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. (Rev 6:9-11 NKJ)
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” And He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. (Gen 4:9-10 NKJ)
This would have been a powerful reminder to John’s readers as it brought back to memory those that had lost their life for the sake of the gospel. They were under the altar, the place of sacrifice and close to God, but were they the only ones there? What about those of other Abrahamic faiths that had given their life for their faith in God? When we read Genesis and the blood of Abel crying out from the ground, we need to realize that the shedding of all innocent blood and the taking of life is an offence to God and one demanding vengeance.
Fifty-two times in the Bible, somebody is asking the question, “how long?” In the Revelation text, I am not sure that God will avenge their blood because they have been martyred for their faith. I say that because being a witness (martas) and picking up one’s cross daily was and is an everyday reality and an expectation of the Christian faith. How long Lord? Perhaps it will come when the earth has had it’s fill of innocent blood. Those aborted in clinics, innocent bystanders killed on the streets by gangs, children killed in our schools because we fail to provide adequate mental health care, casualties of a war that they never asked for and those that lie dead on our sidewalks shot by those that should protect us. How long is a question I find myself asking the Lord more and more each day?