David Jeremiah - The Martyrs
Welcome to the Hall of Prophecy. From this hall, we have a bird's-eye view to the world. More importantly, we see the world through the lens of scripture. In a recent study of more than 200 countries, it was reported that there are more than 2 billion Christians around the world, representing nearly 1/3 of the estimated global population of 6.9 billion. However, it is a sobering fact that at this moment, an estimated 100 million Christians are being persecuted worldwide for their faith in Jesus Christ. But persecution for one's faith is nothing new. The history of redemption through Jesus Christ has been written in the blood of her martyrs. You see, choosing to follow Christ can come at a heavy price. It certainly did for the first followers of Jesus.
The 12 disciples traveled far and wide as heralds of the message of the risen Christ. They suffered greatly for their faith and in most cases met violent deaths as a result of their bold witness for Christ. James the son of Zebedee's death is recorded in Acts, where it is told that Herod Agrippa killed him with a sword. The emperor Nero had Peter crucified upside down at Peter's request. Andrew preached the gospel in what was the Soviet Union and then throughout Turkey and Greece before he was crucified. Thomas sought to reach the area east of Syria and preached as far east as India before he was wounded by a spear and then burned to death. Philip took the message of salvation into North Africa and then Asia Minor before he was tortured and crucified by a Roman proconsul. Matthew ministered in Persia and Ethiopia before he was beheaded. James, the brother of Jesus, was cast down from off the temple walls in Jerusalem.
Nathanael, known as Bartholomew, was a missionary to Turkey and was martyred for his preaching in Armenia, being flayed and whipped to death. James, the son of Alphaeus, ministered in Syria before he was stoned and then clubbed to death. Simon the Zealot ministered in Persia and was killed after refusing to sacrifice to another god. And then there was John the Beloved, the only one of the disciples that, though persecuted and tortured for his faith, was not martyred but exiled to the Isle of Patmos. And as we have learned, it is while John was on the Isle of Patmos that he received the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which is the book of Revelation. When we take a close look into the pages of John's prophetic text, we see that even in the Earth's final days, men and women who come to know Christ during the Tribulation period will experience untold suffering and persecution. So who are these faithful, these Tribulation Christians, who will willing give their lives for faith in Jesus Christ? The martyrs, agents of the Apocalypse.
All of the apostles, with the exception of John, were martyred for their faith. Only the apostle John was allowed to live out his life, and he did so as an exile on the island of Patmos and wrote this book by revelation from God. The Bible says (Revelation 6:9): "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". Who are these martyrs? Who are these who are slain? Well, if you read the text carefully, you discover that John places them in the future after the church of Jesus Christ has already been raptured and the dead in Christ have been resurrected.
So these martyrs in Revelation 6 are not from this age, the church age. They are not from the age in which we are now living. And since the martyrs ask for judgment upon their oppressors, who are still on the Earth, their murderers are obviously still living during the Tribulation period. So these martyrs are faithful saints who are killed during the seven years of tribulation on this Earth. During the seven-year Tribulation period, many Jews will return to God, and those who trust in God at that time will be called upon to demonstrate their faith, often with their very lives. Revelation 12:11 says: "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". In other words, they would not hold on to their lives and give up their faith.
And Jesus spoke of this particular time of intense suffering in His Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 24, He said: "All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another". Now, why are they martyred? What is the cause of their martyrdom? "I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain", now watch this, "for the word of God and for the testimony which they held". These saints in the Tribulation period are going to be sacrificed on the altar of their devotion to God and their witness and adherence to the word of God.
We must remember that when the church is raptured, the restraint of the Holy Spirit will be removed from this Earth, and the rulers of that day will target the followers of Christ and vent their anger against them as they vent their anger against almighty God. The testimony that they held is likely a reference to the judgment that these believers will preach. As the events of the Tribulation intensify, they will not back away. They will warn that even more severe judgment is to come. As they have become Christians and have understood the word of God and understood the prophecies of the future, they will warn their fellow travelers on planet Earth that if you think this judgment is bad, you better get right with God because it's gonna get worse. They will preach repentance and reckoning, and they will be killed for their message. The cause of their martyrdom.
Notice the consequences of it. Once again: "I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God". At this point in John's account, he looks from Earth back to heaven, and the word the uses to describe the death of these saints is a word that is translated by the word "slain", but a better word would be the word "slaughtered". It's a sacrificial word, which speaks of the special nature of these Jewish witnesses. "To the world, they are slaughtered, but to God, they are offered as a sacrifice to Him. They gave their lives for the Lord, and the Lord looked upon them as His. They are His martyrs".
