“And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw beneath the altar the souls
of those who had been slain because of the word of God
and because of the witness of the Lamb which they had.
And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Master,
holy and true, will you not judge and avenge our blood
upon those who dwell on earth?’ And a white robe was given to each of them,
and it was said to them that they should wait for a while,
until their fellow slaves and their brothers, who were about to be killed
as they also had been, should finish their course.”
We often hear it said that righteous souls who have died are now in eternal, perfect bliss, but the verses above show that such is not the case. The souls beneath God’s altar in heaven seem to be pretty miserable. They were filled with the Spirit (“the witness of Jesus”); they had suffered martyrdom because of righteousness; they were now dwelling in the very presence of God; and yet, here they are, obviously weary with longing for something that has not yet happened. And God’s only response is only to give them some robes (which no doubt were wonderful) and to tell them they must continue to wait. We should note that God did not answer their prayers! He did not do what they were begging Him to do. These verses reveal that while saints who have fallen asleep in Jesus have finished their earthly labors (Rev. 14:13), they are not yet perfectly happy, that they still have longings and prayers that can go unanswered, and that they still need patience to overcome frustration and disappointment. Does that sound to you like eternal, undisturbed joy and peace?
These verses suggest that the saints who have fallen asleep in the Lord still are a part of us, that they still pray for us and have feelings that they express to God about us. If the wicked rich man who died and went into Torment still remembered life on earth and still felt the feelings he felt on earth (Lk. 16:27–28), it seems reasonable to assume that saints who fall asleep in Jesus and enter into Paradise can do the same. The dead saints under the altar of God certainly remembered what had happened to them while they lived on earth (unjustly martyred), and they also were aware enough of matters on earth to know that God had not yet avenged them. If the wicked rich man who went to hell still thought about and prayed for those he loved, surely the saints of God still think about and pray for those they loved.
The tormented rich man’s desperate prayer for mercy in Luke 16 was unanswered because it was not the will of God to do what the rich man asked. The dead saints underneath God’s altar were praying for something that God fully intended to do, but their prayers were also unanswered because it was not time for God’s answer to come. Regardless of the reasons, however, neither the prayers of the wicked rich man nor the prayers of the righteous dead saints were answered, and that means that everyone who prayed, saints and sinner alike, felt disappointment. And that means that nobody in those two stories was enjoying eternal, perfect, undisturbed peace.
That kind of peace and joy will be granted to God’s children only after Jesus has reigned on earth for a thousand years, has won the last battle, and has destroyed this present heaven and earth: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea no longer existed. . . . And I heard a loud voice out of heaven, saying, “Behold! The dwelling place of God with men! And He shall dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them. And He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more; neither shall there be sorrow, nor crying, nor pain anymore because the former things will have passed away” (Rev. 21:1, 3–4).
What I Learned from This about Believing
In spite of my having read Revelation 6:9–11 many, many times through the years, until Monday, March 13, 2017, when Jesus gave me understanding, it cannot be said that I truly believed it. In reality, every time in my life that I thought or spoke of dead saints as already enjoying eternal, undisturbed bliss, or every time I said “Amen” when somebody else said so, I was not believing what those verses were telling me. I was instead still confused by Christianity’s mythological version of the State of Dead Saints.
When we truly believe, that faith moves us and takes us somewhere; it leads us into the knowledge of God, into understanding, because true faith is of God and is alive, and makes us alive to the things of God. “By faith, we understand that the worlds were created by an utterance from God, so that things that are seen were not made from visible things” (Heb. 11:3). If you have truly believed the word of God, then you understand the truth. If you have truly believed, then your true faith has taken you to good places. It has taken you out of darkness and into the knowledge of God, out of strife and into holy love, out of pride and into humility, out of heresies and into fellowship with every other human being who has also truly believed. You can’t hide it, and they can’t miss it!
May God grant us genuine faith in His word so that we may know His Son Jesus Christ, and experience the unity and fellowship of the Father and His Son!