The book of Revelation can be thrilling. Not because of the charts and timelines often concocted to parse out the unknowable date of Christ’s return. No, it’s marvelous because it is filled with the gospel of Jesus Christ. But let me tell you what else it has going for it besides the fact that it is the inspired word of God! The fifth seal of the book of Revelation helps us to understand the importance of God’s word in the life of a healthy congregation. Go ahead and take a minute to read it. It’s Revelation 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 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.
Now, I can probably guess what you’re thinking. You are saying to yourself, “How can this passage help us to understand the place of God’s word in a healthy congregation? After all, these martyrs are, well, dead! So, how can this passage tell us what you propose?”
Well, before these martyrs were martyrs they were living members of Christ’s church in the world. And notice, they were “slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.” So, while they were alive they were committed to God’s word. In fact, so committed were they that they were willing to give up their lives for the sake of it. But the text takes us beyond their life and even their martyrdom. The text takes us into their disembodied existence pictured under the altar. And more importantly, we overhear their prayer. John says, “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 earth?”
Now, we expect a prayer but not this prayer. This prayer seems to be asking for judgment and vengeance. However, what we have here is a courtroom setting. The martyrs are asking for their case to be heard and then vindicated. However, they are not asking for personal vindication. No, these martyrs are saying, “Christ promised that we would eat from the tree of life. He promised that in Him we would possess authority over nations. He promised that we would be pillars in the Temple of God. And what is more, he promised that united to Him we would sit on His throne. But instead we were cut down like dogs. And the worst of it is it appears that the word upon which we based our lives has failed! So, Lord, show your word to be true! Deliver your word, vindicate it and in so doing we will be vindicated!” That’s what these martyrs are saying.
Now, that’s well and good but how does this help us to see the importance of God’s word in the life of a healthy congregation? Well, when you have a congregation who, in life and even in death, sees their lives so bound up with God’s word that they long to see that word vindicated – proven true, then surely you have a congregation wherein the word of God is vitally important. And how can that congregation not be healthy?
Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R Publishing) and Managing Editor for Place for Truth.