When the fifth seal is opened we find martyrs in the throne of God who are given a white robe, indicating that they have been forgiven any sins they may have committed, and they are calling for revenge on the ones who killed them. They are told to wait until a specific number have been martyred but not given any indication what that number is.
Let’s first think about what this might have meant to the people living at the time John wrote this letter. These people could certainly face death because of their faith and wouldn’t it have been a comfort to believe that if they died they would go directly to heaven and not have to wait in Hades. The natural human response would have been to want revenge on those who were persecuting the church. So, John is writing a letter of comfort to those who are suffering for their faith at this time.
What does this mean for the rest of history? Does it mean that people who die for their faith today will go directly to heaven? Does it mean we are justified in wanting revenge on people harm us? I think that it does mean that martyrs will be taken to heaven even today. I don’t think we should be asking for revenge. Jesus, at the cross, said forgive them for they know not what they do. I think we should have the same attitude. I think about Jonah not wanting to go to Nineveh because he doesn’t want God to forgive the people of Nineveh because they are enemies of Israel. I don’t think we should be like Jonah but should be looking for ways to help everyone find a path to God’s forgiving love.
There is also a message in the opening of this seal that a certain number of people will be martyred before the final judgment. This shows that there is an end to things as we know them but the time is known only to God.