v. 6: Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years.
Our last week of Advent we read from the last three chapters of the Book of Revelation. Chapter 20 foresees the final defeat of Satan and the thousand year reign of Christ and the martyrs. Chapter 21 through the beginning of chapter 22 is the vision of the New Jerusalem. The end of chapter 22 is the epilogue to the book.
The "blessed and holy" above are the martyrs, whom John sees will be raised first in order to join Christ in his thousand year reign, during which time Satan is imprisoned. The original context of the Book of Revelation was probably the persecution of Christians during the reign of the Emperor Domitian (ruled 81-96).
Martyrdom is not something we contemplate often. For us it is something of the distant past. Martyrdom does go on, however, and we should be aware of it. Christians in Iraq are currently in the news suffering from persecution. Christians in Pakistan, many of them Anglicans, are also under great stress. John and my friend Ugandan retired bishop Christopher Senyonjo saw martyrdom up close and personal when his archbishop Janani Luwum was murdered during the reign of Idi Amin in that country. In conversation with him it is clear that facing the possibility of death for one's faith gives it a different quality, a different intensity. Hence the intensity of the Book of Revelation, which seems so strange to us.
Of course, we should live in a world where martyrdom is simply not possible. There should be no martyrs of any religious tradition. But we do not yet live in that world. It seems completely counter-intuitive to this season, but one of its questions is, "Would I die for this baby born in Bethlehem? Would I die for the peace on earth that is his purpose? For the justice that is required for it to be?" I may thank God that I do not have to, but that does not mean that I should not be prepared to answer the question.