Bible Q & A
What are the “souls under the altar” mentioned in Revelation 6:9?
In Revelation 6:9-11 is a description of the
fifth seal. When Jesus Christ, who is the
Revelator (John is not the revelator), opened
the seal, the apostle saw in heaven an altar
under which were the souls of people who had
been slain. They cried to God, asking Him how
long it would be until He would judge the
world. Many claim that these verses prove the
“immortality of the soul.” But do they?
Remember, if one part of this description is
literal, then it all must be literal. IF
there are souls in heaven, then where
would they be in heaven? Notice what John says,
“I saw under the altar the
souls of them that were slain.” Where are the
souls? UNDER THE ALTAR! This could not be
literally true as those who teach the
“immortality of the soul” admits. The entire
description is actually symbolic.
None of the seven seals could be literal
pictures of conditions in heaven. John say in
vision a book or scroll bound with seven seals (ch.
5:1) which only Jesus was worthy to open. As
each seal was removed, John saw in vision in
heaven a picture of conditions described in the
book which is to take place on the earth.
The BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION, given by Jesus
Himself, of the events described on the scroll
under the seals, is found in Matthew 24. The
description of the fifth seal is in Matthew
24:9-28. It is symbolic of the tribulation!
Notice that the souls John saw were slain
for the Word of God and for their testimony, an
exact description of the tribulation! In
Revelation 12:17, the Word of God and the
testimony are defined as the keeping of the
commandments and belief in the Gospel of the
Kingdom, which is the message that Jesus
testified. The souls which John saw were not
immortal entities. The Bible definition for
soul is a living, physical creature whether
animal or man (Gen. 2:7). The apostle saw in vision the souls or bodies of the
martyred saints who were in vision crying out to
God, just as Abel’s blood cried out
to God although he was dead (Gen. 4:10).
The tribulation came on the saints once, during
the Middle Ages, and it will come again.
The souls that were slain were
told to “rest yet for a little season, until
their fellow-servants also and their brethren,
that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”
These two martyrdoms are also mentioned
in Revelation 12, verses 6 and 14.
Those who died in the Middle Ages were
symbolically given white robes to show that they
possessed the righteousness of saints (Rev.
19:8). And righteousness is described in Psalm
119:172 as keeping the commandments – the exact
thing for which the Devil persecutes the Church.
But why were the souls seen in vision under the
altar in heaven, though they were actually
buried on the earth? This altar, mentioned also
in Revelation 8:3, is the heavenly counterpart
of the altar of incense which was in the holy of
holies (Heb. (9:4). The altar of incense was an
altar for prayer, of which incense
was a symbol. The saints are pictured under the
altar as a symbol of their prayers to
God, which they offered when they yet live, that
He might judge the earth in righteousness and
avenge them. The entire description is
picturing the coming final tribulation.