People’s deeds will refute Satan’s criticism of God’s judgments.

SUMMARY

SUMMARY OF PREVIOUS CONCLUSIONS

To an extent, this article summarizes the articles on the seven seals. Previous articles concluded that:

    1. The sealed book in God’s right hand is the Book of Life, containing God’s judgments as to who will receive eternal life.
    2. The seals of the book are Satan’s accusations against those people.
    3. That the book is sealed up so that no one “was able to open the book or to look into it” (Rev 5:3) symbolizes that God’s created intelligent beings are unable to refute Satan’s accusations.
    4. John’s great weeping (Rev 5:4) represents the great sorrow in heaven caused by this “war in heaven” (Rev 12:7).
    5. Christ’s victory on earth brought an end to the sorrow (Rev 5:5) and caused Satan to be banished from heaven (Rev 12:8-9). Christ, on the other hand, was acclaimed trust-“worthy” to refute Satan’s accusations: “Worthy are you to take the book and to break its seals” (5:9).
    6. The CrossChrist’s victory did not immediately bring an end to the crisis. He is still busy breaking the seals today. Christ’s return and the implementation of God’s judgments are delayed until the last seal has been broken and the intelligent beings have the assurance that God’s judgments are perfect.
    7. That Jesus breaks the seals symbolizes that Christ directs events on earth to show that Satan’s objections are deceptive.

THE DEEDS OF PEOPLE BREAK THE SEALS.

Various books will be opened in the last judgment (Rev 20:12-13):

    • One of these is the book of life.
    • The other books contain the “deeds” of people by which people will be judged.

Consequently, the “deeds” of people, as recorded in the “books,” are the evidence that will allow God’s intelligent creatures to understand that God’s judgment, as contained in “the book of life,” are perfect. Therefore, when Christ breaks the seals, it symbolizes that He directs events on earth in such a way that the deeds of people will reveal their true natures; what they really are; that which the Creator is already able to see in the hearts of people, and on which He also based His judgments. These “deeds” will confirm that God judges perfectly.

Both the deeds of God’s people and the deeds of Satan’s people are recorded in the books.

THE WORLD IS PREPARING FOR THE FINAL BATTLE.

There will again be a battle between Christ and Satan; through their people on earth. Both sides are preparing for this battle:

Generally, God limits Satan with respect to what he is allowed to do against God’s people (e.g. Job 1:12). However, in this final battle, God will allow Satan to use the full force of his demonic powers unrestricted to persecute and deceive.

God’s end-time people, on the other hand, will be equipped with every spiritual power available to them. Symbolized by the seal of the living God (Rev 7:2), they will reach a level of spiritual maturity that was previously perhaps visible in individuals such as Job, but never before in God’s people as a group:

WHY GOD’S PEOPLE HAVE TO SUFFER

God does not allow His people to suffer without purpose. God claims certain people as worthy of eternal life. Satan is the accuser of the brethren. By rejecting God’s assessment or judgment of His elect, Satan actually accuses God of unfair judgment. Satan’s goal is to save himself. He wants to show to the universe that God makes mistakes in His judgments. If it can be shown that God’s judgments are faulty, even to the slightest degree, the implications for the creation will be massive. Satan and his angels would have grounds for their claim that they have been judged unfairly.

By choosing death rather than going against God’s laws, they will show that the people listed in the book of life will not surrender His principles. This will justify God’s decision to save them.

THE PURPOSE OF THE SEVEN LAST PLAGUES

The frequent mention in the plagues that the worshipers of the beast do not repent, even when confronted with clear evidence that they are wrong, implies that the purpose of the plagues is to show that the people with the mark of the beast will not repent under any circumstances; that they have become haters of God—solidly confirmed in their ways—irreversibly committed to evil.

– END OF SUMMARY –

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

Previous articles concluded that:

    1. The sealed book is the book of life,
    2. The seals are Satan’s accusations against the people listed in the book,
    3. For the created beings of God’s universe to feel safe and happy, they need to know that God’s judgments, of who will live and who will die, are without error, and
    4. Breaking the seals symbolizes that Satan’s accusations are refuted.

The contribution of the current article is that it is the deeds of people that confirm that God judges perfectly. In other words, when Jesus breaks the seals of the book, it symbolizes that He directs events on earth so that the deeds of people will reveal their true natures. In this way is revealed that which the Creator already saw in the hearts of people, on which He based His judgment.

The current article continues to explain how:

    • The deeds of God’s people justify God’s grace and
    • The deeds of Satan’s people show that they are irreversibly committed to evil. 

To provide a foundation for this conclusion, this article summarizes the conclusions of previous articles on the seven seals.

REVELATION 5 IS THE TIME OF THE CROSS.

Revelation 5:3-4 describes a time when there was a crisis in heaven. In the right hand of Him who sat on the throne, there was a book, sealed up with seven seals (Rev 5:1). “No one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it” (Rev 5:3). This caused John to “weep greatly” (Rev 5:4). 

But, as from verse 5, the sorrow turns to joy. One of the elders said to John, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah … has overcome so as to open the book.” Then John saw “a Lamb standing, as if slain” (Rev 5:6). The symbol of a slain lamb points to Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. The crisis in the first four verses of Revelation 5, therefore, represents the time before Christ’s death. The remainder of Revelation 5 is Jesus’ glorification at His Father’s right hand after His ascension; an event that is frequently mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g., Acts 5:31; Heb 8:1; 12:2).

