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August 2, 2021 2:00 am
What year was 1545 King Henry VIII was on the throne in England and John Knox resigned his position at Oxford University because he had come to religious beliefs that were contrary to those of the state church some years later, King Henry VIII's daughter Mary took the throne in 1553 and Fox views were so contrary that he and others who believe like he did threatened with persecution and death and martyrdom so he fled England. He and many others. John Fox began to meet others who had fled England and heard stories of terrible atrocities and persecution inflicted upon those who who believed and had witness to the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel and he came under conviction for the need to preserve the testimonies of these in the stories and to preserve their legacy in so in 1554 he published the first edition of his history of the acts and monuments of the church.
He gave himself to the work of preserving the memory of the saints who had died a martyr's death in England well church history moved on, letting Mary's reign came to an end and Elizabeth I rose to power in she established a return to peace Fox and others soon returned to England and he returned to England in pump published there in England. His book, Fox's book of martyrs.
He dedicated the rest of his life to this work and left this tremendous legacy again. His book is known as Fox's book of martyrs that work received an incredible reception and became incredibly popular and was widely distributed and almost in any church in England that you would go to, you would find change to the altar to thing the holy Bible.
Fox's book of martyrs again, which is the testimony of the blood saints who were martyred for their faith with the Bible also records the death of faithful believers in order to strengthen those who face either the reality or the prospect of persecution just like Fox's book of martyrs was the fuel and the motivation that propelled a an incredible missionary movement, God records the persecution in the death of saints in the Scriptures to likewise encourage us to persevere in the face. Hebrews chapter 11 we have the record of God's hall of faith referred to it as that and you come to the end of Hebrews chapter 11 and we find these words. Still others had trials of markings and scourging's yes and of chains and imprisonment.
They were stoned, they were sawn into were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goat skins being destitute, afflicted, tormented, then the section concludes with this Encouraging Word of home.
The world was not worthy martyrs like these are also remembered in our text for this evening. Revelation chapter 6.
Let me read beginning at Revelation chapter 6 and verse one through verse 11, and will pick up our study tonight in verse nine. John the regulator is writing he says now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a loud voice like thunder. Come and see. And I looked, and behold a white horse. He who sat on it had a ball and a crown was given to him and he went out conquering and to conquer. When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, come and see another horse firing red went out and it was granted to the one who set on it to take peace from the earth and that peace that end and that people should kill one another and there was given to him a great sword. When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say come and see. So I looked, and behold a black horse and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand and heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying quart of wheat for a denarius, and 3 quarts of barley for a denarius and do not harm the oil and the wine. When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, come and see. So I looked, and behold a pale horse and the name of him who sat on it was death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over 1/4 of the earth kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth. When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain, the word of God and for the testimony which they held and they cried with a loud voice saying how long, O Lord, holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth, then a white robe was given to each of them and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren would be killed as they were, was completed. Again, martyrs are drawn are our attention is drawn to martyrs here in Revelation chapter 6 and verse nine with the opening of the fifth seal our attention is drawn away from Earth. Your member the first four seals were broken in our tension was taken from heaven to earth in this to see the. The decrees that unfolded upon the earth. Now as we come to the fifth seal our tension now is drawn away back to heaven and here we see the souls of believers who died the martyrs death during the church age. In this emphasis on martyrdom shouldn't surprise us. The book of the Revelation written to prepare its readers for persecution in his letter.
Jesus's letter to the church at Smyrna. He said to them, to be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. Revelation chapter 2 and verse 10 Matthew chapter 24 in the upper room discourse that many things that are recorded there. Jesus is discourse are mirrored and reflected herein. Revelation Matthew chapter 24 verse nine, Jesus said they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death and you will be hated by all nations for my namesake. So with the opening of this fifth seal John sees the souls of those under the altar, who had been slain now is we consider church history, and particularly the church history recorded in book of acts. The first New Testament martyr first record of a martyr is Stephen Deacon asked after the verse one Stephen was martyred for his testimony of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the result of that persecution began and spread wide and far and the church was dispersed in God use that dispersion to spread the gospel, not only from Jerusalem, but to Samaria and Judea into again.
The uttermost parts of the earth. John's brother John the regulator here in book of Revelation. John's brother James was also martyred.
Death is recorded in acts chapter 12 wanted to church history and I think it's so reliably attested to shows that all of the apostles died a violent death except for John again, who is here on the island of Patton. They died a violent death for the sake of their testimony of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in their determination to promote the gospel of Christ you know is no.
The context in which we been studying here the book of the Revelation Nero and his hatred and hostility and atrocities in the persecution and the death he brought brought upon followers of Christ. The mission Coliseum in Rome. The sport of Christian believers being fed to the lions.
