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The Revelation of Jesus Christ: Chapter 29 - The Recompense of Martyrdom

By Horatius Bonar


      They called loudly to the Lord and said, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge the people who belong to this world for what they have done to us? When will you avenge our blood against these people?" Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of the servants of Jesus had been martyred.--Revelation 6:10-11.

      The chief symbols in this chapter are horses--expressing the external, visible human (or earthly) agencies employed in the scenes and events predicted. Here it is not angelic forces that are at work, but human. In like manner, it is not angels who open the seals, but he Lamb. Angels blow the trumpets, and pour out the vials; but everything relating to the seals belongs directly to the Lamb--the Lion of the tribe of Judah. This chapter, then, is peculiarly connected with Him; it begins with His opening of the seals, and it ends with His infliction of wrath. The Son of God has much to do with earth and its nations, even though seated at the Father's right hand. 'His eyes behold the nations--let not the rebellious exalt themselves' (Psalm 66:7). He is Judge and King of earth; the holder of the golden scepter, and the wielder of the iron rod.

      We speak of 'Providence' when we should speak of Christ. As He walks among the seven golden candlesticks, so does He go to and fro among the thrones of earth; for the kings of the earth are as responsible to Him for service in their appointed spheres as are the ministers of the churches. Because this is the day of the fourth Gentile empire, the dispensation of election and of the Church's pilgrim state, therefore some strangely conclude that the responsibility of kings and nations to serve the Son of God does not exist! As if, because Scripture foretells the persecution of the Church, therefore kings do not sin in persecuting her, but rather fulfill God's will! As if, because the church's state in this dispensation is that of being trodden down, therefore it is the duty and vocation of earthly rulers to tread her down! 'We will not have this man to reign over us' is the wild shout of earth's nations and kings; for they know that He claims supremacy, and that supremacy they hate. Christ's supremacy in the State is as true and real a thing as His supremacy in the Church. The full development of that supremacy over kingdoms man resents and resists; and many Christians seem to think it a carnal doctrine, unworthy of men who believe in the church's heavenly calling. Yet is the full development of that supremacy that is to make earth a holy, peaceful, glorious kingdom; and it is for that development that we pray, 'Your kingdom come.'

      This, no doubt, is the day of the Church's tribulation and persecution. Hence we find in our text reference to the martyrs--their death and testimony. But in their death they testify to Christ as Prince of the kings of the earth, the avenger of their blood upon those rulers that had slain them. Their 'souls'--even when separate from the body--are seen under the altar, as if all gathered there, as one by one they passed from the fire, or the sword, or the torture. The place of 'martyr gathering', is the altar of God. The place of ashes and of blood, is the place where they lay.

      I. The martyr cry. It is the widow's cry, 'Avenge me of my adversary.' It is the cry which we so often find in the Old Testament (especially the Psalms), and because of which some Christians have harshly concluded that the old saints were much more imperfect than we, and had a lower standard of morality and spirituality; forgetful that the Psalms objected to, are the words of the Son of God Himself; forgetful also of such a passage as that of our text, containing the feeling, not only of New Testament saints, but of the 'spirits of the just made perfect.' The arguments used by some in arguing against 'the revengefulness of the Old Testament saints,' are such as would, if true, condemn the verdict of the Judge, 'Depart, you cursed ones,' and make the doctrine of future punishments inconsistent with Christianity--a relic of patriarchal barbarism or Jewish bloodthirstiness.

      They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" This has been that long and bitter cry of the ages--not loud, indeed, but deep; the cry of the injured; the cry, not of mere personal feeling, but of righteousness trampled on, and all holy government subverted by the slaughter of the saints. It may seem 'narrow,' or worse than 'narrow'--it may be called 'bigotry,' or worse than bigotry--to sympathize with such sentiments; but there the words stand. Let modern sentimentalists tell us what they mean, or else boldly proclaim them false and cruel. The day is at hand when such sentimentalism shall be valued at what it is worth, and the great truths of a righteous law, and a righteous scepter, and a righteous Judge, and a righteous recompense, shall be acknowledged as at once the basis and the cornerstone of a happy universe.

      II. The martyr HONOR. 'White robes were given them.' Each of these martyrs, as they passed from the persecution of earth, entered the holy presence with the cry, 'How long?' and as the immediate answer to this, and the pledge of yet brighter things, white robes were given. White robes--the pledge of triumph and splendor--the pledge of eternal joy and song--the pledge of the festal and bridal day. What a contrast to the poverty of their clothing here, as they came out of prison--to the bloodstains and filth upon their earthly apparel! White robes! This is God's immediate response to the beloved and honored band. They cry, 'How long?' and He speaks to His angels, saying, 'Bring forth the best robe and put it on them.' Such is the martyr honor and blessedness even now!

