‘Slaughtered Souls’ Rewarded
1. In what period of time are we living, and what evidence is there for this?
GOD’S Kingdom rules! The Rider of the white horse is about to complete his conquest! The red horse, the black horse, and the pale horse are galloping through the earth! Indisputably, Jesus’ own prophecies concerning his royal presence are being fulfilled. (Matthew, chapters 24, 25; Mark, chapter 13; Luke, chapter 21) Yes, we are living in the last days of this system of things. (2 Timothy 3:1-5) That being so, let us pay close attention as the Lamb, Jesus Christ, breaks open the fifth seal of that scroll. In what further revelation are we now to share?
2. (a) What did John see when the fifth seal was opened? (b) Why should we not be surprised to read of a symbolic altar of sacrifice in heaven?
2 John describes a moving scene: “And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those slaughtered because of the word of God and because of the witness work that they used to have.” (Revelation 6:9) What is that? A sacrificial altar up in heaven? Yes! It is the first time that John mentions an altar. Already, though, he has described Jehovah on His throne, the surrounding cherubs, the glassy sea, the lamps, and the 24 elders carrying incense—all of these resembling features of the earthly tabernacle, Jehovah’s sanctuary in Israel. (Exodus 25:17, 18; 40:24-27, 30-32; 1 Chronicles 24:4) Should it, then, surprise us to find a symbolic altar of sacrifice also in heaven?—Exodus 40:29.
3. (a) At the ancient Jewish tabernacle, how were souls poured “at the base of the altar”? (b) Why did John see the souls of slaughtered witnesses underneath a symbolic altar in heaven?
3 Underneath this altar are “the souls of those slaughtered because of the word of God and because of the witness work that they used to have.” What does this mean? These could not be disembodied souls—like those believed in by the pagan Greeks. (Genesis 2:7; Ezekiel 18:4) Rather, John knows that the soul, or life, is symbolized by the blood, and when the priests at the ancient Jewish tabernacle slaughtered a sacrificial animal, they sprinkled the blood “round about upon the altar” or poured it “at the base of the altar of burnt offering.” (Leviticus 3:2, 8, 13; 4:7; 17:6, 11, 12) Hence, the animal’s soul was closely identified with the altar of sacrifice. But why would the souls, or blood, of these particular servants of God be seen underneath a symbolic altar in heaven? Because their deaths are viewed as sacrificial.
4. In what way is the death of spirit-begotten Christians sacrificial?
4 Indeed, all those who are begotten as spirit sons of God die a sacrificial death. Because of the role they are to play in Jehovah’s heavenly Kingdom, it is God’s will that they renounce and sacrifice any hope of life everlasting on earth. In this respect, they submit to a sacrificial death in behalf of Jehovah’s sovereignty. (Philippians 3:8-11; compare 2:17.) This is true in a very real sense of those whom John saw under the altar. They are anointed ones who in their day were martyred for their zealous ministry in upholding Jehovah’s Word and sovereignty. Their “souls [were] slaughtered because of the word of God and because of the witness work [mar·ty·riʹan] that they used to have.”
5. How is it that the souls of faithful ones, although dead, are crying out for vengeance?
5 The scenario continues to unfold: “And they cried with a loud voice, saying: ‘Until when, Sovereign Lord holy and true, are you refraining from judging and avenging our blood upon those who dwell on the earth?’” (Revelation 6:10) How can their souls, or blood, cry out for vengeance, since the Bible shows that the dead are unconscious? (Ecclesiastes 9:5) Well, did not righteous Abel’s blood cry out after Cain murdered him? Jehovah then said to Cain: “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10, 11; Hebrews 12:24) It was not that Abel’s blood was literally uttering words. Rather, Abel had died as an innocent victim, and justice called out for his murderer to be punished. Similarly, those Christian martyrs are innocent, and in justice they must be avenged. (Luke 18:7, 8) The cry for vengeance is loud because many thousands have thus died.—Compare Jeremiah 15:15, 16.
