All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. (Mat. 24:8-10) [emphasis added]The beginning of sorrows have passed and the Great Tribulation is now upon the world, a time of unprecedented martyrdom and anti-Semitism (Mat. 24:15-22; Rev. 12:6+, 13-15+). “The futurist interpretation takes these as the first martyrs of the tribulation of Daniel’s 70th Week. The fifth seal corresponds to Mat. 24:8-28, martyrdoms.”3 under the altar
The picture of souls immediately in God’s presence after death is in harmony with 2Cor. 5:8, and the fact that the martyrs are beneath the altar is consistent with the symbolism of Lev. 4:7, for the priest poured the blood of the sacrifice at the bottom of the altar, and the blood represented the life of the sacrifice (Lev. 17:11-14). So these martyrs will sacrifice their lives for God, and Heaven acknowledges this.6Some see this altar to be the altar of incense rather than the altar of sacrifice.7 Yet the location of the martyrs under the altar has more in common with the altar of sacrifice and there is no compelling reason to connect this altar with the altar of incense upon which the prayers of the saints are offered.the souls
Their slaying, then, is not the end of them. It is not the total interruption of their being in all respects. It makes them invisible to men in the flesh, in the natural state; but it does not hinder their living on as souls, or their being visible to heavenly eyes, or to the eyes of John in his supernatural and prophetic exaltation. The holy Apocalyptist tells us that he “saw” them, although they “had been slain;” and heard them speaking with loud voices, though their material tongues had been burnt to ashes, and their corporeal organs of speech had been stiffened in death. It is altogether a wrong interpretation of the Scriptures which represents the dead in a state of non-existence, unconsciousness, or oblivion.9who had been slain for the word of God
A. T. Robertson, who has been acclaimed as America’s premier Greek authority of the 20th century, indicates that the verb form translated “were slain” in Revelation 6:9+ represents action that was completed before the action of the main verb “saw” . . . The fact that John did not see believers being slain, but instead saw the disembodied souls of saints who had been slain before he saw them, forces the conclusion that when Christ breaks the fifth seal, it will not cause the martyrdom of those saints . . . The martyred saints of the fifth seal will be living and dying during the first four seals.10But it is difficult to avoid the emphasis a plain reading of the verse puts upon the timing of the fifth seal and the revelation of the martyrs. It seems clear that with the opening of the fifth seal God intends us to realize that we have gone past the beginning of sorrows into the actual Tribulation period. See Trouble Ahead.By now, a heightened religious persecution attends the events upon the earth for these saints did not perish due to beasts, famine, pestilence, or war—but were slain for the word of God. Their testimony was seen as a dangerous and undesirable witness against the false religious system riding the beast (Rev. 17:6+). At this point in the sequence of events, the Antichrist has not yet become the center of all worship:
[Some assume] that the fifth seal saints are martyred because they would not bow to the Antichrist. But, again, there is nothing in the context of the fifth seal to indicate this. To be sure, they are martyred for their faith. But it does not say that it was specifically for refusing to bow down to the Antichrist. The self-proclamation of deity by the Antichrist takes place at the time of the Abomination of Desolation (Mat. 24:15; 2Th. 2:4) which, . . . happens at the midpoint of the seven years. In Revelation, that midpoint begins with chapter eleven, when the Temple is taken over by Gentiles for 42 months (the second three and one-half years). Then Antichrist proceeds to remove all opposition by killing the two witnesses (Rev. 11+) and persecuting the Jews (Rev. 12+). He then proclaims himself to be God and sets up his image (Rev. 13+). Only those saints in and subsequent to chapter thirteen are being killed for refusing to accept the Antichrist.11
The revelation of the fifth seal makes clear that in the future time of tribulation it will be most difficult to declare one’s faith in the Lord Jesus. It may very well be that the majority of those who trust Christ as Saviour in that day will be put to death. This is confirmed in Revelation 7+ where another picture of the martyred dead of the tribulation is given, and in Revelation 13+ where death is inflicted on all who will not worship the beast. Martyrdom in those days will be as common as it is uncommon today.12the testimony which they held
1 Albrecht Durer (1471 - 1528). Image courtesy of the Connecticut College Wetmore Print Collection.
2 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 140.
