The altar seen here is taken, of
course, from the Tabernacle -- the earthly type of heavenly things. We need
to review how this altar was used:
• The Jew was taught that the blood of an
animal was its life; and therefore they
could not eat the blood -- only the meat of
a sacrifice (Leviticus 17:11-14).
• The blood was to be poured out at the base of the altar. (Leviticus 4:7)
-- in other words, the “life” in the
symbolic sense flowed under the altar!
• The altar is not in heaven -- it is in the
world. Remember that the Holy of Holies
is the type of Heaven; the outer court contains the altar.
• Christians accept the idea that martyrdom is
a form of being poured out as a sacrifice, an offering, to the Lord (Philippians 2:17)
Therefore, virtually all interpreters
hold that these are the souls of those who have been martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ. The distinction comes in theology. The historicist holds that these have already been martyred (more below); the futurist that these are yet to be. There is
a divergence of opinion here in the futurists:
• Some hold these must be Jews
(based on Romans 11:25, and the dispensationalist theory that grace is no longer available).
• More recent teachers hold that these are
simply those who profess faith after the Rapture. The
testing point, by these writers, is whether or not they will accept the mark
of the beast. Chuck Smith goes so far as to state that all those in
that time will see an angel flying about in heaven, warning one and all not to take the mark of the beast (based on
A very serious issue is that of
vengeance. The cry here is for
vengeance, and we are taught not to seek
it. Why, then, this cry?
• The cry is very similar to that in Psalm
79:5-10. In dispensationalist theory,
it is therefore justified. Grace is ended; judgment is now the only dispensation
• You can look upon it as a cry for holy
justice, as the only ones left on earth now (in the futurist theory, at least) are non-believers. Recall the extermination of the peoples in
the land of Israel.
The division between these two views
does not fit along lines of theory of interpretation.
The white robes, of course, signify
purity, but as noted during the first seal, may also symbolize victory.
Note that even in death patience is
required. The historicist adds that
martyrs are yet to come; these martyrs are to papal Rome, not pagan Rome.
Did such a persecution come
about? Remember in Revelation 2:10 that
the church of Smyrna was told to expect
persecution for “10 days” (meaning, of course, ten years). Most historicists of the 19th century agreed with the idea that the seven
churches were the seven ages of the church. This has been dropped, due to the increasing
invective on both sides -- but perhaps common
ground should be sought again. Such a
ten year persecution did occur, and exactly once in the Roman Empire: AD
303-313. Starting with Diocletian,
Christianity was outlawed and hunted. In this period the Christians took to the
catacombs. History records that 700,000
Egyptian Christians alone were slaughtered
in this time. Diocletian swore to
“erase the name Christian from the
Note the date, AD 313. Of itself, not important, it sets the
starting point for the sixth seal -- and the
great divergence in interpretation.