Reflections on Revelation #122

Day 122

“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been killed because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained” – REV 6:9. (NASB)

What is happening here? When an individual brought a sacrifice for their sins to the Old Testament sanctuary, the lamb was slain, and its blood poured out at the base of the altar of sacrifice. Therefore, John portrays the martyrs who have died for Christ as symbolically crying out from under the alter to have their lives avenged, just like Abell’s blood “cried out from the dust” in Genesis 4:10 after his murder. They are not actual people under the altar. The word ‘soul’ in the Bible denotes the whole person (Gen 2:7). The martyrdom of God’s faithful and persecuted people is portrayed here in terms of the sacrificial blood poured out at the base of the earthly sanctuary’s alter (Exodus29:12, Lev 4:7). God’s people have suffered injustice and death for their faithfulness to Jesus. They cry out to God asking Him to step in and vindicate them. This text (seal) concerns the injustice done here on earth; it is not saying anything about the state of the dead. After all, these people do not appear to be enjoying the bliss of heaven. 
The sacrificial language of this text suggests that the gospel will not be fully proclaimed to all nations (Matt 24:14) until Christians become radical enough to die for the sake of the unreached. In the past, many mission fields were pried open only in the wake of a multitude of Christian martyrs. Today’s “difficult fields,” like the strongholds of Islam and Hinduism may only be penetrated with similar sacrifice. 
In the late Nineteenth Century Hudson Taylor sought recruits to help in his mission to China. He claimed that he needed, “Men and women. . . such as will put Jesus, China, souls, first and foremost in everything and at every time even life itself must be secondary.” Such a commitment was bound to be tested over time. During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, responding to the insensitivity of many Westerners in China, 188 Protestant missionaries, and 30,000 Chinese Christians were slaughtered. Yet this slaughter led to three-fold church growth in the decade that followed. 
It was Tertullian who said, “The death of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” 

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