Studying Revelation is never not rewarding. I think it’s because the book is often so intimidating to Bible students and is so under-taught that the times when I do dive into it, it’s like I’m rediscovering a lost gem. The book is rich in its message, and full of great moments of encouragement, wisdom, and profound ideas.
Here’s a verse that seems innocuous, but actually packs quite a punch when you dig under the surface…
And I heard another out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.
The context here is God pouring out His vengeance against the evil Roman empire. In response, the people who God whom the Empire had killed—martyrs who were previously depicted as resting under the altar of God—cry out and say “Even so!”
Who are these people? They are the ones who refused to worship the Emperor. They balked at the mark of the beast and so they were punished with death. And in death they cried out asking God to avenge them (ch6:10). Now that God’s vengeance is finally coming, we hear those martyrs speaking again. John says that, Out of the altar, comes the martyrs’ voice, saying “Even so.”
The phrase is one word in the Greek (“nigh”) and means “‘Yes! I agree 100%!” Again, remember, this is shouted as a triumphant exclamation in response to the death of evil people. It raises the question: Is it wrong for these slain Christians to desire hell for their enemies? After all, isn’t that what Jesus rebuked when He scolded James and John, after they desired fire to consume the village of the rude Samaritans (Luke 9:51-56)?
No, I don’t think it’s the same. The difference between the response in Revelation and what James and John were saying is this: James and John were asking God to take their vengeance out on the Samaritans; these martyrs are asking God to take His vengeance out on Rome. It’s not wrong for me to want God’s will to be done; it’s not my wrath I’m praying for; it’s God’s.
The Lord has promised all persecuted people that they will be comforted (Matthew 5). He has also told us not to seek vengeance on our enemies because He would do that for us (Romans 12). There’s nothing wrong with a Christian praying and asking God to keep His word. That’s one of the most commonly recorded prayers in the Bible.
These martyrs praise God for His vengeance because His vengeance is “true” (fair) and “righteous” (justified). His vengeance is based on a Divine standard, not some arbitrary—human—standard where the rules change without you knowing about it. Have you ever dealt with a person who condemned someone for a crime while excusing that same crime in someone else. Or maybe they condemn others without mercy while making excuses for themselves? People are bad, like that. God isn’t. God doesn’t move the goalposts, unless it’s to make it easier on you (that’s why He sent Jesus). God punishes according to a judgment; He renders a verdict based on His known and preached Divine standard.
In life we often encounter hateful and hurtful people. Our calling is to evangelize them not attack them. Should they choose not to repent, and should they persist in their persecutions, it falls on God—not us—to take vengeance. We trust in God to judge and make all things right. Until He does, we preach to the condemned.
And when He does, we say “even so.”