And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, do you not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)How long . . .?—Better. Until when. O Master (the word is the correlative of “servant,” see Revelation 6:10) the Holy and True, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood from (on) those who dwell on the earth? By a dramatic figure the persecuted and slain ones are represented as crying for retribution on their oppressors. It is not the Christians themselves (Luke 23:34; and Acts 7:60) who cry for vengeance, any more than it was Abel himself who cried from the ground to God: it was the blood of Abel (Genesis 4:10), the earth disclosed her blood, and refused to cover her slain. The forgotten or ignored wrongs of generations come forth from oblivion and cry for vengeance. It is a poetical description, but it is not fiction. The righteous blood shed does fall upon the world in retribution: the laws of God avenge themselves, though the victims do not live to behold the reward of the ungodly. On the epithets Holy and True, see Notes on Revelation 3:7.Revelation 5:1; Revelation 6:1.
I saw under the altar - The four living creatures are no longer heard as in the opening of the first four seals. No reason is given for the change in the manner of the representation; and none can be assigned, unless it be, that having represented each one of the four living creatures in their turn as calling attention to the remarkable events about to occur, there seemed to be no necessity or propriety in introducing them again. In itself considered, it cannot be supposed that they would be any less interested in the events about to be disclosed than they were in those which preceded. This seal pertains to martyrs - at the former successively did to a time of prosperity and triumph; to discord and bloodshed; to oppressive taxation; to war, famine, and pestilence. In the series of woes, it was natural and proper that there should be a vision of martyrs, if it was intended that the successive seals should refer to coming and important periods of the world; and accordingly we have here a striking representation of the martyrs crying to God to interpose in their behalf and to avenge their blood. The points which require elucidation are:
(a) their position - under the altar;
(b) their invocation - or their prayer that they might be avenged;
(c) the clothing of them with robes; and,
(d) the command to wait patiently a little time.
(1) the position of the martyrs - "under the altar." There were in the temple at Jerusalem two altars - the altar of burnt sacrifices, and the altar of incense. The altar here referred to was probably the former. This stood in front of the temple, and it was on this that the daily sacrifice was made. Compare the notes on Matthew 5:23-24. We are to remember, however, that the temple and the altar were both destroyed before the time when this book was written, and this should, therefore, be regarded merely as a vision. John saw these souls as if they were collected under the altar - the place where the sacrifice for sin was made - offering their supplications. Why they are represented as being there is not so apparent; but probably two suggestions will explain this:
(a) The altar was the place where sin was expiated, and it was natural to represent these redeemed martyrs as seeking refuge there; and
(b) it was usual to offer prayers and supplications at the altar, in connection with the sacrifice made for sin, and on the ground of that sacrifice.
The idea is, that they who were suffering persecution would naturally seek a refuge in the place where expiation was made for sin, and where prayer was appropriately offered. The language here is such as a Hebrew would naturally use; the idea is appropriate to anyone who believes in the atonement, and who supposes that that is the appropriate refuge for those who are in trouble. But while the language here is such as a Hebrew would use, and while the reference in the language is to the altar of Burnt sacrifice, the scene should be regarded as undoubtedly laid in heaven - the temple where God resides. The whole representation is that of fleeing to the atonement, and pleading with God in connection with the sacrifice for sin.
The souls of them that were slain - That had been put to death by persecution. This is one of the incidental proofs in the Bible that the soul does not cease to exist at death, and also that it does not cease to be conscious, or does not sleep until the resurrection. These souls of the martyrs are represented as still in existence; as remembering what had occurred on the earth; as interested in what was now taking place; as engaged in prayer; and as manifesting earnest desires for the divine interposition to avenge the wrongs which they had suffered.
For the word of God - On account of the word or truth of God. See the notes on Revelation 1:9.
And for the testimony which they held - On account of their testimony to the truth, or being faithful witnesses of the truth of Jesus Christ. See the notes on Revelation 1:9.
(2) the invocation of the martyrs, Revelation 6:10; And they cried with a loud voice. That is, they pleaded that their blood might be avenged.
Lord—Greek, "Master"; implying that He has them and their foes and all His creatures as absolutely at His disposal, as a master has his slaves; hence, in Re 6:11, "fellow servants," or fellow slaves follows.
holy—Greek, "the Holy one."
avenge—"exact vengeance for our blood."
on—Greek, "from them."
that dwell on the earth—the ungodly, of earth, earthly, as distinguished from the Church, whose home and heart are even now in heavenly places.And they cried with a loud voice; their blood cried, or their souls cried to God,
saying, How long, O Lord, holy; and therefore thou canst not abide iniquity, and of all iniquity canst least abide innocent blood, which is the blood of thy saints, whose blood is precious in thy sight.
