From their secure position in the presence of God and protected by the blood of the Lamb, the martyred believers from all generations cry out to God.

They address him as 'Sovereign Lord, holy and true', grounding their plea in his sovereignty, his holiness and his faithfulness.

As Sovereign Lord he is the Judge of all the earth, who is committed to justice, and whose promises of salvation through the promised Messiah have historically included the concept of global justice. Historically, this just rule of God was anticipated with joy. [Read, for example, Genesis 18:25; Psalm 10:16-18; 67:4; 89:14; 96:10-13; 98:4-9; Isaiah 9:7; 11:3,4; Jeremiah 23:5].

God is also the holy one to whom all sin and evil is abhorrent, and from whose presence all that is sinful, all that is evil, is banned. Its presence on earth in the interim between Genesis 3 and its abolition at the return of Jesus Christ, is permitted only because of God’s deep grace by which he allows us time to repent, to return to him and to be renewed and restored.  His holiness requires the abolition of evil, and it will be abolished [Exodus 19:10-13; Leviticus 10:1-3; Habakkuk 1:13].

God is faithful. He keeps his promises. He fulfils his eternal plan. Neither the sin of man nor the opposition of Satan can prevent God bringing his eternal purpose to pass. His faithfulness requires the implementation of justice, and this will be accomplished [Psalm 13; Hebrews 10:23; 11:11; 1Peter 4:19; 2Peter 3:1-15].

The souls under the altar ask God 'How long …until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?' This cry of the redeemed issues from their knowledge that a day of global judgment is coming, and that, as part of that judgment, God will apply just retribution against all who have harmed his people.

God’s people are precious to him [Psalm 116:15; Zechariah 2:8]. From the very first murder of Abel right through to the last Christian believer who is martyred, God holds himself responsible for avenging their death. To kill or to harm one of God’s people, purchased for God by the death of his Son, is so gross an evil that even the earth cries out against it. [Read: Genesis 4:10; Deuteronomy 32:40-43; Job 16:18,19; Psalm 58; 74:10-11,20-23; 79; 94; Isaiah 26:21; 34:8; 35:4; 59:17-20; 61:2; 63:1-6; 66:5,6; Jeremiah 46:10; 50:28,29; 51:36; Micah 5:15; Nahum 1:2; Matthew 18:6; 23:35; Romans 12:19; 2Thessalonians 1:5-8; Hebrews 10:29-31.]

In the seeming triumph of evil, by its apparent victory over his people, the name and the honour of God are belittled. His apparent slackness, his apparent failure to mete out just retribution is viewed by the ungodly as powerlessness or lack of concern. The godly understand that this is but the extension of his mercy and his patience, but the godless view it with derision and with denial of his word, his love, his power, his existence. A repeated phrase in Ezekiel, anticipating the day of God’s vengeance is ‘Then they will know that I am the LORD.’

For those of us who have lived our lives as God’s people in peace, it is difficult to identify with this cry for God to hasten the day of his judgment, his retribution, his wrath. We are too concerned about those who will suffer on that day, too little concerned for the redeemed who are even now suffering intensely because of the name of the Lord, and too little concerned for the honour of God’s name, the coming of his kingdom and the implementation of his perfect will.

Yet this same day of vengeance of our God is included in our prayers every time we pray ‘hallowed by your name’, every time we pray ‘your kingdom come’ and every time we pray ‘your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven’.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015