The Company of the Beheaded

Last night as I was applying the teachings of Rev 6:9-11 at our prayer meeting, I did not consider a third point of application that came to me in the middle of the night.

This passage in Revelation describes when Christ, the Lamb of God, opened the fifth seal. When He did so, the Apostle John was apparently ushered into the Holy of Holies, and he saw under the altar the souls of the martyrs for the word of God and the testimony of Christ:

Rev 6:9-11, “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. 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?’ 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.”

Consider that the same verb was used for their death as was used for the death of Jesus in Rev 5:6, 9, and 12. These “slain” Christians were gathered under the altar of God, there, close to the most precious things in the Temple—the golden pot of manna, Aaron’s rod, and tablets of the covenant. These three items were contained in the Ark of the Covenant (Heb 9:4).

But here under the altar were the souls of the slain, who, while affirming that God was holy and true, were waiting for their blood to be avenged. Even in the presence of God they were still mindful of their unjust treatment on earth, and they cried out “How long?” Their plea echoed the cry of the brokenhearted from the days of Cain and Abel even to the Songs of Asaph. This cry “How long” is sprinkled throughout the Book of Psalms, most notably found four times in Psa 13:1-2.

So God quieted these souls with the gift of white robes. He reminded them of the cleansing work of Christ on the cross, by which their sins that were once red as crimson were made white as snow:

Isa 1:18, “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.’”

My first application to those listening was that they should be sure that they are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. They need to be washed in and by His blood and clothed in the whited garments that only He can and does freely give.

But as for the “How long?” my second point of application related to holding in anger, frustration, or bitterness toward others for having been wronged. These emotions amount to exasperation with God for forbearing His judgment on wrongdoers. Even in the Holy of Holies, these souls, who affirmed that God was faithful and true, were still waiting for their blood to be avenged!

So also, we must remember that the “How long?” is not answered on earth. God comforted them with a white garment, and an admonition to refresh themselves and rest a little while longer. Even while the “How long?” was resonating in their souls, God reminded them to find rest in the “streams of living water” that give health both to the body and the soul. Yes, God gives His followers “green pastures” and “still waters” even in the midst of strife.

I ended with this last admonition.

Then in the middle of the night the question came to me, “Are you among the company of the beheaded?” It dawned on me that I had left out perhaps the strongest point of application from this text: living in such a way so as to be able to join the company of the slain under the altar.

Not living in an arbitrarily way, by purposefully putting oneself in harms way. For the Bible says, “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, But the simple pass on and are punished.” (Prov 22:3)

But being committed to the proclamation of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ unto death—if predestined to be the case: first of all, to be dead to self and sin; secondly, to be dead to the opinion of others; and thirdly, to be dead to their threats and persecution.

These are the company of the beheaded!

John wrote of this company in Revelation 12:

Rev 12:11, “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.”

Are you willing to be among the company of the beheaded?

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One thought on “The Company of the Beheaded

  1. Good exegesis of the passage in Revelation dealing with the waiting martyrs, and a wonderful application for us today. I’ve just been expounding upon our separation from the world as repeated in 2 Cor. 6:17. In Proverbs, the Lord was showing me how remaining busy with the things He’s given us (Jesus’ church) to accomplish, we won’t have time to meddle in the things the world argues over. (Prov 20:3b) And I find an application here in what you’ve brought out as well: in our waiting. Many of God’s promises to us are for today (such as being washed by the blood)! And with these we can find contentment and quietness for our souls while we occupy ourselves with work, until He returns. Blessings. P.S. I’ve often said that it “seems” it would be easier to die for Christ, than to live for Him in this evil age, dying to self daily.

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