HOW LONG, O LORD? – REMEMBERING THE PERSECUTED CHURCH by Pastor Shah, Clearview, Henderson
(Click on each picture to link to a ministry dedicated to helping Christians facing persecution across the world.)
Most Christians in America live in a world that is detached from other Christians in other parts of the world. We fail to realize that we have brothers and sisters in other countries that are facing persecution and even death because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Everyday thousands are living in fear and anxiety while we are enjoying the blessings of freedom and security. God wants us to care about others, especially those of the household of faith.
Rev. 6:9-11 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 testimony which they held. 10 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?” 11 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.
Overall Background: In the passage we just read, John describes a very disturbing scene. Listen to verse 9 again – 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.
What exactly is going on here? Who are these people under the altar? Why were they slain? Keep in mind that John, the writer of Revelation, is being given an exclusive look into the future. He has been given the privilege of seeing what will happen in the end time. Along with the catastrophic events—famine, plagues, earthquakes, volcanoes, war, and death—he is also seeing how God’s people will be mistreated and persecuted in the future. These souls under the altar are the martyrs of the first half of the Great Tribulation.
Many of you have a confused look in your eyes so let me give you the CliffsNotes on the Book of Revelation—We are living in the Age of Grace. The next event on God’s prophetic calendar is the coming of Jesus Christ for His church. Once the church is removed from this world, two things will happen. First, there will be the Great Tribulation – where all hell will break loose and God will pour out His judgment on this world. Second, God will begin to work with the people of Israel, as prophesied in the Bible, and there will be a worldwide revival. Through this revival thousands of Gentile people will be saved. But these new believers will face terrible persecution, even death. Because of their faith in Jesus Christ, they will be killed. John sees these martyred Christians crying out from under the altar.
What does “under the altar” mean? This does not mean that these martyrs are peeping out from under the altar. In the Old Testament, when the priest would sacrifice an animal, the blood was poured at the base of the brazen altar as a sacrifice unto the Lord. In this passage, the “souls of the martyrs under the altar” means that the blood of these persecuted and martyred people has come up as a sacrifice unto the Lord. All of us will die and will be before God, but because these Christians were killed during a very difficult time, they will have a special place before God. Their sacrifice will be precious and acceptable to God.
What’s more? These martyred souls are crying out to the Lord. Listen to verse 10 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?” They are asking God to avenge their blood. Here’s another question – “Is it right for them to pray for vengeance?” Didn’t Jesus say – “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34) And, didn’t Stephen the martyr pray – “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” (Acts 7:60) Why are these martyrs crying for revenge? These martyrs are not crying out for personal revenge but for God’s justice upon those who have opposed the gospel. They are praying for God to stop those who are harassing Christians and stopping the spread of the gospel. Keep in mind – these are new Christians who haven’t matured in the faith.
What will be God’s response? 11 “Then a white robe was given to each of them.” Meaning: They will no longer be wearing blood stained clothes but clean white robes to symbolize that their troubles are over. They are declared faithful and godly in the sight of God. God is pleased with them. What else? – “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.” Meaning: God is not unaware of their suffering. Instead, He has already ordained how many more will die for their faith.
Is that it? Thank you for your service. Here are your discharge papers. Clean out your bunk. Of course not! Listen to Rev. 7:9-17 9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”….“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. 16 They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Meaning: In the life to come, these persecuted and martyred Christians will have a special place right by the throne of God and Jesus Himself will lead them.
So, what is the message for us who are living right now? The Book of Revelation is not just for the “Curious George” types; it’s not just a sneak peak of what will happen sometime in the future, when we will have the window seat in heaven. The Book of Revelation was written to give us a glimpse of the future in order to change our priorities in the present. What can we learn from the coming martyrs of the Great Tribulation?
#1.WE ARE TO BE AWARE OF THE PERSECUTED CHURCH.
– Throughout history millions upon millions of Christians have faced persecution and even death. But did you know that in the past 100 years as many as 35 million Christians have been killed? This was the worst century when it comes to hate against Christians.
– As many as 100 million Christians are persecuted every year. As many as 150,000 Christians are killed every year due to persecution.
– According to the World Watch List – North Korea ranks number 1 in persecution against Christians, then Saudi Arabia, and then Afghanistan. In recent months attacks against Christians in Syria, Egypt, and Pakistan have intensified.
– In Syria, over 2 million people (mostly Christians) have been forced to leave their homes and go to refugee camps.- In North Korea, there is the infamous labor camp called Yodok, where as many as 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are enslaved.Prisoners look like walking ghosts.
– In Egypt, the Christians are facing the worst attacks since the 14th century.
– In Iran, on October 6, 4 Christians were arrested in a house church and were sentenced to 80 lashes for taking the communion. They are charged with consuming alcohol.
– In Pakistan, on September 22, as Christians were leaving their Sunday services at All Saints Anglican Church in Peshawar Pakistan, two suicide bombs went off killing 85 Christians and injuring about 120.
– I grew up in India and even though we didn’t have any such terrible persecution, we faced some. Our electricity was cut for about a year.
God is aware of the persecuted church and He wants us to be aware of them as well.
#2. WE SHOULD DO WHATEVER WE CAN TO RESCUE THE PERSECUTED CHURCH.
Christians in America have the false idea that persecution purifies the church and grows the church. That’s not always the case. In fact, the Middle East was saturated with churches until the coming of Islam. But now, it is a small minority. Most Christians who die are not the Apostle Paul and Peter, they are just average people – mothers, sisters, children, and young people. They don’t die glorious deaths. They cry and get angry; they feel betrayed and lose hope; they wonder why Christians in the West, especially in America, are not coming to their aid.
We need to pray, lobby our politicians, raise awareness, and even send relief to our persecuted brothers and sisters.
#3.WHEN WE HELP THE PERSECUTED CHURCH, WE PLEASE GOD.
We the church are the hands and feet, the eyes and ears, the mouth and head of God. He works through us. He wants us to stepforward and help them in His name.
Matthew 25:31-43 31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me
food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked
and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ 41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
#4. WE NEED TO MAKE SURE THAT WE DON’T LOSE OUR HOME BASE.
Are we doing all we can do to lead all people in America into a life changing ever-growing relationship with Jesus Christ?