Are the souls under the altar alive? (Rev 6:9-11)

PURPOSE

In Revelation 5, “Him who sat on the throne” gave Jesus a book that is “sealed up with seven seals” (Rev 5:1, 7). In Revelation 6, Jesus breaks the first six seals one by one. John wrote:

“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal,
I saw underneath the altar
the souls of those who had been slain
because of the word of God …
they cried out with a loud voice:
   ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true,
    will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood …’
And there was given to each of them a white robe;
and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer ….” (Rev 6:9-11)

This seems to be disembodied but conscious souls literally crying out to God. On the other hand, John saw these very same “souls” again after Jesus had returned (Rev 19:11-), and this seems to say that they were not alive:

“I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded
because of … the word of God …
and they came to life and
reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” (Rev 20:4)

Since “they came to life” at Christ’s return, these “souls” did exist but were not alive before He returned. How are we to understand those ‘souls’?

SUMMARY

The interpretation of the souls under the altar as disembodied but conscious persons requires a literal reading of the text. However, for the following reasons, it must be understood as symbolic:

The entire Book of Revelation is symbolic.

1) The book begins by saying that the visions in the book were given in the form of signs (Rev 1:1).

2) Many things in the book simply cannot be literal. For example; a harlot woman riding a seven-headed dragon (Rev 17:3).

3) Even things that seem literal are symbolic on further investigation. For example, the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 is really a symbolic description of God’s eternal people.

Given the pervasive symbolism of the book, the safer route is to assume that everything is symbolic unless proven otherwise. This applies also to the souls under the altar.

Everything else in the fifth seal is symbolic.

The Lamb broke the fifth seal. – It is not a literal lamb but a symbol of Jesus (Rev 5:6). It is also not a literal seal or a literal book. The sealed book symbolizes a crisis in heaven (Rev 5:3). See – The sealed book.

I (John) saw.  – John did not see anything literally. The Holy Spirit imparted knowledge directly to his mind

Underneath the Altar – John did not see an altar because there was no literal altar. In the Old Testament, the “life” (literally the “soul” – nephesh) of the flesh is in the blood (Lev 17:11). In sacrificial rituals, the priest poured out the blood of the animals at the base of the altar (e.g., Exo 29:12) where it would soak into the ground “underneath the altar.” The fifth seal uses this ritual as a symbol to say that God’s people are symbolically sacrificed on a symbolic altar. Since the altar is not literal, the souls under the altar are also not literal.

The souls of those who had been slain – Literally, John did not see In Rev 20:4, these slain souls come to life and reign with Christ, meaning that these ‘souls’ symbolize ALL of God’s people; also those who have not literally been “slain.”

They cried out for revenge – This implies that they have mouths. Furthermore, God’s people do not seek revenge. Rather, like Jesus and Stephan, they would ask the Father to forgive their murderers (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60)! Similar to Abel’s blood that cried out from the ground to God (Gen 4:10-11), it is the injustice God’s people had suffered that cries out to God; not living beings.

There was given to each of them a white robe – Souls do not have bodies and do not need robes. The white robes are symbols of “the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:7-8) and serve as God’s guarantee that they will be resurrected to eternal life.

They were told that they should rest for a little while longer. – In other words, they were resting and they must continue to rest. Both Daniel and Revelation use ‘rest’ to describe death as a state of inactivity. For example, an angel told Daniel: “You will enter into REST and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age” (Dan 12:13; cf. Rev 14:13). In other words, Daniel did not receive his “allotted portion” when he died and he will “rest” until the end of the age.

For a little while longer – Since the souls receive their white robes (their guarantee for eternal life) not at death but only “a little while” before Christ returns, they could not have gone to ‘heaven’ immediately when they died.

Until the number of their fellow servants … who were to be killed … would be completed also – Another article shows that this is not a literal number but means that God’s end-time people would be completed QUALITATIVELY in character; not numerically to a specific number.

Since everything else in the fifth seal is symbolic, the souls underneath the altar cannot and should not be taken any more literally than the description of Jesus as a bleeding lamb (Rev 5:6).

Psuché (soul) refers to mortal life.

A “soul” is often understood as an immortal but conscious part of human beings that survives death. In Revelation, the word translated as “soul” (psuché) is used seven times. Twice it refers to the normal mortal life of animals (Rev 8:9; 16:3) and twice to the normal mortal life of humans (Rev 12:11; 18:13). It is also used to refer to a person’s innermost being (Rev 18:14). The two remaining verses use psuché to refer to something that survives death (Rev 6:9; 20:4). These verses refer to the same group of people, namely, God’s people who were killed for their faith, but 20:4 states that they are made alive when Christ returns, meaning that they are not alive now. The part that survives death may be understood as follows:

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on! …
for their deeds follow with them” (Rev 14:13).

