The Experience of God in the Intermediate State
In the previous article I made several observations about the nature of the intermediate state, in particular the conscious condition of those who have died physically and are now in heaven in the presence of the risen Christ. Here again is the text we looked at:
“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been” (Rev. 6:9-11).
It is highly instructive to take note of what the martyred “souls” under the altar know and say about God. Three things in particular are mentioned.
First, they know God is in control. It is to the “Sovereign Lord” that they cry out. This confession is their acknowledgement that their deaths didn’t catch God by surprise or disrupt his plans. They suffered martyrdom while the Sovereign Lord over all was in complete and utter control of what the enemies of Christ did and what the people of Christ suffered.
Second, they also know that God is holy. Yes, God is sovereign, and he could have intervened to protect their lives. He could have intervened to protect Peter or Paul or any of the countless martyrs who lost their lives because of the witness they bore. But in his infinite wisdom, he didn’t. The suffering of the martyrs does not impeach or call into question God’s holiness. His majesty is not marred or disfigured when his people die for their faith.
Third, they also know that God is true. He hasn’t broken his promises. Their martyrdom is not a violation of anything God said to them. In fact, they were keenly aware of what Paul had said to Timothy, his spiritual son, that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
Sadly, when we suffer even a tiny bit for being a Christian we immediately question whether God is good. We begin to doubt whether or not he can be trusted. Has he lied to us? Is he incapable of stepping in and stopping those who oppress us? If he were truly good and holy, would he not put an end to persecution once and for all? Well, one day he will. But to suffer for Christ now is never a cause to question God’s goodness or his greatness. In fact, it is an honor to be considered worthy to endure persecution for his name’s sake.
At least, that is what Peter and the other apostles believed. We read in Acts 5 that after they were severely beaten for refusing to stop preaching about Jesus, “they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Jesus]. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:41-42).