The arenas and how encouraging John's words here in chapter 6 and verse nine through 11 had to be for his readers. For them to know that those that they knew their contemporaries, those who had died in the faith.
Those who'd been martyred are not dead they're not gone here they are in heaven and they are alive. John sees the souls again. Of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they had held so what we have here before us.
Tonight is a consideration of the martyrs. Let's begin by speaking number one to the cause of their martyrdom. The cause of their martyrdom verse nine 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 testimony which they held again. They were slain for two reasons recorded here for the word of God. It says, and for the testimony which they held. They had died because they were unwilling to denounce their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and they were unwilling to bend on their commitment to the authority of the word of God. Their allegiance was to King Jesus and to the eternal Word of God.
They were witnesses of Jesus and they died for the very same reason that John is exiled on the island of Patmos. Remember what he said in the introduction of his letter. Chapter 1 verse nine I John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for these two reasons for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. So John was exiled for the very same reason that these saints were martyred, which brings to mind the fact that the basic meaning of the Greek word martyr is witness and I think that it would be wise of us to not confine what's being said here only to those who gave their life for were martyred for their faith, but for all who suffer persecution for all who stand for the Lord Jesus Christ in the face of opposition. This is the calling of the Christian life.
Jordan George Shelton Ladd supports this idea when he says every disciple of Jesus is in essence a martyr, every disciple of Jesus is in essence a martyr. What does he mean by that.
Well because of our identity with Jesus because of our faith in Jesus. We may not died a martyr's death, but were willing to so identify with him that we lose our life order to find. I think that's what he means.
I think is a wonderful definition of what a Christian is later on Revelation let me read this to you.
Revelation chapter 12 in verse one says and they and they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death being willing to so identify with Jesus that we would be willing to give our lives rather than forsake our Savior so point number one, the cause of their martyrdom and again, what is it because of their martyrdom, their commitment to the word of God and for the testimony which they held number to consider with me the location of the martyrs, the location of the martyrs.
John again and this vision he opens this fifth seal and he says I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain me say just the word here. I don't want to lose my train of thought will get back to the location of the martyrs, but when John says I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain saints who are in heaven don't have a body. So what did John see said I saw the souls can can we see the soul of a person will know in this life.
The soul is united with the body and at death. They are separated in the body remains in the soul goes to be with the Lord in heaven if were a believer so my point here is just to speak a word of caution for those who will say that we must interpret everything we see here in the book of the Revelation literally did John literally see the souls of those who'd been slain that he literally see souls know.
I don't believe he saw souls but it's again a vision that he had John is physically still on the island of Patmos.
He's been carried in the spirit to heaven and he's giving he's getting been given these visions that he is recording for the churches benefit back to the location of the martyrs. It says they were under the altar under the altar question is this a reference to the altar of incense, or is this a reference to the altar of burnt offerings, commentators are divided on that question, an argument I think can be made for either but I have thought through this in this fashion. Number one, there is no altar of sacrifice in heaven. Why, because when Christ offered himself on the altar of Calvary. He offered himself once for all, never to be repeated at sacrifice made obsolete the sacrificial system the temple or the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom. God was making the statement access to God has now been afforded all who put faith in the Lord Jesus Christ no longer the need for sacrifices to be made so there's no altar of sacrifice in heaven little bit later in chapter 8 we are told, listen in verse three it says that then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.
I think there is the explanation of the altar.
It is the altar, the golden altar before the throne where prayers are offered another I think reason to believe that is the very next verse tells us what the martyrs are doing. What are they engaged in their engaged in offering prayer. They cried with a loud voice their partitioning God with their prayers, so I believe that this is a reference the there under the altar the altar of incense and if you are of a different opinion. You have you are in fairly good company.
There are number of commentators that will argue that direction. There are some textual reasons to support that. But for the reasons I just gave you. I think that is a reference to the. The altar of incense. So were thinking of the martyrs we are first considered the cause of their martyrdom number two. The location of the martyrs number three let's look at the cry of the martyrs verse 10 it says and they cried with a loud voice saying how long, O Lord, holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth.
The martyrs cries addressed to him who is Lord. Notice again. They cried with a loud voice saying how long, O Lord, holy and true, O Lord, holy and true, that word or name Lord mean sovereign or in the Greek desperate thoughts or master they addressed him as the sovereign, but not only that, the one who is holy and true net description for the descriptive phrase appears only two places in the New Testament here in this context, and in Revelation chapter 3 and verse seven Christ is speaking to the church at Philadelphia and he says that he is the one who is holy and true holy that is entirely without sin there praying to him who is sovereign holy and true, so what's in their mind is there, praying that back to the Lord that he's holy will that he's the one who is without sin and therefore will not tolerate injustice and will not ignore those infractions.