– End of Summary –


REVELATION IS A SYMBOLIC BOOK.

The interpretation of the souls underneath the altar as conscious, disembodied persons requires a literal reading of the text. But Revelation is a book of symbols:

Jesus ‘signified’ the revelation to John.

The opening verse of the book (Rev 1:1) states explicitly that this book is given in signs and symbols:

“A revelation of Jesus Christ,
that God gave to him …
he did signify [it]” (YLT).

The word translated as “signify” in YLT means “to give a sign.”

Many things in the book are clearly symbolic.

Many examples can be provided of things that simply cannot be literal. Examples from the vision of the seven seals include:

      • A bleeding lamb that breaks the seals (e.g., Rev 6:9; cf. Rev 5:6);
      • The four horsemen in the first four seals; and
      • The people hide in the mountains after stars have fallen on the earth (Rev 6:13, 15).

Examples from other visions in Revelation include:

      • Monsters with multiple heads (Rev 13:1);
      • Talking frogs (Rev 16:13-14);
      • A harlot woman riding a dragon (Rev 17:3);
      • Locusts with scorpion tails, horses’ heads, yet faces like humans (Rev 9:7); and
      • A woman standing on the moon, giving birth to a male child, while a great red dragon stood ready to devour her child the second it was born (Rev 12:1-3).

Things that seem literal but are symbols.

There are things in Revelation that may seem literal at first but further investigation reveals these things to be symbolic. For example:

The New Jerusalem in chapter 21 is 12000 furlongs (1,500 miles) in length, width, and height (Rev 21:16). A city of this size would reach past the atmosphere into outer space and unbalance the rotation of the earth and the orbit of the moon. For a discussion of the meaning of the dimensions of the city, see – What do the numbers in the Book of Revelation mean?

One of the angels said to John that he would show him the bride of Christ but then John saw “the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven” (Rev 21:9-10). This is one of the hear/see combinations in Revelation in which John hears about something but then sees something very different, but what he hears and sees are two perspectives of THE SAME THING. The New Jerusalem, therefore, is the bride of Christ.

Assume everything symbolic until proven literal.

Given the pervasive symbolism of the book, the appropriate hermeneutic for Revelation is to assume that EVERYTHING is symbolic except when something is shown to be literal. This means that, until the opposite has been proven, we must assume that the souls under the altar are not literal souls but symbols of realities in the cosmic struggle between the forces of life and death.

THE FIFTH SEAL IS SYMBOLIC.

For this reason, the remainder of this article focuses on the fifth seal to determine whether the souls are literal or symbolic. It discusses several aspects of that seal, shows that these things are symbols, and explains what these symbols mean. The concepts discussed below include:

It is not a literal lamb or a literal seal.

“The Lamb broke the Fifth Seal” (Rev 6:9).

God had in His right hand a book that was sealed with seven seals (Rev 5:1). Nobody was able to open it (Rev 5:3). But then Jesus overcame by becoming a slain lamb and, thereby, became regarded as worthy to break the seals (Rev 5:5-6, 9). The Lamb, therefore, symbolizes Jesus Christ.

Another article has interpreted the seals as follows:

This book is “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Rev 13:8); also called “the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev 21:27), identifying the people God has chosen for eternal life (Rev 3:5).

The seals are the things that prevent understanding of what is written in the book; specifically, Satan’s informed objections to the people identified in the Book of Life (cf. Rev 12:10).

By breaking the seals, Jesus removes these barriers to understanding. Specifically, He shows that Satan’s objections are groundless.

The reader may have a different interpretation of the book, the seals, and of what breaking the seals mean but it is at least clear that these are not literal things.

John did not see anything literally.

John says that he saw the souls under the altar. What did he see? What does a soul look like?

More specifically, He wrote that he saw that these souls “had been slain because of the word of God.” How did he know that they were killed and why they were killed? The text does not say that anybody told him that. Do murdered souls differ in appearance from other souls?

I propose that we interpret this as follows:

John did not literally see anything; at least not with his physical eyes. That these people were “slain because of the word of God” are thoughts that the Holy Spirit gave directly to John’s mind (cf. Rev 1:10).

The same possibly applies to the “souls.” In other words, the Spirit did not give John a visual image of these souls. In vision, he simply knew about these souls.

Under the Altar is an Old Testament concept.

John continues:

“I saw underneath the altar
the souls of those who had been slain
because of the word of God” (Rev 6:9).

