The Martyr’s Seal
April 1st, 1962 @ 8:15 AM
THE MARTYR SEAL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-1-62 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled The Martyr Seal. It is the fifth seal of the seven in the Revelation; and if you would like to follow the message you can easily do so by turning to the last book in the Bible, the Apocalypse, chapter 6, and reading verses 9, 10, and 11. Revelation chapter 6, the three verses, 9 through 11:
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:
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?
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 fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
That is the fifth seal out of the seven: the martyr seal.
In your program it is announced, in preaching on this seal, that the sermon is to be The Intermediate State. That is that period of time between our death, if the Lord tarries and we also die, between death and the resurrection; the intermediate state. I could not put it all in one sermon, could not even begin to. So I broke the sermon up into two parts: the first one this morning on the fifth seal, the martyr seal; then the next sermon will be on that intermediate state, where we go when we die—how we are, how it is after we die and before the great resurrection day of the Lord—but this fifth seal, the martyr seal.
The Book of the Apocalypse is a book of judgment, judgment from the beginning to the end, all of it is judgment. The throne is a throne of judgment. Revelation 4:5, “And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices,” that is, it is a throne of the visitation of the wrath of Almighty God. And these four cherubim who represent God in His administration and in His decrees in the earth, these four cherubim are administers of the judgment of Almighty God [Revelation 4:6-8].
At their bidding, “Erchou, come, proceed,” there appears on the stage of human history these four horsemen of the Apocalypse [Revelation 6:1-8]. And all four of those horsemen are representatives of judgment, of the visitation from God upon this earth. The first horseman is the Antichrist that the world accepts, the world acclaims, the world receives. You could almost say an unbelieving world deserves him [Revelation 6:2]. Then the second horseman is red like blood. It is the judgment of war; a holocaust of fire, and flame, and fury, and battle [Revelation 6:3-4]. Then the third horseman is black; a judgment of famine and of want, which always follows war [Revelation 6:5-6]. And the fourth horseman is pale. He has the ghastly greenish color of the corpse of death; the judgment of God upon an unbelieving world, upon an apostate church, upon the usurper of God’s creation, that old dragon, Satan, the devil [Revelation 6:7-8].
Now the seals are no less like the rest of it, and the seals compose all of the rest of the Apocalypse, all the way until the consummation. Those seven seals are seals of judgment; the visitation of God’s wrath upon an unbelieving and blaspheming world. The first seal which is the seal of the Antichrist [Revelation 6:2]; the second seal which is the seal of war [Revelation 6:3-4]; the third seal which was the seal of famine [Revelation 6:5-6]; the fourth seal which was the seal of pestilential death [Revelation 6:7-8]; the sixth seal, the seal of the judgment of God when the heavens are rolled back like a scroll and when the sinners of the earth call for the mountains and the rocks—cry for the mountains and the rocks to fall on them [Revelation 6:12-16], “For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” [Revelation 6:17]. That’s the sixth seal.
Now the seventh seal is the seven trumpet judgments of God [Revelation 8:1-2]; and the seventh trumpet is the seven bowls of the wrath of the last plagues of the Almighty [Revelation 16:1]. So it is a book of judgment from beginning to end; this final and ultimate visitation from God upon this earth. Now the fifth seal is no different. All of it is judgment all of the way through. And this fifth seal, the martyr seal, is no less the seal of the judgment of God [Revelation 6:9-11]. It is the seal of the judgment of God because these martyrs, these martyrs are slain because of their witness and their testimony to the meaning of these tragedies that are overtaking the earth [Revelation 6:9]. And their very cry is a cry for that vindication of the testimony and the witness of God: “For they cry, despotēs,” which is the only place in the Revelation that you will find that addressed to the Lord, despotēs, “O Sovereign Ruler.” We have taken the word and made it “despot” in English which is all right; “O Despot, O sovereign Ruler of this universe, holy and true, how long is it that Thou dost not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” [Revelation 6:10].
So the fifth seal also concerns itself with the judgment of the Almighty [Revelation 6:9-11]. Now, this fifth seal is a facet of that judgment which describes what happens to God’s people, what happens to the saints in that terrible visitation, but it’s done in a different way. In all of the other seals, you see the thing as it happens. The action is laid out there before you. You see the horsemen as they come, the judgment as it falls, the blowing of the trumpets and the pouring out of the vials of wrath. But in this one, which is the only one like it, in this one you don’t see the action itself. You just see the results of the action. You see the souls of those who have been martyred [Revelation 6:9]. But back of that martyrdom is the un-recounted, and the undescribed, and the un-depicted blood and death and persecution by which God’s people have been slain.
