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MARTYRS UNDER THE ALTAR – Revelation 6:9-11

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on March 9, 2016 under AM Bible Study |

AM Bible Study Group; March 9, 2016 from Revelation 6:9-11

Theme: The fifth seal reveals the martyrdom of the saints during the time of tribulation.

(All Scripture is taken from The New King James Version, unless otherwise indicated).

We come now to the opening of the fifth seal. And after it is opened, it reveals something distinct from the first four. Each of those first four was followed by a cry from heaven, “Come.” But there is no such call with the opening of the fifth seal. This is because the first four seals initiated the removal of God’s hand from fallen mankind in order to allow evil to have its way on earth. The event that we see being released by the fifth seal is the result of all that evil—the martyrdom of the saints at an unprecedented level. This is describing the time that the Lord spoke of in Matthew 24:21;

For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:21-22).

One of the things that we learn from this passage is that, in the time of great tribulation, it will become harder than ever to follow Jesus. During those dark days, all those on the earth who claim Jesus as Savior will do so at the cost of their lives. But that’s the story only from this side of martyrdom. The center of activity in this fifth seal has momentarily shifted from earth to heaven; and in it, we can see the endless life and glory of those who are thus put to death for Jesus.

We can put what John is allowed to see into three main divisions:


A. These saints are not those who suffered death merely because of the difficult trials of the first four seals; but rather were those who “had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held”. During that dark time to come, the word of God will still be proclaimed. And it may even be that the unfolding events of the first four seals will move God’s people to open His word and—with great boldness—proclaim the meaning of the events that were occurring. Not only so, but these saints will be moved to hold tightly to the testimony of Jesus and their faith in Him. They will be under great pressure to deny Him; but they will not do so—not even under the threat of their lives. But this will arouse the anger of the unbelieving people of this world intensely; and the devil will move them to arise and kill these saints. These are they, then, that are spoken of in Revelation 12:11—who “overcame” the devil “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”

B. Note that their souls are “under the altar”. In the Old Testament law, that was the place in which the blood of God’s burnt offering was poured out (Leviticus 4:34; Deuteronomy 12:27). The world will look upon the murder of these saints as a convenient way of having gotten rid of some inconvenient people. But God views their death as an offering unto Him upon the heavenly altar.

C. We should pay very careful attention to the fact that they are presented as consciously existing and still very much alive—even though they had been physically killed. They can speak, and can wear robes, and can be ‘beheld’. Physical death puts the man or woman of God in an “intermediate state” in which he or she awaits the day of resurrection. As Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28; see also Luke 16:19-31; 20:38; 23:43; Philippians 1:21).


A. We’re told that, while under the altar, these martyred souls cried out. But this is not a cry of anguish or whimper of misery. It’s a confident cry “with a loud voice”. It’s a cry that boldly and expectantly calls out for the hand of God to be moved toward justice on their behalf. Note who it is that they cry out to—(literally) “the Despot”; that is, to the authoritative and powerful Master. He is described as “holy” and “true”; so they are confident that they will be heard and that His hand will mightily move to bring about justice.

B. In their loud cry, they ask the Lord how long it will be until He judges, and avenges their blood on those who dwell on the earth. Note that they did not seek to take vengeance for themselves, but instead trusted the righteous Judge to do it for them. They lived out the kind of attitude that Paul commended the Thessalonian believers for in 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10;

We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed (2 Thessalonians 1:3-10).

These dark times yet to come will not be ignored by God. Even today, those who lay down their lives for Him cry out, “How long?” But He will vindicate His name, and bring about justice for His redeemed people in due time.


A. A white robe is given to them. This white robe symbolizes their righteousness (see 19:8; see also Isaiah 61:10); and is the attire of the saints in glory “who come out of the great tribulation” (7:9; 13, 14). This assures them of their full acceptance and purity before God—and of a glory and honor fully to be realized on the day of resurrection at Jesus’ return (Revelation 20:4).

B. What’s more, they are made to understand that they are not alone in their martyrdom. It was said to them that they should rest “a little while longer”; and this was until the full number of their fellow-servants and their brethren “who would be killed as they were” was fully completed. The martyrdom of the saints is under God’s sovereign control. Jesus promised well in advance that His followers would be rejected and killed by the people of this world. He told them this before it happened “that you should not be made to stumble” (John 16:1-4). And the Scriptures clearly warns us that such martyrdom will be an aspect of the last days (Revelation 12:11; 13:7, 15). And amazingly, we’re here shown that God even knows the number of His saints who are called upon and appointed to lay down their lives for Him, so that when the last of His appointed ones are brought into His presence by martyrdom, the number is “completed”.

* * * * * * * * * *

We are beginning to see these kinds of pressures in our own day more and more. In many places of the world today—an even here, increasingly, in our own land—the saints must often take a stand on the word of God and on the testimony of Jesus at the high price of their jobs, their families, their freedom, and even their lives. In the time of tribulation, the high cost of following Jesus will be felt world-wide.

In the light of this, our best response is to prepare ourselves now; and to do today as we’re told these saints will have done then—to faithfully proclaim God’s word in our generation, cling unceasingly to the testimony of Jesus Christ, and confidently trust God our Savior to be the one who will bring about justice for us. Let’s always remember Jesus’ word of exhortation in the Sermon on The Mount:

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).

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