As I read through chapter 6: The Hope of Purposeful Suffering (which covers Revelation 6:1-8:1) this morning there was one paragraph which jumped out at me. This is what Scotty Smith wrote:
“How many of us consider suffering an expression of the grace of God? We live in a day in which the gospel has been so corrupted that some teach that the only reason Christians suffer is because of a lack of faith. What an affront this is to the thousands of Christians who die every year because of the faith! The fifth seal brings encouragement, not just to those Christians suffering in John’s day, “because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained,” but also to Christians of every generation” (p. 115)
What happens when the fifth seal is broken in Revelation 6:9-11?
When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters—their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred—had joined them. (NLT)
One of the truths that is very difficult for us to understand is the reality that suffering is not evidence of God’s punishment. This is the core issue of the book of Job. Job’s friends constantly told him that his suffering was due to the fact that he had a secret sin that God was punishing him for. I think Job was struggling because he knew his suffering was not because of a hidden sin, but he had no other frame of reference to evaluate his suffering. He could not understand the purpose of his suffering
What we discover in the New Testament, and Revelation 6:9-11 supports this thought, is that through suffering God purifies us. We are given the white robes because of our faithfulness in the difficult times of life. Suffering is never fun, but God is so powerful that He uses these terrible experiences to mold us into the people He desires us to be. That is why suffering is a grace. It is not something that we would choose, but it is a reality in this world that we live in, and God will not allow the pain and suffering we experience to go to waste.
Yet, when it comes to suffering we also need to keep in mind the big picture. We are reminded of the big picture when we focus on the Lamb who broke the fifth seal. Do you remember what the Lamb looks like? Revelation 5:6 gives us the description. The first thing that John notes is that the Lamb had been killed, in other words the marks of His death were visible on the Lamb. The big picture that we need to remember when it comes to suffering is that God the Father allowed His Son to suffer and die at the hands of sinful men and women so that He could save us from the kingdom of darkness. We are purified, first and foremost, because of the suffering of Jesus. It is the suffering, the death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus that gives meaning and purpose to our suffering.
While suffering is always difficult, let us face it with hope because we know God is using it to make us into the people He wants us to be. In the grand scheme of things that is great news.