CONCLUSIONS FROM PREVIOUS ARTICLES

Previous articles on the seven seals have concluded as follows:

THERE WAS A CRISIS IN HEAVEN.

    • The book in God’s right hand (Rev 5:1) is the Book of Life. It contains God’s decisions, as to who is saved to eternal life.
    • That the book of life is sealed up so that no one “was able to open the book or to look into it” (Rev 5:3) symbolizes that God’s created intelligent beings are unable to fully understand God’s judgments. God knows all things but His creatures do not. And, to judge between those that will live and those that must die (Rom 8:13), is extremely complex.
    • The seals of the book are Satan’s informed and well-articulated accusations against the people listed in the book of life (Rev 12:10). (Consider, for example, the accusations which Satan could bring in against king David.) None of God’s intelligent creatures were able to counter Satan’s arguments or to show that God’s judgments are perfect in all instances.
    • God has condemned Satan and his angels. It is to protect himself that Satan wants to show that God’s judgments are flawed.
    • John’s great weeping (Rev 5:4) symbolizes the great sorrow in heaven caused by the uncertainty over the perfect accuracy of God’s judgments, for as long as Satan’s accusations remain unrefuted, evil must continue to exist and God’s people cannot be resurrected. If those questions can never be answered, sin will always exist and God’s dead people will never be raised to life.

CHRIST’S VICTORY ON EARTH MADE AN END TO THE CRISIS IN HEAVEN.

    • Satan blamed His rebellion on God. He claimed that the fault lies with God because nobody is able to comply with God’s norms under all circumstances. Therefore, Satan claimed, God is unjust when He forgives some sinners but condemns others. To address this accusation, Jesus became a vulnerable human being and subjected Himself to Satan’s temptation and persecution. He became a human being to show that there is no fault in God’s expectations and norms – that it is possible to remain true to God under the most severe circumstances.
    • As indicated by the instruction to John: “stop weeping” (Rev 5:5), Christ’s victory on earth brought an end to the sorrow and caused heaven to rejoice.
    • The Christ-event on earth brought a huge shift in the sentiments of the beings in heaven:
      • Any sympathy which they previously had with Satan, vanished, and he was banished from heaven (Rev 12:9, 12).
      • Christ, on the other hand, became accepted as the “true witness” (Rev 3:14; cf. 1:5). As such, He was acclaimed trust-“worthy” to explain God’s judgments: “Worthy are you to take the book and to break its seals” (Rev 5:9).

JESUS STILL HAVE TO BREAK THE SEALS.

    • Christ’s death did not make an end to the crisis immediately. In Revelation 5, He received the book of life after He ascended to heaven (Rev 5:7) but He breaks the seals one-by-one in Revelation 6. The sixth seal takes us to “the great day of their wrath” (Rev 6:17). This refers to Christ’s return. In other words, He will break the seals and open the book over a period of thousands of years. Before His death, no solution was in sight. But His death—which was His victory—set a process in motion that will eventually bring the crisis to an end.
    • Jesus’ faithfulness validated the basis for God’s judgments but does not yet show that the right people are listed in the book of life. Since it is enormously important for the safety and happiness of the created beings that they are fully assured that God judges perfectly, God delays the implementation of His judgments until the intelligent beings have that assurance.
    • When Jesus breaks the seals, things happen on earth (Rev 6). That Jesus breaks the seals symbolizes that Christ directs events on earth. Since the seals are Satan’s objections to God’s judgments, these earth-events refute Satan’s objections and reveal the perfection of God’s judgments.
    • After all seals have been broken, which means that all of Satan’s accusations have been fully refuted, then there will be no further need to allow evil to reign on earth. Then Christ will return, as symbolizes by the seventh seal (Rev 8:1). The silence of that seal symbolizes the sorrow in the Father’s heart and in the whole universe at the destruction of the lost at the return of Christ (Rev 19:21).

AGE-OLD TRUTHS

I realize that these conclusions will sound very strange to the average reader. This is not how the Bible is normally explained. However, these conclusions do not change the fundamental truths of the Bible but only explain them in a different way and, may I add, explain them in a way that breaks through the usual religious clichés to explain them both logically and Biblically sound.

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

The contribution of the current article is that it is the deeds of people that confirm God’s judgments. By breaking the seals, Jesus directs events on earth to allow people’s deeds to reveal that which the Creator alone is able to see in the hearts of people, on which He based His judgment. As explained below, both the judgments of God’s and the beast’s people are revealed by their deeds:

By choosing death rather than go against God’s laws, God’s people will reveal the glory of God in such a way that it would be a witness to every power and authority, created or yet to be created, for all of eternity. (Rick Joyner – The Call)

The deeds of Satan’s people show that they are irreversibly committed to evil.

MAN IS JUDGED BY HIS DEEDS.

Another departure from standard theology in this article is that people are judged by their deeds. This is discussed in a separate article that concludes that:

    • Man is judged by his deeds.
    • The works of the law” refers to the external ceremonies and rituals of the Mosaic Law by which the Jews attempted to justify themselves before God.
    • The “deeds” by which people are judged include the entire being; his words, deeds, thoughts, desires, and faith.

THE DEEDS OF PEOPLE BREAK THE SEALS.

In the last judgment:

Books were opened; and
another book was opened, which is the book of life;
and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds
” (Rev 20:12).

In other words:

    • One of these books is the book of life.
    • The other books contain the “deeds” of people by which people will be judged.

This means that the “deeds” of people, as recorded in the “books,” are the evidence that will allow God’s intelligent creatures to understand that God’s judgment, as contained in “the book of life,” are perfect; why God decided that the people in the book and only they will inherit eternal life. 

