FIFTH SEAL – When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. (Revelation 6:9-11)
Martyrs – When the Old Testament priest presented an animal sacrifice, the victim’s blood was poured out at the base of the brazen altar (Leviticus 4:7, 18, 25, and 30). In Old Testament imagery, blood represents life (Leviticus 17:11). So, here in Revelation, the souls of the martyrs “under the altar” indicates that their lives were given sacrificially to the glory of God. The Apostle Paul had the same idea in mind when he wrote Philippians 2:17 and 2 Timothy 4:6. The Greek word martus, which gives us our English word martyr, simply means a witness (see Revelation 2:13; 17:6). These saints were slain by the enemy because of their witness to the truth of God and the message of Jesus Christ. The forces of the anti-Christ do not accept the truth, because Satan wants them to be deceived and accept his lies (see Revelation 19:20; 20:10; also 2 Thessalonians 2:9–12).
How Long? – The saints in heaven know that God will eventually judge sin and establish righteousness in the earth, but they do not know God’s exact schedule. It is not personal revenge that they seek, but vindication of God’s holiness and the establishment of God’s justice. Every believer today who sincerely prays, “Thy kingdom come” is echoing this petition. God made it clear to these martyrs that their sacrifice was an appointment, not an accident. Other “fellow servants and brothers” would join them in martyrdom before their wait “was completed.” Even in the death of His people, God is in control (Psalm 116:15). Even in martyrdom there is nothing to fear.(1)
Up Next – The sixth Seal.
Reminder – The entire book, “Studies in Revelation,” can be purchased at the store.
- Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 588–589). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.