6. What shedding of innocent blood was avenged in 607 B.C.E.?
6 The situation may also be likened to that in apostate Judah when King Manasseh came to the throne in 716 B.C.E. He shed much innocent blood, probably ‘sawing asunder’ the prophet Isaiah. (Hebrews 11:37; 2 Kings 21:16) Although Manasseh later repented and reformed, that bloodguilt remained. In 607 B.C.E., when the Babylonians desolated the kingdom of Judah, “it was only by the order of Jehovah that it took place against Judah, to remove it from his sight for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done; and also for the innocent blood that he had shed, so that he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and Jehovah did not consent to grant forgiveness.”—2 Kings 24:3, 4.
7. Who is primarily guilty of shedding “the blood of the holy ones”?
7 As in Bible times, so today many of the individuals who killed God’s witnesses may be long dead. But the organization that caused their martyrdom is still very much alive and bloodguilty. It is Satan’s earthly organization, his earthly seed. Prominent therein is Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion.* She is described as being “drunk with the blood of the holy ones and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.” Yes, “in her was found the blood of prophets and of holy ones and of all those who have been slaughtered on the earth.” (Revelation 17:5, 6; 18:24; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:28) What a load of bloodguiltiness! As long as Babylon the Great exists, the blood of her victims will cry out for justice.—Revelation 19:1, 2.
8. (a) What instances of martyrdom had taken place during John’s lifetime? (b) What persecutions were instigated by Roman emperors?
8 John himself witnessed martyrdom in the first century as the cruel Serpent and his earthly seed waged war on the growing congregation of anointed Christians. John had seen our Lord impaled and had survived through the slayings of Stephen, of his own brother James, and of Peter, Paul, and other close associates. (John 19:26, 27; 21:15, 18, 19; Acts 7:59, 60; 8:2; 12:2; 2 Timothy 1:1; 4:6, 7) In 64 C.E., Roman emperor Nero had made a scapegoat of the Christians, accusing them of burning the city, to counteract a rumor that he was the guilty one. The historian Tacitus reports: “They [Christians] died by methods of mockery; some were covered with the skins of wild beasts and then torn by dogs, some were [impaled],* some were burned as torches to light at night.” A further wave of persecution under Emperor Domitian (81-96 C.E.) had resulted in John’s being exiled to the island of Patmos. As Jesus said: “If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”—John 15:20; Matthew 10:22.
9. (a) What masterpiece of deception did Satan bring forth by the fourth century C.E., and of what is it the main part? (b) How did some rulers in Christendom treat Jehovah’s Witnesses during World Wars I and II?
9 By the fourth century C.E., that old serpent, Satan the Devil, had brought forth his masterpiece of deception, the apostate religion of Christendom—a Babylonish system hidden under a “Christian” veneer. It is the principal part of the seed of the Serpent and has developed into a multitude of conflicting sects. Like unfaithful Judah of old, Christendom carries a heavy bloodguilt, having been deeply involved on both sides in World Wars I and II. Some political rulers in Christendom even used these wars as a pretext for slaughtering anointed servants of God. Reporting on Hitler’s persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a review of Friedrich Zipfel’s book Kirchenkampf in Deutschland (Fight of the Churches in Germany) stated: “One third of them [the Witnesses] were killed, either by execution, other violent acts, hunger, sickness or slave labor. The severity of this subjection was without precedent and was the result of uncompromising faith that could not be harmonized with National Socialistic ideology.” Truly, it can be said of Christendom, including its priesthood: “In your skirts there have been found the blood marks of the souls of the innocent poor ones.”—Jeremiah 2:34.*
10. What persecutions have young men of the great crowd suffered in many lands?
10 Since 1935 faithful young men of the great crowd have borne the brunt of persecution in many lands. (Revelation 7:9) Even as World War II ended in Europe, in just one town 14 young Witnesses of Jehovah were executed by hanging. Their crime? Refusal to “learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4) More recently, young men in the Orient and in Africa have been beaten to death or executed by firing squad over the same issue. These youthful martyrs, worthy supporters of Jesus’ anointed brothers, will surely have a resurrection into the promised new earth.—2 Peter 3:13; compare Psalm 110:3; Matthew 25:34-40; Luke 20:37, 38.
