Summary: The book of Revelation offers great insight for understanding martyrdom and persecution.
“Visiting Down Under”
If only we would read the book of Revelation as a message of comfort rather than a calendar of events, if only we would see Revelation as an opportunity for encouragement rather than a platform for debate, if only we would preach and teach it from a pastoral perspective rather than a prophetic slant we might just come to love not only the book but the precious Savior it presents. This is especially true for the passage we read just a moment ago where we make a brief visit down under. With comfort, encouragement, and pastoral perspective in mind, let’s take a closer look at John’s vision in Revelation 6:9-11.
It begins with showing THE REALITY OF PERSECUTION. “…I saw…the souls of those who had been slain...” John wrote Revelation while he was residing in exile on the island of Patmos – he had been banished there because he refused to stop preaching and teaching about Jesus. Such treatment of the followers of Jesus was not unusual – in fact, it was normal. Christianity was a capital offense, so MARTYRDOM WAS COMMON AMONG GOD’S PEOPLE. It had been that way for years. Listen to Hebrews 11:32-38 (NLT): “How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.”
Following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus persecution intensified. As proof positive, consider the lives – or I should say the deaths – of the disciples.
James the son of Zebedee was beheaded in Jerusalem, the first of the apostles to die, during the Easter season in about the year A.D. 44.
Matthew was slain with the sword in a city in Ethiopia.
Mark was dragged through the streets of Alexandria until he expired.
Luke was hanged on an olive tree in Greece.
James the Less was thrown from a pinnacle or wing of the temple.
Philip was hanged up against a pillar in Phrygia.
Bartholomew was flayed alive.
Andrew was scourged then tied to a cross where he preached to the people for two days before dying.
Jude was shot to death with arrows.