However, above we argued that the seal-events confirm God’s judgments. Now we have also said that the deeds of people confirm His judgments. It follows that the seal-events are the “deeds” of people. In other words, when Christ breaks the seals, it symbolizes that He directs events on earth in such a way that the deeds of people will reveal the true nature of their hearts; what they really are.

The following two sections will discuss how the “deeds” are revealed of:

      • God’s people and
      • Satan’s people.

THE DEEDS OF GOD’S PEOPLE

THE SEALS PREDICT A HISTORY OF PERSECUTION.

The vision of the seals – received nearly 2000 years ago – predicted that the history of the church will be one of persecution. In the First Seal, the gospel goes forth. The next three horsemen describe the suffering and sacrifice of God’s people, as they live and proclaim the gospel. The Fifth Seal brings us to the specific point in history when many Christians have already died for their faith (Rev 6:9) but the persecution will continue: The souls under the altar are told that:

They should rest for a little while longer,
until the number of their fellow servants …
who were to be killed even as they had been,
would be completed also
” (Rev 6:11).

A previous article concluded that the fifth seal is the beginning of the time of the end; a term from Daniel 12. This means that the persecution, after the point in time in the fifth seal, is the end-time persecution of Revelation 13: 

The image of the beast would … cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (Rev 13:15).

WHY JOB SUFFERED

God does not allow His people to suffer without purpose.

Job is an example of a believer that had to suffer. Job had no idea why he suffered. In the courts of heaven, God described Job as “blameless and upright” (Job 1:8). But Satan retorted, “put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face” (Job 1:11). Then God gave Satan permission to test Job. God said: “he is in your power, only spare his life” (Job 2:6). Satan killed Job’s children, destroyed his property, and afflicted Job with horrible sores. “Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God” (Job 1:22). The article on Job concluded as follows:

God claims certain people as worthy of eternal life. Satan is the accuser of the brethren. By rejecting God’s assessment or judgment of His elect, Satan actually accuses God of unfair judgment. When Satan tested Job, he has actually tested God’s ability to judge. Satan’s goal is to save himself. He wants to show to the universe that God makes mistakes in His judgments. If it can be shown that God’s judgments are faulty, even to the slightest degree, the implications for the creation will be massive. Satan and his angels would have grounds for their claim that they have been judged unfairly.

However, Job’s faithfulness proved God right. The suffering of God’s people has the same purpose.

WHY CHRIST SUFFERED

This world is part of a cosmic struggle between good and evil. Jesus came to this earth to be tested; to determine whether He would remain faithful to God under the most severe persecution and temptations. It was a contest between the Son of God and Satan.

Jesus was persecuted and suffered greatly. Based on the example of Job, we can assume that God gave Satan permission to test Jesus by all possible means. However, in this case, Satan was also allowed to kill Him. Satan did everything in his power to break Jesus’ faith in God and to get Jesus to sin. In the deepest pit of emotional torment, Jesus cried out, “my God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46) But even then Jesus remained faithful to God. He “has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).

By His faithfulness, He won a huge victory in the cosmic war and was declared “worthy” to open the book of life (Rev 5:5, 9). This set a process in motion (the seven seals) that will result in the complete overthrow of Satan’s kingdom.

THE WORLD IS PREPARATION FOR THE FINAL BATTLE.

After the cross (Rev 12:5), when Satan was thrown out of heaven (Rev 12:8), he was thrown down to earth (Rev 12:9). In other words, the focus of the war has shifted from heaven to earth.

The world is preparing for the final battle. It will again be a battle between Christ and Satan; through their people on earth.

Generally, God limits Satan with respect to what he is allowed to do against God’s people but, in this final battle, God will allow Satan to use the full force of his demonic powers to persecute and deceive. During the darkest hour of this world’s history, the experience of Job and Christ will be the experience of the entire church.

God’s people, on the other hand, will also be equipped with every spiritual power available to them. They will receive the seal of God, which is something that only end-time believers will receive. 144000 will be sealed. This symbolic number indicates that God’s end-time people will reach a level of spiritual maturity that was previously perhaps visible in individuals such as Job, but never before in God’s people as a group:

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against … the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and … to stand firm” (Eph 6:12-13).

PURPOSE OF THE FINAL BATTLE

Through the faithfulness of God’s end-time people, Christ will win the final victory over Satan. They will show, even under the most severe temptation and circumstances, that the people listed in the book of life will not surrender His principles. This will justify God’s decision to save them. They are scared and fully aware of their sins. But they really want to believe in the God of the Bible and are willing to suffer all possible losses for Him.

RICK JOYNER ON THE FINAL BATTLE

Rick Joyner describes this end-time war well:

“The last-day church will not be greater than Paul’s generation, even if she does greater works … All that is done is done by My grace.  However, I will make more of My grace and power available to the last-day church, because she must accomplish more than the church in any age has yet accomplished.” (The Quest)

“Jesus could have judged the world after His resurrection, but the course of the world was allowed to continue so that His righteous ones could be proven and the power of what He did on the cross would be seen in mankind.”

“By choosing death rather than to go against God’s laws they will reveal the glory of God in such a way that it would be a witness to every power and authority, created or yet to be created, for all of eternity.  During this battle the glory of the cross would be revealed, and the wisdom of God would be known in a special way.” (The Call)

The main point of this quote is that this final battle will be a demonstration; firstly of God’s people, but ultimately, through them, of the glory and wisdom of God.

