Read Revelation 6:9-11. How can the “souls” of the dead martyrs cry “under the altar”?
The opening of the fifth Apocalyptic seal reveals an unusual scene. The souls of the martyrs were seen metaphorically “under the altar” crying to God for vengeance (Revelation 6:9-11). Some commentators are inclined to identify this “altar” as the altar of incense mentioned under the seventh seal (Revelation 8:1-6). But the reference to “blood” (instead of “incense”) in Revelation 6:9-11 leads us to see here an allusion to the altar of burnt offering, where the blood of the sacrifices was poured (Leviticus 4:18, Leviticus 4:30, Leviticus 4:34). As the blood of those sacrifices used to be sprinkled around the altar, so the blood of the martyrs was symbolically poured at God’s altar when, by remaining faithful to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 6:9, see also Revelation 12:17, Revelation 14:12), they lost their lives.
The “souls” under the altar are also symbolic. By taking them literally, one would have to conclude that the martyrs are not fully happy in heaven, for they are still crying out for vengeance. This hardly sounds as if they are enjoying the reward of salvation. The desire for vengeance can make your life miserable. But your death, as well?
Also, it’s important to remember that John was not given a view of heaven as it actually is. “There are no white, red, black, or pale horses there with warlike riders. Jesus does not appear there in the form of a lamb with a bleeding knife wound. The four beasts do not represent actual winged creatures of the animal characteristics noted. … Likewise, there are no ‘souls’ lying at the base of an altar in heaven. The whole scene was a pictorial and symbolic representation.” — The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 778.
George E. Ladd, a non-Adventist, wrote (again sounding like an Adventist): “In the present instance [Revelation 6:9-11], the altar is clearly the altar of sacrifice where sacrificial blood was poured. The fact that John saw the souls of the martyrs under the altar has nothing to do with the state of the dead or their situation in the intermediate state; it is merely a vivid way of picturing the fact that they had been martyred in the name of their God.” — A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), p. 103.
|Who (especially of those who have been victims of injustice) hasn’t cried out for justice, which has not yet come? Why must we, by faith, trust that ultimately the justice so lacking in this world will nevertheless come? What comfort can you draw from this wonderful promise?|