Revelation 6:9-17 Bible Study Questions and Answers: The Cry of the Martyrs
Why Does God Allow Saints to be Martyred?
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Revelation 6:9-17 Bible Study Questions and Answers
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 witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
What do verses 9-10 tell us about the 5th seal? What is going on, and what is John describing?
The fifth seal features the martyrdom of God’s witnesses, the faithful believers of the earth who are testifying to the Lordship of the Lamb. Our first glimpse is of those who have been slain throughout history. They have been given a resting place underneath the altar of God and are being sheltered by his presence. The souls of these faithful witnesses cry: “How long, Sovereign Lord… before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
While this might seem to some like an unchristian prayer (Jesus said to love our enemies, Matthew 5:44), it is anything but. The witnesses in heaven have given their lives for the sake of the Gospel and have indeed done all they can to testify to the worthiness of the Lamb. There is no more credible witness than one willing to die for the truth they claim. These witnesses have done so, and now that the people of the world have entirely rejected them and their message, their prayer turns to one of justice.
Who does this judgment (the 5th seal judgment) seem to affect?
The 5th seal judgment undoubtedly affects the church. After the world, now united under the antichrist (1st seal), has experienced war (2nd seal), famine (3rd seal), and mass death (4th seal), it is not surprising that their vengeance has turned toward Christ’s witnesses. The world is chaotic, and the church is blamed for this catastrophe.
How do verses 9-10 fit with the various eschatological teachings you’ve heard in the past? What do these verses teach us about the church’s participation in the Great Tribulation?
With the continued popularity of new (historically speaking) theologies like dispensational theology, the field of eschatology has become increasingly challenging to navigate. Sadly, no aspect of dispensational theology has become more mainstream than the one that is (arguably) most dangerous: the pre-tribulation rapture.
By some metrics, this unbiblical and historically unprecedented teaching has become the majority view in Western Evangelical Christianity, even though it is not clearly stated anywhere in Scripture. The opposite is true. In 1 and 2 Thessalonians, the apostle Paul clearly and definitively says that the church will be on the earth during the great tribulation, that the second coming of Jesus will not come until the antichrist is present on the planet (the first seal judgment), and that the “catching up” of the saints would happen at the second coming, not seven years before.
Anyone honest with Scripture (not reading with “theological lenses” whereby they go to Scripture looking to find a specific teaching as opposed to letting Scripture formulate the teaching based on what it plainly says) cannot say with any conviction that there will be two Second Comings of Jesus (one to rapture the church and one to return to earth). This is a manufactured idea that has been superimposed onto the Bible. Jesus will return once, gather his saints in the air, and return to earth with them for the day of judgment (1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11). Not only will the church be present on earth for the Great Tribulation, but our role in the events of that period in history is critical.
Do verses 10-11 explain why God has allowed his witnesses to be martyred? What is happening as a result of their sacrifice?
Verses 10-11 inform us of the reason why God has allowed the martyrdom of his saints: the people of the earth are “filling up” the cup of God’s wrath, determinedly sealing their fate for all of eternity.
In Genesis 15:16, we see an example of this very thing. When the Lord first told Abram that his offspring would one day inherit the promised land, he told him it would be some time before they would occupy it. The reason? Because the iniquity of those who currently occupied the land was not yet complete: “And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
In essence, what God was allowing during this time (and what he will allow during the 5th seal) is for the people of the earth to go their own way. Those who have decided to turn completely against God and oppose him are given sufficient time to seal their fate. Because the people of the world, who have determinedly chosen to reject God’s salvation, redemption, and Son, have turned their attention toward slaughtering his witnesses, they will inevitably bring God’s wrath to a boiling point.
What is going on in verses 12-14? What do you picture when you imagine what John is describing in these verses?
The earth is being shaken to the very core as natural disasters, like earthquakes and meteor showers, are breaking out everywhere. The sun is being turned dark, and the moon is hanging red. Meteor showers break out everywhere as celestial bodies fall out of the sky. Perhaps most terror-inducing, the sky appears to be “rolled up.”
Imagine sitting outside one day, it’s a lovely afternoon, and you’re looking up at a bright blue sky with white clouds. Suddenly, it starts to roll back and disappear, and you’re left looking at nothing but a night sky. Wouldn’t that be frightening?
Who is God’s wrath coming for in verses 15-17? Again, to wrap up, what has transpired that has caused the 6th seal to be unleashed on the people of the earth?
God’s wrath is coming for the people of the earth, starting with the rich and powerful. Things appear to get so bad so quickly that they cry out for the mountains and rocks to fall on them and kill them. At this point, people are so terrified that they would rather die than face the wrath of God that’s coming upon them.
In Luke 21:26, during his teaching on the last days, Jesus told his disciples, “Men's hearts will fail them for fear and for looking upon those things which are coming on the earth; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.” That is precisely what we see happening in the 6th seal.
We must remember that the martyrdom of the saints brought all this about, the final, culminating events that bring the beginning of God’s wrath. Thus, we must take the 5th and 6th seals together, as one inevitably leads to the other.
While it is not always comforting to think about giving one’s life as a faithful witness for the Gospel, it should not be far removed from the heart and mind of every Christian. In 2023, nearly 6,000 Christians were martyred for their faith in Jesus. While it may not be commonplace for Western Protestant Christians currently, history teaches that Christian martyrdom is more often the rule than the exception to it.
This life is temporary; our home is with God for eternity. Our goal and mission in this life should be to make known the way of salvation to as many people as possible by whatever means possible. While many of the earth’s people will harden their hearts during the last days and persecute God’s witnesses even unto death, the Bible makes clear that one of the greatest revivals ever to occur will simultaneously take place. Thus, the tribulation martyrs will, by some metric, be some of the most blessed saints ever to live: their faithful witness will usher in a great revival, and they will be given the opportunity to take and pass the ultimate test by sealing their faith with their blood. Even though they are persecuted and martyred by the world, the Lord will vindicate them.
 In episode 175 of the That You May Know Him Podcast, Blake gives an example of a time in history when the church was blamed for a certain crisis which ultimately resulted in the martyrdom of many Christians. Do you remember what the example was?
 Dispensational theology, a now popular theological “system” for interpreting the Bible, was invented in the 1800s by John Nelson Darby.
 Prior to the teachings of Darby, no one in church history had ever heard of or believed in a pre-tribulation rapture.
 Read 1 Thessalonians 4-5; 2 Thessalonians 2.
 This sounds like a sudden yet prolonged solar eclipse. The sun is blackened, and the moon turns red, perhaps because God made the moon cover the sun. This might also explain what happens next when the sky is “rolled up like a scroll.”
 Keener, Craig S. The NIV Revelation Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000, 225.