THEY WILL NOT DIE FOR THEMSELVES.

Jesus did not die for Himself. By remaining faithful to God under the most severe circumstances, He won the right to open the book of life. Consequently, He died for God’s people. In the same way, God’s end-time people will not die for themselves. Their faithfulness under the most severe circumstances will be the final key to refute Satan’s challenges to the grace which God grants His people. Consequently, they will suffer for the benefit of God’s people in all generations. They will show, as a witness to all intelligent beings in the universe, for all eternity, that God’s grace to His people in all ages is perfectly justified. This will enable God to make an end of sin and for Christ to return:

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15).

THE DEEDS OF SATAN’S PEOPLE

THE PURPOSE OF THE PLAGUES

The sixth seal is not a single event, but a time period that includes the seven last plagues, concluding with the return of Christ. The plagues are not arbitrary torment. They are a test:

The frequent mention of God’s righteousness (Rev 15:3, 4; 16:5, 7; 19:2) implies that the purpose of the plagues is to reveal the perfectness of God’s judgments.

In particular, the frequent mention in the plagues that the worshipers of the beast do not repent (Rev 16:9, 11, 21) implies that the purpose of the plagues is to show that the people with the mark of the beast will not repent under any circumstances; that they have become haters of God—solidly confirmed in their ways—irreversibly committed to evil.

They will refuse to repent, even when confronted with clear evidence that they are wrong:

They will see that the plagues do not fall on that hated minority (Rev 16:2, 10) that tormented them so much (Rev 11:10) by proclaiming the truth (Rev 14:6). They will see that the plagues only fall on the followers of the beast. They must realize, without a doubt, that this minority is God’s real people.

But they will not repent. On the contrary; they prepare to war against God (Rev 16:14-16). This will validate God’s judgment of them. It will show that God has no other option but to give “them over” (Rom 1:24, 26, 28).

TEST OF GOD’S JUDGMENTS

The seven plagues will only fall at the end of time, but they will confirm the accuracy of God’s judgments of all people that lived ever since the creation of the world.

THE WAR AT THE END OF THE MILLENNIUM

Before the Last Judgment at the end of the Millennium (Rev 20:11), all the lost who ever lived are resurrected (Rev 20:5), followed by their war against the people of God (Rev 20:7-10).

Why are they resurrected? What is the purpose of this war? 

Before the return of Christ, the heavenly beings were able to see Satan in action as the accuser (Rev 12:10).  They also have been able to witness the deeds of angels and people.  But God’s people have not received this evidence. When they are resurrected when Christ returns, they will have questions about their loved ones. They may be surprised by some people they find among the saved.  To enable them to understand, God’s people are granted 1000 years to study the “books” (Rev 20:12) and investigate the causes and consequences of everything that happened (Rev 20:4). However, they have never personally experienced seen Satan or Satan’s followers in the way that the heavenly beings saw them. For that reason, God allows a final demonstration of the nature of evil.

JUDGMENT BEFORE THEY GREAT WHITE THRONE

I saw the dead, the great and the small,
standing before the throne,
and books were opened
” (Rev 12:12).

Every person’s life is presented from the open books. The wicked see themselves just as God sees them. Each person beholds the spiritual influences of good and evil upon his or her life. They see the choices they made. He who sees the hearts and reads the motives reveals sin to them with factual clarity. The lost will know why they are condemned. Every motive will be fully exposed. The lost will admit that God judges perfectly.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

  • The “deeds” of people, as recorded in the “books,” are the evidence that will allow God’s intelligent creatures to understand that God’s judgment, as contained in “the book of life,” are perfect.
  • When Christ breaks the seals, it symbolizes that He directs events on earth in such a way that the deeds of people will reveal their true nature.
  • God’s end-time people will show that the people listed in the book of life will choose death rather than going against God’s laws. This will justify God’s decision to save them.
  • The deeds of Satan’s people will show that they have become haters of God—solidly confirmed in their ways—irreversibly committed to evil.

ARTICLES ON THE SEVEN SEALS

OVERVIEW

REVELATION 4

REVELATION 5

REVELATION 6

    • Seal 1: The white horse is the gospel.
    • Seals 2 to 4: Bloodshed, famine and death
    • Seal 5: Who are the souls under the altar?
    • Seal 6 includes the plagues and concludes with Christ’s return.

REVELATION 7

REVELATION 8

For further reading on Revelation, I recommend Jon Paulien’s commentary. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.

Souls under the altar in the Fifth Seal (Revelation 6:9-11)

6:9 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, and
because of the testimony which they had maintained;

10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying,
“How long, O Lord, holy and true,
     will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood
on those who dwell on the earth?”

11 And there was given to each of them a white robe;
and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer,
until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren
who were to be killed even as they had been,
would be completed also.

SUMMARY

IS THE FIFTH SEAL A POINT IN TIME OR A GENERAL PRINCIPLE?

Is the fifth seal a specific event at a specific point in time or a general principle?

God’s slain people would not cry out for revenge, as they are symbolized to do in the fifth seal. Rather, like Jesus and Stephan, they would say, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)! This, therefore, is not a literal cry for revenge. Rather, it is similar to Abel’s blood that cried out to God from the ground (Gen 4:10). The crying out, therefore, symbolizes the general principle that God is aware of the injustice to His people and His desire to set things right. It is not something that happens at a specific point in time.

In response to their cry, they receive white robes. The implication is that receiving white robes is also not a specific event, but a general principle. 

The fifth seal, therefore, seems to symbolize the general principle that, during the church age, “they will … kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. … But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Matt 24:9-11).