And then there's the cry of martyrdom in the next verse. 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'"? The Tribulation will be a time when the judgment of God will be meted out against those who took the lives of these martyrs. And so they're crying out, "Lord, how long before You're gonna do this? We're waiting, Lord, for You to wreak judgment on these people who violated You and us in the process". And the Lord says, "It's not time yet. We have to wait till all of the martyrdom is done. When it's all finished and everybody's been martyred who's gonna be martyred, We'll take care of business".
Now, notice at the end, the comfort of their martyrdom, and this is the cool part of this text. Verse 11 says that they're in heaven now, having given their lives for the Lord, having given up their lives instead of given up their faith. Revelation 6:11, "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".
If you'll notice this verse carefully and one other verse I want to add in a moment, there are five things that God does for these who give their lives for their faith. First of all, He provides a place of refuge for them. They are protected. They are in refuge. They are safe. No one can ever touch them again. The refuge, notice they're given a robe. God, in His gracious love and mercy, rewards each martyr with a white robe. Now, if you read this carefully, you have to ask yourself, "If these are souls under the altar, how in the world do they wear a robe"? You can't put a robe on a ghost, except in the movies. So obviously, they are given some sort of a temporary body while they are there. It's not the resurrection body. It's not the body they will have throughout eternity, but in this interim period, these martyred saints are given some sort of intermediate body, and the Bible says a robe is placed upon them.
And then it says they're given rest. When the martyrs ask how long it will be until their deaths are avenged, they are told to rest for a little while. Now, how many of you know that's a wonderful thing to think about, but most of us don't know anything about it? I'm not really good at resting, are you? But every once in a while, when you do and you experience the beauty and blessing of it, you think, "Why don't I do this more often"? Here's one of my favorite verses in the New Testament book of Revelation. Revelation 14:13, "Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them”".
Sometimes in the ministry, there are periods of great intensity. This has been one such period for me. And I was getting a vicarious blessing reading these verses this week that there is a time of rest. It's not now, maybe not in my lifetime, but in due time, we'll get to rest from our labors, and our works do follow us. So there's refuge under the altar, there's a robe they put on, there's the rest, and then there's retribution. Notice the scripture tells us that God is going to judge these who have mistreated His faithful servants.
Revelation 14 says: "So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs". This picture of judgment is one of the most graphic descriptions of God's wrath against the evil deeds of humanity in the Bible.
You know, I've had a new perspective on that this week and during these days that I've been studying this. Sometimes we think judgment is wrong, and how can a God who is a loving God ever judge anybody? And how does this fit the picture that we want to have of God? But I want to remind you, men and women, a God who will not judge evil cannot be a God. A God who does not see evil as that which needs to be punished cannot be holy and righteous. The God we have is both a loving God and a God of justice, and His judgment is as much a product of His love as His mercy and His grace. If you don't see that, you will always have a warped attitude about God. You will always see God as kind of like grandfather in the sky who pats everybody on the head and says, "Now, now, don't do that anymore". But that's not the God we serve. I could have no respect for such a God. My God loves me, but I also know I stand before Him. He's a holy and righteous God, and I stand in awe of who He is.
And then there's a reward. The martyred saints will be honored in heaven forever, but even before that, listen to this, before they're honored in heaven forever, they're gonna be honored on Earth. And I kind of pull this out of another text in the book of Revelation because it's so very pointed about this particular thing. Let me read to you from Revelation 20:4 and 5. "I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them". Now, watch this carefully. "Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshipped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands". Now, watch. "And they lived, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years".
So these who have given their lives for their faith during the Tribulation period, these martyred saints, the Bible says that during the 1.000-year reign of Christ on this Earth, they are gonna be reigning and living with Christ throughout the whole world and given a place of honor, maybe even on the thrones that are mentioned at the beginning of the verse. There's a reward for those who serve the Lord. It isn't just in ancient history that people die for their faith. It's not even just in the future in the Tribulation that people will die for their faith. Men and women, Christians around the world today are suffering for their faith. In fact, we have a tendency if we're not careful to put most martyrdom in a old, dusty book called Foxe's Book of Martyrs.