Now, who are these martyrs?
And I saw, when He opened the fifth seal, under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried unto the sovereign Ruler of the universe, How long, O God, dost Thou not avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
Who are these martyrs? They are not the martyrs of all of the ages because their murderers are still dwelling upon the earth. They’re still down here in the earth. “How long, O Lord, dost Thou not avenge us on them that are dwelling on the earth?” [Revelation 6:10]. So whoever these martyrs are, they are those who have been slain by men who are still down here in this earth.
Then another thing, these martyrs cry unto the Lord God for a vengeance and a visitation which they have described, and which they have prophesied, and which they have mentioned, and which they have depicted. This thing is going on now! [Revelation 6:10]. It isn’t something that has happened thousands of years ago when Abel was martyred [Genesis 4:8], or when the blood of Zechariah the prophet was poured out on the ground [Luke 11:51]. This thing is happening now, and this awful, ferocious, terrible, bloody persecution is going on now.
Then another thing; I would not think that they were the martyrs of all of the ages because in the fourth chapter when the scene was opened in heaven and the door through which John, who represents God’s children, was taken up into glory, John saw there the resurrected saints, the four and the twenty elders. They were the children of God raised from the dead—of the Old Testament, twelve; of the New Testament, twelve—and there they are before God, the four and twenty elders representing God’s sainted people throughout the ages [Revelation 4:1-4]. So it isn’t they because they’ve already been resurrected. They are in their resurrection bodies, and they are there before the throne [Revelation 4:1-4]. But these are in that intermediate state. They are in that period of time between our death and our resurrection. They have not been resurrected as yet. They are still disembodied spirits, souls that he sees under the altar [Revelation 6:9-10].
Well, who are then these martyrs whose souls, whose disembodied spirits John was given the ability to see there in heaven? [Revelation 6:9]. Well, this is who they are. They are those saints who have been martyred under those first four seals [Revelation 6:1-8]. It is a picture of what happens to God’s people, God’s faithful witnesses down here in the earth in that awful period of tribulation [Matthew 24:21]. Now these that he sees are those that are slain in the first part of it, in the first three and a half years of it, in the first part of the seven years of that awful visitation [Revelation 11:2-3]. The others are referred to when the Lord says to them, “You rest yet for a little season,” for just a little while, three and a half more years, “you rest yet for a little season, until your fellow servants and your brethren, that should be killed as you have been martyred, are fulfilled” [Revelation 6:11].
Now in Revelation chapter 20 and verse 4, you will see all of those martyrs. They all are there [Revelation 20:4]. But at the opening of the fifth seal, just those who were martyred under the first, in the first part of the tribulation, is seen [Revelation 6:9-10]. But in the twentieth chapter and the fourth verse, they all are seen up there with God, reigning in glory and preparing to enter that millennial year of the Lord, that thousand years of a millennium of the Lord [Revelation 20:4]. So these martyrs that John sees under the fifth seal [Revelation 6:9], these are those who have been slain in the first part of that terrible holocaust and visitation from above [Revelation 6:9-1].
Now you look at this, “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony they held” [Revelation 6:9]. Then there is an altar in heaven. Well, you have known that before, for the Book of the Hebrews very explicitly says, and the Book of the Exodus presented the same thing [Exodus 25:9; Hebrews 13:10]. Moses made a material copy of the tabernacle of the temple that he saw in heaven [Hebrews 8:5]. A pattern was given him from heaven of the material copy that Moses was to make down here in the earth. And Moses, said the Lord in admonishing him, and Moses was to make everything down here in this earth according to the pattern that he saw in heaven [Exodus 25:9, 40]. And the Book of the Hebrews—if we had time which we don’t, we would follow that interesting thing—the Book of the Hebrews says that Moses was faithful in that, and he made that tabernacle according to the pattern, according to the thing that he saw in heaven” [Hebrews 8:5].
Well, when I come to the Revelation then and look into heaven, I would expect to see it, and I do. In the eleventh chapter of the Revelation, for example, you have the scene of the temple, the tabernacle in heaven [Revelation 11:1, 19]. And of course it has those two altars; the altar of sacrifice, the altar of brass, and the altar of gold, the altar of the burnt incense, and they are there several times mentioned in heaven. The altar of brass is mentioned in 8:5, in 11:1, in 14:18, and in 16:7 [Revelation 8:5, 11:1, 14:18, 16:7], and the altar of gold is mentioned in Revelation 8:3 and in Revelation 9:13. Now this altar that he sees, “And when He had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar” [Revelation 6:9], that is the altar of sacrifice. And this word here, “I saw those that were slain for the Word of God,” that’s the Greek word sphazō, which is the Greek word for “slain like a sacrifice” [Revelation 6:9]. Now isn’t that an unusual thing?
