“And when he 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, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:9, 10).
The apostle John saw merely pictorial representations (Eze. 1:10). He saw an altar at the base of which lay the “souls” of martyrs. Rules of interpretation do not imply that we should locate a specific altar in a certain location at a particular moment of history. As with parables, not all features of a prophetic symbolization necessarily have interpretative value.The symbolization of the fifth seal was presented to encourage those who faced death, and give them the assurance that despite the seeming triumph of the enemy, God will finally vindicate them.
This message of comfort would be specifically needed for those living in the time of the terrible persecutions of the Dark Ages and the Reformation. To them, it must have seemed that the long period of oppression would never end. The message of the fifth seal was a reassurance that God would ultimately triumph. The same encouragement will apply to those passing through the last great conflict.
To interpret these “souls” as the disembodied spirits of dead martyrs violates the rules of interpretation of symbolic prophecies. John was not given a view of heaven as it actually appears because there are no white, red, black, or pale horses there with warlike riders. And Jesus does not in reality appears 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 only a symbolic representation designed to give an encouragement to the persecuted ones.
In His service,
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