9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were killed for the word of God, and for the testimony which they maintained.
10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, Lord, which art holy and true! dost not thou judge and avenge our blood on them, that dwell on the earth?
11 And long white robes were given unto every one, and it was said unto them, that they should rest for a little season until their fellow servants, and their brethren that should be killed even as they were, were fulfilled.
Much trouble – tribulation – is happening right now and will most certainly happen in the future, but we must remember that much suffering and tribulation lies in our past also.
Christians around the world in our day, of whom the world is not worthy.
35 The women received their dead raised to life: others also were racked, and would not be delivered, that they might receive a better resurrection.
36 And others have been tried by mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover by bonds, and imprisonment.
37 They were stoned, they were hewn asunder, they were tempted, they were slain with the sword, they wandered up and down in sheep’s skins, and in goats’ skins, being destitute, afflicted, and tormented:
38 Whom the world was not worthy of: they wandered in wildernesses and mountains, and dens, and caves of the earth.
11 But they overcame him by that blood of that Lamb, and by that word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives unto the death.
13 Then I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, The dead which die in the Lord, are fully blessed. Even so saith the Spirit: for they rest from their labors, and their works follow them.
Letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna
8 ¶ And unto the Angel of the Church of the Smyrnians write, These things saith he that is first and last, which was dead and is alive.
9 I know thy works and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them, which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the Synagogue of Satan.
10 Fear none of those things, which thou shalt suffer: behold, it shall come to pass, that the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried, and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto the death, and I will give thee the crown of life.
11 Let him that hath an ear hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches. He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
History related to the Fifth Seal
Halley’s Bible Handbook, 1965, pp. 712-713
Chapter 6:9-11. The Fifth Seal
“There were Ten Imperial Persecutions of the Church, from Nero, A.D. 64, to Diocletian, A.D. 305. The vision may also be a prophetic hint of the Papal Persecutions of the Middle Ages, and perhaps also of the Persecutions of the Tribulation Period of the Last Days.”
The First Persecution, under Nero:
“This persecution was general throughout the whole Roman Empire; but it rather increased than diminished the spirit of Christianity. In the course of it, St. Paul and St. Peter were martyred.
“To their names may be added, Erastus, chamberlain of Corinth; Aristarchus, the Macedonian, and Trophimus, an Ephesian, converted by St. Paul, and fellow-laborer with him, Joseph, commonly called Barsabas, and Ananias, bishop of Damascus; each of the Seventy.”
“The Annals (Latin: Annales) by Roman historian and senator Tacitus is a history of the Roman Empire from the reign of Tiberius to that of Nero, the years AD 14–68″ (Wikipedia). John received and wrote the Book of Revelation toward the end of Domitian’s reign (81–96 A.D.) Tacitus wrote The Annals in 109 A.D. The Annals address events of the first of the “Ten Primitive Persecutions” – Nero’s – and recount his efforts to shift the blame from himself to Christians for the Great Fire of Rome in 64 A.D. The following excerpt shows how the world viewed us in Tacitus’ day. Is this how it sees us now?
“But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. . .
“Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”
“Under Domitian [14 September 81 – 18 September 96], dramas were also held in the Colosseum but with a bloodthirsty realism. . . [It] was also the scene of many executions during the lunch-time lull (when the majority of spectators went for lunch), particularly the killing of Christian martyrs. Seen as an unacceptable challenge to the authority of Pagan Rome and the divinity of the Emperor, Christians were. . . killed in a myriad of cruelly inventive ways.
[Polycarp, A.D. 69 – 155]
“13:3 Immediately then the instruments that were prepared for the pile were placed about him. As they were going likewise to nail him to the stake, he said: ‘Leave me as I am; for He that has granted me to endure the fire will grant me also to remain at the pyre unmoved, even without the security which you seek from the nails.’
“14:1 So they did not nail him, but tied him. Then he, placing his hands behind him and being bound to the stake, like a noble ram out of a great flock for an offering, a burnt sacrifice made ready and acceptable to God, looking up to heaven said: ‘O Lord God Almighty, the Father of Your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the knowledge of You, the God of angels and powers and of all creation and of the whole race of the righteous, who live in Your presence;
“14:2 ‘I bless You because You have granted me this day and hour, that I might receive a portion amongst the number of martyrs in the cup of Your Christ unto resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among these in Your presence this day, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as You did prepare and reveal it beforehand, and have accomplished it, You that art the faithful and true God.