He's true. He's the one who is in himself absolute trustworthiness that his word must be fulfilled. He himself is said it is mine to avenge, I will repay, saith the Lord.
Deuteronomy 32 verse 35 and 36 and then again in Genesis where Abraham shall not, the judge of all the earth do right. Yes, he will and not just some of the time, but all of the time so again were thinking here about verses nine through 11 considered the cause of their martyrdom. The location of the martyrs, the cry of the martyrs. Let's consider number four. The concern of the martyrs.
What are they concerned about. They cried with a loud voice saying how long, O Lord, holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth. What is there concern well number one. There concern is for justice and vindication there praying that justice will prevail in the they will be avenged of the blood that was shed while they were on the earth and notice it says and they try with a loud voice. That word cried is indicative of perseverance of loud insistence pleading with the Lord.
I think it reminds us of the parable of the unjust steward. At least it did me the widow there in Luke chapter 18 remember the widow is rewarded for what her persistence and for her perseverance and Jesus says in response to her actions will not, God bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night will not, God, yes God will indeed vindicate his people. God will bring his enemies to justice guarantee. So the concern number one is a plea for justice and vindication but it's married to their concern for the honor and glory of God. They believe that God's honor God's reputation God's glory is at stake here.
If justice doesn't prevail if they're not vindicated, then wickedness and sin and unrighteousness go unchecked know they believe that God's honor and God's reputation and God's glory is upheld when wickedness and unrighteousness and evil are punished and overthrown. So that's the concern of the martyrs there in verse 10, which brings us to the condition of the of the martyrs in verse 11. The condition of the martyrs. Notice it says then a white robe was given to each of them and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.
The condition of the martyrs number one were told that they are given a white robe, a white robe now there is no special favor granted to those who die the martyrs death.
There is no merit in that they're not being rewarded for that. They're given a white robe not because they died for Christ are given a white robe.
Because Christ died for them white robes are symbolic of righteousness and in the case of sinners, we have no righteousness. And so we have white robes of righteousness. It is an imputed right and that's what is being referred to here there dressed in white robes white robes also speak of purity and holiness, but they also speak of victory, victory often the victor in combat in war would would ride through the streets dressed in white is a display symbolic of victory in battle and their given white robes listen to what one commentator said, quote on earth. They are helpless victims on the losing side hated and despised by their killers but also how different it looks in heaven. Their place is nearest the throne they wear the white robes of victory.
How long, O Lord, holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth.
Another request is not denied, but they are told to rest and exercise patience for a little while.
The request is not denied. In fact, not taking the time tonight to look at the six seal but we will look at the six seal and the breaking of the six seal is in is a direct answer to their plea here recorded in the fifth seal but again were talking here about the martyrs and their condition in heaven there dressed in white robes than a white robe was given each of them and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer. Now the word rest is is an adequate interpretation there of the Greek word, but it can also mean being be refreshed. Well, to rest were resting in Christ were resting in the finished work of Christ but be refreshed where whether in heaven free of persecution free of any concerns that they had upon the earth, so there to rest, which is a good thing it's a good thing for us to rest in Christ. I trust that you're doing that tonight that you are done working in trying trying to achieve air merit in favor with God. The only place that there's marriages in the Lord Jesus Christ and therefore we rest in him. We rest in his perfections.
We rest in his character do that on this Lord's day a day of rest, but it says that they should rest a little while longer question how long is a little while. How long is a little while well just taking those words at face value. We have a perspective that a little while is a short period of time. We've come to know in a biblical context that that is necessarily so a little while from God's vantage point, is a fleeting moment while I say that will because a day as a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day lives outside of time so little while as a fleeting moment little while and redemptive historical perspective for us may stretch out for, but to rest for a little while, however long that is because the termination of the little while comes when two things happen. Notice they should rest a little while longer, until until what both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were were completed, the termination of a little while comes when the number of the saints in heaven is complete all how many Z number. We don't know. But God knows the number of all the elect. Therefore God is long-suffering to us ward, he's not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. All the elect of God should come to repentance.
God is persevering God is patient. God is long-suffering to that in only God knows the total number of his elect, but he does know, and that number is a fixed number news again and says who would be killed as they were, was completed.
The closer we come to the end of time.
The fiercer Satan rages against God's people, because he knows that he only has a little time. He knows a little time is rapidly coming to a close, but when God's endurance is come to an end and the cup of his wrath is full, then the time of judgment. I want to conclude tonight with four lessons from the text for lessons. Lesson number one seems rather obvious to us.