The main message of the seals is that God’s people remain faithful until death:

Before Christ became a human being, He defended God’s elect and God’s judgments, but Satan accused Him of being a false witness. The Son of God then became the vulnerable man Jesus and overcame the most severe temptations to reveal Himself as “the faithful and true Witness” (Rev 3:13; 5:5, 9).

Similarly, Satan accused God’s elect. They must suffer to reveal the true nature of God’s elect; they overcome the accuser because of the word of their testimony, and they do not love their life even when faced with death (Rev 12:11).

This is required for the final judgment, through which God will recreate eternal peace (Rev 21:1). In that judgment, the books will be opened. “The dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds” (Rev 20:12).

THE SOULS UNDER THE ALTAR ARE NOT ALIVE.

The fifth seal is often used to support the popular belief that believers go to heaven in a bodiless state when they die. However, below are several reasons why this must not be literally interpreted:

    1. In Old Testament sacrificial rituals, the blood of animals was “poured out” at the base of the altar. The fifth seal converts this ritual into a metaphor: God’s people are symbolically sacrificed ON the altar. They are not literally under a literal altar.
    2. The idea that humans consist of two parts – a physical body and an immaterial soul – comes from Greek philosophy. In the Bible, the soul refers to the entire human being (cf. Gen 2:7; 1 Cor 14:45).
    3. There are two indications in the text that the souls under the altar are dead:
      • They are told to “rest” for a while longer (Rev 6:11). “Rest” refers to death. For example, an angel said to Daniel: “You will enter into rest and rise again … at the end of the age” (Dan 12:13).
      • The same “souls” that are under the altar in the fifth seal “came to life” when Christ returns (Rev 20:2). That means that they are not alive today.
    4. For two reasons, the crying out for revenge is not literal:
      • God’s people would not cry for revenge. While dying, Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34)!
      • Similar to Abel’s blood that cried out to God from the ground (Gen 4:10), the cry of the souls symbolizes God’s awareness of the suffering of His people.
    5. The souls under the altar receive white robes, which is confirmation of salvation, “a little while” before Christ returns (Rev 6:11). Therefore it makes no sense to suggest that they, at death, go directly to heaven.

CONCLUSION

There is much good quality information on the web that explains the Biblical view of the soul. For example, see What Does the Bible Say About the “Immortal Soul”? 

From a human perspective, time elapses between death and resurrection but the faithful dead are in God’s care and with God, time does not exist. From the experience of the dead, they are resurrected immediately on death.

GOD’S PEOPLE ARE COMPLETED IN CHARACTER; NOT IN NUMBER.

Verse 11 reads:

11 And there was given to each of them a white robe;
and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer,
until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren
who were to be killed even as they had been,
would be completed also.

This translation adds the words “number of.” However, there is no such word in the Greek text of this verse. For the following reasons, the phrase “the number of” should not be added:

      • Would a God of love arbitrarily decree that a fixed number of people must suffer before He would interfere?
      • In Revelation 7, we see the people who receive white robes in the fifth seal standing before the throne of God. It is then said that “no one could count” them (Rev 7:9). So, the number is not important.

Elsewhere, Revelation indicates that completed” should be understood qualitatively, namely that God’s people must be completed in character; not in number. For example, in end-time context:

    • His bride has made herself ready” (Rev 19:7-8).
    • The 144000 are sealed on their foreheads (their minds) with the name (the character) of God (Rev 7:3; 14:1).
    • It is said of the 144000: 
      no lie was found in their mouth;
      they are blameless
      ” (Rev 14:4-5).

God’s end-time people will not be perfect in an absolute sense, but they will be completely loyal to God as David apparently was in spite of his many flaws (1 Kings 11:4-6).

– END OF SUMMARY – 

CONTEXT OF THE FIFTH SEAL

The Lamb is Jesus Christ (Rev 5:6). In Rev 5:7, He received the book that is sealed with seven seals. This book symbolizes the book of life, identifying the people God has chosen for eternal life. Jesus breaks the seals in the next two chapters:

The four horsemen in the first four seals portray the experience of people during the Christian age; the gospel going out, followed by persecution, famine and death.

The sixth seal shifts the focus to the end of time. The sealing of the 144000 in Rev 7:1-8 jumps back in time to before the sixth seal. The sixth seal continues with the innumerable multitude standing before the throne of God, dressed in the white robes they received in the fifth seal (Rev 7:9-17).

The seventh seal is extremely brief; only “silence in heaven” (Rev 8:1). This is interpreted as the sorrow in God’s heart at the destruction of the lost at the return of Christ.

THE FIFTH SEAL IS DIFFERENT FROM THE PREVIOUS.

We might expect the fifth seal to continue along the lines of the previous four. But instead, there are significant differences:

      • Horses, riders, and the four living creatures are central to the first four seals but completely absent from the fifth.
      • The voices heard in the first four seals are heavenly ones; the voices of the four living creatures and a voice from the “midst of the throne” (Rev 6:6). The voices in the fifth and sixth seals are that of suffering humanity:
        • The cries of the persecuted saints (Rev 6:10) and
        • The anguish of the wicked as they contemplate the approaching wrath of the Lamb (Rev 6:16-17).
          (There are no voices at all in the seventh seal (Rev 8:1).)
      • What is added in the fifth seal, compared to the first four, is a strong sense of judgment. The souls under the altar cry for judgment and vengeance.

These differences signal a shift of emphasis in the fifth seal.

