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9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; 10they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” 11They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed.


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9. The three last seals relate to the invisible, as the first four to the visible world; the fifth, to the martyrs who have died as believers; the sixth, to those who have died, or who shall be found at Christ's coming, unbelievers, namely, "the kings … great men … bondman … freeman"; the seventh, to the silence in heaven. The scene changes from earth to heaven; so that interpretations which make these three last consecutive to the first four seals, are very doubtful.

I saw—in spirit. For souls are not naturally visible.

under the altar—As the blood of sacrificial victims slain on the altar was poured at the bottom of the altar, so the souls of those sacrificed for Christ's testimony are symbolically represented as under the altar, in heaven; for the life or animal soul is in the blood, and blood is often represented as crying for vengeance (Ge 4:10). The altar in heaven, antitypical to the altar of sacrifice, is Christ crucified. As it is the altar that sanctifies the gift, so it is Christ alone who makes our obedience, and even our sacrifice of life for the truth, acceptable to God. The sacrificial altar was not in the sanctuary, but outside; so Christ's literal sacrifice and the figurative sacrifice of the martyrs took place, not in the heavenly sanctuary, but outside, here on earth. The only altar in heaven is that antitypical to the temple altar of incense. The blood of the martyrs cries from the earth under Christ's cross, whereon they may be considered virtually to have been sacrificed; their souls cry from under the altar of incense, which is Christ in heaven, by whom alone the incense of praise is accepted before God. They are under Christ, in His immediate presence, shut up unto Him in joyful eager expectancy until He shall come to raise the sleeping dead. Compare the language of 2 Maccabees 7:36 as indicating Jewish opinion on the subject. Our brethren who have now suffered a short pain are dead under (Greek) God's covenant of everlasting life.

testimony which they held—that is, which they bore, as committed to them to bear. Compare Re 12:17, "Have (same Greek as here) the testimony of Jesus."

10. How longGreek, "Until when?" As in the parable the woman (symbol of the Church) cries day and night to the unjust judge for justice against her adversary who is always oppressing her (compare below, Re 12:10); so the elect (not only on earth, but under Christ's covering, and in His presence in Paradise) cry day and night to God, who will assuredly, in His own time, avenge His and their cause, "though He bear long with them." These passages need not be restricted to some particular martyrdoms, but have been, and are receiving, and shall receive partial fulfilments, until their last exhaustive fulfilment before Christ's coming. So as to the other events foretold here. The glory even of those in Paradise will only be complete when Christ's and the Church's foes are cast out, and the earth will become Christ's kingdom at His coming to raise the sleeping saints.

LordGreek, "Master"; implying that He has them and their foes and all His creatures as absolutely at His disposal, as a master has his slaves; hence, in Re 6:11, "fellow servants," or fellow slaves follows.

holyGreek, "the Holy one."

avenge—"exact vengeance for our blood."

onGreek, "from them."

that dwell on the earth—the ungodly, of earth, earthly, as distinguished from the Church, whose home and heart are even now in heavenly places.

11. white robes—The three oldest manuscripts, A, B, C, read, "A white robe was given."

every one of—One oldest manuscript, B, omits this. A and C read, "unto them, unto each," that is, unto them severally. Though their joint cry for the riddance of the earth from the ungodly is not yet granted, it is intimated that it will be so in due time; meanwhile, individually they receive the white robe, indicative of light, joy, and triumphant victory over their foes; even as the Captain of their salvation goes forth on a white horse conquering and to conquer; also of purity and sanctity through Christ. Maimonides says that the Jews used to array priests, when approved of, in white robes; thus the sense is, they are admitted among the blessed ones, who, as spotless priests, minister unto God and the Lamb.

should—So C reads. But A and B, "shall rest."

a little season—One oldest manuscript, B, omits "little." A and C support it. Even if it be omitted, is it to be inferred that the "season" is short as compared with eternity? Bengel fancifully made a season (Greek, "chronus," the word here used) to be one thousand one hundred and eleven one-ninth years, and a time (Re 12:12, 14, Greek, "kairos") to be a fifth of a season, that is, two hundred and twenty-two two-ninths years. The only distinction in the Greek is, a season (Greek, "chronus") is a sort of aggregate of times. Greek, "kairos," a specific time, and so of short duration. As to their rest, compare Re 14:13 (the same Greek, "anapauomai"); Isa 57:2; Da 12:13.

until their … brethren … be fulfilled—in number. Until their full number shall have been completed. The number of the elect is definitely fixed: perhaps to fill up that of the fallen angels. But this is mere conjecture. The full blessedness and glory of all the saints shall be simultaneous. The earlier shall not anticipate the later saints. A and C read, "shall have been accomplished"; B and Aleph read, "shall have accomplished (their course)."




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