, so any true believer nearby often becomes an object for them to lash out at.
Rarely do unrepentant sinful leaders of nations attribute their sufferings to God’s judgment against them. (See Isaiah 36-37 for an incident where invaders attack God’s people and Hezekiah, King of Judah, humbles himself and repents of sin against God.) Usually godless nations turn upon Christians rather than acknowledge God as Sovereign.
Modern rejection of God’s judgment.
One modern case is the rejection of God and attribution of climate change to people. (“Green Warriors” usually fly on jet planes to deliver their messages that the common people’s carbon footprint is too large and this is the chief cause of climate change.) I do not recommend wilful misuse of natural resources, but neither do I worship the earth and its ecology.) God brings judgment in the form of climactic calamities. Exodus 9:18 — “Behold, about this time tomorrow I will cause very heavy hail to fall, such as never has been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now.”
Compare this with Revelation 8:7 —
The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
I cannot predict the Second Coming of Christ based on climate change, and I am not trying to. I am saying God is in control and even if the climate is changing, He is still Creator and Sustainer of this world. (see Christian below for a Creationist perspective on climate change.)
Such judgment does not bring people to repentance, but issues in persecution of believers. Christians are often at the bottom of the social order. When times of unrest and scarcity occur, Christians are caught in the middle. Since the four seals apply during the last days between Christ’s First and Second Coming, we see judgment of God falling on nations and Christians persecuted by the ungodly for their faithful witness to God and His Word.
II. Martyrs are not necessarily murdered, but they bear faithful testimony to God and the veracity of His Word for this they are persecuted.
These witnesses are in the very presence of God and are “martyrs.” They carried their faithfulness to God to the point of death. The Jews spoke of the departed righteous as being under the altar.
Similar descriptions of the heavenly altar and throne are found within rabbinic texts —
The Holy One, Blessed be He, took the soul of Moses and stored it under the Throne of Glory … Not only the soul of Moses is stored under the Throne of Glory, but the souls of the righteous are also stored there … Rabbi Akiva used to say … “Whoever is buried under the altar is as though he were buried beneath the Throne of Glory.” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 12:4, 26:2). (see Altar of Souls below.)
“Slain” is literally “slaughtered” (sphazô), the same word that is used of the Lamb in Rev. 5. It is perfect tense here. It means “to put to death by violence” or “to deal a mortal wound to.” (see StudyLight below). Note the description of the Confessors at Council of Nicaea —
Some, as confessors, still bore in their body the marks of Christ from the times of persecution… . Patamon of Heraclea in Egypt, had lost one eye in the last persecution; Paphnutius had one eye bored out and his legs cut off during Maximin’s persecution. Another bishop, Paul of Neocaesarea, had had his hands burnt by the red-hot irons. (See Schaff, Chapter 9, pg. 626, below).
These men are martyrs even though they did not die immediately from their torture. Surely their lives were shortened by the persecution of ungodly, unrepentant people.
More on the fifth seal next post!
Alexander, J. A. (1850). Commentary on the Psalms. Riverside, CA: E4 Group. Kindle Edition.
Altar of Souls, The. (2011). Accessed 3 February 2020 from http://www.messianicjudaism.me/yinon/2011/07/28/the-altar-of-souls/
Christian, M. (2008). “Global Warming in Perspective”. accessed 8 February 2020 from https://answersingenesis.org/environmental-science/climate-change/global-warming-in-perspective/
Fitzgerald, R. (2015). “African Bishops Sick of West’s ‘Ideological Colonization’”. Accessed 8 February 2020 from https://www.churchmilitant.com/news/article/african-bishops-sick-of-wests-ideological-colonization
Hendricks, S. (2016).”‘God is dead’: What Nietzsche really meant.” Accessed 8 February 2020 from https://bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/what-nietzsche-really-meant-by-god-is-dead
Longman, T. (2014). Psalms: 15-16 (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries) InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
Schaff, P. (1910). History of the Christian Church. accessed 8 February 2020 from https://ccel.org/s/schaff/history/About.htm
StudyLight. (2020). Accessed 4 February 2020 from https://www.studylight.org/lexicons/greek/4969.html
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