The Fifth Seal: Tribulation and Martyrdom

Revelation 6:9-11  

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. 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?” 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.

Only Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, was able to open the scroll of prophecy described in Revelation 5. It was kept closed by seven seals—kind of like the ancient equivalent of top secret documents being locked in a briefcase.

The first four seals of Revelation 6 were opened to reveal four horsemen that corresponded with Jesus Christ’s prophecy in Matthew 24:4-7:

  • False religion (the white horse).
  • War (the red horse).
  • Famine (the black horse).
  • Death by disease epidemics and other means (the pale horse whose rider is “Death”).

Read more about this in our article “What Are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

The fifth seal focuses on the martyrdom of the saints, which apparently corresponds with the time of Satan’s wrath when “he knows that he has a short time” and makes war with the saints “who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:12-17). God protects some of His people, but He allows some to be martyred (Revelation 12:14-16; 6:11).

This time period would also correspond to the time of the Great Tribulation Jesus discussed in Matthew 24:21-22 (also described in Daniel 12:1 and Jeremiah 30:7), as Satan’s wrath is also felt by the physical descendants of God’s people Israel.

Tribulation, persecution and martyrdom are awful things to think about, but God allows them even on His people to complete His awesome plan. Even as Jesus Christ suffered and died, Christians suffer in doing God’s work and preparing for His glorious Kingdom. Peter said, “Rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:13).

Paul also encouraged Christians with this powerfully inspiring passage: “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 day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Paul concludes that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

For more about why God allows suffering now and how He will remove it in the future, see the articles in our section on “Why Does God Allow Evil and Suffering?

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