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The Fifth Seal
A series on Divine Judgment (part 7)

Author's Bias: Interpretation: conservative
Inclination: promise
Seminary: none

Of all of the seals, trumpets and bowls, the fifth seal is unique, because the breaking of it does not cause any wrathful consequence upon the earth, and it is solely concerned with Believers as God's plan of judgment unfolds.

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; 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?" 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. (Rev 6:9-11)

When Jesus breaks the fifth seal, the following observations can be made:

The apostle John can see the souls of Believers who were martyred because of their faith in and testimony of God. Since this was before their rapture (1 Thess 4:14-17; Rev 14:14-16), the apostle saw disembodied souls.

Who are these martyrs? Because the introduction of the 144,000 sealed bond servants is juxtaposed with the multitude of tribulation saints (Rev 7:1-17), it emphasizes who these saints may be. Thus, the tribulation saints are comprised of Messianic Jews who are not of the 144,000 chaste males, Gentile Believers, and new Believers who responded to the evangelism of these saints (Rev 7:9).

These martyred souls were being released from underneath the altar in the heavenly Temple of God. To gain a sense of the altar in the heavenly Temple of God, some information may be drawn from the earthly Temple.

Of the two alters that the earthly Temple had, the Alter of Incense was the one inside the Temple, in the Holy Place, and outside the Holy of Holies housing the Ark of the Covenant. Because it was overlaid with gold, it was known as the Golden Alter (Ex 39:38; 40:5; Num 4:11), and it was shaped in a square with four horns at each corner and considered "most holy to the Lord (Ex 30:1-10).

The altar in the heavenly Temple of God was described as the four horned golden altar (Rev 8:3; 9:13).

The incense, made to an exclusive formula (Ex 30:9, 34-38), was burned after the morning and evening sacrifices. Like animal offerings (Ex 29:15-18), grain offerings (Lev 2:1-2, 4-9), and drink offering (Num 15:1-13) burnt on the altar outside of the Temple (Ex 20:24-26; 27:1-5), which produced a soothing and appeasing aroma to the Lord (Gen 8:20-21), this incense recipe emitted a fragrance that also soothed God's wrath. Functioning in a similar fashion, the psalmist portrays incense as symbolic of the prayers of Believers (Ps 141:2).

In the heavenly Temple of God, the four living creatures and the twenty four elders are each holding "golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints" (Rev 5:8). In the context of the heavenly Temple of God, the saints here refer to the tribulation saints (Rev 6:9-11; 7:13-15). While this suggests that the recipe for the incense in the heavenly Temple of God is the prayers of the tribulation saints, elsewhere incense is mentioned apart from the prayers of the saints (Rev 8:3). Regardless, incense of the heavenly Temple of God is always mentioned in conjunction with the prayers of the tribulation saints who are still alive on earth.

The martyred souls sought justice and appealed to God's punishment of the wicked (Deut 32:35-36; Rom 12:18-21; Heb 10:30-31); the martyred souls were not seeking personal vengeance. These martyred souls would be recognized for their love and service of God (Rev 7:9-17).

Upon their release from underneath the altar, the martyred souls were given a white robe (Rev 6:11), which represented the righteous acts of the saints (Rev 19:8). This clothing is reminiscent of Jesus' Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matt 22:1-14), and later the wedding banquet actually occurs in heaven (Rev 19:7-8)!

It is significant to observe that when the tribulation saints were given their white robes, they were told to 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" (Rev 6:11). This suggests that all of the remaining tribulation saints will be killed soon.

In the first interlude just prior to the seventh seal, a "great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues" of tribulation saints are presented before the throne of God and before Jesus Christ praising both with palm branches (Rev 7:9-10). The description of a whole encompassing group suggests that all of the existing tribulation saints on earth have died by this time.

Regardless, at the end of the sixth trumpet, the apostle John reports that all of the survivors of the plagues were not repentant (Rev 9:20); thus, before the seventh trumpet is sounded, all Believers are dead.

Using a chart to record these observations, the existence of the tribulation saints would look like this:

Seal 1 Seals 2-4 Seal 5 (Rev 6:9-11)
Third Heaven (location of the Temple of God) Disembodied souls of tribulation saints come from underneath the altar to receive their white robes
Fate of Believers Messianic Jews, Gentile Believers, and new Believers testify and begin to be martyred Messianic Jews, Gentile Believers, and new Believers testify and continue to be martyred Before the seventh seal is broken, all of the current existing tribulation saints on earth are dead

The biblical data appears to indicate that during the Great Tribulation, Believers will largely serve God during the time of the seals and the 144,000 sealed bond servants will serve during the time of the trumpets.


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