Martyrs under the Altar

The opening of the Fifth Seal revealed the souls of men kept “underneath” the Altar, saints who had been slain for their “Testimony.” They pleaded with God for their vindication and for judgment on the “Inhabitants of the Earth” who had persecuted them. They were told to wait for Him to answer their plea until the full “number” of their “fellow servants” who were going to be slain “just as they were” was added to their company.

This group represents all the “Witnesses of Jesus” described in the Book of Revelation who gave their lives for the “word of God,” both in the past and future, and not just to a small remnant of martyrs who are slain during the final years before Jesus returns. This is demonstrated by the verbal links in the passage to the other visions of Revelation- (Revelation 6:9-11).

Graveyard sunlight - Photo by Luna Wang on Unsplash
[Photo by Luna Wang on Unsplash]

The “
souls under the Altar” represent those men who gave their lives for the “word of God” and “their Testimony.” This includes John himself since he had been exiled to Patmos “for the word of God and the Testimony of Jesus,” as well as the “witness, Antipas” who was slain in Pergamos - (Revelation 1:8-9, 2:13).

Both more Martyrs will be added to the group, including the “Two Witnesses” who are killed for “their Testimony,” those men martyred by the “Dragon” because they “held the Testimony of Jesus,” the “saints” slain by the “Beast from the Sea” for having the “faith of Jesus,” the “saints” and the “witnesses of Jesus” killed by the “Great Whore, Babylon,” and all those yet to be put to death because of the “word of their Testimony, and because they loved not their lives unto death” – (Revelation 11:7, 12:11, 12:17, 13:7, 14:12, 17:6).

Indeed, Jesus himself is the “Faithful Witness,” and he summons his followers to “overcome” in the same manner that he did and thereby qualify to reign with him. All his Martyrs rest assured that he will vindicate them even beyond the grave since he is the one who was “dead, and behold, I live forevermore, and I hold the keys of Death and Hades” - (Revelation 1:4-6, 1:18, 3:21).

The imagery from the ancient Tabernacle is continued from the Vision of the Throne where the “Altar” was first mentioned. In the Fifth Seal opening, the “Martyrs” are provided with priestly robes since their lives had been poured out at the base of the Altar, just as sacrificial blood was poured out at the base of the altar by the priests in the old Tabernacle.

The incomplete number of martyrs resulted from the first four seal openings. The victims of the forces unleashed by the four “riders” were the saints who suffered for their “Testimony.”

This is clear in the Second Seal opening when the “rider on a fiery red horse” caused men to “slay” one another. The first four seal openings resulted in the deaths of only a “fourth of the earth,” which explains why the “number” of the Martyrs in the Fifth Seal was incomplete. Some saints had given their lives “for their Testimony” (e.g., Antipas), but more deaths were yet to come.

The Greek term translated as “slay” is the verb sphazô, a term used for the “slaying” of sacrificial animals, and the same verb applied to the “slain” Martyrs underneath the Altar, as well as the word used for the “SLAIN Lamb” who received the “Sealed Scroll” (sphazôStrong’s - #G4969).

The point is not mathematical precision, but the verbal and conceptual links. The tribulation of the “Assemblies of Asia” began with the opening of the first four seals, but it has yet to run its full course. It will include many more saints and congregations over time and geography than just the seven marginalized churches of Asia before it reaches its conclusion.

The fact that the Martyrs pleaded for “vengeance” against the “Inhabitants of the Earth” demonstrates that the forces unleashed by the first four seals did not target the enemies of the saints. Their punishment came only later and in response to the Martyrs’ plea – (Revelation 8:1-6).


The Fifth Seal opening prepares the reader for the arrival of the “Wrath of the Lamb” unleashed by the Sixth Seal, and for the Vision of the Innumerable Multitude that John saw “standing” in worship before the “Lamb” and the “Throne” - (Revelation 6:9-11, 7:9-17).

In the first four seal openings, John “heard” commands from the “Four Living Creatures.” With the openings of the Fifth and Sixth seals, the stress falls on what he “saw” (“And I saw when he opened the fifth seal”).

Both seal openings include verbal links to the Vision of the Innumerable Multitude, and both pose questions that are answered in that vision, “How long?”, and “Who is able to stand?” Thus, the Fifth and Sixth Seal openings form a pair. Their sequence is literary, not chronological, and this is dictated by when the “Lamb” opened each seal - (Revelation 7:9-17).

The “Altar” in the Fifth Seal corresponds to the Altar of Burnt Offerings in the court of the ancient Tabernacle. Blood from sacrificial victims was poured out at its base, just as the “souls” of the Martyrs were found “underneath the Altar.” They died as sacrificial victims. Just as the “Lamb” was “slain,” so they were “slain” for their “Testimony” - (Exodus 30:1-10, Leviticus 4:7, Hebrews 9:4).

The group called the “Inhabitants of the Earth” represents those men who remain irredeemably hostile to Jesus and his saints. It does not refer to geographic location but to the life orientation of the group. They inhabit the lower regions where Satan was cast after he was expelled from Heaven - (“He was cast to the Earth, and his angels were cast with him” - Revelation 8:13, 11:10, 12:9, 13:8, 13:12-14, 17:2-8).

Twilight country road - Photo by Mier Chen on Unsplash
[Photo by Mier Chen on Unsplash]


Each martyr “under the Altar” was given a white “robe” or stolé, the Greek term from the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible applied to the vestments worn by the Levitical priests. The “white robes” point to the priestly character and function of the Martyrs. However, unlike the ancient priests, they poured out their own lives at the base of the Altar, not that of animals - (Exodus 28:4, 29:21, Ezekiel 44:19).

The “white robe” is also another verbal link to the Vision of the Innumerable Multitude where the victorious saints were seen “standing before the Lamb” 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, they were told to “rest yet a short time.” The same phrase occurs also when the “Dragon” becomes enraged, knowing he has only “a short season” remaining to destroy the covenant community.

Likewise, at the end of the “Thousand Years,” Satan was loosed for “a short time.” The verbal links locate the period during which the full and final complement of Martyrs will be assembled, namely, the final “war,” singular, waged against the saints at the end of the age by the “Dragon,” the “Beast from the Sea,” the “False Prophet,” and “Babylon” - (Revelation 11:7, 12:12-17, 13:7, 17:10, 20:7-9).

The plea of the Martyrs echoes the final vision in the Book of Daniel when the prophet was informed that “your people will be delivered, everyone found written in the book,” then a voice asked, “HOW LONG will it be to the end of these wonders?”

The Martyrs of Jesus must “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” vindicated and in worship before the “Lamb and the Throne.” In contrast, the “Dragon” and all his allies and vassals will be judged before the “Great White Throne” and cast into the “Lake of Fire.”

The Fifth Seal opening discloses the fate of the first Martyrs for the “Lamb,” but it also informs the reader that many more must die “for their Testimony” and be gathered before the last judgment when all the men redeemed by the “Lamb” will “stand” as an “Innumerable Multitude” before him and his Father.

In the interim, every “Martyr” for Jesus is granted “rest” while the onslaught against his assemblies continues until the “last hour” and the descent of “New Jerusalem” to the Earth on the day that Jesus “appears on the clouds of Heaven.”



Destruction of Babylon

Gog and Magog