Revelation 17 shows us what evil looks like, and we actually get some interpretation from one of the angels about what this vision means. While this obviously is not an attractive image, there is one thing that stands out that ought to be particularly troubling for Christians.
Rev 17:6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.
When people become drunk, it seems that there are a few general reasons why they might do that. They might really enjoy the beverage. Some people really enjoy the taste of alcohol, and they consume it to excess. If the woman portrayed here has that kind of appetite for the blood of the followers of Christ, it is naturally troubling.
Some people become drunk because they are addicted. They simply have become hooked on the consumption of alcohol, and it has become a habit for them. Similarly then in this situation, if this woman is addicted to the blood of martyrs, it is similarly tragic.
Why do I point both of these things out when there are interesting prophecies that we can talk about in this chapter?
No matter which of my thoughts above is accurate, or if neither one is accurate, an easy conclusion to draw is that there is an adversary, and this adversary has consumed plenty of the blood of the followers of Jesus Christ. We need to be aware. Jesus promised that those who followed Him would be hated that for His sake. From the first martyr, Stephen, to the final martyr who has not yet been challenged for his or her faith, there is an enemy who wants nothing more than the destruction of the people of God.
The good news however is that even though the adversary certainly can end lives here on earth, itcannot take us out of the hand of God, and Christians know that one of the rewards of the Christian faith is that to be absent from the body is to be present with God. Even with that knowledge though, thinking about all of those who have sacrificed their lives for the cause of Christ is difficult, and it does challenge me to think about what I would do in some of these situations.
Now that we have established Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, as the only one who is capable of opening the seven seals, Revelation 6 shows us what happens when the first six are open. The four Horsemen of the Apocalypse rode out as the first four were opened, the martyrs cried for justice as the fifth was open and a giant earthquake that literally rearranged the earth accompanied the six. I want to focus on the fifth seal.
Rev 6:9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
Rev 6:10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
Rev 6:11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
This passage brings us to a somewhat sad conclusion. The martyrs who had been killed for believing in Jesus Christ ask for justice. However, it was said to them that justice would not be done until all those who were going to be killed were killed.
Martyrs are not a thing of the past. I think that in America it is so easy to take what we have for granted. I know there are legitimate concerns about religious freedom, and I don’t want to discount that, but in general terms, it is relatively easy to be a Christian in the United States.
No matter what your eschatology, I think that this passage is interpreted in essentially the same way. Christians are going to be persecuted until the end of time. The number has not yet been accomplished. This ought to encourage us all the more then to pray for the persecuted church. There certainly will be justice in the end, so we don’t need to worry about that. However, we can still pray for the strength of those who have to endure.