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If I Were Told the Future - Lesson 35

The Souls Under the Altar
 

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Let’s pray before beginning this lesson:

Lord God,

We now wish to continue our study of the seven seals, not only to satisfy our curiosity, but rather to learn how we can better love and serve You.

Today, we will turn our attention to the fifth seal.

We humbly ask You to guide us through the power of Your Holy Spirit, so that we may properly understand the valuable message You want to give us.

In the name of Jesus Christ our Savior we pray.

Amen.




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Revelation 4:1

After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said,

«Come up here, and I will show you things which must be hereafter.»

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Revelation 5:5

Weep not. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.

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The opening of the seven seals, which Jesus made possible, reveals to us «things which must be hereafter».

Now, let’s study the fifth seal.




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Revelation 6:9

And when [the Lamb] had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.

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From the fifth seal onward, there is neither rider nor horse any more.

The apostle John witnessed the sad scene ensuing from the previous seals: after centuries of terrible persecutions, he saw the altar of sacrifice. Under this altar were the souls of all the faithful believers who died for God and His cause.




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Revelation 6:9

I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain.

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Leviticus 4:7

The priest (...) shall pour all the blood of the bullock at the bottom of the altar of the burnt offering, which is at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

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In the lessons «How to Study Prophecy» and «The Sanctuary», we saw that prophecy often refers to the symbolism of the sanctuary.

The fifth seal indeed presents the souls of the faithful believers as the blood of sacrifices which was poured out at the base of the altar of burnt offering.




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Philippians 2:17

Yes, and if I be offered on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.

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Romans 12:1

I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

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In his letters, the apostle Paul also uses the picture of sacrifice to represent the believer who remains faithful to God until death.




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Revelation 6:9,10

And when [the Lamb] had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.

And they cried with a loud voice, saying,

«How long, O Lord, holy and true, do You not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?»

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The continuation of the fifth seal presents the cry of the souls under the altar, asking God to avenge their death.

Does this mean that the dead are still able to talk to God?

Let’s allow the Bible to explain this passage.




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Ecclesiastes 9:5,6,10

The living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.

Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun. (...)

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, where you go.

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The Word of God is very clear: the dead are in a state of total unconsciousness.




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The dead are in a state of unconsciousness, and cannot talk to God:

«The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence.» (Psalm 115:17)

«So man lies down, and rises not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. (...) His sons come to honor, and he knows it not; and they are brought low, but he perceives it not of them.» (Job 14:12,21)

«Behold therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered into your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring on this place.» (2 Kings 22:20)

«For the grave cannot praise You, death can not celebrate You: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for Your truth. The living, the living, he shall praise You, as I do this day.» (Isaiah 38:18,19)




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John 11:11-14

[Jesus] said to them, «Our friend Lazarus sleeps; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.»

Then said His disciples, «Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.»

However, Jesus spoke of his death: but they thought that He had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.

Then said Jesus to them plainly, «Lazarus is dead.»

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The words of Jesus are in complete agreement with the teaching of the Old Testament about death: when a man dies, he falls into a state of sleep, of unconsciousness, quietly waiting for the day of his resurrection.




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The Word of God describes death as a state of sleep:

«Why died I not from the womb? Why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly? (...) For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest.» (Job 3:11,13)

«Consider and hear me, O Lord my God: lighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.» (Psalm 13:3)

«They have slept their sleep (...). At Your rebuke, O God of Jacob, both the chariot and horse are cast into a dead sleep.» (Psalm 76:5,6)

«[Stephen] cried with a loud voice, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul was consenting to his death.» (Acts 7:60 to 8:1)

«I would not have you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning them which are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.» (1 Thessalonians 4:13)




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Deuteronomy 12:23

Only be sure that you eat not the blood: for the blood is the life.

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Genesis 9:4

But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall you not eat.

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Leviticus 17:11

For the life of the flesh is in the blood.

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Since the dead are sleeping and unconscious, what does the cry of the souls under the altar mean?

The Bible indicates that «life» (or «soul», as indicated by the Hebrew word «nephesh» used in these verses) is synonymous with «blood». So, is blood able to cry out to God?




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Genesis 4:9,10

And the Lord said to Cain, «Where is Abel your brother?»

And he said, «I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?»

And He said, «What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to Me from the ground.»

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Hebrews 12:22,24

But you are come (...) to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaks better things that that of Abel.

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Yes, blood indeed cries out to God: when spilled on the ground, it witnesses that believers paid with their lives for their faithfulness to God.




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Revelation 6:10

How long, O Lord, holy and true, do You not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?

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Psalm 74:10

O God, how long shall the adversary reproach?

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Psalm 94:3

Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph?

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The cry «How long?» of the fifth seal is often repeated in the Bible, asking God to put an end to the injustice on earth.




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Daniel 8:11-13

[The little horn] magnified himself even to the Prince of the host, and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of the sanctuary was cast down.

And a host was given him against the daily sacrifice by reason of transgression, and it cast down the truth to the ground; and it practiced, and prospered. (...)

«How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot?»

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The «How long?» of the fifth seal reminds us of this passage in Daniel, as the little horn, the power of the Middle Ages, is working.

Covering the period from 1517 to 1755, the fifth seal too describes the deeds of this horn.