Here, Revelation uses an Old Testament ritual as a symbol:

In the Old Testament, the altar of burnt offering was the place of sacrifice. The priest slaughtered the animal, sprinkled some of the blood at the sides of the altar, and “poured out” the rest at the base of the altar (Exo 29:12; 39:39; 40:29; Lev 3:2, 4:7, 18, 25, 10, 34, 8:15; 9:9; etc.). The blood would, of course, soak into the ground beneath the altar.

According to Leviticus 17:11, the “life” (literally the “soul” – nephesh) of the flesh is in the blood. Therefore, in Old Testament terminology, the SOULS of the animals were been “poured out” at the base of the altar.

The fifth seal converts this ritual into a symbol: When God’s people remain “faithful until death” (Rev 2:10) and do “not love their life even when faced with death” (Rev 12:11), in the symbolic language of the fifth seal, they are sacrificed ON the altar and their souls (lives) are poured out at the base of the altar. In that sense, they are symbolically “underneath the altar.”

This interpretation is confirmed as follows:

1) Revelation 16:6 states that the people of the world “poured out the blood of saints and prophets.” “Poured out” is the same phrase used for the blood of the sacrifices that was “poured out” at the base of the altar (e.g., Lev 8:15).

2) The Greek word translated as “slain” in the phrase “had been SLAIN because of the word of God” (Rev 6:9) is the primary word used in connection with sanctuary sacrifices in the Greek Old Testament (LXX) (Exo 29:11, 16, 20; 34:25; Lev 1:5, 11; 3:2, 8, 11; 4:4, 15, 24, 29, 33, etc.). This confirms that Revelation presents these people as sacrificed on the altar.

3) The Book of Revelation also uses this same word (translated as “slain”) for Christ’s death (Rev 5:6; cf. 13:8). God’s people, therefore, symbolically, are sacrificed just like their Master was.

John, therefore, did not see a literal altar and he did not see literal souls under the altar.

Symbolically, all of God’s people are slain.

In the fifth seal, the “souls” are “of those who had been slain because of the word of God” (Rev 6:9). In other words, literally interpreted, these are not the souls of ALL of God’s people but only of those who have been murdered for their faith. Literally interpreted, the souls of God’s people who died without being murdered are somewhere else. However, “slain” is also a symbol:

Revelation 20:4

Revelation 20:4 describes the “souls of those who had been beheaded … because of the word of God.” These, therefore, are the same as the people represented in the fifth seal. However, 20:4 adds that they came alive “and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Logically, they, and therefore the martyrs in the fifth seal, include ALL OF GOD’S PEOPLE of all ages; also those that have not been killed for their faith.

The Innumerable Multitude

The fifth seal refers to a point in history after many of God’s people have already been slain but before “the number of their fellow servants … who were to be killed … would be completed” (Rev 6:9-11). The people killed both before and after this point in history, consequently, are “underneath the altar.”

The people before God’s throne in Revelation 7:9-17 “come out of the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). Given the context, the “great tribulation” is the killing of God’s people described in the fifth seal. The people in Revelation 7:9-17, therefore, are the same people as the “souls underneath the altar.” This is confirmed by the fact that they, similar to the souls under the altar, have white robes; (Rev 7:14; cf. Rev 6:11).

But the people in Revelation 7:9-17 are identified as those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14). Therefore they, and the souls underneath the altar, include ALL of God’s people. For a discussion, see – Who is the innumerable multitude in Revelation 7:9?

The souls under the altar, therefore, symbolize all of God’s people; also those who have not been literally “slain.” Symbolically, in Revelation, all of God’s people are “slain” because all of God’s people suffer some form of persecution.

To put on robes, the souls have bodies.

Since these “souls” “cried out with a loud voice” (Rev 6:10), they seem to have mouths. And they wore white robes (Rev 6:11). A robe needs a body to hang on. So, symbolically, these souls had bodies, again showing the symbolic nature of the vision.

It was injustice, not souls, that cried for revenge.

The souls under the altar cried out, asking God why he delays “avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth.” (Rev 6:10)

This is not a literal call for revenge. Firstly, the souls are resting (Rev 6:11) and resting souls do not cry out for revenge. Secondly, God’s people do not seek revenge. Rather, like Jesus and Stephan, they would cry:

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know
what they are doing” (Luke 23:34; cf. Acts 7:60)!

This call for revenge must be understood as similar to the call of Abel’s blood. In Genesis 4:10-11, after Cain killed his brother Abel, God said that the ground has opened its mouth to receive Abel’s blood from Cain’s hand and that Abel’s blood is crying out to Him (God) “from the ground.” It was not Abel who cried out but Abel’s blood. Hebrew 11:4 comments: “By faith Abel … still speaks, even though he is dead.” Notice the similarities to the fifth seal:

      • Both Abel and the souls under the altar had been killed for their testimony (cf. Luke 11:50-51, Heb 11:4).
      • Since the souls are “underneath the altar” (Rev 6:9), both these souls and Abel’s blood are in the ground.
      • Both Abel’s blood and these souls cry out to God. In other words, symbolically, both have voices.

