When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 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?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters,were killed just as they had been. – Revelation 6:9-11 (NKJV)
The Book of Revelation isn’t a treatise that I am particularly fond of. I hate to say that about any part of the Bible, but that’s the truth of it. Reading about things like famine, destruction and death make me upset and fearful. Yet, like it or not, Revelation is an important book – not because of what it says, but because of why it is being said.
The judgments recorded in the book are the natural consequences of sin and rebellion. When we choose not to follow God’s path, then we end up separated from Him. That’s the bottom line. As one of my friends put it in class yesterday, it is as if God reverts to “Old Testament mode” in unleashing His wrath and heartbreak. Here and now, the Holy Spirit is present to comfort and guide. Then, humanity will be exposed to signs and wonders, just as they were before.
This holds my interest in light of the cry of the martyrs in chapter 6.
Stick with me.
In Hebrews 10, we read:
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time He waits for his enemies to be made His footstool. For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. – vs. 11-14 (NKJV)
Jesus sits because there is no more work to be done. The final sacrifice has been made. There is nothing any of us can do to earn Heaven. Yet, in Acts 7 the first martyr has this vision:
Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to Heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see Heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” – vs. 55-56 (NKJV)
Signs and wonders, sitting and standing. What does all of this mean?
Today we are closer to the end of all things than we were yesterday. I don’t pretend to know exactly how it’s all going to play out. I also don’t hold to popular views of things like the Rapture. (That is for an entirely separate post, but I encourage you to check out the wording of Matthew 24:22 in the context of Jesus’ teaching about the end). So, I’m not buying Hal Lindsey books and I threw out all of my copies of the “Left Behind” series a long time ago.
Still, I know that things are going to get tougher for Christians, especially if you believe, as I do, that Christians are going to be around during this judgment and final wake-up call. I’m not talking about evolutionary theory being taught in schools or the occasional snide remark, either. We here in America have absolutely no idea what it is to be persecuted for our faith. None at all.
I’m talking about really suffering because of what you believe. Being imprisoned, tortured, starved and even killed.
What is intriguing to me about this is the movement of Jesus. Hebrews pictures Him sitting in triumph, and rightly so. Why, then, is He shown standing for Stephen? I think it’s because our faithfulness and obedience matters a great deal to our Savior.
Was Jesus moved to protect Stephen, but stopped by the existence of a greater plan? Was Jesus cheering Stephen on? Was Jesus preparing to welcome this man into Heaven? The answer to all of these questions, is, in my opinion, “yes.”
Why does this matter? As I said before, we have no idea what it means to face torment for what we believe. We’ve got it really easy around here. When the day comes when that reality shifts, we can be comforted and strengthened in the knowledge that we are defended. Jesus doesn’t stand because there’s something else He needs to do. He stands up with His fists balled at His sides, ready to charge into battle for us. He’s cheering us on. He’s ready to bring us Home.
I find that comforting right now, even though I’m not about to die for what I believe. If my life this side of eternity stops before the end of the world as we know it, I’ll be fine. (Did you catch that?) I am still defended. Still being cheered on. Still going to receive a special welcome.
As I grapple with the message of Revelation, that is what gives me hope. Whatever I have to face, I do not have to face it alone. Nobody does. All we have to do is reach out to the Hand extended to us in faith. Maybe that’s the point. Behind all the gloom and doom is the final call of grace and hope.
Maybe Revelation boils down to this simplicity: God hates sin, but God loves us. He’ll use whatever means He can to get our attention. First it was the covenant people of Israel. Then it was the Resurrection. Someday it will be literally earthshaking events. And in all of this, we can choose Him or not choose Him.
Defended or alone.