When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. Revelation 6:9-11 ESV
What is Observed in Seal 5?
In seal 5, we observe:
- souls of martyrs crying out to God to avenge their blood
- souls of martyrs being given white robes and told to rest awhile
- the full number of martyrs is not yet complete
Seal 5 does not involve judgment or wrath. It’s more of an observance of a plea, and the result of that plea.
Who Are The Seal 5 Martyrs?
When Seal 5 is opened, we see a group of souls under the heavenly altar. This is a very specific group of people – they have been martyred for the witness they had given for the word of God. Note that it doesn’t say that it was specifically for their faith in Jesus, so this group could include Old Testament martyrs as well. They are located under the altar in the throne room of heaven, which is a very special and holy place. These martyrs have not withheld their very lives in testimony to God, and are very precious indeed. They are souls, because their bodily resurrection has not taken place yet. This notably refutes the idea of “soul sleep” – these souls are very much alive and awake and are actively petitioning God.
The Blood of the Martyrs
The purpose of the Day of the Lord is very specifically to cleanse the land of its guilt and bloodshed, which is why so many of the judgments involve blood. David Lowe has an excellent discussion on this in his book “Earthquake Resurrection”. From the time of Abel’s murder in Genesis 4:10, innocent blood has cried out to God from the ground. The shedding of innocent blood pollutes the land, and at some point, when “the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been”, this blood will tip the scales of God’s wrath and cause it to be unleashed in the Day of the Lord. There is an allotted number of martyrs.
In Seal 5 we see that it is not only the blood of the martyrs that cries out from the land, but the actual souls of the slain are given a special place before God’s altar to cry out to Him. They are praying for vengeance on their murderers – for divine judgment.
Note that these saints have been waiting a long time for vengeance. They would not be asking “how long until you avenge us”, if God was already in the process of avenging them through the judgments of the tribulation period! If they had only been waiting a few months or years, they would be very impatient indeed. This is an established group of souls, not one that is just arriving. This group cannot be the tribulation saints, as is so commonly taught.
When seal 5 is opened, the martyrs receive their white robes and are told to “rest a little longer”. Douglas Berner, in his book Earthquake Resurrection, provides the only logical explanation for the white robes these saints are given. We never see souls wearing robes – spirits don’t need clothes. Humans get their white robes when they get their resurrection bodies.
Seal 5 is a picture of the dead in Christ rising and being transformed into robed resurrection bodies, followed immediately by Seal 6 where the ones still alive and remaining are transformed. This process is described in Isaiah 26:
Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light,
and the earth will give birth to the dead.
Come, my people, enter your chambers,
and shut your doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
until the fury has passed by.
For behold, the Lord is coming out from his place
to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity,
and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it,
and will no more cover its slain.
Isaiah 26:19-21 ESV
The body of Christ, both dead and alive, will enter our rest in heaven as per Isaiah 26. Meanwhile on earth, the number of martyrs will continue accumulating until their fullness is complete (Rev 6:11). The souls of these martyrs accumulate on the sea of glass in heaven (Rev 15:2).
God’s judgment will be unleashed upon the earth after the body of Christ has entered the protection of heaven. These judgments, beginning with the Trumpets, will “punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity”. The souls, now transformed, no longer have to cry “how long, oh Lord until you avenge us?” The vengeance has begun.
We see the completed answer to the martyrs’ prayers in the pouring out of the Bowls of Wrath:
“Now I heard the angel of the waters saying: “You are just – the one who is and who was, the Holy One – because you have passed these judgments, because they poured out the blood of your saints and prophets, so you have given them blood to drink”. (Revelation 16:5-6 ESV)
The Tribulation Martyrs
The first half of the “7-year tribulation” will be very difficult due to the effects of the seals and trumpet judgments. Many will come to Christ in this time through the witness of the 2 Witnesses, the 144,000, and the through the legacy of those who were true believers. The first 3.5 years will not be a time of intense religious persecution.
The period of greatest persecution of the tribulation saints comes after the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week. This is when the antichrist will be given worldwide rule, and the saints are delivered into his hand. However, most pretribulation models place the opening of seal 5 in the first half of the tribulation. I hope you can see the difficulty with this view.
The “tribulation” martyrs appear as a separate group later on in the chronology of Revelation, standing on the sea of glass in Revelation 15:2:
And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. (ESV)
Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. (Revelation 20:4 ESV)
After the group described in seal 5 receives their white robes (resurrection and eternal bodies), there will begin accumulating the “number of their fellow servants and their brothers [until it] should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.” At the time of the bowl judgments, this allotted number of martyrs will be complete, and God will finish His vengeance.
Are you CERTAIN of your Salvation, beyond a shadow of a doubt? Do you KNOW that no matter when the rapture occurs, you will be counted worthy to escape? If not, please read What Must I do to Be Saved.
The Bible is infallible. I am not. I am merely challenging traditional models and testing them against Scripture. I believe that traditional pretribulation teachings provide a solid backbone upon which to lay the musculature of details, some of which I think might need to be adjusted slightly. I encourage you to consider my thoughts as you also examine the scriptures to see if these things are so!