The Fifth Seal (Rev. 6:9–11)


The Fifth Seal (Rev. 6:9–11)

6:9 When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.

The Lamb broke the fifth seal, and God revealed another milestone in the divine plan. John saw the souls of the martyrs under the altar (Rev. 6:9).

Under the Altar

The imagery of the souls under the altar has its roots in the Old Testament. When the priest presents an animal sacrifice on the altar, the priest pours the remaining blood of the offerings at the base of the brazen altar (Lev. 4:7,18,25, 30).

According to (Lev. 17:11), the flesh's life (the soul) is in the blood. So, the souls went under the altar when the earth opened its mouth and swallowed their blood (Gen. 4:11).

Hebrews believed all souls of the dead, whether they are righteous or evil, go to Hades. So Jacob said to his children, “you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol [Hades] in sorrow” (Gen. 42:38, NASU).

According to the Book of Enoch[1], Apocryphal Hades was an intermediate place (1 Enoch 51:1) where all the dead souls awaited judgment (1 Enoch 22:3). Hades has different “compartments,” the righteous staying in a pleasant place (verse 9) and various classes of sinners undergoing punishments in other compartments (verses 10–13). Thus, in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, “being in torments in Hades, he [The rich man] lifted his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:23).

The scriptures contrasted the depths of Hades with the heights of heaven (Matt. 11:23; Luke 10:15; Isa. 7:11). So the Lord said to Ahaz through Isaiah, “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven” (Isa. 7:10–11, NASU).

Hades has gates like a city. Isaiah said, “In the middle of my life I am to enter the gates of Sheol” (Isa. 38:10, NASU). God said to Job, “Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?” (Job 38:16, NASU). The Lord Jesus Christ said to Peter, “the gates of Hades will not overpower it [the church]” (Matt. 16:18, NASU).

In (Rev. 6:9), there is another paradox. Though the souls offered their lives for “the word of God, they appeared “under the altar” (Rev. 6:9), they went to Hades. To be killed is injustice. Moreover, going to Hades after offering their lives for the word of God is more injustice. 

How Long, O Lord?

6:10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

Some people may understand and preach (Rev. 6:10) as if the martyrs demand God’s vengeance from the people who killed them. This view is problematic as it is against the commands of forgiveness. The Lord Jesus Christ prayed to His Father to forgive those who crucified Him and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (luke 23:34). Would He change His mind after death and ask for vengeance? Likewise, Stephen prayed to ask forgiveness for those who killed him and prayed, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:60). Would he retract his prayer after his death? The revenge from people was not the subject of the martyrs’ prayers under the altar.

The martyrs’ enemies were not the people, but Satan’s kingdom, sin, and sinful passions living and dominating the life on earth. Because of sin, Death and Hades had dominion over the world before Christ (Gal. 5:24).

Sin caused people to kill each other (Rev. 6:4). Satan’s kingdom, called Babylon, the mother of all harlots and the abominations, was drunk with the blood of the saints and the martyrs (Rev. 17:6). Moreover, Death and Hades appeared to dominate the earth before Christ, “Power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth” (Rev. 6:8).

The saints were not crying under the altar because they wanted to seek personal revenge but because they wished for God’s holiness to be vindicated and for them to be able to rest. Their cry is the prayer of every believer today who sincerely prays, “thy kingdom come!”

White Robes 

6:11 Then a white robe was given to each of them, and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.

The cross of the Lord Jesus Christ was for Him as the altar of the burning offering. His blood reached the base of the cross, the earth opened its mouth to receive it, but His blood of sprinkling “speaks better things than that of Abel” (Heb. 12:24).

In the Spirit of God, Christ descended into Hades, “the lower parts of the earth” (Eph. 4:9–10), and He preached to the souls prisoned in Hades (1 Pet. 3:19–20, NCV). Afterward, God saved and redeemed the soul of His Son from death and Hades. Christ was not abandoned to Hades, nor His flesh suffered decay, for God raised Him (Acts 2:30–32). 

God also redeemed the souls that were in Hades. Death and Hades gave up the dead which was in them (Rev. 20:13, NASU). As Jonah prophesied, “You have brought up my life from the pit [Hades], O Lord, my God” (Jonah 2:6). When Christ ascended on high, He led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to His people (Eph. 4:8; Ps.68:18).

Being under the bondage of sin is being under the anguish of Hades. But God gives us inner peace through the blood of the Lamb and saves us from the agony of Hades (Heb. 10:22–23). God showed the exceeding riches of His grace and kindness. He raised us together and made us sit in the holy places in Christ (Eph. 2:6–7).

God sanctified the souls and perfected them through the blood of Christ (Heb. 10:14). He also promised His people a “rest” in this life, not only in life after death. He said through the Lord Jesus Christ, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Opening the fifth seal draws our minds to the love of God, who planned that the soul of Christ would descend into Hades, like the souls of the martyrs, to conquer Hades for us. 

The excellent news breaking the fifth seal is that the Lord Jesus Christ has the authority over death and Hades. The Lord Jesus Christ has “the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev. 1:18). Because Christ overcame death and Hades, we can now sing with Paul, “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55–57).

Excerpt from: Revealing the Father through the Book of Revelation, by Hegumen Abraam Sleman, With God's grace, the book is available on Amazon. I would be blessed if you could get a copy of the book and review it. For more information about the book, please visit I am looking forward to hearing your feedback. Pray for me!

Blessings to you,

Fr. Abraam Sleman
Buy from Amazon

[1] The Book of Enoch is considered to have been written by Enoch, the seventh from Adam. It is considered an apocryphal book as well as part of the Pseudepigrapha (which literally means “falsely ascribed”; it is a collection of works supposedly written by a biblical character), although it is not part of the canonical Apocrypha. (


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