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Poole on Revelation 6:9: The Fifth Seal, Part 1

Verse 9:[1] And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under (Rev. 8:3; 9:13; 14:18) the altar (Rev. 20:4) the souls of them that were slain (Rev. 1:9) for the word of God, and for (2 Tim. 1:8; Rev. 12:17; 19:10) the testimony which they held…

[The fifth Seal] This seal, as also the following ones, has no reinforcement, as the former ones, of its commencement by the living creatures; likewise, there are here no Riders of horses, upon which that indication of the living Creatures was depending (Mede’s Works 553). There is no horse or rider here, no voice (Durham); either, 1. because there is no new persecution here (Pareus), and a calamity is described here, not to be inflicted, but already inflicted and past (Cluverus): or, 2. because here the type itself speaks (Forbes): or, 3. because here the struggles of the Church militant are not represented, but what things are done beyond this world in heaven, where the functions of the living creatures are no longer necessary (Cluverus). This is not a Prophecy of new events (Durham), but a consolation (Pareus, Durham), offered because of the scandal of the cross (Pareus); and it has regard to all the persecutions preceding, and long continuing (Durham).

And when he had opened the fifth seal: this and the next seal’s opening, is not prefaced with any living creature calling to John to come and see. We must consider, 1. The number of the beasts was but four, who all had had their courses. 2. Some have thought that it is, because here is no mention of any new persecution, but a consequent of the former. 3. But this vision was so plain, it needed no expositor.

[I saw (namely, in the spirit, for otherwise souls are not able to be seen [Pareus]) under the alter] What things are in heaven, as νοητὰ/noetic, falling within the province of the mind, are wont among the Jews to be explained by a figure τῶν αἰσθητῶν, of the objects of sensation, in the Temple, as we have already seen a number of times. Thus the Martyrs correspond to the sacrificial Animals, Philippians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6. In the Temple, there was an altar for sacrificial animals: At the foot of this altar was poured the blood of the sacrifices, Leviticus 1:5; 3:2, 5; 7:2; 8:15, 19; etc. This blood, put in sight of the Sanctuary, reminds God, as it were, of the sacrifice furnished for Himself. Much more do the souls accomplish that, that is, the spirits of the Martyrs in sight of Christ, ὑπὸ τὴν διαθήκην τοῦ Θεοῦ, under the covenant of God, 2 Maccabees 7:36[2] (Grotius). Under the altar, that is, on the ground at the foot of the altar, after the likeness of sacrificial animals recently slaughtered. For Martyrdom is a certain sort of sacrifice, Philippians 2:17 (Mede’s Works 554). It is a metaphor taken from worship under the Law; in which no sacrifice was accepted except at the Altar, unto which, and towards the base of which, and round about, and upon which the blood and oblation was variously poured, sprinkled, and offered. For the altar is that which sanctifies the oblation.[3] It shows, therefore, that our obedience, and εὐχαριστικὰ/eucharistic sacrifices, and indeed even the very loss of our life for the sake of God, is accepted in Christ alone, our altar (Forbes). But the Altar here and in Revelation 8:3 is understood, not as that of the burnt offerings, which stood in the Courtyard; but as that of Incense, of which also there is mention in Revelation 8:3, which altar was within the veil: for the entire location which is here represented from Revelation 4 is the Sanctuary within the veil (Hammond). The Temple was a figure of the Church: as much as the exterior courtyard was a figure of the Church militant, the interior Sanctuary was a figure of the Church triumphant. Therefore, John saw the Holy Martyrs, as much as indeed the bodies, in the Church militant under the Altar of Burnt Offering, because of their sufferings and deaths; also the souls after death, in the Church triumphant under the Altar of Incense, that is, in heaven, offering sacrifices of perpetual praise to God (Pererius). The Altar here is Christ (Pareus out of Anselm and Haymo, thus Cluverus, Gagnæus, Durham), so called in Hebrews 13:10, to whom the entire Tabernacle and its furniture had regard, through whom we and all our worship, and the very deaths of the Martyrs, are sanctified and made acceptable to God (Durham). Under the altar, that is, under the charge and protection of Christ (Pareus, similarly Cluverus, Gravius); enjoying that in the sight of Christ, and so also of God (Pareus). By which example He rouses the faithful to constancy and patience (Pareus, similarly Ribera, Cluverus), lest anyone should be offended by the fearful sufferings of the Martyrs, and avoid confessing the truth (Cluverus, similarly Pareus). Under the Altar were they, not a material one, which sort was not in the heavens, but understood figuratively. In this place, therefore, he describes by phrases taken out of the Old Testament, the safest and most blessed state of these souls, inasmuch as they are in heaven, a type of which was the Holy of Holies, Hebrews 9:11, 12, before which this altar was; inasmuch as they were so very close to God, as if under the Altar, in which the saints delighted to such a great degree in this life, so that there might be an allusion to Psalm 31:20; 84:3; inasmuch as they enjoy the presence and fellowship of Christ, which things were the greatest desire of the saints, Acts 7:59; Philippians 1:21 (Durham).

I saw under the altar; still he speaks in the dialect of the Old Testament, where in the temple was the altar of burnt-offering and the altar of incense; the allusion here is judged to be to the latter.

