6.9-11 “THE FIFTH SEAL . . . UNDERNEATH THE ALTAR THE SOULS . . . CRIED”

"Come, Lord Jesus", CFP, 75-78, Watchman Nee

The Bible frequently divides the number seven into four and three or three and four. Three is the number of God, and four is the number of man. Four followed by three means that man advances and draws nigh to God. Three followed by four indicates a falling from a good position to the lower level of man. Since the churches are seen and discussed in chapters 2 and 3 as first three and then four, they are depicted as going downhill. But the seven seals are mentioned in a cluster of four first and of three next, so that what is expressed here is different from what is expressed in the discussion of the seven churches.

What this passage of Scripture speaks of is the situation of the church being persecuted during these two thousand years.

6.9 “The word of God” includes all the commandments of God.

“And for the testimony which they held” means that the believers bear witness to the testimony of the Lord Jesus habitually (Rev. 1.2, 6.9, 12.17). Some people maintain that this passage does not refer to the church under persecution because it has not mentioned that they held to the testimony of Jesus. Instead, the passage should be considered as referring to the persecution of the Old Testament saints. Yet if we remember that the purpose of this whole book is centered around the testimony of Jesus, then “the testimony which they held” must be in connection with the same testimony, and therefore it must be the Lord’s children in view here.

“The altar”—The Bible speaks of two altars: (1) that upon which the sacrifices are offered, and (2) the golden altar of incense. One renowned writer declared that all the altars in the book of Revelation should be translated as altars of incense. But there is not sufficient justification for such an assertion.

On the contrary, the altar here must be the altar of sacrifices—for the following reasons.

(1) According to Old Testament typology, no one should go up to the altar with his nakedness uncovered (Ex. 20.26). This signifies that no naked body can meet God. Anyone who does not have a resurrection body is considered naked, and therefore he cannot appear before God. For this reason, 2 Corinthians 5.4 speaks about being “clothed upon” with a new body. (After a person is dead, his soul does not go to God right away.) Without resurrection, no one can stand beside the golden altar of incense.

(2) When the Bible speaks of altar, it always refers to the altar of sacrifice. Special descriptive words such as “golden”, “incense”, and so forth are used to refer to the golden altar of incense so as to distinguish it from the altar standing in the outer court.

(3) The blood of all the sacrifices flows down underneath the altar (Ex. 29.12; Lev. 4.7, 5.9).

(4) There is life in the blood, and this word “life” in the original Hebrew is the word “soul” (Lev. 17.11 mg., 17.14). “Underneath the altar” means underneath the earth. The altar typifies the cross; beneath the cross is the earth. Hence underneath the altar here refers to Paradise in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12.40). We notice the following clause in Acts 2.27: “because thou wilt not leave my soul unto Hades”; moreover, in Numbers 16.32 it is stated that “the earth opened its mouth, and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods” (Not only may no man appear before God without a body, neither may he enter the lake of fire without a body.).

“Slain”—During the Roman era, Christians were persecuted and many were slain. The writer of the book of Revelation, John himself, was among the persecuted. Even as recently as in modern Russia, countless numbers of Christians have been killed.

6.10 “O Master, the holy and true”—Govett felt that this was the way the Old Testament saints addressed the Lord, yet in Revelation 3.7 the Lord himself told the church that He is the one who is holy and true. Thus we here find the saints addressing the Lord.

“Them that dwell on the earth”—Such an expression is found many times in this book (8.13; 13.8,12; 13.14; 14.6; 17.2,8). It refers to those who make earth their home and have their all on earth. These will God judge. According to 3.10 the hour of trial will come upon the whole world to try them that dwell upon the earth.

The prayer here is not the same as Stephen’s, for Stephen prayed for God’s mercy while the prayer in this passage is for judgment. Hence the saints here are praying against sinners.

“Avenge our blood”—God does not forget the prayer of the poor (Ps. 9.12). When God begins to judge those who have persecuted the saints, He avenges His saints.

6.11 “White robe”—This shows that God has justified them because they were accepted by Him. The justification here is different from that of salvation since this is the verdict of God who on the throne is announcing that the saints have won the case, they only waiting for the verdict to be executed.

“Rest yet for a little time”—This word alone may prove that the church cannot be raptured all at once, because this waiting implies a long and protracted persecution.

“Until their fellow-servants also and their brethren”—During the Great Tribulation there will be great slaughter. In 7.13-15 political persecution is spoken of, but 17.6 refers to religious persecution. The way for the church is through death.

The Bible seems to imply that at the first rapture there is no resurrection. The phrase “underneath the altar” does not refer to death as a result of a sin-offering, rather it alludes to death as a consequence of a burnt-offering (Ex. 40.6,10,29; Lev. 4.7,10,18; 1 Chron. 6.49, 16.40, 21.29; 2 Chron. 29.18).

What men take note of is the sin-offering, but that which God sees first is the burnt-offering. Although without the Lord Jesus ever being the sin-offering we would none of us have life, nevertheless God will not accept anything without Christ being the burnt-offering—that is to say, His offering His all to God in obeying and doing God’s will. Here do we see that even His death on the cross is according to the will of God. In that same spirit of Christ Paul too offered himself as a burnt-offering (Phil. 2.17; 2 Tim. 4.6). Throughout his life he was a living sacrifice.

All the martyrs shall enter the kingdom to reign. Three classes of people will reign with Christ (20.4): (1) “thrones, and they sat upon them”—this refers to those people such as are cited in 3.21; (2) “them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God” (they are now resurrected)—here it is a reference to those people as are found mentioned in 6.11; and (3) “such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image”—this is referring to those fellow-servants and their brethren mentioned in 6.11 (they also are resurrected).