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Revelation 6:9-11 by Robert Dean
Click here to view the chart Dr. Dean presented during this Bible class.
Series:Revelation (2004)
Duration:1 hr 0 mins 42 secs

Seal Judgments; Martyrdom and Rev. 6:9-17


As we are now coming to the fifth and sixth seal judgments one of the things that we will note is the hostility that is developing among a class of people on the earth that is referred to many times in the book of Revelation as the earth dwellers. This is not a term for those who are simply living on the earth but a term for those who have rejected God and who are entrenched in their hostility to God, and it is these earth dwellers who never respond to the gospel, who never turn to God, and who shake their fists at God more and more as the judgments increase in intensity.


In the hymn "I sing the might power of God that made the mountains rise" is a reminder and just a glimpse of this kind of hostility that we see today. What this hymn drives us to think about is the creative power of God that is evident in the heavens and the earth. The psalmist says in Psalm 19 NASB "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands." This is a non-verbal witness that no human being can look at the stars in the sky, the trees, the mountains and the oceans, and come to understand the complexities of biology, botany, or any of the other sciences without hearing the voice of God. What the Scriptures tell us is that, as we have seen in Romans 1:19ff, in the creation there is ample testimony to the invisible power and attributes of God. So man is without excuse. But in response to that man seeks to suppress that truth in unrighteousness. We see examples of that all the time in our culture around us. As Ecclesiastes 3:11 NASB says, "… He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end." God has placed eternity in the heart of every human being so that there is none who is not aware that God exists. They may dispute that, they may protest, they may write volumes to try to justify their disbelief in God, but the reality is there is something inside of them that responds every time every time something is said about God and it just drives them to anger and arrogance.  Man as man in the image and likeness of God is designed to be the ruler of the planet, and to rule even over the angels. In order to establish his dominion and rule over the planet there must be judgment of those who have been in opposition to God. So seven seals that must be broken in order to open the title deed, and each seal represents another judgment.

Revelation 6:9 NASB "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." The cause of their persecution is that they stand for and believe in the Word of God, and they continue to be a testimony to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. So the fifth seal focuses on martyrdom of Tribulation saints, not church age believers because they have been raptured, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. A parallel passage is Matthew 24:9 NASB "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name." This is identified in verse 8 as the beginning of the birth pangs, the beginning of this time of sorrows in the Tribulation period, the first three and a half years. What John sees here in v. 9 is a vision of the altar in heaven under which are the souls of those who had been slain because of their testimony.  

What altar is this? We know that in heaven there is a pattern, the original archetype, of the temple. There is an altar there and it appears to be two altars. There are some who think this is the altar of incense because the focal point here is the prayer that they are going to pray in vv. 10, 11. But usually when the altar of incense in mentioned it is the golden altar, as it is in subsequent passages in the book of Revelation, and so it is most likely that the altar here is that which is comparable to the brazen altar in the tabernacle or the temple. Subsequent passages such as revelation 8:3; 9:13; 14:18 seem to be comparable to the altar of incense. Why would it be the brazen altar? This was the place of sacrifice, and when a sacrifice was made the priest would take the blood from the sacrifice and splatter it on the base of the altar, and in some case would pour out the blood. So underneath the altar is a place that focuses on the blood that has been shed by those who had been sacrificed or offered, these martyrs whose lives had been sacrificed because of their dedication and devotion to the Word of God and to the gospel. So these are not sacrifices of atonement but sacrifices of devotion. And the picture of these souls is that they are immediately in the presence of God, which is consistent with the rest of Scripture.

There are two reasons for their martyrdom. The first is because of the Word of God and the second is because of the testimony they had maintained. So first of all they believed that the Bible is the Word of God and is the primary focus of their life, and second because of their testimony. The word "testimony" comes from the Greek marturia [marturia]. The noun is marturos [marturoj] from which we get the English word "martyr." Those who were witnesses in the early church often gave their lives during the times of Roman persecution, so that is how we get our term "martyr." " … because of the testimony which they had maintained." The verb here that is translated "had" is the Greek word echo [e)xw] in the imperfect active indicative tense. The reason the grammar is important here is that the imperfect tense in the Greek means that it is ongoing action in past time. So they just didn't have a testimony once, they continually had this testimony which was an ongoing reality in their life, and because of this continuous and consistent testimony they are slaughtered by the forces of the Antichrist. 