3 Jerome Smith, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992), Rev. 6:11.
4 Frederick William Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 366.
5 E. W. Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1984, 1935), Rev. 6:9.
6 Monty S. Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John (Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries, 1987), Rev. 6:9.
7 “The description given in Revelation seems to fit the altar of incense better than the great altar of sacrifice which stood near the door of the tabernacle. The altar in Revelation is connected with the prayers of the martyrs (Rev. 6:9+), its fire is used to light the incense of the golden censer (Rev. 8:3+, 5+), and its location is ‘before God,’ which would accord much more closely with the place of the altar of incense that stood on the border between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, the inner shrine of the tabernacle.”—Merrill C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1957), 171.
8 “This Greek word occurs 105 times in the New Testament, and its uses and occurrences may be classified as follows: (1) Metonymy of the Cause, ‘soul’ put for ‘life,’ which is the effect of it. The natural life of the body, Mat. 2:20; 6:25, 25; 10:39, 39; 16:25, 25; 20:28. Mark 3:4; 8:35; 10:45. Luke 6:9; 9:56; 12:22, 23; 14:26; 17:33a; John 10:11, 15, 17; 12:25a, 25b; 13:37, 38; 15:13; Acts 15:26; 20:10, 24; 27:10, 22; Rom. 11:3; 16:4; Php. 2:30; 1Jn. 3:16, 16; Rev. 8:9+; 12:11+. Rendered ‘soul,’ Mat. 16:26, 26; Mark 8:36, 37; Luke 12:20; 1Th. 2:8. (2) The immaterial, invisible part of man: Mat. 10:28; Acts 2:27, 31; 1Th. 5:23; Heb. 4:12. (3) The disembodied man (2Cor. 5:3, 4; 12:2): Rev. 6:9+; 20:4+. (4) The seat of personality: Luke 9:24, 24; Heb. 6:19; 10:39. (5) Metonymy of Cause. The seat of perception, feeling, desire: Mat. 11:29; Luke 1:46; 2:35; Acts 14:2 (mind), 22; 15:24. (6) Metonymy of Cause. The seat of will and purpose: Mat. 22:37; Mark 12:30, 33; Luke 10:27; Acts 4:32; Eph. 6:6; Php. 1:27; Col. 3:23; Heb. 12:3. (7) The seat of appetite: Rev. 18:14+. (8) Metonymy of Cause, soul put for person. Synecdoche of the Part, an integral part of man (individually) is put for the whole person. Used of persons or individuals: Acts 2:41, 43; 3:23; 7:14; 27:37; Rom. 2:9; 13:1; Jas. 5:20; 1Pe. 3:20; 2Pe. 2:14; Rev. 18:13+. (9) Synecdoche of the Part. The expression ‘my soul,’ ‘his soul,’ etc., becomes by Synecdoche the idiom for me, myself, himself, etc. Used to emphasize the personal pronoun (a) in the first person: Mat. 12:18; 26:38; Mark 14:34; Luke 12:19, 19; John 10:24 (us); 12:27; 2Cor. 1:23; Heb. 10:38 (soul); (b) in the second person: 2Cor. 12:15; Heb. 13:17; Jas. 1:21; 1Pe. 1:9, 22; 2:25; (c) in the third person: 1Pe. 4:19; 2Pe. 2:8. (10) Synecdoche of the Part. ‘Soul’ (Gr. psyche) is also used of animals. An animate creature, human or other: 1Cor. 15:45; Rev. 16:3+. (11) The ‘inward man,’ seat of the new life: Luke 21:19; 1Pe. 2:11; 3Jn. 2. Compare the classification of the corresponding Old Testament term nephesh at Gen. 2:7 (note).”—Smith, The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Mat. 2:20.
9 Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation, 142.
10 Renald E. Showers, Maranatha, Our Lord Come (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1995), 110, 119.
11 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, A Review of the Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, n.d.), 43.
12 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1966), Rev. 6:9.