The 5th Seal - the Souls of the Martyrs
“And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:” Revelation 6:9
I believe these souls under the altar are the “John the Baptist” type of Jewish martyrs. These are souls under the altar of sacrifice. They are killed for the “Word of God” and “the testimony they held.” Their testimony concerns the coming kingdom of God on earth. God is about to institute His kingdom on earth by force. The time of vengeance has come. Vengeance belongs to God and He is about to execute it on all the earth. There is a decidedly imprecatory tone to the prayer of the souls under the altar.
“And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” Revelation 6:10
What Happens to Them?
“And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.” Revelation 6:11
They are comforted and told to wait. The Day of Judgment is at hand and God’s vengeance is about to be unleashed. But for now, they must rest for “a little season.” This season is approximately three and a half years.
Here we have the fifth seal opened; under which Christ represents to John the condition of those precious souls of the holy martyrs who died for the testimony of Christ, by the bloody hands of tyrants; the design whereof is to support and encourage all that were to come after in the same bloody path.
The place where John saw them, under the altar; that is, lying at the foot of the altar, as sacrifices slain and presented unto God – was most significant to me. They died not as malefactors, but as martyrs, giving a threefold testimony of the truth; a lip-testimony, a life-testimony, and a death or blood-testimony: they held the profession of their faith faster than they held their own lives.
These martyrs under the altar suffered and died for the Word of God. They sacrificed their lives for God, and for the testimony which they held; as one of the martyrs in the Marian days held up his Bible at the stake, saying, "This is that hath brought me hither."
John heard a loud cry, saying, how long? We want “pay back” when we are wronged. This was not their motive; their cries expressed an intense zeal for the Glory of God, a fragrant desire that God would clear their innocence, and to make known His justice among men – that He would abolish the kingdom of Satan, and consummate the Kingdom of Christ.
And God answers them graciously. Why must they wait? Because their number is not complete.
White robes were given at present to every one of them, that is, large measures of heavenly glory, as the reward of their sufferings and services, beyond other saints; as if God had said, "Though the time be not yet come to satisfy your desires in the final ruin of Satan's kingdom, yet it shall by well with you in the mean time, you shall walk with me in white, and enjoy my glory in heaven."
1. That the souls of men perish not with their bodies, but do certainly outlive them, and exist in a state of separation from them; the bodies of these martyrs were destroyed by divers sorts of torments, but their souls were out of the reach of danger, they were in safety under the altar, and in glory, clothed with their white robes, when their bodies were either turned to ashes, or torn to pieces by wild beasts; we do not cease to be, when we cease to breathe; our souls do not vanish with our breath.
2. These souls cried with a loud voice; then they were not asleep, though their bodies were asleep in the dust; I find it awesome that, when we are asleep, our soul can act of itself, without the assistance of the body; the soul grieves and rejoices, hopes and fears, chooses and refuses, therefore the soul is not only alive, but awake also, in its state of separation from the body.
3. It’s so sweet to learn that, there are not only praises here, but prayers in heaven, and that for justice to be inflicted upon persecutors here on earth. I can’t imagine the miserable condition of persecutors - when heaven and earth both pray against them.
4. Persecuting and wronging of God’s saints and servants will call for vengeance from God in heaven, and He will severely punish the perpetrators.
5. That the souls of God's martyrs shall by under the altar in heaven, clothed in white, enjoying divine glory; they are dressed in a robe of justification and victory, while they wait for their persecutors to be punished.
What John saw at the opening the fifth seal was very affecting. He saw the souls of the martyrs under the altar; at the foot of the altar in heaven, at the feet of Christ. Persecutors can only kill the body; after that there is no more they can do; the soul lives.
I read back through Biblical History, and made a list of several Martyrs. I have called them -“Truth leaders.” They exemplified all the qualities we can learn from, and apply to our individual life;
a. Ahimelech and his fellow priests, 1Samuel 22:18-19 – “And the king said to Doeg, Turn thou, and fall upon the priests. And Doeg the Edomite turned, and he fell upon the priests, and slew on that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a linen ephod.”
b. Prophets and Saints of old, 1 Kings 19:10 – “And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”
c. Urijah, Jeremiah 26:23 – “And they fetched forth Urijah out of Egypt, and brought him unto Jehoiakim the king; who slew him with the sword, and cast his dead body into the graves of the common people.”
d. John the Baptist, Mark 6:27 – “And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison,”
e. Peter, John 21:18-19 – “This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.”
f. Stephen, Ac 7:58 – “And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.”
g. Primitive Christians, Acts 26:10 – “Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them.”
h. James, Acts 12:2 – “And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.”
i. Antipas, Revelation 2:13 – “I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.”
Furthermore, Christ made the ultimate sacrifice, Luke 23:33 – “And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.”
As a Christian, my goal is to lay down my life for; faith in God's word, and the unshakable confession of that faith. When we commit our cause to Him (whom vengeance belongs), the Lord is the comforter of our afflictions, and precious is our blood in His sight.
I feel greatly challenged with the sacrifices I personally make each day; how much do I give, and what do I forfeit, to continually speak and live by the truth of the gospel?
Picture the martyrs at the foot of the altar, knelt by the feet of Christ---a position God wants us all to be in.
The hill of comfort is the hill of Calvary!
I Love You,