Abel’s blood did not literally cry out to God. It was a symbolic way of saying that God is aware of the injustice done and His desire to set things right.

In the same way, the cry for revenge of the souls under the altar does not confirm some kind of spirit-existence in heaven. It is not a literal cry for revenge. It is not the slain ones themselves who call for vengeance, any more than it was Abel himself who cried out to God from the ground (Gen 4:10). The slain souls are not in heaven; they are under the altar on which they have been sacrificed, which is on earth. It is the injustice they had suffered that cries out to God; not living beings. It symbolizes God’s awareness of the suffering of His people and His promise to set things right.

The robes symbolize salvation.

White symbolizes purity.

The souls underneath the altar are given white robes (Rev 6:11). These are not literally white robes. “The fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:7-8). This quote does not mention “white” but white and “clean” have similar meanings. For example:

“They have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14).

Those who “have not soiled their garments …
will walk with Me in white,
for they are worthy” (Rev 3:4).

People clean their own robes.

White robes reflect “the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:8). White robes relate to what God’s people DO:

Those who “have not soiled their garments
will walk with Me in white” (Rev 3:4; cf. 3:5).

The innumerable multitude (Rev 7:9)
“have washed their robes and
made them white
in the blood of the Lamb”
(Rev 7:13-14; cf.
16:15).

White robes signify assurance of eternal life.

Since the white robes symbolize “the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:8), the white robes are not literal but symbolize acceptance by God; the assurance of eternal life. For example:

“The one who overcomes will be clothed … in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life” (Rev 3:5; cf. 20:4-6)

In Matthew 22:11-14, Jesus told a parable of a wedding where there was a man “who was not dressed in wedding clothes.” The king gave instructions that the man be thrown “into the outer darkness.”

The implication is that the white robes symbolize both “the righteous acts of the saints” and acceptance by God. In other words, man is saved by his deeds, which is contrary to the standard Protestant teaching that nobody will be saved by the works of the law. For a further discussion, see – The doers of the Law will be justified but NOT by the Works of the Law.

NOT CONSCIOUS SOULS

The purpose of this section is to provide more specific evidence that the souls are not conscious human beings. It consists of three parts:

    • A discussion of the word that is translated as “soul” (psuché),
    • The description of these souls as resting, and that
    • They will receive their white robes only shortly before Christ returns:

Psuché (soul) refers to mortal life.

A “soul” is often understood as an immortal and conscious part of human beings that survives death. In Rev 6:9, “soul” is translated from the Greek word psuché, which is found in seven verses in Revelation:

Psuché is the normal mortal life of animals.

Twice, psuché refers to animals:

      • “A third of the creatures which were in the sea and had life (psuché), died” (Rev 8:9).
      • “Every living thing (psuché) in the sea died” (Rev 16:3).

Since we do not normally think that animals have an immortal portion that survives death, psuché does not have that meaning in these two verses. Furthermore, in both these two verses, the psuché (soul) dies. It refers, therefore, to the natural mortal life that animals have on this earth today.

Psuché is also the normal mortal life of humans. 

Twice psuché refers to mortal human life:

    • “They (presumably, “our brethren”) did not love their life (psuché) even when faced with death” (Rev 12:11).
    • “… horses and chariots and slaves and human lives (psuché)” (Rev 18:13).

In an interlinear translation, 18:13 reads, “souls of men.” This is part of a long list of the merchandise of “the merchants of the earth” (Rev 18:11-13). Since the phrase “souls of men” is listed with other literal things, it does not refer to an immortal, conscious part of humans. In these instances, the psuché of humans is similar to that of animals.  The NASB translates psuché 43 times as life (or lives) and 47 times as soul (or souls). “The word ‘soul’ [ψυχή] is one of the most difficult words in the Bible and in Christian literature.”1C. Yannaras, Elements of Faith (in Greek), p.55 

Psuché can refer to the innermost being.

      • “The fruit you (psuché) long for” (Rev 18:14)

In an interlinear translation, Rev 18:14 reads, “the desire of the soul are departed from you.” This perhaps refers to the innermost being; not an immortal, conscious part of humans.

Psuché can survive death but is not alive.

The remaining two verses refer to the psuché of dead people: 

    • “The souls (psuché) of those who had been slain because of the word of God” (Rev 6:9)
    • “The souls (psuché) of those who had been beheaded … because of the word of God… came to life” (Rev 20:4).