And true; and who art true to thy word of threatenings against blood thirsty men, and to thy promises for the deliverance of thy people.
Dost thou net judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? Dost thou not judge our cause, and avenge us, who have committed vengeance to thee, not daring to avenge ourselves upon wicked men, who dwelling upon the earth are seen, and their practices known to and by thee, and are under thy power, so as thou canst at pleasure do it.
saying, how long, O Lord, holy and true; the person they address is either the Lamb in the midst of the throne, with whom they were, and under the shelter of whom they were safe and happy; or God the Father, who sat upon the throne, whom they call "holy", because being so in his nature, and as appears in all his works, he could not but hate, and so revenge the evil that was done to them by their cruel persecutors; and whereas he is "true" to all his threatenings, as well as his promises, and faithful to every word of his, they doubted not but he would judge and avenge them of their enemies; but they seem desirous to know how long it would be first: saying,
dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? the men of the world, idolatrous persons, earthly princes, who had shed their blood; and which they desire not out of any sinful or malicious affection, but that the holiness and justice of God might appear, and also his truth and faithfulness in his promises to them, and threatenings to his enemies; and that God in all things might be glorified, and his church and people on earth might be supported and delivered; see Job 24:12.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?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Revelation 6:10. Like Clem. Rom., John is fond of δεσπότης as implying the divine might and majesty (3Ma 3:29; 3Ma 5:28). This severe and awe-inspiring conception (cf. Philo, quis rer. div. haer. 6) means that God will vindicate his holiness, which had been outraged by the murder of the δοῦλοι for whom he is responsible. In contemporary pagan religions throughout Asia Minor, the punishment of wrong-doing is often conceived in the same way, viz., as the answer to the sufferer’s appeal (cf. Introd. § 2), not simply as a spontaneous act of divine retribution. “How long wilt thou refrain from charging and avenging our blood upon (ἐκ as in 1 Samuel 24:13, Psalm 42:1) those who dwell on the earth” (i.e., pagans)? The bleeding heart of primitive Christendom stands up and cries, “I have suffered”. For ἐκδικεῖν αἷμα cf. Dittenberger’s Sylloge Inscript. Graec. 816 (1 cent. A.D.) ἵνα ἐγδικήσῃς τὸ αἷμα τὸ ἀναίτιον, etc.; for ἐκδ. ἐκ (= מן) of vengeance, cf. Luke 18:3-8 (ἀπὸ), a close parallel in thought, though this pathetic, impatient thirst for blood-revenge, which has “the full drift of Psalms 94 below it” (Selwyn) is inferior not only to 1 Peter 2:23 but to the synoptic wail. The Jewish atmosphere is unmistakable (cf. 2Ma 7:36; also Deissmann’s Licht vom Osten, 312 f.), but this does not mean that the passage was necessarily written by a Jew. In that case we should have expected some allusion to the vicarious, atoning power of the martyrs’ death (R. J. 181). The prophet evidently anticipated further persecution, since he wrote on the verge of the end precipitated by the Domitianic policy (cf. on Revelation 2:13). Such persecution follows natural disturbances, as in the synoptic apocalypse (Matthew 24:6-7; Matthew 24:21 f.), but the outline of the fifth seal is taken from Enoch, where (xlvii.) the prayer and blood of the martyred saints “rise from the earth before the Lord of Spirits,” while the angels rejoice that such blood has not been shed in vain. In En. xcvii. 3–5 the prayer of the righteous for vengeance overtakes their persecutors on the day of judgment with woeful issues (xxix. 3, 16). “Persist in your cry for judgment, and it shall appear unto you; for all your tribulation will be visited on the rulers, and on all their helpers, and on those who plundered you” (civ. 3, cf. xxii. 6, 7, where Abel’s pirit complains of Cain).—κατ. κ.τ.λ. always in Apocalypse opposed to the saints, almost as “the world” to “the pious” in modern phraseology. This usage is largely paralleled by that of the Noachic interpolations in Enoch (see Charles on xxxvii. 5), where the phrase has either unfavourable or neutral associations. ἅγιος here (as John 17:11 = Did. x. 3, πανάγιος Clem. Rom. xxxv. 3, lviii. 1) applied by a comparatively rare usage (1 Peter 1:15 and Revelation 4:8 being dependent on O.T.) to God, whose intense holiness must be in antagonism to the evil and contradictions of the world (Titius, 9–11).10. How long] Cf. Psalm 94:3.