A White Robe
11. In what sense do martyred anointed Christians receive “a white robe”?
11 After documenting the faith of integrity keepers of ancient times, the apostle Paul said: “And yet all these, although they had witness borne to them through their faith, did not get the fulfillment of the promise, as God foresaw something better for us, in order that they might not be made perfect apart from us.” (Hebrews 11:39, 40) What is that “something better” that Paul and other anointed Christians anticipate? John sees it here in vision: “And a white robe was given to each of them; and they were told to rest a little while longer, until the number was filled also of their fellow slaves and their brothers who were about to be killed as they also had been.” (Revelation 6:11) Their receiving “a white robe” has to do with their resurrection to be immortal spirit creatures. No longer do they lie as slaughtered souls underneath the altar, but they are raised to be part of the group of 24 elders that worship before the heavenly throne of God. There, they themselves have been given thrones, showing that they have entered into royal privileges. And they are “dressed in white outer garments,” signifying that they have been adjudged righteous, worthy of an honored place before Jehovah in that heavenly court. This is also in fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to faithful anointed Christians in the congregation in Sardis: “He that conquers will thus be arrayed in white outer garments.”—Revelation 3:5; 4:4; 1 Peter 1:4.
12. In what way do resurrected anointed ones “rest a little while longer,” and until when?
12 All the evidence indicates that this heavenly resurrection began in 1918, after Jesus’ enthronement in 1914 and his riding forth to start his kingly conquest by cleansing the heavens of Satan and his demons. Yet, those resurrected anointed ones are told that they must “rest a little while longer, until the number . . . also of their fellow slaves” is filled. Those of the John class still on earth must prove their integrity under trial and persecution, and some of these may yet be killed. Finally, though, all the righteous blood shed by Babylon the Great and her political paramours will be avenged. In the meantime, resurrected ones are doubtless busy with heavenly duties. They rest, not by relaxing in blissful inactivity, but in that they patiently await the day of Jehovah’s vengeance. (Isaiah 34:8; Romans 12:19) Their rest will end when they witness the destruction of false religion and, as “called and chosen and faithful” ones, they accompany the Lord Jesus Christ in executing judgment on all other parts of Satan’s wicked seed here on earth.—Revelation 2:26, 27; 17:14; Romans 16:20.
‘Those Who Are Dead Rise First’
13, 14. (a) According to the apostle Paul, when does the heavenly resurrection begin, and who are resurrected? (b) When are the anointed who survive into the Lord’s day resurrected to heaven?
13 The insight granted by the opening of the fifth seal agrees completely with other scriptures that have to do with the heavenly resurrection. For example, the apostle Paul wrote: “For this is what we tell you by Jehovah’s word, that we the living who survive to the presence of the Lord shall in no way precede those who have fallen asleep in death; because the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first. Afterward we the living who are surviving will, together with them, be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we shall always be with the Lord.”—1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.
14 What a stirring story these verses tell! Those of Jesus’ anointed brothers who survive to Jesus’ presence, that is, who are still alive on earth during his presence, are preceded into heaven by those who have already died. Such ones, dead in union with Christ, rise first. Jesus descends, that is, turns his attention to them, and resurrects them to spirit life, giving them “a white robe.” Afterward, those who are still alive as humans finish their earthly course, many of them dying violently at the hands of opposers. They do not, however, sleep in death as their predecessors did. Rather, when they die, they are instantly changed—“in the twinkling of an eye”—caught away to the heavens to be with Jesus and fellow members of the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:50-52; compare Revelation 14:13.) Thus, the resurrection of anointed Christians starts soon after the four horsemen of Apocalypse begin their ride.
15. (a) What good news has the opening of the fifth seal provided? (b) How does the ride of the Conqueror on the white horse culminate?
15 The opening of this fifth seal of the scroll has provided good news concerning anointed integrity keepers who have conquered, faithful to the death. But it provides no good news for Satan and his seed. The ride of the Conqueror on the white horse continues irresistibly and culminates in a time of reckoning for the world that “is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) This is made clear when the Lamb opens the sixth seal.
The identity of Babylon the Great is discussed in detail in Chapter 33.
Proof of religion’s bloodguilt is given in more detail in Chapter 36.
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McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia quotes John Jortin, an 18th-century English Protestant, born of French Huguenot parents, as saying: “Where persecution begins, Christianity ends . . . It was after Christianity had been established as the religion of the [Roman] empire, and after wealth and honor had been conferred on its ministers, that the monstrous evil of persecution acquired gigantic strength, and threw its blasting influence over the religion of the Gospel.”
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“And a white robe was given to each of them”