In both verses:

    • John writes “I saw the souls.”
    • These souls were killed “because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God.”
    • These “souls” seem to have survived death in some sense.

The souls in 20:4, therefore, are the same people as the “souls underneath the altar” in the fifth seal (Rev 6:9). But, in 20:4, John continues and says, “and they came to life.” Since 20:4 is part of the description of Christ’s return (cf. Rev 19:11), they “came to life” when Christ returns. Therefore, they were not alive between death and resurrection.

The psuché that survives death is God’s promise.

The souls in 6:9 should not be understood as an immortal, conscious part of human beings. The “souls” of God’s people that survive natural death may be understood as follows:

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on! …
for their deeds follow with them” (Rev 14:13).

In other words, they have the promise of eternal life.

The dead rest, meaning inactive.

The “souls” cry to God for revenge but “they were told that they should rest for a little while longer” (Rev 6:11). In other words:

      1. At the point in time indicated by the fifth seal, they are resting.
      2. They must continue to rest until the time when they will have their revenge.
      3. Since 6:9-11 describes God’s “slain” people, “rest” explains the state of the dead.
      4. “Rest” describes death as a state of inactivity.

Until when must they ‘rest’?

In Revelation 19:1-3, “a great multitude in heaven” praises God because “He has avenged the blood of his bond-servants.” This is followed by Christ’s return (Rev 19:11). In other words, the “blood” of the souls under the altar will only be avenged when or immediately before Christ returns. By implication, the souls under the altar will rest until Christ returns.

Rest describes the state of death.

In Daniel 12, an angel said to Daniel:

“You will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age” (Dan 12:13).

Revelation 14:13 reads:

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on! …
so that they may REST from their labors,
for their deeds follow with them.”

As an example from the Old Testament, “the righteous man perishes … they rest in their beds” (Isa 57:1-2).

Rest and Sleep are synonyms.

Both “rest” and “sleep” describe death as a state of inactivity. Earlier in Daniel 12, we read that, at the end of time:

“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake” (Dan 12:2).

In other words, Daniel 12 uses both the concepts of sleep and rest (Dan 12:13) to describe death as a state of inactivity. Consistent with this principle, the angel said that Daniel will NOT receive his “allotted inheritance” at death but only “at the end of the age” (Dan 12:13), namely, when Christ returns (Matt 13:40).

Therefore, the word “rest” strongly implies that the souls under the altar are not awake.

They do not receive white robes at death.

When the “souls” “were told that they should rest for a little while longer,” they were also given white robes (i.e., confirmation of salvation) (Rev 6:11). In other words, they received their white robes NOT while alive nor at death but only “a little while” before Christ returns. Since they have not received their white robes at death, the righteous cannot go to heaven at death and the wicked dead cannot go directly to hell.

RESURRECTION IMMEDIATELY ON DEATH

Concerning the state of the dead, we must realize that we live in a finite universe but that God exists beyond time. At death, the spirit goes to God. But, with God, time does not exist. Therefore I propose the following:

At death, each of us is ‘wormholed’ through to the dawn of eternity. The spirit continues to live and is then reunited with a new body at the resurrection. For the individual, this happens instantly at death. They are immediately with both their parents and their children because all people arrive simultaneously at the same ‘moment’ in eternity. For those who are left behind, it seems like a long time.

To me, this reconciles the two views of the state of the dead. Then Paul’s statements, that “to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” and that he desires “to depart and be with Christ” (Phil 1:21, 23) are fully compatible with the concept that death is a state of inactivity.


OTHER ARTICLES

FOOTNOTES

  • 1
    C. Yannaras, Elements of Faith (in Greek), p.55

God’s people are sealed during Daniel’s Time of the End.

This is an article in the series on the vision of the book with the seven seals (Rev 4:1-8:1).

Summary

The Fifth Seal is the Sealing.

The first four seals (Rev 6:1-8) describe the timeless realities of the church age. But, AFTER many of God’s people have died for their testimony, the fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11) describes a specific point in history when God’s people are given white robes and are told to “rest” for a little while longer UNTIL their fellow brethren are completed (Rev 6:9-11).

In Revelation 7:1-8, AFTER the four angels have been holding back the four winds of destruction for an undefined period, an angel brings the seal of God to earth and tells the four angels to continue holding back the four winds UNTIL all of God’s people are sealed.

For the following reasons, the sealing (Rev 7:1-8) is parallel to the fifth seal: 

1) Both precede the sixth seal. Since the sixth seal begins with the signs of Christ’s return (Rev 6:12-14) and ends with Judgment Day (Rev 6:15-17), the sealing of God’s people, logically, must be completed BEFORE the sixth seal. The fifth seal, obviously, is also before the sixth.