4-2-1 STRUCTURE OF THE SEALS

The seals, similar to the seven trumpets, may be divided into a 4-2-interlude-1 sequence:

      • Him Who sat on the White HorseFirst Four – The first four are much shorter than the others and portray the general realities of the whole Christian age.
      • Fifth & Sixth – Since the fifth and sixth seals are much longer than the first four, they are probably more important. They also shift the focus towards the end-time. The fifth seal promises the judgment of the people who oppress God’s people. The sixth seal shows the end condition of these two groups:
        • Those who will hide “from the presence of Him who sits on the throne” (Rev 6:16) and
        • Those who stand before His throne with palm branches in their hands (Rev 7:9).
      • Interlude – In both the seals and the trumpets, there is an interlude (interruption) in or after the sixth element in the series (Rev 7:1-8; 10:1 – 11:14). These interludes are very important because they reveal much about the nature of the seals and trumpets respectively, but in language that is easier to understand.
      • Seventh – The seventh seal is extremely brief. There is only “silence in heaven” (Rev 8:1). Furthermore, while the first six seals focus on earth, the seventh is located in heaven.

REVELATION 6:9

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, and
because of the testimony which they had maintained;

THE ALTAR

This is not a literal altar. There were two altars in the ancient Jewish temple:

      • The altar of incense was inside the temple.
      • The very large altar of burnt offerings was outside the temple in the center of the courtyard. Smoke from the sacrifices would rise over the city.

SOULS UNDER THE ALTAR

A casual reading of this text could leave the impression of disembodied souls literally crying out to God. This text is often used to support the popular belief that believers go to heaven in a bodiless state when they die. However, this is symbolic language:

THIS REFERS TO AN ANCIENT TEMPLE RITUAL.

According to Revelation 16:6, the people of the world “poured out the blood of saints and prophets.” This refers to the ancient temple ritual in which the blood of the animal sacrifices was drained into a basin and poured out at the base of the altar of burnt offering (Exo 29:12; Lev 9:9, see also Exo 39:39; 40:29; Lev 4:7, 18, 25, 10, 34, etc.). Ancients noticed that when the blood is poured out, the animal dies. Therefore, they regarded blood to be the life of the being (Lev 17:11). In that thinking, the life of the animals was been “poured out” at the base of the altar. Paul echoes this thinking in 2 Timothy 4:6: “I am already being poured out as a drink offering” (see also Philippians 2:17).

The fifth seal uses this as a symbol of God’s slain people. They are represented as “underneath the altar.” In other words, God’s people are symbolized as having been sacrificed ON the altar and their lives are poured out “underneath the altar;” at the base of the altar.

IN GREEK PHILOSOPHY, MAN CONSISTS OF TWO PARTS.

In Greek philosophy, human beings consist of two parts; a physical body and an immaterial soul. In this view, when a person dies, it is the body that dies and disintegrates into nothing but the soul lives on in a disembodied state.

In contrast, in the biblical context, the human being is a unity. The soul is the living combination of God’s breath (or life principle) and the material body (Gen 2:7). In other words, human beings do not have souls, they are souls. In light of the biblical context, this passage does not depict disembodied souls. It depicts whole persons, who died for their faith, as sacrificed on the altar. (For a discussion, see What Does the Bible Say About the “Immortal Soul”?)

THEY COME ALIVE WHEN CHRIST RETURNS.

Revelation 20:4 confirms this understanding. It is part of the description of Christ’s return (Rev 19:11). It describes the same group of people as in the fifth seal and says that they will come alive when Christ returns:

I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and the word of God. … they came to life” (Rev 20:4).

If they come to life when Jesus returns, they are not alive today.

Revelation 20:4 refers specifically to “those who had been beheaded” but they represent all martyrs throughout history. Actually, 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. In Revelation’s symbolism, all of God’s people are murdered because all God’s people suffer some form of persecution.

THEY ARE RESURRECTED IMMEDIATELY AFTER DEATH.

The faithful dead are in God’s care. With God, time does not exist. From our perspective, there is a time delay between death and resurrection but from the perspective of God and in the experience of His dead people, they are resurrected immediately after death.

WHAT DID JOHN SEE?

John is described as seeing “souls” (Greek: psuchas) under the altar. What did he see? What does a soul look like? He did not see things through his physical eyes. In vision, images and thoughts came directly to his mind.  Perhaps he simply knew things in vision, rather than receiving visual images. Artists have great difficulty drawing the images of Revelation because these images were not designed to be seen.

SLAIN = SACRIFICED

In the Greek Old Testament (LXX), the Greek word translated “slain” is the primary word used in connection with sanctuary sacrifices (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. The Book of Revelation also uses this word for Christ’s death (Rev 5:6; cf. 13:8).

THEY INCLUDE ALL OF GOD’S PEOPLE.

Earlier in the book of Revelation, the phrases “word of God” and “the testimony which they had maintained” describe the revelation John received (Rev 1:2). It is also the reason John himself was on the island of Patmos (Rev 1:9). These phrases indicate that the souls under the altar died because they were faithful to the gospel. However, since Revelation 20:4 shows that they represent all of God’s people, it may be more appropriate be to say that they remained faithful to God to the day of their death, in spite of the persecution they suffered.

REVELATION 6:10

and they cried out with a loud voice, saying,
“How long, O Lord, holy and true,
     will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood
on those who dwell on the earth?”

CRIED OUT

In the first four seals, the voices came from heaven. Now, the loud voice comes from the souls under the altar.

