Fifth Seal: The Martyrs Under the Altar: Part 1 of 3 (series: Lessons on Revelations)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Fifth Seal: The Martyrs Under the Altar

Commentary on the Book of Revelation
By: Tom Lowe :Date: 10/29/2015

Lesson: III.B.5: Fifth Seal: The Martyrs Under the Altar (Revelation 6:9-11)

Revelation 6:9-11 (KJV)

9 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:
10 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?
11 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.


Let me point out that when the fifth seal is removed, the scene changes completely. Each of the first four seals is characterized by a living creature and a horse, neither of which appears under the last three seals. Thus the first four seals are set apart from the last three.

Matthew 5:13 tells us that born again believers are the “salt of the earth.” Matthew 5:14 tells us they are also the “light of the world.” The presence of the Church (believers) in the world preserves the earth, wards off corruption and holds back the terrible judgment of Almighty God. Regardless of how unworthy and faulty we may be as believers, we are the salt that keeps civilization from rotting on its feet. But when God’s patience runs out and He removes the salt and the light, corruption and moral darkness will then engulf this earth (Isaiah 60:2). When the Rapture takes place the salt and the light will be taken out. The Holy Ghost will also go out with the Church (born again believers), because believers are the home of the Spirit on earth— “Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). Christ by His Spirit dwells in all true believers.

When the Rapture takes place the Church (believers) will be caught up to meet Jesus in the air and will be presented by Christ to Himself in Glory— “And to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27). Christ both gives and takes the bride (His church); He presents her to himself. The Spirit will go out with the Church (believers) and will then work from Heaven to earth as He did in the Old Testament era. In those days the Holy Ghost came upon men, and then left them; but since Pentecost He has been in the world to stay. He has not departed for one moment.

The breaking of the fifth seal reveals clearly that some on earth will turn to God after the Church has been translated. There will be those saved during the tribulation, but they will pay with their lives. The first witnesses on earth after the Rapture will go through the world preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom— “And the Good News I have shared about God’s kingdom will be told throughout the world. It will be spread to every nation. Then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). The result of their preaching is made known in Matthew 25:31-46. These first preachers of the Gospel of the Kingdom will be chiefly the converted Jews “These my brethren” in Matthew 25:40 refers to the Jewish brethren of our Lord according to the flesh.

Jesus left his followers with no doubts as to the suffering and the martyrdom they would be called upon to endure. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated of all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9; also see Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12, 18). These are the martyrs of the tribulation days. Having heard the Gospel of the kingdom, thousands will believe and receive it, but they will be persecuted by the beast. The day would come when those who killed Christians would think they were doing a service for God— “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. (John 16:2).

Keep in mind that we are reading John’s report of what he heard and saw in his vision of Christ in heaven, as He reveals future events to him. The apostle wrote, “I (John) saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God.” This gives us the meaning of our passage here. The souls of the martyrs1 are beneath the heavenly altar; at the foot of which their blood (or “souls,” or “lives”; compare Leviticus 17:11) has been poured out (Exodus 29:12). That is to say, their life-blood has been poured out as an offering to God. The idea of the martyr’s life as a sacrifice to God is in the mind of Paul. He says that he will rejoice, if he is offered up as a sacrifice and thereby joins the Philippians in their service of faith— “Your faith makes you give your lives as a sacrifice in serving God. Maybe I will have to offer my own life with your sacrifice. But if that happens, I will be glad, and I will share my joy with all of you” (Philippians 2:17). “I am ready,” he says, “on the point of being sacrificed” (2 Timothy 4:6).

There is a great and uplifting truth here. When a good man dies for the sake of goodness, it may look like tragedy, like the waste of a fine life; like the work of evil men; and, indeed, it may be all these things. But every life laid down for right and truth and God is ultimately more than any of these things—it is an offering made to God.


9 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:

The first believers after the Rapture will be severely persecuted. They will be butchered . . . “slain for the Word of God and for the testimony which they held,” that is to say, they will be killed for standing up for Christ and for His Word. The Word of God, faithfully declared, brings persecution from the world and the devil.

When these first preachers deliver their message, there will be very few on earth who will listen, because those who have been exposed to the Truth as we hear the Truth today, will be sent strong delusions. They will believe the lies put forward by the Antichrist—and they will all be damned because “THEY BELIEVED NOT THE TRUTH, BUT HAD PLEASURE IN UNRIGHTEOUSNESS.” The forces of Antichrist do not except 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).

Read carefully 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 . . . study those verses very carefully . . . and you will see that when the Rapture takes place and the Holy Spirit leaves the world, those who hear the Gospel of the grace of God and refuse to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, will not listen to any message. The persons saved after the Rapture will be the multitudes who have never heard a message of the Gospel of the grace of God. Naturally there will be bitter, severe persecution, and many will be martyred because of their testimony. Since their murderers are still alive on earth, these martyrs are apparently from the early part of the Tribulation. But they represent all who have laid down their lives for Jesus Christ and the cause of God’s truth, and they are an encouragement to all today who may be called to follow them. They assure us that the souls of the martyrs are in heaven, awaiting the resurrection— “Then I saw some thrones and people sitting on them. These were the ones who had been given the power to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been killed because they were faithful to the truth of Jesus and the message from God. They did not worship the beast or its idol. They did not receive the mark of the beast on their foreheads or on their hands. They came back to life and ruled with Christ for 1000 years” (Revelation 20:4)—and that they are at rest, robed in heavenly Glory.

We are not told precisely by what means God accomplishes this work of faith in men after the Rapture. Jesus did say, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then the end shall come” (Matthew 24:14). We do know that the widespread translation and circulation of the scriptures in 1100 languages is being used by God now to prepare the way for a subsequent witness to all the nations. God’s purpose in the tribulation is to bring about the conversion of Jews who will enter into the blessings of the kingdom. The “good news” of this dispensation and that of the kingdom are not mutually exclusive. Faith in Jesus Christ is essential to salvation in this dispensation of grace as well as in the tribulation.

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