2) Both refer to a specific point in history that divides time into the past, the present, and the future.

3) Both announce a delay:

        • In the fifth seal, God’s people must continue resting.
        • In the sealing, the angels must continue holding back the four winds.

4) In both, the purpose of the delay is to allow God’s people to become ready:

        • In the fifth seal, the delay is required because their brethren must be “completed” (Rev 6:11). This has been interpreted as completion in character; not in literal number.
        • In the sealing, the delay is required because God’s people must be “sealed” (Rev 7:3).

5) In both, a token of salvation is given to God’s people, namely white robes and the seal of God (Rev 6:11; 7:3).

6) Both are followed by massive destruction:

        • The fifth seal is followed by the massive destruction of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-14).
        • The sealing is followed by the release of the four winds of destruction.

These similarities imply that the fifth seal and the sealing describe the same thing. In particular:

(a) The point in time in the fifth seal is when the angel brings the seal out of heaven.

(b) The completion of “their fellow servants” is equivalent to the sealing of the 144000.

The Beginning of the End

Time of the EndAs discussed in another article, the seal of God is only available in the end-time. This section proposes further that God’s people are sealed during Daniel’s “time of the end:”

Since the book of Daniel is the foundation on which Revelation rests, we should be able to find the point in history, as described in the fifth seal, also in Daniel.

In the fifth seal, God’s people are killed both before and after this point in time. There is a similar point in time in Daniel 12, namely the beginning of “the time of the end” (Dan 12:4, 9):

        • Before “the time of the end,” God’s people will be persecuted for “a time, times, and half a time” and
        • During “the time of the end,” God’s enemies will “finish shattering the power of the holy people” (Dan 12:7).

For these reasons, it is proposed that the point in history, when the souls under the altar are told to rest for a little while longer, and when the angel brings the seal of God, is the beginning of “the time of the end.” Consequently, God’s people will be sealed during “the time of the end.”

The Little Book

This conclusion finds support in Revelation 10. In that chapter, an angel brings something else out of heaven at a specific point in time, namely “a little book which was open” (Rev 10:1-2). He gives it to John to eat and tells John to “prophesy again” (Rev 10:9-11). In doing so, John symbolizes the church receiving a special message from heaven.

What makes the prophecy of Revelation 10 particularly relevant to the discussion above is that the similarities between Daniel 12 and Revelation 10 implies that the little open book is understanding of the book of Daniel. This means that the little book comes down from heaven at the beginning of the time of the end (Dan 12:4). Therefore, both the seal of God and the little book come out of heaven in “the time of the end.

– End of Summary – 


The Fifth Seal

A General Principle

The article on the fifth seal found indications that the fifth seal is a general principle:

John sees the souls under the altar; symbolizing that God’s people are sacrificed on the altar for their witness. People have been dying for God ever since Abel.

They cry out for revenge; symbolizing God’s awareness of the injustice to His people and His desire to set things right. This was also always true.

These “soulsreceive white robes; indicating acceptance into God’s kingdom. However, in Revelation, people keep and make their robes white while alive on earth (Rev 3:4-5, 18; 7:14; 19:7-8). They do not receive white robes at any one specific point in history.

And they are told to waita little while longer.” But God’s people have always been waiting (cf. Rev 12:2).

The article on the fifth seal, therefore, proposes that the fifth seal symbolizes a general principle, namely that the main point of the seals is that the gospel will go out (first seal) but it will be rejected and God’s people will be persecuted.

This is consistent with the conclusion that the sealed book is the book of life and that the purpose of breaking the seals is to refute Satan’s objections to the people whom God has chosen for eternal life. By breaking the seals, Christ directs events on earth to show that God’s decisions are perfect and that the people whom God has chosen for eternal life are worthy. As Jesus said:

To him who overcomes,
I will grant to eat of the tree of life
which is in the Paradise of God
” (Rev 2:7).

(Revelation knows nothing of the doctrine that is so prevalent in Protestantism, namely that God randomly chooses people, irrespective of how they live. For a discussion, see, Man is judged by his deeds; not justified by the works of the law.)

A Point in Time

But the fifth seal is also a point in history.

The first horseman (the first seal) has been interpreted as the gospel going out. This does not happen at one specific point in time; it happens throughout the church age. The same applies to the bloodshed, famine, and pestilence of the next three horsemen, which are the consequence of preaching the gospel. The first four seals, therefore, describe timeless characteristics of the church age.

But the fifth seal points to a specific point in history AFTER many of God’s people have been martyred but BEFORE many more will be martyred (Rev 6:9-11).

The Sealing is the Fifth Seal.