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Daniel 12:6,7

«How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?»

And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was on the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand to heaven, and swore by Him that lives for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and a half.

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The answer to the question «How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?» (the same «How long?» as in the fifth seal) accurately corresponds to the period of the little horn’s reign, that is, «a time, times, and a half» (Daniel 7:25), which means 1260 years, from A.D. 538 to 1798.

For more details about this, please review the lesson «The Four Mythical Beasts».




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Revelation 6:10

And they cried with a loud voice, saying,

«How long, O Lord, holy and true, do You not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?»

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The fifth seal corresponds to the letter to the fifth church, Sardis, from 1517 to 1755.

The little horn having reigned from 538 to 1798, its work of persecution of the saints wasn’t yet finished when the souls cried under the altar.

The answer given to them indicated that the persecution would still continue for a while...




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Revelation 6:11

And white robes were given to every one of them.

And it was said to them that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brothers, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

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This last verse of the fifth seal indeed confirms that the persecution will continue.

However, the Word of God tells us that this persecution didn’t disappear forever with the end of the little horn’s reign in 1798. We too will have to face very difficult times.




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Revelation 13:15

[The beast coming up out of the earth] had power to (...) cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.

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Revelation 20:4

And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image.

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In future lessons, we will see that, shortly before the return of Jesus, God’s people will once again have to face persecution.




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Daniel 12:7

[The man clothed in linen] swore by Him that lives for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and a half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.

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Revelation 6:11

And it was said to them that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brothers, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

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We can see here that after the period of 1260 years, there will be a second difficult period for God’s people, and «when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.»

We will soon study how these things will happen.




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Revelation 6:11

And white robes were given to every one of them.

And it was said to them that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brothers, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

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Revelation 7:14

[They] have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

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The souls under the altar were given white robes, symbolizing the salvation granted to them by the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God.




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Revelation 7:9

After this I beheld, and, see, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes.

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Romans 13:14

Put you on the Lord Jesus Christ.

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The white robe Jesus promised is the robe of righteousness He offers to the sinner, so that he may be able to stand before God, and inherit eternal life.




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Revelation 3:4,5

You have a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white: for they are worthy.

He that overcomes, the same shall be clothed in white raiment.

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The gift of the white robe to the souls under the altar, in the fifth seal, reminds us of what we learned in the letter to Sardis, the fifth church.

Jesus offered the white garment to him who overcomes, just as He promised it to those who remained faithful to Him, while the rest of the Church, symbolized by Sardis, was in a pitiful spiritual condition.




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Revelation 6:11

And white robes were given to every one of them; and it was said to them that they should rest yet for a little season.

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Revelation 14:13

And I heard a voice from heaven saying to me,

«Write, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from now on. Yes, said the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.”»

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The souls under the altar must «rest yet for a little season», thus confirming that the dead are really in a state of sleep, of unconsciousness.




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Daniel 12:7,13

[The man clothed in linen] swore by Him that lives for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and a half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished. (...)

But go you your way till the end be: for you shall rest, and stand in your lot at the end of the days.

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Again, the fifth seal reminds us of Daniel chapter 12.

Just like the souls under the altar, Daniel learns that the end will come when «the power of the holy people» is completely scattered.

Then he is told that, after his death, he will rest, waiting for the day of resurrection.




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Revelation 6:11

It was said to them that they should rest yet for a little season.

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Hebrews 11:39,40

And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

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The fifth seal teaches us that no one receives his reward right after his death.

Only at the return of Jesus will the righteous dead arise, receiving at the same time as the living righteous their inheritance: eternal life.




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Revelation 16:5-7

And I heard the angel of the waters say,

«You are righteous, O Lord, which are, and were, and shall be, because You have judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink; for they are worthy.»

And I heard another out of the altar say,

«Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.»

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The return of Jesus will also answer the question of the souls under the altar: «How long?»

The wicked will, at long last, be punished by the seven final plagues, a part of God’s judgment which we will study later.




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The return of Jesus will at last answer the question «How long?»:

«It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.» (2 Thessalonians 1:6-8)

«The nations were angry, and Your wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should give reward to Your servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear Your name, small and great; and should destroy them which destroy the earth.» (Revelation 11:18)

«Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place to wrath: for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, said the Lord.”» (Romans 12:19)




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Romans 8:35-37

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

«For Your sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.»

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

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The blood of million of martyrs has been spilled at the foot of the altar throughout the centuries, and still many others will die for their faith.

But Jesus will remember each and every one of them.




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Revelation 20:4

And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark on their foreheads, or in their hands.

And they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

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All the Christians who have, throughout history, defended their faith with their lives, are for us a precious source of inspiration.

Difficult times await us, but let’s remain hopeful because Jesus is coming quickly.




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Let’s conclude this lesson with a prayer:

Our Lord,

Many of Your faithful people have faced the enemy’s attacks, but «they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives to the death.» (Revelation 12:11).

May we always remember this advice of Paul to Timothy, «Be not you therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner: but be you partaker of the afflictions of the gospel.» (2 Timothy 1:8).

We sincerely ask You to help us to persevere in the faith, so that our names may remain written in the Book of Life of the Lamb, our Savior Jesus Christ.

In His precious name we pray.

Amen.


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