[The souls[4] (that is, the spirits [Grotius, Durham], as they are called in Ecclesiastes 12:7;[5] Luke 23:46;[6] Acts 7:59[7] [Durham], as ψυχαὶ/souls is taken in Matthew 10:28; Revelation 20:4 [Grotius]: He saw these with a corporeal and human appearance [Cotterius]: It shows that souls, separated from their bodies, exist and survive, Matthew 10:28 [Durham]: Others: He calls cadavers souls here, just as in Revelation 18:13; 20:4: Thus also Leviticus 19:28;[8] Psalm 16:10; Ezekiel 44:25;[9] Acts 2:31 [Mede’s Works 1112]: Others: Here, he calls the blood souls, that is, the effusion of blood, like the blood of Abel,[10] for soul and blood are the same, and the blood is the life, Genesis 9:4 [Hammond]: [But] souls released from the body, much more than blood, testify that death was endured [Grotius]) of the slain] That is, of the Martyrs (Zegers, Pareus). Christ is mindful of this bloodshed, and avenges it by degrees; but, as we said, tempering severity with remarkable patience, He also gives time to curable minds, so that the punishment might pertain to few, if possible, the example to many. These are included in those seven Spirits previously mentioned (Grotius). Here he understands those slain, either, 1. by the Jews (certain interpreters in Pareus, thus Hammond, Lightfoot’s Harmony, Chronicle, and Order of the New Testament 156); or, 2. under Trajan (Ribera); or, 3. from Trajan unto Diocletian (Lyra); or, 4. under Diocletian, by whom the Persecution of Christians was begun, and continued by others, by far the most severe Persecution of all that had been at any time.[11] Now, this seal is to be entered upon when the calamity of the foregoing Seal ceases, namely, from the Empire of Aurelianus, in the year 268, at which time, the Pestilence of fifteen years, which was of the greatest duration of the calamities of the former Seal, was extinguished[12] (Mede’s Works 553). Or, 5. in those ten persecutions of the Roman Emperors (Pererius, similarly Pareus, Gravius, Durham), and in the persecution of the Heretics, and in the persecution of the Saracens (Pererius).

[Because of the word of God (that is, the Gospel [Grotius, Piscator], Acts 4:31; 6:7; 8:14; that is, because of their confession of the word of God, a Metonymy of subject, and a Synecdoche of kind [Piscator]; that is to say, not because of evil deeds: For punishment makes not Martyrs, but the cause [Pareus, Forbes]), and because of the testimony (namely, concerning Jesus [Piscator, thus Pareus], and the word of God [Pareus]; or, because of the truth of their faith, and innocence of their life [Menochius]) which they held] Either, 1. passively (certain interpreters in Pareus), inasmuch as all bore witness that they were Christians (Ribera, Menochius); on account of which name they were hated by infidels (Ribera): or, 2. actively, because they held a testimony for Christ, that is, they were giving, presenting, holding, defending bravely (Pareus); they were retaining unto the end, as in Revelation 12:17 (Grotius, thus Pareus); 19:10 (Grotius). The Saints touch the word of God, not only with the outward fingers, but they have it, hold it, possess it, 2 Timothy 1:5 (Cotterius); or, they upheld (Beza, Piscator). In a manuscript and other books, it is only διὰ τὴν μαρτυρίαν ἣν εἶχον, for the testimony which they held,[13] as also the Latin reads, so that Θεοῦ, of God, is understood from the preceding. It is the same testimony that is rendered both to God and to Christ, to God as the author, to Christ as the faithful mediator (Grotius). That, because of the word of God, has regard unto the true faith that they have in their heart, and bear witness to by a holy life; now, this, because of the testimony, etc., has regard unto the outward confession of that faith. Consult Romans 10:9, 10 (Durham).

The souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held; from whence we may not conclude, that the souls of men and women when they die do sleep, as some dreamers have thought. These are said to be the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, etc., for preaching the word, and their profession of the gospel, bearing a testimony to Christ and his truths. Mr. Mede thinks that under this seal is comprehended the ten bloody years of Dioclesian’s persecution, which of all others was most severe; paganism at that time (as dying things are wont) most struggling to keep itself alive. This tyrant is said, in the beginning of his reign, within thirty days to have slain seventeen thousand, and in Egypt alone, during his ten years, one hundred and forty-four thousand. He thinks that the souls of those which this wretch had slain throughout all his dominions, within his short period of ten years, were those principally which were showed John upon the opening of this seal.

[1] Greek: Καὶ ὅτε ἤνοιξε τὴν πέμπτην σφραγῖδα, εἶδον ὑποκάτω τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου τὰς ψυχὰς τῶν ἐσφαγμένων διὰ τὸν λόγον τοῦ Θεοῦ, καὶ διὰ τὴν μαρτυρίαν ἣν εἶχον. [2] 2 Maccabees 7:36: “For our brethren, who now have suffered a short pain, are dead under God’s covenant (ὑπὸ διαθήκην θεοῦ) of everlasting life: but thou, through the judgment of God, shalt receive just punishment for thy pride.” [3] Matthew 23:19. [4] Greek: τὰς ψυχὰς. [5] Ecclesiastes 12:7: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit (וְהָרוּחַ; καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα, in the Septuagint) shall return unto God who gave it.” [6] Luke 23:46: “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit (τὸ πνεῦμά μου): and having said thus, he gave up the ghost (ἐξέπνευσεν, He breathed out the spirit).” [7] Acts 7:59: “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit (τὸ πνεῦμά μου).” [8] Leviticus 19:28: “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead (לָנֶפֶשׁ, for the soul), nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord.” [9] Ezekiel 44:25a: “And at no dead person (וְאֶל־מֵ֣ת אָדָ֔ם) shall they come to defile themselves…” [10] Genesis 4:10; Hebrews 12:24. [11] Trajan’s persecution of Christians lasted from 112 to 117. Diocletian’s persecution lasted from 303-324; it was carried on by others after Diocletian’s abdication in 305. [12] A major pestilence decimated the Roman Empire from 253 to 268. [13] Codices Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, and Ephræmi Rescriptus, together with the Textus Receptus and some other Byzantine manuscripts, read in this way. Some Byzantine manuscripts read τοῦ Ἀρνίου, of the Lamb; others, Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, of Jesus Christ.

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