Fifth Seal - Martyrs

OVERVIEW - The fifth seal revealed the souls of martyrs kept underneath the altar whence they call to God for vindication – Revelation 6:9-11

Photo by Madhu Madhavan on Unsplash
The opening of the fifth seal revealed the souls of martyrs that were kept “
underneath” the altar. From there, they pleaded with God for vindication for what they had endured at the hands of their enemies. The martyrs were told to wait for justice and until the complete number of their “fellow servants” who were to be slain “just as they” were gathered to join their number - [Photo by Madhu Madhavan on Unsplash].

In this passage, the Temple imagery is continued from the vision of the Throne where the “altar” first appeared. The “Lamb” began to reign over the Cosmos from the divine Throne. The martyrs were given priestly robes for the sacrifice they have made - Their lives poured out at the base of the altar.

The fifth seal prepares the reader for the arrival of the “wrath of the Lamb” in the next seal opening, and for the sealing of the “servants of God” and the innumerable multitude found “standing” before the “Lamb and the Throne.”
  • (Revelation 6:9-11) – “And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw beneath the altar the souls of them who had been slain because of the word of God and because of the testimony which they held. And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Sovereign, the Holy and True, do you not vindicate and avenge our blood from the inhabitants of the earth? And there was given to each one a white robe, and they were bidden to rest yet a little while until the number should be made full of their fellow-servants also, and their brethren, who were about to be slain as even they.”
In the first four seal openings, John “heard” commands from the “four living creatures.” With the fifth and sixth seals, the stress falls on what he “sees.” Both seal openings begin with identical language (“And I saw when he opened the fifth seal…”; “And I saw when he opened the sixth seal…”), both include verbal links to the vision of the “innumerable multitude,” and both pose questions that are answered in that vision:
  • How long?”
  • Who is able to stand?” - (Revelation 7:9-17).
The order of the fifth and sixth seal openings is literary, not chronological. The sequence is dictated by when the “Lamb” opens each seal. The fifth seal borrows language from the books of Zechariah and Daniel:
  • (Zechariah 1:12-16) – “Then the angel of Yahweh responded, and said, O Yahweh of hosts! How long will you not have compassion upon Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have had indignation these seventy years? And Yahweh answered in words that were pleasant, words that were consoling…I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy; and with a great displeasure, am I displeased with the careless nations, in that, when I was displeased (for) a little, then they helped forward the calamity, Wherefore, I have returned to Jerusalem with compassions, My house shall be built therein, declares Yahweh of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth over Jerusalem. Further proclaim, saying, yet shall my cities overflow with blessing!
  • (Daniel 12:1-7) – “And at that time will Michael, the great ruler who stands for the sons of for people make a stand, and there will be a time of tribulation such as never was since there was a nation up to that time, and at that time shall your people be delivered, everyone found written in the hook; and many of the sleepers in the dusty ground shall awake, these to everlasting life, but those to reproach and everlasting abhorrence…And one said to the man clothed with linen, who was upon the waters of the river, How long shall be the end of the wonders?...For a set time and times and a half, and, when the dispersion of a part of the holy people is brought to an end, then shall come to an end all these things.
In the fifth seal, the “altar” corresponds to the altar of burnt offering in the court of the wilderness Tabernacle. There, blood from sacrificial victims was poured out at its base. The dead souls “underneath the altar” conforms to the image from the old sacrificial system. Placing the martyrs under the altar identified their sacrificial deaths with that of the “Lamb.” Just as he was “slain,” so the souls of the martyrs had been “slain” (sphazô – Strong’s - #G4969) - (Exodus 30:1-10Leviticus 4:7Hebrews 9:4).

The execution of a saint has already occurred in the city of Pergamos, “Antipas, my faithful witness,” and the churches of Asia were expecting more tribulation - (Revelation 2:10-13, 2:10).

The inhabitants of the earth.” Throughout the book, this term refers to a human society in opposition to God and the “Lamb.” It does not refer to geographic location, but instead, to the life orientation of the group - (Revelation 8:13, 11:10, 13:8, 13:12-14, 17:2-8).

Each martyr was given a white “robe” or stolé, a Greek term from the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament used for the vestments worn by priests. The “white robes” point to their priestly function, but unlike Levitical priests, they have poured out their own lives at the base of the altar, not the blood of sacrificial animals - (Exodus 28:429:21Ezekiel 44:19).

John used the term “soul” in the holistic sense typical of the Old Testament to signify the entire person (“the soul of the flesh is in the blood”). Likewise, Isaiah’s Suffering Servant “poured out his soul unto death” - (Leviticus 17:11, Isaiah 53:12).

The “white robe” connects to the vision of the “innumerable multitude.” The victorious saints seen “standing before the Lamb” were arrayed in “white robes” (stolé leuke). Through their perseverance, they “washed their robes (stolé) and made them white (leuke) in the blood of the Lamb” - (Revelation 7:9-14).

Until the full number of fellow witnesses was assembled, the martyrs were told to “rest yet a short time.” The same phrase occurs when the “Dragon” was enraged, knowing that he has only “a short season” in which to destroy the covenant community. Likewise, at the end of the “thousand years,” Satan was loosed “a short time.” The verbal links locate the period during which the full complement of witnesses was assembled with the time of Satan’s war against the saints - (Revelation 11:712:12-1713:7, 17:10, 20:7-9).

The plea of the martyrs echoed the final vision from the book of Daniel: “How long will it be to the end of these wonders?” Daniel was informed that, “Your people will be delivered, everyone found written in the book.” Then a voice declared:
  • How long will it be until the end of these wonders? For a set time, times and part of a timewhen the dispersion of a part of the holy people is fulfilled, then will come to an end all these things…Many will purify and make themselves white, and be refined…blessed is he that waits…But go your way until the end; for you will rest yet [anapauou etiand stand in your portion at the end of the days.”
  • (Revelation 6:10-11) - “How longO Sovereign, Holy and True, do you not vindicate and avenge our blood from them that dwell upon the earth? And there was given to each one a white robe, and it was bidden them to rest yet [anapauou etilittle while until should be fulfilled also their fellow-servants and their brethren who are going to be killed, even as they.
The martyrs are to rest until all the “witnesses” are added to their company. All must be assembled before the final judgment can occur, when the full company of saints will “stand” before the “Lamb and throne.”

Thus, the fifth seal opening reveals the fate of the first martyrs for the “Lamb,” but also informs the reader that more martyrs must be gathered before the opening of the sixth seal, the “Day of the Lord” at the end of the age.




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