Revelation 7:1-4 describes the sealing of God’s people. While four angels are holding back the four winds of the earth, another angel ascends from the east (the rising of the sun) with the seal of the living God and cries out to the four angels:

Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees
until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God
on their foreheads
” (Rev 7:3).

Then follows the sealing of the 144000 (Rev 7:4). For the following reasons, it is proposed that the sealing is parallel to the fifth seal:

1. Before the Sixth

Both the sealing and the fifth seal precede the sixth seal.

The fifth seal precedes the sixth.

The sixth seal begins with the signs of Christ’s return (Rev 6:12-14) and ends with Judgment Day (Rev 6:15-17). The sealing of God’s people, logically, must be completed BEFORE He returns and, therefore, before the sixth seal.

2. A Point in History

By referring to the past and to the future, both describe a point in history:

FIFTH SEAL THE SEALING
PAST Some of God’s people have been martyred. Four angels have been restraining the winds.
PRESENT White robes are given to the souls under the altar after. An angel brings the seal of God from the east.
FUTURE They must rest until their brethren have been completed. The angels will continue to restrain the winds until all of God’s servants are sealed.

3. A Delay

Both announce a delay:

      • In the fifth seal, the souls must “rest a little while longer.
      • In the sealing, the release of the winds is delayed (Rev 7:1-3).

4. Until God’s People are Ready

In both cases, the delay is until God’s people are ready:

Fifth seal – The Greek text does not contain the word “number.” It contains the verb plêrôthôsin which means “filled, completed, made full.” The NASB adds “the number” (Rev 6:11), but put it in italics. The article on the Fifth Seal explains this as qualitative completion.

Sealing – 144000 are sealed (Rev 7:4-8). The article on the 144000 explains that this number must be understood qualitatively; not as a literal number.

5. A Token of Salvation

In both, a token of salvation is given to the saints.

      • Fifth seal – White robes (Rev 6:11)
      • Sealing – The seal of the living God (Rev 7:1-3)

6. Massive Destruction

Both are followed by massive destruction:

      • The fifth seal is followed by the 6th seal in which a great earthquake displaces all mountains and islands (Rev 6:12-14).
      • The sealing is followed by the winds that “harm” the earth and sea (Rev 7:3).

7. The Seven Last Plagues

Both are followed by the plagues of Revelation 16:

Fifth seal: The article discussing the sixth seal has concluded that the first part of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-14) is the seven last plagues. This means that the fifth seal is followed by the seven last plagues.

Sealing: Another previous article concluded that the “winds” of Rev 7:1 are another symbol for the seven last plagues. Since the sealing precedes the release of the winds, the sealing also precedes the seven last plagues.

Conclusions

Based on the parallels between the sealing and the fifth seal, we conclude as follows:

1) The sealing and the fifth seal are different symbols for the same thing:

The fifth seal describes the specific point in history when the angel brings the seal of God from heaven.

The ‘completion of their “fellow servants” in the fifth seal is the same as the sealing of “the bond-servants of our God” (Rev 7:3).

2) The seal of God is related to the white robe of the fifth seal but not the same. Both signify acceptance into God’s eternal kingdom. But they are different because God’s resting (dead) saints (Rev 6:11; Dan 12:13) receive the white robe while the living saints receive the seal of God.

3) Since it was previously argued that the seal of God is only available in the end-time, the fifth seal also describes the end-time.

The Beginning of the End

If we conclude that the fifth seal describes the specific point in history as when the angel brings the seal of God from heaven, then the question arises, what point in time is that? To be identified so specifically, it must be very important:

It must be much later than Christ’s ascension because there are four seals between Christ’s ascension and enthronement (as described in Revelation 5) and the fifth seal.

It seems to be shortly before the return of Christ, for the next (sixth) seal begins with the signs associated with His return (Rev 6:12-17; cf. Matt 24:29). The previous article has concluded similarly that the seal is only available in the end-time.

The book of Daniel is the foundation on which Revelation is built (e.g., Rev 10:6; 12:14; 13:2). For that reason, and because the point in time in the fifth seal must be important, we should be able to find it in Daniel’s prophecies. There is a similar point in time in Daniel 12, namely the beginning of the time of the end. To explain:

The Time of the End

Daniel was told:

Conceal these words and seal up the book
until the end of time;
many will go back and forth,
and knowledge will increase
” (Dan 12:4).

The phrase “the end of time” may sound like the end of history but this verse implies that, during “the end of time,” “knowledge will increase,” namely, knowledge of Daniel’s prophecies. “The time of the end,” therefore, is not a point in time but a period leading up to the end. In support of this:

1) Young’s Literal Translation renders it as “the time of the end,” which implies a period. For the following reasons, that is perhaps a better translation:

2) Daniel uses a different phrase for the very end of time, namely “the end of the days” (Dan 12:13 YLT) or “the end of the age” (Dan 12:13 NASB). On that day, Daniel himself will “rise again” (Dan 12:13) and “many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake” (Dan 12:1-2).