      III. The martyr REST. They get immediate rest as well as honor. The apostle Paul says, 'And God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted.' (2 Thessalonians 1:7). The fullness of the rest, (Hebrews 4:9) is in reserve for the Lord's revelation from heaven; but rest, meanwhile, is theirs. Rest, how sweet after the torture and toil of earth! It may be that there is peculiar rest for the martyr band; and yet there is rest for all who are the Lord's, even though they may not have passed to it through the flames. 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth--Yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them' (Revelation 14:13). They sleep in Jesus; not the sleep of unconsciousness or death, but the sleep of blessedness--the 'sleep of the beloved'--the 'rest' of paradise--with Him who has 'rested' from His toils and sufferings, and who bids them come and share His rest.

      IV. The martyr HOPE. It is not expressly mentioned here. It is something which shall be given when the whole band is gathered--the whole martyr-band from the beginning. The seven epistles reveal that hope; and the three closing chapters of this book unfold it more fully. It is the hope of the first resurrection; of reigning with Christ; of entry into the celestial city; of the crown of life; of the inheritance of all things!

      Prospects like these sustain, and comfort, and purify. We are to look into the future, that we may realize the details of this hope, as God has made them known. We may not be called to martyrdom; but we are all called to labor and suffering, to self-denial and self-sacrifice. The bright future of the Church, both between death and resurrection and after resurrection, throughout the everlasting ages, is meant to impact upon us here. With such a future, can we be worldly, or pleasure loving, or self-pleasing? Shall we live here--unworthy of our hope, unworthy of our place hereafter in the kingdom? Shall we turn aside from the path which the Master trod? Or shall we shrink from the crown of thorns--even if there were to be no crown of glory? Shall not the love of Christ constrain us to serve, at whatever cost, Him who bought us with His blood, and who has bought for us such a glory as that which shall so soon be ours?

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See Also:
   Chapter 1 - The Book of the Last Days
   Chapter 2 - The Grace and Peace of the Three-One God
   Chapter 3 - The Chief Among Ten Thousand
   Chapter 4 - The Great Advent
   Chapter 5 - The Fullness of the God-Man
   Chapter 6 - The Voice from Patmos to the Churches
   Chapter 7 - The Seven Golden Lamps
   Chapter 8 - The Glory of the Son of Man
   Chapter 9 - Fear and its Remedy
   Chapter 10 - The Symbolic Sevens
   Chapter 11 - Watchman, What of the Night?
   Chapter 12 - Self-Denial Christianity
   Chapter 13 - First Love Left
   Chapter 14 - Paradise and the Tree of Life
   Chapter 15 - The Divine Food of Our Heavenly Life
   Chapter 16 - The Morning Star
   Chapter 17 - The Fullness of the Holy Spirit
   Chapter 18 - The Key of David
   Chapter 19 - The Church's Little Strength, and the Lord's Great Love
   Chapter 20 - The Philadelphian Conqueror
   Chapter 21 - The Charity of the Lord Jesus
   Chapter 22 - The Heavenly Merchant and His Goods
   Chapter 23 - The Love and the Discipline
   Chapter 24 - Christ's Loving Earnestness
   Chapter 25 - The Victory and the Crown
   Chapter 26 - Glory to the Glorious One
   Chapter 27 - The Weakness and the Power of Christ
   Chapter 28 - How Long?
   Chapter 29 - The Recompense of Martyrdom
   Chapter 30 - Pent-Up Judgment
   Chapter 31 - The Great Multitude
   Chapter 32 - The Earthly and the Heavenly
   Chapter 33 - The All-Fragrant Incense
   Chapter 34 - The Cross of the Lord Jesus
   Chapter 35 - Strangership and Pilgrimage
   Chapter 36 - The Heavenly Song of Victory
   Chapter 37 - The Blood of the Covenant
   Chapter 38 - The Church Dwelling Alone
   Chapter 39 - The Model of a Holy Life
   Chapter 40 - The Everlasting Gospel
   Chapter 41 - The Swift and Sudden Advent
   Chapter 42 - The One Witness and the One Testimony
   Chapter 43 - The Great Prophetic Theme
   Chapter 44 - Messiah's Many Crowns
   Chapter 45 - The First Resurrection
   Chapter 46 - The Great White Throne
   Chapter 47 - Death and the Grave
   Chapter 48 - The Vision of the Restitution of all Things
   Chapter 49 - God's Tabernacle on Earth
   Chapter 50 - The Coming of the Perfect, and the Departure of the Imperfect
   Chapter 51 - The New Things of God
   Chapter 52 - The Conqueror's Reward and the Coward's Doom
   Chapter 53 - The Glorious Bride
   Chapter 54 - The Holy City
   Chapter 55 - The Light of the New Jerusalem
   Chapter 56 - The Life River
   Chapter 57 - The Tree with its Twelve Harvests
   Chapter 58 - The Serving and the Reigning
   Chapter 59 - The Curse Cancelled, and the Kingdom Begun
   Chapter 60 - The Vision of God
   Chapter 61 - Entrance Into the City
   Chapter 62 - Come, O Savior! Come, O Sinner!
   Chapter 63 - The Divine Word, and the Doom of its Defacers
   Chapter 64 - The Free Love of Christ
   Chapter 65 - The Last Amen

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