These who are martyred are looked upon as sacrifices offered unto God. And that idea you will find all through the Bible, the idea of sacrifice unto God; that the pouring out of the life of the saints of God’s people is a sacrifice unto God. Now you look at it. You’ll find that idea for example in Romans 12:1, “I beseech thee therefore, brethren . . . that you offer your bodies a living sacrifice unto God, a reasonable, a spiritual service.” There you find that idea. You’ll find it again in the passage that I asked Brother Carter to lead us in reading this morning. “For I am now ready to be offered up, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” [2 Timothy 4:6-7]. And as he faced his martyrdom, he looked upon that martyrdom as a sacrifice unto God, “For I am now ready to be offered up, to be poured out as a libation unto God” [2 Timothy 4:6]. The idea that our lives are to be given in sacrifice, to be offered on the altar of God a sacrifice unto Him, that idea is all through the Bible. And you find it here in the Book of the Revelation in the fifth seal [Revelation 6:9].
Now there came to my heart, as I thought of that thing which is so true in the Word of God, I thought of that thing. You know, we are so persuaded that we have to live. And we are so persuaded that we have to be in all ways cared for, and pampered, and ministered unto when it is the absolute and certain truth of God we don’t have to live. All we must do is offer our lives a living sacrifice or a martyred sacrifice unto God. And whether it is living or whether it is martyred is in God’s hands. But whether to live or whether to die, the life is to be offered a sacrifice on the altar of God [Romans 12:1].
You know, I ran across that thing in something I read about a young fellow in England who gave his life to be a missionary to Africa, long time ago when the continent was first opened up by Livingstone. And he was not strong in his flesh, in his body. He was a weakling. And the doctor said to him, “If you go down into the jungles of Africa, you will not live, you will die. You ought not to go; you could not go, let somebody else go.” But the boy replied, “In the building of every great bridge there are stones hidden deep under the ground that nobody ever sees. But on those stones the foundation of the bridge is laid; and without them the bridge could not stand. And if God wills for me to be one of those stones, unknown, hidden, let it be in the elective purpose of God.”
And he went out to Africa and he died according to the word of the doctor who said that he would. That is the foundation of the kingdom of God. I don’t know that boy’s name, but God called him a sacrifice for the propagation of His gospel and the witness of His Word in the earth. And his part was to go. And whether he lived or whether he died, that part was in the elective purpose of God. That is the idea that lies back of Christian service, to offer ourselves unto the Lord on the altar of God [Revelation 6:9].
“I saw under the altar” [Revelation 6:9]; according to Leviticus, the blood of the sacrifice was poured out at the base of the altar [Leviticus 4:7]. And when he says, “I saw under the altar,” had he said, “I saw on the altar,” he would be looking at the offering of the life as it was done, the action itself. But when he says, “I saw the souls under the altar” [Revelation 6:9], he means that the thing is already over, the martyrdom is passed, the sacrifice has been made.
Well, what’s the idea of seeing those souls underneath the altar? [Revelation 6:9]. The idea is this. The altar, of course, is Christ. It represents our Lord. And when he sees the souls underneath the altar, they are at rest in Him. They are under His protecting care, like you say in the Psalms—oh, what is that verse? “Under His wings” [Psalm 91:4], I cannot recall it right now, but the idea in the Psalm—I’ll think of it after the service is over—we are under His sheltering care. We are under His wings. He covers us with the feathers of His wings like a mother hen gathers her brood to herself [Luke 13:34]. That’s the idea here; that under the protecting care of Christ, we rest, and we are watched over and protected from all harm and evil and judgment by the loving remembrance of our Lord.
Now to continue: why were they slain? “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held” [Revelation 6:9]. Why were they slain? First: wherever the Word of God is faithfully preached, there is always with it a concomitant. It cuts the consciences of men, and it brings reaction and violent opposition. And did you know, when we are at peace in Zion, you know why you’re at peace? It’s because you don’t challenge the hosts of Satan, and the world, and the devil. We have accommodated ourselves to it.
I could expatiate on that all day long, and I’m just like all the rest of us. I accept all of these things that debauch our children; that damn and ruin our homes and our families. I accept it. Why, I go up and down these streets and there’s every kind of vile, and filthy, and salacious thing in this town that you could imagine. But I don’t ever say anything about it. We don’t ever mention it. We are quiescent in our lives, and we have accommodated ourselves to these things. So we live at perfect peace, and some of the finest and most respected of the citizens in our town are those who live by the debauchery and by the damnation of the souls of our people. But we accept it. But these didn’t; they stood up and they witnessed to the truth of Almighty God! [Revelation 16:9]. And wherever that is done, you will find fierce reaction against it.
