The martyrs' reward
Jan 29, 2016
In Revelation 6:10 the souls under the altar seem to complain that God was not avenging their murder soon enough. But this is a misperception. Their complaint was that God was not restoring the lawful order quickly enough. Among those martyrs, no doubt, was Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who, as he was dying, asked the Judge not to charge them with his murder. In this, he was following Jesus’ own example, who forgave them as He died on the cross.
Overcomers are forgivers, because they live by the principle of the Jubilee. It is not that they refuse to judge sin or to hold sinners accountable. There are many times when such judgment is necessary to bring repentance and spiritual growth to the sinner. This is why God holds us accountable—and, in fact, if we are not disciplined, we are not His children (Hebrews 12:5-8).
Nonetheless, divine judgment, when administered by the mind and heart of God, is designed to correct the heart, not to destroy the person. The overcomers have the heart of God and would never cry out to God to destroy forever those who mistreat them. Their prayer is to bring judgment in order to restore the lawful order and bring all things under the feet of Christ.
The Answer to Prayer
Revelation 6:11 shows God’s answer to their prayer:
11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, should be completed also.
God’s intent is to judge sinners as a group at the same time, that is, at the Great White Throne at the end of the age (John 5:28, 29; Revelation 20:12). Individualism, as developed in America, is the mindset of Western culture and history, even as Collectivism is the mindset of the East. Scripture teaches both, so to be balanced, we ought to be able to view the world on both levels. In the case of the martyred overcomers, each has had his/her own story to tell, and each sinner who condemned them to death will be judged individually; however, they will be judged collectively at the same time.
Likewise, the overcomers themselves will be rewarded at the same time as a group. So God tells the martyrs to be patient until the rest of their brethren should be killed. There are martyrs in every generation, and the body of Christ must be formed of the dust of the ground gradually from the beginning to the end of the age. Yet these martyrs are given a white robe even before the final rewards are dispensed. Partial rewards are like first fruits that promise a greater harvest in the time to come. So also the white robes are a promise of a greater reward yet to come.
Two Garments as Rewards
Some have been taught that when believers die, they receive their eternal reward immediately, entering into the full glory that is due them for their faithfulness. But Jesus says in Revelation 22:12,
12 Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.
No doubt this is what the martyrs were told in Revelation 6:10 as they were given white robes. The white robes, of course, represent “the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:8). They are depicted in types and shadows as the linen garments of the priests in the tabernacle and temple which they were to wear while ministering to God in the Sanctuary (Ezekiel 44:17, 18, 19). But when we study that passage, we see that the priests actually possessed two garments.
The priests were to minister to God in their linens, but they were not allowed to minister to the people while wearing linen. To minister to the people in the outer court they were to “put off their garments in which they have been ministering and lay them in the holy chambers,” and “put on other garments” (Ezekiel 44:19). These “other garments” cause sweat (Ezekiel 44:18). In other words, they are made of wool, not linen.
Garments of wool, then, depict mortal bodies—the result of the curse (Genesis 3:19). The martyrs had been disrobed of their woolen garments when they bodies were killed. In their appeal to the divine court, God then gave them white linen, or spiritual garments. This was a good reward, but it still did not give them access to the “outer court,” which would allow them to minister directly to the people on earth (who live in the “outer court” realm). The final reward (yet withheld) was resurrection, by which all overcomers will be given access to both sets of garments in order to fulfill the requirements of priesthood as seen in Ezekiel 44:17-19.
The two garments are explained by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5. There Paul tells us that we have two garments (or tents, tabernacles). One is being held for us in the heavens, which, when we receive, will clothe us with immortality. The present garment that we wear is the mortal body, in which “we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:2).
Of course, the final reward, given at the resurrection of the dead, will not be the same body that we have worn out during our sojourn on the earth during our life time. We are not like the skeptics in Paul’s day who objected, asking, “with what kind of body do they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35). Paul answers this in 1 Corinthians 15:42-45,
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.... 45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
The “natural” (pseukikos, “soulish”) perishes and is replaced by a “spiritual body.” This does not mean that the resurrected one has only one type of body at a time, first natural, and then spiritual. His comparison of the two Adams shows how we will be changed from soulish to spiritual.
Jesus was begotten by God. We were all born of natural parents, having “soulish” bodies. But when we are begotten a second time—this time by the Holy Spirit—that holy seed is a spiritual man having a spiritual body and wearing a spiritual garment. The goal is not to be divested of a physical body and live continuously in a spiritual body. The goal is to have both garments, so that, as priests of God, we may minister to God in heaven and to men on earth. Yet to do this requires the resurrection from the dead, because it is then that we are given direct access to both worlds.
Because the first resurrection is limited to the few (Revelation 20:5), there will still be much work for those overcomers to do as “priests of God and of Christ” (Revelation 20:6). The rest of humanity will need ministry, but it is unlawful to minister to these “outer court” people while dressed in linens, or heavenly garments (Ezekiel 44:19). At the same time, in order to minister to men properly and effectively, their other garments must be like that body in which Jesus Himself was raised. For this reason, even their physical bodies must be changed into something different from that which we are presently familiar. 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52 thus says,
51 Behold, I tell you a mystery [secret]; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed 52 in a moment [atomos, “atomic change”] in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
Therefore, when the martyrs are given white robes after appealing to the divine court for justice, it is plain that they were not receiving their entire reward, but only a partial reward. They could then minister to God in the heavenly Sanctuary, but not directly to the people on earth. There will yet be a greater reward given to them, after they have rested a while. Revelation 6:11 does not say anything further, but we know from the end of the book that they must await the resurrection of the dead and the full reward that Christ then brings with Him.
This is part 52 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones