The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2

Page 46

The Blood of the Martyrs

Revelation 6:7.    And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see.

     The last of the four living ones now issues his invitation, and the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse rides forth.  Many previous writers have called attention to the analogy of the four beasts (respectively appearing like a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle) to the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) which respectively portray the Lord Jesus Christ in His fourfold capacity as King of Israel, Suffering Servant, Son of man, and Son of God.  Each of the Gospels, as it were, invites all men to “come and see” the Lord Jesus as He has left His glorious heavenly throne to come to earth as the atoning Lamb of God to take away the world’s guilt.  Now, each of the four mighty cherubim, as it were, invites all creation to come and see the Lamb of God returning again to earth to take away the world’s sin by His mighty judgments. 

Revelation 6:8.    And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with Him.  And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

     The fourth horse was green (Greek chlorus), the same word used to describe the color of grass in Mark 6:39, Revelation 8:7, and Revelation 9:4.  Green is the color universally associated with life, yet the rider on the horse is called Death.  The symbolism probably is intended as prophetic irony.  The humanistic optimism generated by recent events will lead the ungodly world to rejoice in the imminent attainment of the utopian life of peace and luxury it had been seeking for ages.

     But the good life they anticipate will quickly become ashes as the judgments of God begin to devastate the earth.  “Life” is overcome by “Death” and “Hades” follows quickly to swallow the souls of those who die.

     The judgments associated with this fourth horseman include those brought by the second and third (“sword” and “hunger”), and all are directed by the conquering rider on the first horse.  That Christ Himself is directly responsible for the ravages of Death and Hades as they range over the earth is evident from His assertion that He has the keys of Death and Hades (Revelation 1:18).

     In addition to the worldwide violence and famine, this last deadly rider also brings “death” and “the wild beasts of the earth.”  The word for “death” is the Greek thanatos, the same word as used for the name of the rider.  It does not mean “pestilence” (Greek loimos), as often interpreted, though this may be implied.  Violence and famine do lead frequently to pestilence but the term itself includes all causes of death.  Everything from old age to traffic accidents or suicide may be a cause of death, and all are included.  Although the world population will be the greatest in all history, so will the death rate.  In fact, one fourth of all people in the world will die.  This will evidently be at least a billion people since the world’s present population is at least four billion.  Furthermore this all will take place in only a year or two, during the first part of the three-and-a-half years covered in Revelation 6-11.

     An intriguing additional specific cause of this great toll of death is said to be “the beasts of the earth.”  Since practically all the beasts really dangerous to man have either become extinct or are now rare and endangered species, it seems unlikely that wild animals could multiply enough in a couple of years in the last days to become a really serious threat.  However, the term is also used in Acts 28:4, 5 to refer to a poisonous serpent, and it is possible that this passage portends a sudden proliferation of venomous snakes all over the earth.

     The word “beast” here is the Greek theerion, and does indeed mean a wild, or dangerous, or venomous beast.  It is different from the word zoon, translated “beast” in connection with the “living ones” around God’s throne.  It is remarkable, however, that theerion is used no less than thirty-eight times in Revelation, and in every other instance the word is used as a symbol for an ungodly, powerful, evil leader.  Thus “the beasts of the earth” in this verse could well refer to latter-day political and military dictators whom the Lord allows for a time to subjugate and persecute their respective subjects.

Revelation 6:9.    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.

     With the four horsemen riding forth and the great judgments of God unleashed on the earth, the opening of the fifth seal by the Lamb introduces a strange and different scene.  Like the Horsemen, the altar seen by John may be symbolic and the same may be true of the souls beneath it.  Nevertheless, the martyrs are real and their cry is real.

     The figure of the shed blood under the altar is taken from Leviticus 4:17, 18.  “And the priest shall . . . . pour out all the blood at the bottom of the altar of the burnt offering, which is at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.”  The blood under the Levitical altar was from the atoning sacrifices for sins, and “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11).  The Hebrew word for “life,” nephesh, is often translated “soul.”  The blood was innocent blood, spilled in substitution for those who deserved to die, foreshadowing the sinless blood of the Lamb of God, crucified by those whom He came to save.  The souls under the altar likewise had offered their lives in testimony for the sake of their Savior, their blood shed by those whom they sought to lead to salvation.

     But who were these martyrs?  All the “souls” of believers had been clothed with glorified bodies on the great resurrection day when Christ first descended from heaven to the earth’s atmosphere (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17).  The reasons for this interpretation have already been discussed and they seem conclusive.  Thus, the martyrs seen at this time can only be those who were put to death for Christ’s sake during the first years of the seven-year period.  This in turn means they had become believers during that same period, since al living believers had been raptured into Christ’s presence at the time of the resurrection.