Another thing: these men were testifying of the judgments that were coming upon this earth. Don’t ever persuade yourself in your mind that things happen in the world just by accident. Whenever you live under the dark cloud of an ominous war, that’s a judgment of Almighty God; always has been, is always depicted such in the Book. And when we live in troubles, and in fear, and in distress, and in anxiety about what may come, those things come from God.
Now these martyrs witnessed to that [Revelation 6:9], and those awful and calamitous things that were happening, these men said, “This is the judgment of God.” Well, in order to still them, it was just the same thing that happened in the days of the early Roman Empire. They were hated and they were despised, and when anything bad happened—say they lost part in a battle or they lost a war—why, the cry was, “The Christians to the lions!” or if they had a great flood or a great earthquake, “The Christians to the lions!” Just the same thing here; they were hated and they were despised, and when these calamitous things came, why, they were charged with every evil thing that mind could imagine. And they were persecuted, and they gave their witness in blood and in fire [Revelation 6:9].
Now I want to show you one other thing about their testimony. When you turn over here to Revelation 1:9, you have the apostle John. He is on the isle of Patmos “for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Now when you turn to this, there’s a little difference there, but it is all important. Look at it. “These have been slain for the word of God,” just like John, but, “and for the testimony which they held” [Revelation 6:9]. Now there’s a difference there.
John was on the isle of Patmos “for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” [Revelation 1:9], that is for preaching the gospel of the Son of God. But, these are martyred “for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held” [Revelation 6:9]. That is, in this great tribulation those judgments that were falling, these martyrs said, “This is a judgment of Almighty God!”
And did you know, here again, you have a pattern of the entire word of the Lord through all of the millenniums; in a lesser degree than it is here, but always true in a modified form. The witness of the true minister of Christ and the prophet of the Lord is always that; that the judgment of God is going to fall upon this world and upon the house of iniquity and sin.
Now just in a second, may I show you that? Every one of them will be alike. When Samuel prophesies, when he first appears he’ll be prophesying the destruction of the house of Eli because of the sins of Hophni and Phinehas and because of the indolent indifference of that old man, the high priest Eli. That’s the appearance of Samuel [1 Samuel 3:10-18]. When Amos appears, he is prophesying the destruction of Samaria by Assyria because of the idolatry of the Samaritans [Amos 3:9-15]. When Isaiah prophesies, he prophesies the carrying away into Babylonia because of the sins of the people [Isaiah 39:6-7]. When Jonah walks through the streets of Nineveh, he’ll be prophesying the destruction of Nineveh and the wrath of God upon Nineveh [Jonah 3:4]. When Jesus speaks in His apocalyptic discourse, He will outline the judgment of God upon this earth [Matthew 23-24]. And when the apostle Paul writes, in those chapters in 2 Timothy out of which you read, as others, “In the last days, perilous times shall come” [2Timothy 3:1]. And when he speaks to the Ephesian elders in Acts , “It will be after my departure shall grievous wolves come in” [Acts 20:29].
Wherever there is a man of God who preaches the true message of God, he’ll always have that in his message; that the wrath and judgment of God is going to fall upon the evil and upon the sin of this world. Take, for example, John Bunyan; when he writes his Pilgrim’s Progress, he introduces the pilgrim, the Christian, as “a man whose face is turned away from his City of Destruction, and he is seeking a salvation that is to come, a deliverance from God.”
Whenever you have a man and he preaches sugar and spice and everything nice, Chanel No. 5 perfume, rose water, whenever you have a man preaching that, he’s no true man of God! For every true prophet of God that ever stood up to preach called the people to repentance because of the inevitable day of wrath and visitation and judgment of the Almighty [Romans 2:5]. And that’s what happened here [Revelation 6:9]. And if a man preaches the gospel today, that’s what he’ll be preaching. He’ll be calling people to their knees in repentance for their sins and asking God’s deliverance and forgiveness. That’s what it is.
Now I just sum up in a second these last things. “They cry to the Lord, How long? They cry, How long?” And God hears them. He bends down His ear to hear them, and He says to them first, “Wait a while, wait a while” [Revelation 6:10-11]. There is an elective purpose of God in these days. There are certain ones that are going to be offered, and He has got their names written down. There are certain ones that are going to be martyred, and their names are written down. “You wait until these things have come to the full” [Revelation 6:11].