O Lord] Not the ordinary word of reverence applied to God, but one meaning (as we say) “lord and master.” It is used of God in Luke 2:29, Acts 4:24; and of Christ in Judges 4 (according to the right reading and probable translation), 2 Peter 2:1. Perhaps, as the usual word “Lord” in the N. T. and other Hellenistic writings stands for the Name Jehovah, so this is used where the sense “Lord” is really meant, i.e. it answers to the name Adonai, which the Jews pronounced instead of the Unutterable Name, and which Symeon and the Apostolic Church no doubt used in their thanksgivings. Their use of the word, especially in the latter instance, shews that it is no argument for these Martyrs being only Jews—as though it proved a servile rather than filial spirit, as some have imagined: at most, it only proves Jewish habits of expression, and it needs no proof that such prevail throughout this Book.
dost thou not … avenge] It has been argued again from this, that the temper of the Martyrs’ souls is less than Christian. But however right it may be to contrast 2 Chronicles 24:22 with Acts 7:60, no one can surely imagine that the spirit of this passage is a selfish desire for personal vengeance. As we meet with the germ of the thought in Psalm 94:3, so we have a developement of it, substantially identical with this, from the mouth of Christ Himself, Luke 18:2-8. Faith looks on evil with a hatred like God’s own—shares God’s will that it shall not triumph, and trusts in God that it will not: but without sharing the depth of God’s counsels, Who knows best how and when to overthrow it. Therefore the Church on earth (the probable meaning of the Widow) and the Saints in heaven, cry alike to God to execute His own purpose, and bring the reign of evil to an end—and He does not yet, but He surely will.Verse 10. - And they cried with a loud voice, saying; i.e. the souls cried. Ebrard, Dusterdieck, Hengstenberg, make "the slain" nominative, in contradistinction to the "souls," which is both unnecessary and unnatural. Zullig compares Genesis 4:10, "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground." How long? (comp. Zechariah 1:12, 13, "How long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem? And the Lord answered with good words and comfortable words"). No doubt the souls waiting in Paradise are answered by "comfortable words," yet, not having lost their interest in earthly struggles, nor their longing for the triumphant vindication of God's glory, they cry, "How long?," not as needing the time to be shortened for their own sakes, for they rest, though not yet entered into the fulness of God's glory. O Lord, holy and true; O Master, the holy and true (Revised Version). "Master" (δεσπότης) is the correlative of "servant" (δοῦλος). This is the only instance of its occurrence in the Apocalypse. (On "true," see previous passages.) Deal thou not judge and avenge our blood. The cry is not a petition for personal revenge, but a request for the termination of those ills which for a time afflict man, and the termination of which must, by virtue of God's eternal justice, be accompanied by visible retribution on the wicked. (Cf. Bede, "Those souls which offered themselves a living sacrifice to God pray eternally for his coming to judgment, not from any vindictive feeling against their enemies, but in a spirit of zeal and love for God's glory and justice, mid for the coming of that day when sin, which is rebellion against him, will be destroyed, and their own bodies will be raised. And so in that prayer wherein Christ teaches us to forgive our enemies, we are also taught to say, 'Thy kingdom come.'") The passage has given rise to varying interpretations, which are thought to be more consonant with the spirit of the gospel. Thus I. Williams would understand the souls to represent only the Old Testament saints, especially as it is not explicitly said that they died for the witness of Jesus, as in Revelation 20:4. On them that dwell on the earth. That is, on the worldly, those who have taken the side of the world in its conflict with Christianity.
See on Mark 5:5.
How long (ἕως πότε)
Lit., until when. Compare Zechariah 1:12.
O Lord (ὁ δεσπότης)
See on 2 Peter 2:1. Only here in Revelation. Addressed to God rather than to Christ, and breathing, as Professor Milligan remarks, "the feeling of Old Testament rather than of New Testament relation." Compare Acts 4:24; Jde 1:4.
Originally the verb means to separate; thence the idea of selection: to pick out, and so to discriminate or judge.
On the earth (ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς)
Earth, in Revelation, is generally to be understood of the ungodly earth.
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