One of the major themes of Revelation is the avenging of the martyrs. This theme is stated in chapter 6:9ff; 11:11-19; 17:4-6; 18:20, 24, to cite a few passages. The judgment of Revelation is on "Babylon" the city "drunken with the blood of the saints" and "all those slain on the earth" (17:6; 18:24). Who was Babylon?
Many believe it was Rome because the city was said to "sit on many waters" (17:2), and to rule over the kings of the earth (17:18). But "waters" in Revelation often signifies "people" or nations instead of "H2O." See Revelation 13:1ff where the beast arose out of the "sea." Further, the city of Jerusalem was "supreme, and presided over all the neighboring country as the head does over the body" so says Josephus the Jewish historian of the first century. He also called Jerusalem "the great city" In fact, every designation of "Babylon" in the book of Revelation was used by secular writers of the first century to describe the city of Jerusalem.
More importantly, Jesus defined Jerusalem as the persecuting city drunken with the blood of the saints. In Matthew 23:31-39, Jesus said it was Jerusalem that had slain the prophets through the ages. He said he would send them prophets and they would slay them also. He also said the blood of the martyr’s all the way back to Abel would be judged in that generation (v.35-36)! Read Matthew 23:29-36 side by side with Revelation 17-18 and see the perfect correlation.
The Bible places the blame for persecuting the church squarely at the feet of Israel/Jerusalem, not on Rome! It was the Sanhedrin that beat Peter and John (Acts 4-5), and stoned Stephen (Acts 6-7). The Jews instigated a "great persecution" against the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8). Saul the persecutor of the early church had letters of authority from the High Priest to persecute Christians (Acts 9:2-3). Even Herod, when persecuting the church did so to please the Jews (Acts 12:1-3). The Jews in Antioch stirred up the city against Paul (Acts 13:50). The Jews stirred up the Gentiles to persecute Paul in Iconium and Derbe (Acts 14:4f, 19f). At Thessalonica the Jews "set all the city in an uproar" attempting to kill Paul (Acts 17:5f). The Jews attempted to involve the Romans against Paul but they refused to persecute him (Acts 18:12f). The Romans actually rescued Paul from the Jews (Acts 21:27-40).
While the Gentiles participated in persecution against the early church, blame for instigating the persecution was pointed by Biblical writers at the Jews "Who have both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men" (1 Thessalonians 2:15f).
If Revelation was written in A.D. 95-98 as is generally suggested, Rome had persecuted the church for only about four years! Nero, at the instigation of the Jews, persecuted the church from approximately A.D. 64-68. It is now being widely admitted that Domitian did not actually persecute the church. Are we to believe that Revelation ignores Jerusalem, the city that had persecuted the saints for centuries, and focuses instead on the destruction of a city that had persecuted the saints for only four years?
The theme of the vindication of the martyrs is no insignificant minor theme. It is in fact, related to the "last days, the parousia, the judgment, and resurrection (Romans 8:18f; 4 Corinthians 4:16f; Revelation 11:17f). It is clear that most futurist paradigms are totally unfamiliar with this inter-relationship. In the recent NYC debate, against two amillennialists, my main affirmative arguments were grounded on this theme as it is developed from Deuteronomy, to Isaiah, to Daniel, to Matthew, to Thessalonians, to Revelation. It was evident from the total failure to even mention my arguments in this regard that our opponents were totally unprepared to deal with the topic.
Even in preterist writings, the theme of the vindication of the martyrs is not, at least in my opinion, given enough "ink." Yet, the promise of the vindication of God’s martyrs begins in Genesis and is consummated in Revelation. It is at the climax of the eschatological "Song of Moses," concerning Israel’s last days. It is found in Jesus’ parabolic as well as prosaic teaching, and in Paul’s discourses about his personal role in bringing God’s Scheme to perfection.
The fact that Revelation says that the anticipated, predicted vindication of the martyrs was now near when he wrote, after the long time crying of the martyred saints, can mean nothing less than that the climax of the age was at hand, and Christ was about to come. He did come, and he did avenge the blood of the martyrs, in his generation, just as he promised in Matthew 23.