I think that the souls of Christians who die go immediately to heaven. That's not just true of the martyrs, but it's true of all those who die in the Lord time to time you will hear people talk about soul sleep letters and on biblical idea because what we have set before us here are the souls of saints who have died to martyrs death they are in heaven, or souls are there and they have a conscious existence in heaven are not asleep there fully aware fact, it seems to indicate that there where some things are going on on the earth. We don't know to what extent, but they have a conscious existence in heaven. That should encourage us. Lesson number two. The injustice of the world will be overturned by the righteous judgment can count on that.
You see, we need this perspective, we need to be able to see in the heaven we need to see what John is allowing us to see the vision that he's giving the vision that is recorded in his care to encourage us because while these saints were on the earth. The verdict that this hostile world rendered was defeat they were killed they died in this world tried to impose on these believers. This defeat, but here they are in heaven, dressed in the victors wrote and the verdict that the world rendered about them has been overturned by God, they're not. They haven't been defeated. They have triumph. They have overcome.
They are on the Victor side so the injustice of the world will be overturned by the righteous judgment of God in his own time. Lesson number three.
The number saved by Christ is predetermined by God and all of that number are certain to come to Christ and to be saved now. Again, we don't know what what that number is, but it is a predetermined number is a number determined before the foundations of the world and therefore until all the elect are gathered in, there is cause for involvement in worldwide missions and that's why we are engaged as we are in the work of the gospel around the world. God has appointed the time for the gathering to be complete yet because were still here that gathering is not finished. There is yet work to do gospel work to do. Lesson number four. These verses show how important the testimony of the martyrs is how important their testimony is to redemptive history. Listen to what Philip used says quote a martyrdom whereby one of the Lord's faithful witness is silent in death looks like a defeat for God and a damaging setback for the church but it leads over and over to the progress of the gospel and to an increase in power and blessing for the Lord's end of quote here would he say this is the worst the world can do. This is the.
The strongest manifestation of their hostility were going to kill followers of Christ. Those who dare witness for him were gonna kill them were going to stamp out their influence and they been trying to do that thousands of years and it is proven a fools errand. Because Mr. Julian said the blood of the martyrs is indeed the seed of the church just like Fox's book of martyrs fueled a missionary movement.
The death of followers of Christ does not stamp does not cause defeat, but it fuels others to go and stand in the gap. So what should we do well, let's not run from persecution. Let's not run from tribulation. In fact, we can, let's not fear it because if it comes and when it comes God will give us grace to stand and be faithful unto him, and if necessary, even on the death, as he did these, because if the Lord wills for us causes us to suffer for the sake of the gospel. We know the result will be ultimate victory for us and it will what fuel others to persevere and it will result in victory for his church. So that's the lesson tonight considered this picture of the martyrs in heaven. And again, the word martyr comes from the Greek word that means to witness you do not have to die a martyr's death to play a decisive role in God's gospel work in our generation but you have to be a committed follower of Christ. You have to be a true genuine Christian you must be bold they must be unapologetic in this world you must be willing to take your stand or Jesus Christ.
Regardless of what the cost will be.
You must be known as a Christ follower not a closet Christian, but a silent Christian. The one who freely and publicly and willingly identifies himself in this in this hostile world is a Christian is a follower of Christ. Words are cheap. We we demonstrate that not only by our words but the way we live our life.
May God help us in this day as we consider these things and desire to honor him.
Shall we pray. Father, we thank you tonight for your word. We thank you for its instruction.
We thank you for those who have gone on before us and for those in particular that our minds have been drawn to with died the martyrs death who would not love their lives in this world but have been willing to give up their lives for the sake of Christ and his gospel Lord, stir us, grant us grace, grant us courage, grant us that kind of faith that stands in the face of fear and death in his uncompromising and unwavering Lord we can't consider this. Preach this. Think about this without being reminded of the exhortation that you give to us in the book of Hebrews to remember the prisoners remember those who are in chains as if we are with them. Remember those who are mistreated since we ourselves are in the same body.
So Lord, we bring our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are suffering for righteousness sake who are in fear. We pray you would grant them courage.
We pray that you would grant them protection if it would please you. We pray that they would not die in vain that there death if indeed it is a martyrs death that you will for them that it would have a sanctifying redemptive effect upon those who observe and are aware Lord, we thank you that your church is indeed advancing in this world in ways that the world would all call defeat and digression but we thank you that you are building your church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Now we pray that the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the everlasting covenant would make us complete in every good work to do his will, working in us. What is well pleasing in your sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen