Revelation 6:9 MEANING

Revelation 6:9
(9-11) The fifth seal differs from the four earlier seals. It is not introduced by the voice of the living beings, and the cry "Come." The voice which is now heard is not the cry of the groaning world, but of the oppressed and troubled Church. In the fourth seal the climax of world-sorrow seemed to be reached in the accumulation of war, famine, pestilence, and noisome beasts. It declared to the evangelist that there were evils which would continue and even increase in the world. "Ye shall hear of wars; nation shall rise against nation." Social troubles, war, poverty, and privation would still exist; religious troubles, evil men and seducers would wax worse and worse. Worldly policy, selfishness, and the untamed passions of mankind would still trouble humanity. Then if such troubles and disorders remain, what has the Church been doing? Where is the promise of that early vision of victory? The answer is given in the fifth seal. The Church has been following her Lord. As the vision of Bethlehem and the angel-song of "peace on earth" passed, and made way for the agony of Gethsemane, the cross of Calvary, and the cry "My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" so the glowing dream of a quick conquest over all evil passes away, and the picture of an agonising, persecuted Church takes its place, and the voice of its anguish is heard, "How long, O Lord!" The Church has her Bethlehem, her Nazareth, her Gethsemane, her Calvary, her Easter morn; for Christ said, "Where I am there shall also My servant be" (John 12:26). The seals, then, are not merely visions of war, famine, &c., they are the tokens that the victory of Christ's Church must, like her Lord's, be a victory through apparent failure and certain death. The four seals proclaim her apparent failure; she has not brought peace and social and political harmony to the world. The fifth seal shows her suffering, the witness of the servants of Christ has been rejected; in the world they have tribulation (John 16:33).

(9) I saw under the altar . . .--Read, when He opened, and, instead of "were slain," &c., had been slain because of the Word of God, and (because of) the testimony which they held. The seal indicates that the mission of the Christian Church can only be carried out in suffering. An altar is seen, and at its foot tokens of the martyrs who had laid down their lives upon it. The word "souls" is to be taken as the equivalent of "lives"; the vision tells that their lives had been sacrificed. The blood of the victims was in the temple service poured out at the foot of the altar. St. Paul makes use of the same imagery--"I am now ready to be poured out" ("offered" in English version). In union with Christ Christians are called upon to suffer with Him, even to carry on to its great end the work of Christ in the world, and so fill up that which is lacking of the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24). The word "souls" has been made a resting-place for an argument respecting the intermediate state. There is no ground for this: it is quite beside the object of the seal, which simply exhibits the sufferings of Christ's people as the necessary accompaniment of the progress of the gospel. These sufferings are because of the Word of God and the testimony which they held. It was because of the Word of God and the testimony that the sacred seer himself suffered (Revelation 1:9). The words here remind us that the same issue which St. John fought, the suffering ones of after ages would be fighting. Their witness and his was the God-man; to this testimony they clung. They were not ashamed of Christ, or of His words, and they suffered for their courage and fidelity.

Verse 9. - And when he had opened the fifth seal; and when he opened, as in vers. l, 3, 5, 7, which see. The second group of visions connected with the opening of the seals now commences. The first group deals with events more immediately attached to this life. By the visions of the first four seals St. John has shown that it is with God's knowledge and consent that afflictions and persecutions are allowed to try the faith of his servants on earth; while yet the ultimate triumph of those who endure is certain. In the last three appearances he goes a step further - he gives his readers a glimpse of events more immediately connected with the life in the world to come. He shows them

(1) the faithful, resting from their labours, though longing, in sympathy with those left on earth, for the completion of Christ's triumph;

(2) the circumstances attendant upon our Lord's final coming, which he describes in language which is almost a repetition of Christ's words on the same subject;

(3) the inexplicable life with God in heaven, which is denoted by the silence following the opening of the last seal. I saw under the altar. This representation is doubtless suggested by the arrangements of the temple. Victims were sacrificed on the brazen altar which stood at the door of the tabernacle (Exodus 39:39 and Exodus 40:29), and the blood was poured out at the foot of this altar (Leviticus 4:7). The martyrs are therefore regarded as having offered themselves as sacrifices upon the altar of God by yielding up their lives for him. St. Paul uses a similar figure concerning himself. In 2 Timothy 4:6 he says, "For I am now ready to be offered ['to pour out as a libation,' σπένδω], and the time of any departure is at hand;" and in Philippians 2:17, "If I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith." Bleek and De Wette understand the golden altar of incense (Exodus 30:1), and consider that the figure is representative of the hearing of the martyrs' prayers. Bossuet says the altar is Christ. The souls of them that wore slain; them that had been slain. An "aesthetical difficulty" (see on Revelation 4:6). How could St. John see the souls? Of course, he did not see them with his bodily vision, nor indeed did he thus see any part of the revelation. He "sees" them while "in the Spirit," i.e. he is somehow made conscious of the existence of the souls. Slain; σφάττω, "sacrificed;" the same word used of the Lamb in Revelation 5:6. The word is in harmony with the use of the word" altar," with which it is naturally connected. It fixes the signification of the altar, which therefore cannot bear the meaning ascribed by Block and De Wette, as mentioned above. St. John sees the souls only of the martyrs, since their bodies will not be reunited with their souls until the judgment day. Meanwhile, the souls rest (see ver. 11) in peace, yet in expectation of the final accomplishment of their perfect bliss, which the words used in ver. 10 show them to desire. Wordsworth quotes (as illustrating this passage) Tertullian, "The souls of martyrs repose in peace under the altar, and cherish a spirit of patience until others are admitted to fill up their communion of glow;" and Irenaeus, "The souls of the departed go to the place assigned them by God, and there abide until the resurrection, when they will be reunited to their bodies; and then the saints, both in soul and body, will come into the presence of God." For the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held. B, Syriac, add, "and of the Lamb." On account of the word, etc. Exactly the same expression which St. John uses in Revelation 1:9 in describing the cause of his own exile at Patmos. The language is peculiarly St. John's (cf. Revelation 1:2, "John: who bare record of the Word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw;" also Revelation 12:17, "The dragon... went to make war with... them which have the testimony of Jesus Christ;" also Revelation 19:10, "I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.' The "Word of God" is of course the truth which God has declared, not the Word as in John 1. "The testimony which they held" may differ slightly in signification in different places. It may mean

(1) the testimony or truth which Christ has imparted to Christians; or

(2) the active showing forth of the Christian faith by word or deed. The latter is evidently the meaning here, since for this active manifestation of Christianity they whose souls St. John now sees in glory had been slain, which would not have occurred had they merely received the Word of God without showing it outwardly (cf. Revelation 1:2).

6:9-11 The sight the apostle beheld at the opening the fifth seal was very affecting. He saw the souls of the martyrs under the altar; at the foot of the altar in heaven, at the feet of Christ. Persecutors can only kill the body; after that there is no more they can do; the soul lives. God has provided a good place in the better world, for those who are faithful unto death. It is not their own death, but the sacrifice of Christ, that gives them entrance into heaven. The cause in which they suffered, was for the word of God; the best any man can lay down his life for; faith in God's word, and the unshaken confession of that faith. They commit their cause to Him to whom vengeance belongs. The Lord is the comforter of his afflicted servants, and precious is their blood in his sight. As the measure of the sin of persecutors is filling up, so is the number of the persecuted, martyred servants of Christ. When this is fulfilled, God will send tribulation to those who trouble them, and unbroken happiness and rest to those that are troubled.And when he had opened the fifth seal,.... Of the seven seals of the sealed book; here is no beast speaking here, nor horse and rider presented to view; it was now a very dark time both with respect to the church of God and ministry of the word, and the Roman empire. This seal refers to the times of Dioclesian, and the persecution under him; and instead of the voice of one of the living creatures, John hears the voice of martyrs:

I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain; these include not only all the martyrs that were put to death in the persecution of Dioclesian, but all those that suffered in all the persecutions preceding; for this, being the last, involves them all. "Souls", being immaterial and incorporeal, are invisible to the bodily eye; these therefore were either clothed with corporeal forms, as angels sometimes are, or rather John saw them in a visionary way, as he saw the angels: and these were the souls of such as "were slain"; their bodies were dead, but their souls were alive; which shows the immortality of souls, and that they die not with their bodies, and that they live after them in a separate state: , "the souls of them that are slain", is a phrase used by Jewish writers (a), and who have a notion that the souls of those that are slain are kept in certain palaces, under the care of one appointed by God (b): and these were seen "under the altar"; either this is said in allusion to the blood of the sacrifices, which was poured out at the bottom of the altar, Leviticus 4:7, in which the life and soul of the creature is; or because that martyrdom is a sacrifice of men's lives, and an offering of them in the cause of God and truth, Philippians 2:17; or with some reference to a common notion of the Jews, that the souls of the righteous are treasured up under the throne of glory (c) they have also a saying, everyone that is buried in the land of Israel is as if he was buried "under the altar" (d); for they think that being buried there expiates their sins (e); to which they add, that whoever is buried "under the altar", is as if he was buried under the throne of glory (f); yea, they talk of an altar above, upon which Michael the high priest causes the souls of the righteous to ascend (g). Christ may be meant by the altar here, as he is in Hebrews 13:10, who is both altar, sacrifice, and priest, and is the altar that sanctifies the gift, and from off which every sacrifice of prayer and praise comes up with acceptance before God; and the souls of the martyrs being under this altar, denotes their being in the presence of Christ, and enjoying communion with him, and being in his hands, into whose hands they commit their souls at death, as Stephen did, and being under his care and protection until the resurrection morn, when they shall be reunited to their bodies which sleep in Jesus: and they were slain

for the word of God; both for the essential Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose faith they professed; and for the written word, they made the rule of their faith and practice, and which Dioclesian forbid the reading of, and sought utterly to destroy; and for the Gospel principally, which is contained in it:

and for the testimony which they held; the Syriac and Arabic versions read, "for the testimony of the Lamb"; and so the Complutensian edition; either for the Gospel, which is a testimony of the person, office, and grace of Christ, the Lamb, which they embraced, professed, and held fast; or for the witness they bore to him, and the profession which they made thereof, and in which they continued.

(a) Tosaphta in Zohar in Exod. fol. 79. 4. (b) Shaare Ora, fol. 31. 2.((c) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 152. 2. Zohar in Numb. fol. 39. 4. Abot R. Nathan, c. 12. Raziel, fol. 39. 1. Caphtor, fol. 15. 2. & 112. 2. Nismat Chayim, fol. 16. 2.((d) T. Bab. Cetubot, fol. 111. 1.((e) Maimon. Hilchot. Melacim, c. 5. sect. 11. (f) Abot R. Nathan, c. 26. (g) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 85. 3.

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