Persecution Before and After

Since the point in time in the fifth seal is both preceded and followed by the killing of God’s people (Rev 6:9-11), we need to find a similar point in time in Daniel.

After Daniel was told about the time of the end (Dan 12:4), an angel asks:

How long will it be until the end of these wonders” (Dan 12:5)?

These wonders” refer to the resurrection of the dead and the events preceding it, as mentioned in the first verses of Daniel 12. That question received a double answer:

      • It would be for a time, times, and half a time;
      • and as soon as they finish shattering the power of the holy people, all these events will be completed” (Daniel 12:7).

Time, Times, and Half a Time

The “time, times, and half a time” is first mentioned in Daniel 7:25, where it is the period during which the evil horn will persecute “the saints of the Highest One.” This evil horn grows out of the Roman Empire and has been identified as the Church of the Middle Ages. Consequently, the “time, times, and half a time” refer to the Middle Ages. Daniel 7:25 identifies it as a period of persecution for God’s true people.

Finish Shattering the Power of the Holy People

In Daniel 7:25, where we find the “time, times, and half a time” for the first time, the focus is on history in general. But in Daniel 12 the focus is on the end-time, as indicated by the references in the opening verses to the resurrection of the dead (Dan 12:2-3) and by the promise in verse 4 that Daniel’s prophecies would be understood in “the time of the end” (Dan 12:4, 9).

For this reason, it is proposed that the “finish shattering the power of the holy people” (Dan 12:7) is NOT part of the “time, times, and half a time” but a separate and later period of persecution DURING “the time of the end.” Given the context in Daniel 12, the “finish shattering the power of the holy people” is the final end-time persecution that will follow after Daniel’s prophecies have been understood and preached.

The Point in Time in Daniel 12

The beginning of “the time of the end,” therefore, is a specific point in history with persecution both before and after it:

Before that point in time, God’s people were persecuted for “a time, times, and half a time.

After that point in time, during “the time of the end,” the prophecies of Daniel would become understood and preached, followed by the “finish shattering the power of the holy people.

Conclusion

Since both the fifth seal and Daniel 12 refer to a specific point in history, with persecution on both sides of it, and since Revelation is built on the foundation of Daniel’s prophecies, it is proposed that the point in history in the fifth seal, when the souls under the altar are told to rest a little while longer, and when the angel brings the seal of God out of heaven, is the beginning of “the time of the end.”

I would also like to propose that the entire book of Revelation is written from that time perspective (cf. Rev 17:8, 10; 13:3).

The Little Book

We encounter another point in history in Revelation 10. An angel comes down from heaven. “He had in his hand a little book which was open” (Rev 10:1-2). He gives it to John to eat and tells John to “prophesy again concerning many peoples” (Rev 10:9-11).

In this prophecy, John is not only an observer but symbolizes the church. It means that the church will receive a special message from heaven with instructions to “prophesy again.” The word “again” means that the church already prophesied before it received this new message from heaven. The new message coming down from heaven, therefore, is another point in history time, with prophesying both before and after that moment.

What makes the prophecy of Revelation 10 particularly relevant to the discussion above is that the little open book symbolizes understanding of the book of Daniel. This is made clear by the many parallels between Revelation 10 and Daniel 12. Compare, particularly, the oaths in Daniel 12:7 and in Revelation 10:5-7. In other words, John’s eating of the little book symbolizes understanding of Daniel’s prophecies, and the “prophesy again” is the preaching thereof. 

There is another connection between the sealing (Rev 7:1-3) and the vision of the little open book (Rev 10:1-11), namely that both are the first of a two-part interlude between the sixth and the seventh elements of their respective series. Both interludes, therefore, begin at the beginning of “the time of the end” and describe events up to “the end of the age” (Dan 12:13; cf. Rev 8:1 and 11:15). Both the seventh seal and the seventh trumpet describe “the end of the age” itself.

Since the little book from heaven is understanding of the book of Daniel, and since Daniel 12 promised that the book of Daniel will be understood in the time of the end, the little book also comes down from heaven at the beginning of the time of the end.

Therefore, both the seal of the living God and the little open book come down out of heaven at the beginning of “the time of the end.

Final Conclusions

The fifth seal and the sealing describe the same thing. In particular:

(a) The point in history in the fifth seal is when the angel brings the seal out of heaven. This is the beginning of “the time of the end.” This is also when the little open book (Rev 10:1-2) comes out of heaven.

(b) The completion of “their fellow servants” is equivalent to the sealing of the 144000.


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