All of these things that happen, happen according to the elective purpose of God; these developments that we see today, all of them. “And,” He says, “you just wait until these shall be fulfilled, and then that great consummation cometh” [Revelation 6:11]. Isn’t it unusual, and a startling, and an impressive thing that up there in heaven, in a disembodied state, in the intermediate period, those saints up there cry for the same thing God’s people have cried for through all of the millenniums? [Revelation 6:10-11]. “O Lord, when is this final day to come? When is Thy kingdom coming? When is Thy will to be done in this earth as it is in heaven? When is it, Lord, that the people of God are going to be vindicated? When is it, Lord, that Thy great power will cast out evil and sin and death? When is it, Lord, that these things are coming to pass? [Matthew 24:3].
Like John the Baptist in Matthew 11, “Lord, I can see,” he says, “the goodness of the ministry to the sick, and the healing of the blind. But Lord, when is the ax going to be laid at the root of the tree? Are we to look for another Messiah, another Christ, who is going to bring the judgment of Almighty God? When is this?” said John the Baptist, “I do not understand.” [Matthew 11:2-3].
Isn’t that an amazing thing? The cry and the prayer of all the saints of all ages is just the same kind of a cry that these disembodied spirits utter the Lord in heaven [Revelation 6:9-10]. “Lord, when is this going to be? How long is evil going to reign? How long is death going to destroy? How long, Lord, is it going to be until Jesus shall come and set up His righteous kingdom in the earth?” And the longing and the hope of God’s people through the ages have always been just that. “Lord, Lord, when does Jesus come? Why does He tarry? Why does He delay?” And then the prayer, “Thy kingdom come, and Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” [Matthew 6:10]. And we’re to wait. And we’re to tarry. And we’re to be patient for that day is coming which Paul calls “the blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” [Titus 2:13].
Now while we sing our song, on the first note of its first stanza, somebody you giving his heart to the Lord; somebody you putting his life in the church; while we sing this song, while we make this appeal, will you come now? On the first note of this first stanza, will you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.
a book of final, inevitable judgment
Action under the seven seals is action of judgment upon a faithless church,
unbelieving world, the usurper Satan
The throne John saw in heaven is a throne of judgment(Revelation 4:5)
four cherubim administer God’s decrees and judgment and are instruments of His
The first four seals bring the four horsemen which are themselves instruments
Sixth seal is judgment day of God
Seventh seal is the seven trumpet judgments, seven bowls of final wrath, the
seal is no different – it is a seal of judgment
Martyred souls cry out for that day of vengeance and visitation
seal different in that you do not see the action, but the result of what has
happened – martyrs who have already been slain
Who are these martyrs?
martyrs of all ages – their murderers are still living(Revelation 6:10)
The four and twenty elders represent saints of all ages(Revelation 4:4)
These are the martyrs who have lost their lives under the first four seals, the
first half of the Tribulation(Revelation 6:11)
a. The full company
seen in Revelation 20:4
II. The altar of
Moses given a pattern of things in heaven – a heavenly tabernacle(Hebrews 8:1-5, 9:23, Revelation 11:19)
Martyrs looked upon as sacrifices to God, offered up on the heavenly altar
Idea found throughout Scripture (Romans 12:1, 2
That’s the way God looksupon all His children who pour out their lives unto Him
a. Young man called
as missionary to Africa told he was too sick to go
Under the altar – the sacrifice already been made
In keeping with symbolism of the Word they are at rest under the protecting
care of Christ – the altar is always our Lord Christ
III. The cause of
They are slain because of the Word of God and the testimony they held (Revelation 1:9, 6:9)
As under the early, pagan Roman persecution, the believers were regarded as the
cause of the national disasters, calamities
The sainted prophets are saying that the things happening are God’s judgments
upon our blasphemy, worldliness, debauchery – men do not like to hear that
Wherever there is a true prophet of God his message will be that of repentance,
and unless you turn there will be judgment(1
Samuel 2, 2 Kings 20:17, Jonah 3:4, Acts 20:29-30, 2 Timothy 3:1-5)
IV. They cry unto
the Lord(Revelation 6:10)
Ho despotes, translated here “Lord” – means “sovereign ruler”
Ask how long – same thing John the Baptist asked (Matthew
The Lord listens to His children
Gives each one a white robe – an earnest of the coming resurrection
He tells them to rest until the rest who are to be killed are killed(Revelation 6:11)
consummation not brought until last martyr slain
b. All in His plan
We cannot understand the mystery of evil
The disembodied spirits – the intermediate state
Whether here in the flesh or disembodied in heaven we are taught to pray, “Thy
kingdom come, Thy will be done”