The souls under the altar cry out for revenge. This does not confirm some kind of spirit-existence in heaven. God said that the blood of Abel is crying out to Him from the ground (Gen 4:10). It was not Abel that cried out because Abel himself was not conscious; Abel’s blood cried out. In the same way, the souls under the altar cry out for revenge (Rev 6:10) in a figurative manner. It should not be understood as the desire of God’s people for revenge but as God’s awareness of the suffering of His people on earth and His desire to set things right.

HOW LONG, O LORD

This cry has a long history in the Old Testament. It was used repeatedly around the time of the first destruction of Jerusalem (586 BC). For example:

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? How long will your jealousy burn like fire? … make known among the nations that you avenge the out poured blood of your servants.” (Psalm 79:5-6, 10 – NIV; cf. Psalm 94:3; cf. Hab 1:2; Dan 8:13; 12:6; Zech 1:12 – NIV)

According to Revelation 6, this same cry will continue in John’s future. “How long” is a cry of protest over persecution. People suffer but God does not seem to be doing anything about the wrongs of the past.

O LORD

It is not clear whether “Lord” here is addressed to God or to Christ. Revelation refers to both God and Jesus as “Lord:”

    • Him who sits on the throne … Him who lives forever and ever … our Lord and our God … You created all things” (Rev 4:10-11; cf. 1:8; 11:15, 17; 15:3-4; 16:7; 19:6; 21:22).
    • Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (Rev 11:8; cf. 17:14; 19:16; 22:20-21).

But John also addressed one of the elders as “lord” (Rev 7:14). In the Greek, it is the same word (kurios). Whether the first letter is capitalized depends on the context.  When the title “God” is used in combination with “Lord,” it refers to the Father.

The context, therefore, must indicate whether “Lord” here refers to God or to Christ. In Rev 19:1, God is praised for avenging the blood of His people. For that reason, our verse (Rev 6:10) probably refers to God.

THE HOLY AND TRUE ONE

This combination of “holy” and “true” recalls Jesus’ self-introduction to the church at Philadelphia (Rev 3:7). This may indicate that this cry is directed to the Lamb. On the other hand, in 16:4-6 the “Almighty” is said to be the “Holy One” and “true,” and the title “Almighty” always refers to the Father (e.g. Rev 21:22).

When humans are called “holy,” it means devout or pleasing to God (1 Tim 2:8; Tit 1:8). Revelation says of “Lord God, the AlmightyYou alone are holy” (Rev 15:3-4; cf. 16:5). As the One who exists without a cause, the Almighty is truly different from all else. The word in Revelation 6:10, on the other hand, is hagios, which means ‘set apart’ by God, and is a more appropriate choice for Christ than for God.

The word for true means the perfect realization of an idea. For example, while Moses gave the Israelites bread, Jesus is the true bread (John 6:31-32). While Israel was the vine of God’s planting (Psa 80:8; Isa 5:1-7), Christ is the true vine (John 15:1). While the Bible refers to Jesus as theos a number of times, the Father is “the only true God” (John 17:3).

DO YOU NOT JUDGE AND AVENGE OUR BLOOD

Revelation 19:1-2 uses the same words “judge and avenge” when “a great multitude in heaven” says:

He has judged the great harlot … He has avenged the blood of his bond-servants on her.

This great multitude, therefore, praises God for complying with the request of the souls under the altar. Revelation 19 is a continuation of the seventh plague, where:

Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (Rev 16:19).
In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (Rev 18:24).

Her judgment, therefore, is the answer to the cries of the souls under the altar.

Many are troubled by the implication that here the people of God in some sense are calling on God for vengeance, seemingly contrary to the example of Stephen (Acts 7:60) and Jesus Christ Himself, who, while dying, cried out “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)! But it is not the slain ones themselves who are calling for vengeance, any more than it was Abel himself who cried out to God from the ground (Gen 4:10). These are figures of speech, symbolizing God’s burning desire to set things right.

There is no vengeance with God. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44, ESV). This reflects God’s character. In the end, God will set things right, but not because He hates or is angry. God does not have “an impatient thirst for blood revenge” (Expositor’s Greek New Testament). God will deal with oppressors in the most constructive way possible.

THOSE WHO LIVE ON THE EARTH

Consistently in the book of Revelation, “those who live on the earth” represents those who oppose God and His people (Rev 1:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 14; 17:2). In contrast, the faithful saints of God are depicted as “those who live in heaven” (Rev 13:6; cf. 14:3; 15:2). 

As an example of this, Revelation 12 describes a war in heaven (verse 7) but then verse 11 implies that the war in heaven was won on earth:

They overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.

Therefore, is that war literally or symbolically in heaven? It is a war of accusations (Rev 12:10) that is won by demonstrations, firstly of the character (worthiness – Rev 5:9) of the Son of God, but secondly also of the faith of God people (Rev 12:11). I would propose that we understand this as a literal war of words in heaven that is won through demonstrations on earth.

As another example, Revelation 19 describes the return of Christ. “The armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses” (Rev 19:14). Fine linen is the clothing of God people on earth (see below) and of angels (Mark 16:5), and the “white horses” remind of the white horse of the first seal, which is the gospel. Elsewhere in the Bible, “the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels” (Matt 16:26). Are the “armies which are in heaven” angels or people on earth?

Examples like these show how difficult it is to distinguish between heaven and earth in the book of Revelation.

REVELATION 6:11

And there was given to each of them a white robe;
and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer,
until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren
who were to be killed even as they had been,
would be completed also.