“14:3 For this cause, yea and for all things, I praise You, I bless You, I glorify You, through the eternal and heavenly High-priest, Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, through Whom, with Him and the Holy Spirit, be glory both now and ever and for the ages to come. Amen.’
“15:1 When he had offered up the Amen and finished his prayer, the firemen lighted the fire.”
[20 November 284 – 1 May 305 A.D.]
“Aside from the continued problems with finance and border security, Diocletian was concerned with the continuing growth of Christianity, a religion that appealed to the both the poor and the rich. The Christians had shown themselves to be a thorn in the side of an emperor since the days of Nero. The problem grew worse as their numbers increased. Diocletian wanted stability and that meant a return to the more traditional gods of Rome, but Christianity prevented this. To most of the emperors who preceded Diocletian, Christians offended the pax deorum or ‘peace of the gods.’ Similarly, since the days of Emperor Augustus, there existed the imperial cult – the deification of the emperor – and Jews and Christians refused to consider any emperor a god.
“However, part of the problem also stemmed from Diocletian’s ego. He began to consider himself a living god, demanding people prostrate themselves before him and kiss the hem of his robe. He wore a jeweled diadem and sat upon a magnificent, elevated throne. In 297 CE he demanded that all soldiers and members of the administration sacrifice to the gods; those who would not were immediately forced to resign. Next, in 303 CE he ordered the destruction of all churches and Christian texts. All of these edicts were encouraged by Galerius. However, throughout this Great Persecution the Christians refused to yield and sacrifice to the Roman gods. Leading members of the clergy were arrested and ordered to sacrifice or die and a bishop in Nicomedia who refused was beheaded. Finally, any Christian who refused was tortured and killed. At long last, the persecution came to an end in 305 CE.”
“Observe, (1.) Even the spirits of just men made perfect retain a proper resentment of the wrong they have sustained by their cruel enemies; and though they die in charity, praying, as Christ did, that God would forgive them, yet they are desirous that, for the honour of God, and Christ, and the gospel, and for the terror and conviction of others, God will take a just revenge upon the sin of persecution, even while he pardons and saves the persecutors. (2.) They commit their cause to him to whom vengeance belongeth, and leave it in his hand; they are not for avenging themselves, but leave all to God. (3.) There will be joy in heaven at the destruction of the implacable enemies of Christ and Christianity, as well as at the conversion of other sinners. When Babylon falls, it will be said, Rejoice over her, O thou heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God hath avenged you on her, ch. 18:20 .3. He observed the kind return that was made to this cry (v. 11), both what was given to them and what was said to them. (1.) What was given to them—white robes, the robes of victory and of honour; their present happiness was an abundant recompence of their past sufferings. (2.) What was said to them—that they should be satisfied, and easy in themselves, for it would not be long ere the number of their fellow-sufferers would be fulfilled. This is a language rather suited to the imperfect state of the saints in this world than to the perfection of their state in heaven; there is no impatience, no uneasiness, no need of admonition; but in this world there is great need of patience. Observe, [1.] There is a number of Christians, known to God, who are appointed as sheep for the slaughter, set apart to be God’s witnesses. [2.] As the measure of the sin of persecutors is filling up, so is the number of the persecuted martyred servants of Christ. [3.] When this number is fulfilled, God will take a just and glorious revenge upon their cruel persecutors; he will recompense tribulation to those who trouble them, and to those that are troubled full and uninterrupted rest.”
The Final Prophecy of Jesus: An Introduction, Analysis, and Commentary on the Book of Revelation, Oral Edmond Collins, 2007, pp. 146-147
“So severe were Diocletian’s edicts of extermination that his reign has come to be known as the Era of the Martyrs. Churches were razed, libraries of sacred books were burned, and believers were tortured to death. Prior persecutions had been local and spasmodic – generally inconsequential against the spread of the Christian faith. Diocletian’s war against the Church is the outstanding exemplar of pagan fear and hatred of the true Faith.* At least two conclusions are implied by this text. First, the chronological sequence of the seal prophecies appropriately targets Diocletian’s persecution. Second, the message of the fifth seal also focuses more generally on suffering and martyrdom, a phenomenon which occurred in various locations and with various intensities throughout the entire earlier period of the seals, as well as after Diocletian until Constantine became sole emperor. The completion of the number of martyrs mentioned in verse 11 was to await yet another era foretold in Revelation 13. The symbolic “Beast,” an apostate church, was to conduct a war against the true faith which would dwarf the persecutions of the pagan Emperors. . .”
* “Eusebius believed that the tragedy was God’s judgment against excesses of the Church.”