Revelation 6:10 NASB "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?'" The word for "cried" is the Greek krazo [krazw] which means to cream or shriek and it shows the drama, the intensification of their suffering as martyrs—although they are no longer suffering, the word is designed to emphasize that background. It is this cry that is reminiscent of the cry of thousands upon thousands of believers down through the centuries. The question is: Why do bad things happen to good people and why when I do everything you tell me to do I still go through all of this horrible suffering? It is because God is going to judge evil completely and finally when the right time comes and only in His omniscience does he know when that will be.

The word "avenging" is an important word to pay attention to. There are too many people who misunderstand the whole concept of judgment and execution, especially in relation to capital punishment. They get the idea that this is vengeance. It is not vengeance. The Bible says, "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord," but vengeance has different nuances. There is a sense in which vengeance is nothing more than petty retribution from one person against another as they are seeking to get back at them for some real or perceived harm. That is not what the Greek or the Hebrew word indicates that is translated "avenging" or "vengeance." The word translated "avenging" here is the Greek ekdikeo [e)kdikew]. Dikeo is from the noun dike [dikh] meaning righteousness; dikaioo [dikaiow] to be justified before God. This is not a word of personal vengeance, it is a word that drips with judicial overtones; it is the result of objective decisions of the Supreme Court of heaven. So what they are asking is: "Lord, when are you going to finally bring justice against those who have unjustly persecuted those who have trusted in you." The answer is given in verse 11.     

Revelation 6:11 NASB "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." In other words, there is going to be a certain time when it is the right time for God to act, and until that time is full, until it comes to completion, until history has worked itself out, it is the wrong time for God to interfere and bring judgment upon the evildoers. So they are to wait a little while longer until the right time comes. Then, and only then will God enter into human history and judge evil and the evildoers. When the last one that completes that number is martyred then the Lord Jesus Christ return.

There is another phrase that is important to pay attention to and that is at the end of verse 10: "those who dwell upon the earth." Who are these? This phrase is used many times in the book of Revelation—11 times in nine different verses. Is it simply those who live on the earth or is it a technical term for something else? It has already been used in Revelation 3:10 of the time of testing (peirasmos [peirasmoj]) and testing in the Bible is a time to reveal the true character or nature of something and in the Tribulation God is going to reveal the true nature of those who have rejected Him, that they are not moral, they are not good, they do not have the best interests of mankind in mind. All is in opposition to the message of the Bible, that there is only one way to God. These are the ones who worship the Antichrist, the ones who take his number. Nevertheless God is still going to exercise His grace towards them, Revelation 14:6 NASB "And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth …" God is still going to proclaim the gospel to them again and again and again; that is the grace of God. The grace of God is one of the great themes in the book of Revelation. So we come to a conclusion that "the earthdwellers" is a technical term for those who are set against God. None in that group will ever exercise positive volition or respond to the gospel. But there is another group that is not yet believers but will be. The earthdwellers are those who will kill/execute/murder the two witnesses who come during the Tribulation period. After the two witnesses are resurrected and ascend to heaven there will be this great earthquake in Jerusalem and seven thousand will be killed, but the rest in Jerusalem will give praise and glory to the God of heaven. That indicates that is the time when the rest of the Jews in Jerusalem become believers and this is just prior to the time of the abomination of desolation. So there are those who aren't classified as earthdwellers. The earthdwellers are those who have taken God out of the picture, their orientation is completely toward the earth in contrast to the believers who are viewed throughout the Scripture as simply temporary residents, sojourners, aliens on the planet.

Revelation 7:9 NASB "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count …" This is a heavenly scene. This is a great multitude that no one can number. That is how many are going to be saved during the Tribulation period. It is a time of unprecedented belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. "… from every nation and {all} tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches {were} in their hands; [10] and they cry out with a loud voice, saying,  'Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.' [11] And all the angels were standing around the throne and {around} the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God …. [13] Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, 'These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?'" This is the innumerable multitude. [14] "I said to him, 'My lord, you know.' And he said to me, 'These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. [15] For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne [the Father] will spread His tabernacle over them.'" Jesus doesn't get His throne until the end of the Tribulation. The one who sits on the throne is coming to dwell among them—not just the Son, but the Father will dwell among men in the Millennial kingdom. [16] "They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; [17] for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes." This is the grace of God.