AND THERE WAS GIVEN
TO EACH OF THEM A WHITE ROBE

The robe (Gr. stolê) is a long, flowing robe (Luke 15:22; 20:46) which is also worn by angels (Mark 16:5) and by Jesus:

I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet” (Rev 1:13).

White robes” and related terms are mentioned elsewhere in Revelation:

      • You have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life” (Rev 3:4-5).
          
      • Buy from me … white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed” (Rev 3:18).
          
      • Behold, a great multitude which no one could count … clothed in white robes … they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:7-14).
           
      • The marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (Rev 19:7-8)
          
      • Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame” (Rev 16:15).

From these verses, we learn the following:

White robes are a sign of acceptance with God.

The white robes given to each of these martyrs is the assurance that they will be accepted in the judgment at the end of time. For example:

      • The innumerable multitude “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14).
      • He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life” (Rev 3:4-5).
      • In Revelation 20:4-6, the souls under the altar, who have received these white robes, “came to life and reigned with Christ.”
      • In Matt 22:11-14, Jesus told a parable of a wedding where there was a man “who was not dressed in wedding clothes.” The king then gave instructions that the man be thrown “into the outer darkness.”
      • Isaiah also wrote: “I will rejoice greatly in the LORD … For He has clothed me with garments of salvation” (Isa 61:10).

White is the same as clean.

White is the opposite of “soiled” (Rev 3:4-5). White and “clean” have the same meaning (Rev 7:7-14). In Revelation, the color white is always associated with God and His people. (See the discussion of the first seal.)

AND THEY WERE TOLD
THAT THEY SHOULD REST
FOR A LITTLE WHILE LONGER

This phrase implies that they have been resting and currently still are resting. It is the injustice they had to endure that cries out to God; not living beings. “Rest” means that they are sleeping, for example:

    • Those who have died in the Lord “rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them” (Rev 14:13).
    • The righteous man perishes … They rest in their beds” (Isa 57:1-2).
    • 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).
    • Earlier in Daniel, we read: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake” (Dan 12:2).

The phrase “little while” occurs again in Revelation 20:3, saying that Satan, at the end of the millennium, will be loosed for a short time from his chains in the Abyss. Revelation always describes time as short (Rev 1:1, 3 and 12:12). The time on this earth is “little” in comparison with eternity.

Since they must rest for only “a little while” longer, it means that they receive their white robes only “a little while” before Christ’s return. Therefore, it makes no sense to suggest that the righteous dead at death goes directly to heaven or that the wicked dead go directly to hell.

UNTIL THE NUMBER OF THEIR FELLOW SERVANTS AND THEIR BRETHREN WHO WERE TO BE KILLED EVEN AS THEY HAD BEEN, WOULD BE COMPLETED ALSO.

Servants and Brethren

The “servants” and “brothers” are mentioned together again in Revelation 19:10 and 22:9. They refer to the same people. They are “servants” of the “master” (“Lord”—Greek: despotês – Rev 6:10) but also brothers of Christ.

Completed

Since it may seem awkward to say that people must be completed, many translations add the phrase “number of” to the verse. However, there is no such word in the Greek text. The NASB puts “the number of” in italics to acknowledge that it has been added.

For the following reasons, the phrase “the number of” should not be added:

      • If John meant that the “full number” must be “completed,” he would have stated that.
      • In Rev 7:9-14, John indicates that no one will be able to number those who come through the great tribulation. So, the number does not seem to be important.
      • Would a God of love arbitrarily decree that a fixed number of people must suffer before He would interfere?

According to the Greek, it is not the number to be killed that was to be made complete. Rather, the fellow servants and brothers must be “completed” in character.  There are many indications in Revelation that God’s end-time people will be made ‘complete’ in character before Christ returns:

      • His bride has made herself ready” (Rev 19:7-8).
      • The 144000 are sealed on their foreheads with the name of God (Rev 7:3; 14:1).
      • They “follow the Lamb wherever He goes …
        no lie was found in their mouth;
        they are blameless
        ” (Rev 14:4-5).
      • Those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful” (Rev 17:14).

God’s people may not be perfect in an absolute sense, but they are completely loyal to God as David apparently was in spite of his many flaws (1 Kings 11:4-6).

This is discussed further in the article on the sealing (Rev 7:1-8). That article shows that to “be completed” is the same as that God’s 144000 Israelites are sealed on their foreheads. Until they are all sealed, the winds (the seven last plagues) are delayed.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

      • The souls under the altar are NOT believers that went to heaven in a bodiless state when they died. Rather, it is a symbol of God’s slain people as sacrificed ON the altar.
         
      • The cry of the souls under the altar for revenge is a symbol of God’s awareness of the suffering of His people and His desire to set things right.
         
      • The answer to the cry of the martyrs is the seventh plague; the judgment of Babylon.
         
      • White robes are a sign of acceptance with God.
         
      • God’s people have to clean their own robes. People are judged by their “deeds” but salvation is a gift by God’s grace; never deserved.
         
      • The souls under the altar must wait until God’s end-time people have been made complete in character; not in number.

ARTICLES ON THE SEVEN SEALS

OVERVIEW

REVELATION 4

REVELATION 5

REVELATION 6

    • Seal 1: The white horse is the gospel.
    • Seals 2 to 4: Bloodshed, famine and death
    • Seal 5: Who are the souls under the altar?
    • Seal 6 includes the plagues and concludes with Christ’s return.

REVELATION 7

REVELATION 8

For further reading on Revelation, I recommend Jon Paulien’s commentary. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.