And we think it's up on the shelf to remind us that in the Dark Ages, in the days past, a lot of people gave their lives for what they believed. And so we, because we live in a rather safe environment here in America, we put martyrdom up on the shelf and the history, and we don't realize what is going on today. So I want to give you some sobering facts from the research that I've done on this subject. Studies from several organizations show that in our world today, a Christian is martyred every 4 to 5 minutes. More christians were martyred in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined. According to conservative estimates, between 7000-8000 christians are martyred for their faith each year.
Let me give you a little perspective on that. This auditorium seats 2.000 people. Fill this auditorium up four times with people, and that number of people are the number of people who are being killed every year because they say they are Christians. Do you know that in North Korea it is illegal to be a Christian? And some 50.000 Christians have been sent to labor camps because of their faith. In 2013, nearly 300 churches were destroyed and 612 christians killed in Nigeria. More than one million of the 1.5 million christians in Iraq have fled the country since the fall of Saddam Hussein due to increasing persecution.
Back in August of 2013, following the ousting of President Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood was responsible for burning 38 churches and damaging 23, in an upsurge in violence against Coptic Christians. I started out with about five pages of statistics, and I just boiled them down to four of five of the ones that seemed most meaningful to me. But, men and women, we live in a time when it is no longer popular to be a Christian. And you may think that that's not true, but if you just stop and think about the way it was maybe ten years ago and the way it is now, there is more tolerance for just about anyone in our culture today than there is for a person who says, "I am a born-again Christian".
I remember as a young man growing up that when you said you were a Christian, people may not have wanted to be one, but they respected you because you were one. That's no longer true. As we can see from history and from current events, persecution and martyrdom are the norm for Christians. And as Revelation 6 shows us, it is also the norm for the future. The dark lord of this fallen world cannot tolerate opposition to his program to take out everything that's good and everything that's godly, and so he stands against anyone who will so live.
These martyrs, past, present, and future, provide ample examples of courage that should inspire us to a deeper commitment to Christ and a determination to stand strong for Him no matter what the cost. Maybe you work in a place where you feel like you take some heat because of your faith. Maybe you've been getting some pushback from your neighbors. But when you see what our forefathers have done for us, you know, we stand on their shoulders. Do you not know that? We're here today in this place worshipping the Lord God without any armed guards around because some folks before us were willing to pay the price for their faith.
And, you know, many people, they want to be Christians but not so Christian. You know, they want to live their lives enough Christian to get some of the benefits but not so Christian that they get any criticism. So they straddle the fence with one foot over here and one foot over here, and they try to be... not-so-Christian. Those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Now, men and women, most of us, let's face it, in this room, we're not gonna be asked to give our lives for what we believe. We're not gonna be asked to die for our faith. But almighty God has asked us to live for our faith. In many respects, it's harder to live for your faith than it is to die for your faith. When you die for your faith, it's over. But you got to live for your faith every single day, don't you?
You got to get up every day and say, "Lord God, I love You. I want to live for You; I want to serve You today. Help me to bring Your influence wherever I go and not to do anything today that denies who You are or brings reproach upon Your name". And then day by day, you live like that with all your heart. The truth of the prophetic scripture casts its shadow before it. Why does God give us these stories? To help us see where this is all headed so that once we know where it's all headed, we can back up and say, "Okay, we're in the chute headed that way. Let's be strong. Let's be courageous. Let's be men and women of God who are not afraid to stand up for what we believe".
Let me give you the most encouraging illustration of that in all the Bible. You remember in the book of Daniel the three Hebrew children were told that they were to bow down before the king in his image and they refused to do it? And then they're brought before the tribunal, and they're gonna be thrown into the fiery furnace because of their unwillingness to bend to the desires of the wicked king. And they gave a little speech. It's my favorite speech in all the Bible. Here it is, Daniel 3:17-18, "If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up”". Take that.
And God, as you know, did deliver them. Well, you see, they were ready if God didn't deliver them to say, "We are not gonna give ground here to the enemy. We're gonna stand for what we believe". I still believe this Bible means what it says. I still believe that if it says it, it means it. We should read it and then do it. But those of us who believe like that are becoming... I don't have an Elijah complex, but we're becoming fewer and fewer. So I just want to encourage you to stand for what you believe, and I know that when you do that, you will encourage me to do that. We live in a very troubled and difficult day, and what the world is looking for are some people like those about whom we have spoken in the Tribulation and the three Hebrew children in the Old Testament, who, in face of the enemies' threats, stand in the power of God, on the word of God, and acknowledge their allegiance to God. May God help us all to be men and women who have steel in our souls to stand for the truth.