Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they are before the throne of God and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
As news leaks from Afghanistan about the slaughter of Christians, my mind falls back to this scene of victory revealed in the book of Revelation. Here is Jesus’ “revelation” (apocalypse), of the way things really are. Jesus draws back heaven’s curtain to show “martyrs” (Greek = “witnesses”), arrayed in the victor’s white robe, waving palms (7:9) to celebrate their overwhelming victory. In these few lines, the unmistakable theme of Revelation is set forth: the eternal victory of God over all powers of sin and death!
As we members of the “Church Militant” on earth bewail the martyrs, the “Church Triumphant” in heaven rejoices over them. There the lowly Lamb of God is enthroned, slain but triumphant, ready to receive the martyrs’ endless praise: “Amen. Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever” (7:12). The Lamb reigns “at the center of the throne…and God will wipe every tear from their eyes” (7:17). The martyrs are “more than conquerors” through Christ who loves them (Romans 8:37).
The ancient hymn, “Te Deum” (“We Praise You, O God’), comes from an age of martyrs, and has been set to music through the centuries. The song sings of the whole company of heaven, the worldwide church, and “the white-robed army of martyrs” forever praising God.
As I think of the white-robed army of martyrs, I remember the words of Tertullian from the second century: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” (Tertullian, Apologetics, Ch. 50). That sentence helps me today with difficult questions I have about our slaughtered Afghani brothers and sisters. God strengthened them and stood with them to embrace the glory of the cross, believing Jesus’ promise of eternal blessedness: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you…Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12).
Jesus never promised that it would be easy to follow Him: “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16). But Jesus did promise it would be eternally worth it to take up our cross and follow after Him.
Today, I am taking time to mourn the Afghani martyrs, and to pray for those who yet remain there. But I also pray for you and for me, that we be bold to proclaim the name of Jesus and stand strong amidst the winds of the increasingly anti-Gospel, paganized culture.
Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.
Let all that you do be done in love.
1 Corinthians 16:13-14
A fellow traveler,