About the souls under the altar in the vision in Revelation 6:9-12 we are told that they were each 'given a white robe'. Some understand the white robes to be white robes of victory, others understand the white robes as the perfect righteousness of Christ credited to all who believe in him. These two concepts of victory and acquittal are not contradictory. Both the victory of believers and the righteousness credited to them by faith are inseparably connected with the death of Jesus Christ.

We have already seen the white clothing of believers in Revelation 3:4,5 and 18. In verse 18 it is particularly stated as something that can only be obtained from Jesus Christ, and not something that we can procure for ourselves. We will find ‘white robes’ again in 7:9-14 where the countless multitude of the redeemed are 'wearing white robes' and 'have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb'. In 19:8 the Bride of Christ is given 'fine linen, bright and clean to wear'. This is 'the righteousness of the saints' [KJV] – that righteousness of God revealed by the Gospel and freely given to all who have faith in the Son [Romans 1:16,17; 3:21-24].

Every believer is already clothed with this 'white' robe of righteousness, this incredible gift of God. In some of the visions in Revelation it sounds like it is not given to believers until some time in the future. This is because it is both a present and a future reality. In the present it enables believers to live in peace with God knowing that they have been declared righteous (acquitted of all guilt) [Romans 5:1]. And as we look ahead beyond death, to the Judgment Day, we are assured by these Revelation visions that even then, when the books are opened, even then when all things are laid bare, we will not be exposed to the judgment, we will not be exposed to the penalty; we will be 'dressed in white' protected from the judgment by the blood of the Lamb, the Lord of glory, who is himself 'our righteousness' [1Corinthians 1:30; Jeremiah 23:6].

These souls under the altar asked the Lord 'How long … until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?' In Revelation the term 'the inhabitants of the earth' is a reference to unbelievers in contrast to believers, not a term meaning 'all human beings'. Revelation depicts 'the inhabitants of the earth' as those who have opposed both Christ and his people: they are the targets of the 'woes' brought on by the last three trumpets [8:13]; they gloat over the deaths of God's witnesses [11:10]; their names are not in the Lamb's book of life [13:8; 17:8]; they are those who worship the beast [13:8,12], are deceived by the false prophet [13:14], and are intoxicated and seduced by the 'great harlot' [17:2].

The martyrs are not rebuked for their cry. Their cry is valid. Its validity is embedded in the eternal justice of God. There is a day of final judgment. But it is not just yet. The end of evil will not come until all who will be saved have been saved, nor will it come until the prevalence of evil has reached the limit determined by God. When evil maxes out, when evil reaches saturation point, then God will say ‘enough is enough’, then the end will come, then will the judgment fall.

It happened in macro in the days of Noah, when ‘every inclination of their hearts was only evil all the time’ [Genesis 6:5].

It happened in micro with Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 18:20,21; 19:13].

The Israelite occupation of Canaan was delayed until the iniquity of the Canaanites reached its full expression [Genesis 15:16; Deuteronomy 9:4,5].

It happened to the nation of Israel when evil and corruption pervaded it [Isaiah 1:5,6].

God has set a limit to evil, and when that limit is reached, judgment falls. When God says ‘Enough! Enough! No more martyrs. No more persecution of my people!’ Then the final end will come. Then his justice will be seen.

As we move through Revelation we will find a direct connection between the prayers of the redeemed and the manifestation of God’s judgment, both preliminary judgments and the final judgment. The cries, the agonised prayers of the redeemed, contribute to the out-pouring of the wrath of the Lamb.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015