     As noted above, there is some reason to believe that the “beasts of the earth” (verse 8) may refer to evil rulers who will put many to death as they take and consolidate their particular regimes during this period.  Whether or not this is the particular meaning of that verse, the martyrs, slain “for that testimony which they held” (literal rendering) must have been victims of religious persecution either ordered or allowed by such leaders.

     This, in turn, means that something has generated a great revival of belief in the true God and His Christ during this period in spite of the fact that there were no believers remaining on the earth at its beginning.  For one thing, God will have sent his “two witnesses” (Revelation 11:3) into the world, prophesying and calling forth mighty miracles.  Somehow also there will be 144,000 Israelites “sealed” for God’s service during this period (Revelation 7:4).  The result will be a “great multitude” saved (Revelation 7:9).

     It is quite possible that there will be other silent witnesses as well whose testimony will finally be heeded.  Millions upon millions of copies of the Bible and Bible portions have been published in all major languages, and distributed throughout the world through the dedicated ministries of the Gideons, the Wycliffe Bible Translators, and other such Christian organizations.  Removal of believers from the world at the rapture will not remove the Scriptures, and multitudes will no doubt be constrained to read the Bible in those days.  Furthermore, there has been in recent years a great revival of the doctrine of creation, and the long intellectual dominance of evolutionary humanism has been seriously undermined by the many books, lectures, debates, and other activities of creationist scientists.  With the sudden disappearance of the Christians, followed by the miraculous preaching of the two witnesses and the great catastrophes coming on the earth, great numbers of people will acknowledge that there really is a God and Creator who has finally come to judge and cleanse the world He created.  Thus, multitudes will turn to their Creator and Savior in those days, and will be willing to give their testimony for the Word of God and even to give their lives as they seek to persuade the world that the calamities it is suffering are judgments from the Lord.

Revelation 6:10.    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?

     When Christ rose from the dead, He escorted the souls of believers back with Him to heaven (Ephesians 4:8-10).  At His return, both dead and living believers had received their resurrection bodies (Philippians 3:20, 21; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53), and were thenceforth to be with Him forever (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17).  The unsaved dead remained in Hades, and the souls of all others who die outside of Christ in the future will also abide in Hades until the resurrection of all those under the dominion of Death and Hades just prior to the final judgment (Revelation 20:13).

     But this leaves unsettled the question of the condition of those who die in Christ during the period after the resurrection of the saints.  Apparently their souls will be translated to the vicinity of the Lord’s throne, where they will rest at some location analogous to “the base of the altar” in the Levitical tabernacle, there to await the resurrection of their bodies.  The latter in turn will evidently take place after the final completion of God’s judgments on the earth.

     Their prayer for vindication appeals to the Lord as “holy and true,” whose holiness and truth can hardly endure much longer the wickedness of man and the lies of the evil one.  God, however, is longsuffering, and there are still many more who will turn to the Lord as the judgments intensify on the earth.

Revelation 6:11.    And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

     The “white robes” are symbolic of their righteous deeds (see Revelation 19:8), as well as the imputed righteousness received by them through their faith in Christ.  It is most probably the same assemblage described as wearing white robes at the throne (Revelation 7:9), who are said to “have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).

     But how can “souls” actually wear white robes?  This is a question that cannot be fully answered by mortals.  It must be remembered, however, that the Lord Jesus Christ ascended to heaven in a physical body, and will descend from heaven in the same glorified physical body (Acts 1:9-11).  In the interim, He is in heaven, preparing a glorious “place” for His disciples (John 14:2, 3).  A place has spatial reality, and thus physical reality.  That place is where the glorified Christ is spending the time between His first and second comings, and it is that place which He will bring with Him when He returns to the air and finally to the new earth (Revelation 21:1-3).

     Somehow even today, when the souls of believers depart to be with Christ, they are “clothed upon” with a heavenly “tabernacle” and are somehow recognizable (2 Corinthians 5:1-8), even though their bodies are still in the grave.  In like manner, the souls of these tribulation believers will be arrayed in white robes as they await their own resurrection.

     There were still at least five years to go in the tribulation period, and many more who would yet turn to God.  Most of these likewise would be slain for their faith and testimony and would then join those already beneath the altar, clothed with their own white robes in the heavenly tabernacle.

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