The Fifth Seal: The cry of the martyrs
When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.
The key to this seal is seeing into the heavenlies. John is invited to see, in the first several seals, but he sees on his own in the fifth seal. And this represents how the church will be continually and increasingly aware of what is going on as the tribulation progresses.
Now God is saying to us, “Come and see!” But soon we’ll be seeing without needing the invitation.
But what does he see? For the first time in history, John sees the martyred souls, all of the souls slain for the gospel since time began. He sees a multitude under the altar. And this might recollect a verse to your mind: Where are the prophets slain? Between the altar and the sanctuary! God protects this precious multitude under the altar.
These souls were slain for the word of God which they delivered, and for the testimony which they held, even under duress. The word was sweet in their mouth, but when they delivered it, it turned bitter in their stomachs as the people rejected their message. But in the face of pushback they did not shrink back. The held to the testimony. They didn’t compromise. They believed what was truly true even in the face of great opposition and personal cost to themselves. Even unto death.
That’s the seal of the martyr. She doesn’t close her doors cause she might get sick. She hugs and loves and embraces her brethren, and she continues to speak life until she has no more breath to speak it with.
Next in the vision, each one is given a white robe and told to rest until the rest of the martyrs come in—so that apart from us they will not be made perfect.
Terri: I’m getting the picture that Jesus doesn’t start to eat the meal until everyone comes to the table. He’s preparing the banquet. The marriage supper of the Lamb. But He’s not going to eat a bite until we all arrive, until we all complete the work He’s assigned to us, and we arrive at the dining hall dressed in royal splendor for the party.
Bill: There is something so over the top in this.
I believe this fifth seal is the heart of the entire book of revelation. Because it reveals one of heaven’s primary motives for the judgment. Jesus said, “Had I not come to them they would not have sin. But now they have seen and heard and rejected.” The fact that God sent forth the word in the arrows, and they were rejected, and their blood was spilled, and the blood cries out still, so underneath the altar, the foundation of God’s altar, is his love for his people who have endured torture and rejection and are held precious by God under His altar, unto the hour.
When you pray, you tell God such and such, whatever is on your heart. But what’s on God’s heart? If John were to ask God, “What’s on your heart?" He’d say, “Let me show you the martyrs whom I hold under my throne. My altar. To whom my word came and changed them forevermore. They cared more about Me than anything, and they suffered and died, and now they’re held precious to me—and it’s for them I’ll remedy the earth. This is deep in the heart of God.
. . . Until your fellow servants also and your brothers . . .
An amazing thing happens with God’s people when they receive the word and the testimony: They enter into the fellowship. Fellow servants, yes, but brethren. They find their true and everlasting family. We’re gonna wait for them. We’re gonna wait at table until they arrive.
Why does God want John and the rest of us to see? When you’re going through the fire, it can be hard. But you need to know that you’re headed to your place under the altar. You’re not alone. If you’re faithful to the end, this is your end, joining the brethren under the altar. Your fellow servants, your brethren, receiving robes. They’re being prepared for the festal gathering of the marriage supper of the lamb.
Nothing you’re going though right now will ever compare to the joining of that crowd under the altar, of your brethren. No matter what you go through, no matter how much rejection, it doesn’t matter. Because there is a cloud of witnesses and a group under the altar that is waiting to receive you!
After Bill said the above, he remembered something he did as a kid, when he snuck backstage at a Moody Blues concert. He said, “Seeing these things is better than being backstage at the moody blues!” I asked him what concert it was, and he remembered, chuckling. “Knights in White Satin.”
How funny! White robes!!!
The seal in five opens the eyes