Revelation 6:9-11: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.”
Revelation 20:4: “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands.”
In the news this week has been the story of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who were beheaded by ISIS. Sadly, they are not the first, nor will they be the last. In fact, it has been interesting (though disturbing) to me that we are seeing or hearing of beheadings specifically. In a day and age of advanced weaponry and other means of death, gruesome and demonic beheadings are in the forefront of recent pictures, video’s and stories. The reason I find that interesting is because of the two passages in Revelation that I quoted above. These passages are in the context of end times events and the second coming of Jesus Christ. And part of the reality of the end times and return of Christ that is highlighted in these passages are those killed by specifically being beheaded because of their faithfulness to Christ and refusal to compromise.
Whether or not we personally will one day be faced with that moment of compromising or staying committed to Christ even if it costs us our lives, every-day we are faced with whether we will live a life completely devoted to the word of God and the Lord Jesus Christ…or not. And actually, if we are not faithful to Christ in our daily living, what makes us think we would be faithful to Him in the face of death? That should give us all pause and self-reflection with the Holy Spirit’s help. A real martyr is a witness of Jesus Christ in life and death. They don’t just die for Christ in a moment of “heroic” bravery with a “spurt” of courage, but they die to self, pick up the cross daily and live unto Christ, whether it means life or death, acceptance or rejection.
It became clear to me, especially within the last six years of pastoring a church in NJ, that there is a division occurring and growing clearer and clearer everyday between those who are “lukewarm” and love the world verse those who are true “lovers of God” and His word. There is a division (and actually should be a contrast) between the lives of the committed (albeit imperfect) disciples of Jesus and those living lives of compromise and complacency concerned primarily with their own comfort and convenience. There is a growing division between those with a shallow and superficial “faith” and those with a sincere and substantial faith, grounded in the truth of scripture, living under the Leadership of Jesus Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit. The question is which camp are we in…and if it is the first are we willing to acknowledge it, confess it, repent of it and become a committed follower of Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit and in accordance with the word of God?
I also believe this choice will grow ever clearer as the end draws near and Christ’s return draws closer. Yet surrounding this is much deceptive…as many living in compromise think they are living committed lives. ISIS itself is under a demonic delusion thinking what they are doing is the will of “God” (which Jesus said would happen: John 16:2). So again, with all humility and honesty, the question that each of us should really be examining in our own lives is where does our devotion and loyalty really lie? Does it lie within the world system and world values or the word of God and person of Jesus Christ? To compromise is to side with Satan and offend Christ. To be committed to Christ and the word of God is to provoke the rage of Satan and offend the world. There is no neutral position. We must make a choice and no choice is a choice to not be with Christ. Jesus was clear that if we are not with Him we are against Him (Matthew 12:11).
As the world reacts and people debate and troops prepare and plans are put in place in dealing with the ISIS threat, I want to end with quoting what I think is a very relevant portion of Jesus’ teaching right now in light of this. But I want to preface it by referring back to the end of the first passage of scripture in Revelation that we began with. Notice that as John see’s the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their faithfulness to Christ and the word of God crying out for justice and for God to judge the world for it’s injustice, it says: “…they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.” In other words there were going to be more joining them before this would end. This is was what others were and would be called to. In this reality (that will also come through in the passage below), there is a comforting truth: God is Sovereign over and in all of this, so we need not, in fact are called not to be afraid but rather rest in the fact that nothing can happen apart from his divine will. And if He permits it, He will give us the strength and grace to endure it if we remain faithful to Him.
In fact notice also the call to total commitment to Christ, along with the exhortations contained in this that we need to stay focused on applying and living out in our own lives. And as you read it, consider this question: where do you really stand with Christ and his word? Now is the time and today is the day to stand with and live for him. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you strength, courage and commitment to Christ no matter the consequences or cost in relationships or life. Your eternal reward will always outweigh any earthly sacrifice made for the sake of Christ or remaining true to his word. Read slowly, carefully, prayerfully and obediently, asking God to help you apply it rightly in your life.
Matthew 10:28-42: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
“He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.