(Souls of the Martyrs)
v9: There appears to be a clear distinction between the first four seals and the rest (as signified by the use of 4 horsemen).
Compare the seals with part of the Mount of Olives sermon (sometimes seen in writings as the Olivet Discourse Matt. 24:4-9).
The fifth seal is opened by Jesus. John now sees a vision: an altar. Is this altar in heaven, on the earth, real, symbolic, etc. It does not appear that this is any new prophecy as the first four seals seemed to indicate. John sees an altar which has under it the souls of those who were slain for the word of God and for their testimony -> Martyrs. Note also that the fifth seal was not introduced by one of the creatures.
Some scholars believe this vision of John's is not in heaven but on the earth. That is because there is no reference to heaven and no heavenly assistance, as the first four seals had. However, others believe (this is my belief) that the words "on those that dwell on the earth" indicate the martyrs were already in heaven. They are refering to the lives still on earth that have not died and have not paid for their sins, in particular, killing martyrs. These verses reveal several important characteristics: their physical position, their invocation or prayer, the clothing, and the response received.
There is another important point brought out in this verse. There has always been a question on what happens to the soul, if there is one, after death. The important passage "the souls of those who were slain" says there is definitely a soul and that the soul does NOT die after physical death. Isn't that a glorious thing to know?
Their position, under the altar, could be significant. In the Jewish temple there were two altars. One was for the sacrifice; one was for incense. The first altar was the sacrifice altar. The most likely altar the martyrs are under is the altar of sacrifice. That would be the natural place to which to go for the elimination of sin because it is the point of sacrificing. Also, this is the place for offering prayers. The next verse discusses this.
v10: The martyrs want to know why their deaths have not, by now, been avenged. They are crying out in a loud voice and looking up to God [Mandakis editorial because the vision is, in actuality, a prayer; a request of God ] and asking for understanding of why their lives (their bloods) have not been avenged yet. After all, that is what they have understood: i.e. do not worry because those who die for Christ will be saved and the others will suffer eternal separation from God (Hell). They praise God for His power and might. They also say that He is holy and true. That means that whatever God said would happen will happen.
v11: Another reason why it seems the marytrs are in heaven is that they were given white clothes to wear. Remember that white is purity and innocence. The fact they were given the white robes shows the confidence and respect for now and the future Jesus has in them. The white robes in Revelation will refer to the clothes and people being washed in the blood of the lamb: the sacrifice of Christ.
They are told to rest for a while, literally, take it easy. They have to wait a little while longer. There are others which were to be killed first, just as the martyrs had been. Eventually, they will all be avenged. One might ask why? Why would God allow this to happen. There will be good, faithful, believing people slaughtered on earth before He will step in and stop it. We know He can stop it. This is a question that causes more consternation in Christianity that others. This is what causes a lot of people simply not believe in a loving God because if He love us, He would not allow this to happen. Something is very unique about Revelation. As you will see from now on in Revelation, God tries again and again to get people to turn to Him. He will be punishing people on the earth with terrible catastophies trying to get them to change. Many change; but, many more, for some reason, harden their hearts and become even more against God. They worship no god or worship false gods. Our God is still wanting all souls that convert. Over and over again, He gives us chances to change. Some of us do; some do not. He still keeps trying. However, sometime there will be no turning back. The end will be the end: God's right time. See references below.
John 11:25-26; Rom 12:19; Isa 63:4; Gen 4:10; Eph l:11
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