The Messianic Judgments, 6:1-16:21
1. The judgment of the seven seals, 6:1-8:5
ii] The opening of the fifth seal.Synopsis
John now sees the Lamb open the fifth seal which reveals the souls of Christ's martyrs. They call out "how long" until there is vindication? The answer is "a little longer", and in preparation they are given their white robes.
Christ is Lord, the kingdom is come, the righteous are about to receive their crown, and yet their remains a moment of grace for the suffering church to make the gospel known.
i] Context: See 6:1-8.
ii] Background: See 1:1-8
iii] Structure: The opening of the fifth seal:
The martyred saints, v9-11:
The vision of the martyred saints, v9;
"those who had been slain for the word of God."
They cry out, v10;
The reward, v11;
"wait a little longer."
The one who is worthy breaks the fifth seal and so John again witnesses the unfolding purposes of God's judgment. The time has come to vindicate Christ's persecuted followers, to clothe them in their white robes in preparation for their crowns. In John's vision, Christ's persecuted flock is represented by the souls of the martyrs, those who have died for the gospel, "the word of God" made known ("for the witness they had borne"). For the first time John sees the altar in God's throne-room, and uJpokatw, "under" (= "at the foot of", cf., Lev.4:7), the altar are the "souls" of the martyrs. They want to know how long they must wait for the promised Great Day of the Lord, the day of judgment, the day of blessing and cursing - the sorting out of all things. The divine response indicates that the Day is at hand for even now the "souls" are receiving their white robes. Yet, for their brothers and sisters on earth who are suffering for their witness to the gospel, there remains a moment of divine grace for the salvation of the lost.
What should we make of the idea that God has in mind a full number of believers who must be martyred before the end?, v11: The NIV, as with many translations, assumes that the subject of the passive verb plhrwqwsin, "should be complete", is "number"; "until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete", ESV. This translation is prompted by the idea that God has a particular number of martyrs in mind which, when reached, will serve to trigger the day of judgment. Really!!! We do come up with some crazy ideas. Just imagine God counting the number down; "I just want to see another twenty believers ripped apart by lions before I close up the Monopoly Board." Yes, there is support for this idea, 1 Enoch .47:4 and 4 Ezra 4:35-37, that's if we want to rely on the Apocrypha. Rather than a fulfilled number, it is more likely that John has in mind finished works; "the works of the surviving colleagues of the slaughtered souls", Blount. And what works? Surely John is referring to witnessing the gospel, cf., the judgment of the trumpets - "The time will continue until the faithful have finished giving their witness (11:7). Only then will the last trumped sound", Koester. So here we again see our merciful God delaying his hand of judgment for the salvation of souls. May I say that I am very appreciative that God stayed his hand up to this point in time! Cf., "until the full number", v11.
Who are the martyrs?: As already noted, apocalyptic presents divine truth in a form that demands the reader clothe the images with propositional truth derived from the rest of scripture, which information is then used to shape a local application, ie., John provides the dots for us to fill in, and of course, we all fill in the dots differently. This passage is a classic example of the problem we face when interpreting apocalyptic literature. The "souls", the martyrs of the church, are told to wait a little longer while their counterpart martyrs on earth "finish / complete", presumably complete their mission unto martyrdom; see "unto the full number" below. What we have here is an apocalyptic image, so the martyrs are not necessarily literal martyrs. For a church facing martyrdom, they can well be martyrs, but for the church at large they represent the suffering church, struggling in a world that disregards the gospel, and at times opposes it, cf., Lk.6:22, 21:17. The point is that the time for gospel ministry, with all its difficulties, is coming to an end; even now the heavenly assembly is putting on their dazzling robes.
Text - 6:9
The opening of the fifth seal, v9-11: i] The vision of the martyred saints, v9. On the opening of the fifth seal the scene moves to heaven. On earth peace and tranquility is turning into a holocaust, but in heaven, John sees the saints, those who have long suffered for the gospel, he sees them at peace at the foot of the altar (at the foot of he cross, washed by Christ's sacrifice). They are putting on their white robes and are being assured that it's only "a little longer." John is asking us to consider where we want to place our allegiance; is it with the suffering saints now at peace, or a world facing turmoil? cf., Koester.
oJte "when" - when [he opened the fifth seal]. This temporal conjunction is more structural than temporal. As a structural indicator serving to introduce the next seal, it may be ignored; "and what I saw next was this ....", Cassirer.
uJpakatw + gen. "under [the altar]" - [i saw] underneath [the altar]. Spacial. Given Lev.4:7 the sense is probably "at the foot of the altar."
taV yucaV (h) "the souls" - In the NT the "soul" represents the spiritual substance of a person, their spiritual being, their Godward being, while the body represents their physical being. The two together form a person, which is why the NT speaks of a bodily resurrection, although as Paul makes clear, the body is transformed when raised. John's apocalyptic imagery rules out questions as to the state of these "souls", since on the day of resurrection all believers, living and deceased, rise to receive their "white robe" and crown in the heavenly throng. Souls floating around in heaven awaiting the day of resurrection is more Platonic than Biblical. These "souls" represent all those "asleep" in Christ, all those washed in the blood of Christ upon the altar of his sacrifice, all those waiting for the day of resurrection. The point is they need only wait "a little longer." Note the link in the Revelation between "the souls", "the word (the gospel)", "the witness (of the word)" and persecution, cf., 12:10-11, 20:4-6. For John, the faithful are those who have maintained their witness for the gospel in a pagan / secular world and done so without accommodating / syncretising themselves to it, even though pressured to do so.
twn esfagmenwn (sfazw) gen. perf. mid./pas. part. "of those who had been slain" - of the ones having been slain. The participle serves as a substantive, the genitive being adjectival, possessive. The letters to the churches do not indicate widespread persecution of the Christian church and so it seems unlikely that John is writing in the context of a pogrom. Still, believers have died, Stephen, and James, and others have followed. They well represent a church in conflict with a pagan / secular world, a suffering church, a suffering which is more about social ostracism than physical harm. None-the-less, the Roman historians, Tacitus and Pliny, make it clear that the Roman authorities did tend to view Christianity as a harmful superstition and from time-to-time did act aggressively.
dia + acc. "because of [the word]" - Causal, "because of, on account of." "Word" is presumably the gospel, so "because of their association with / commitment to / belief in ..... the gospel"
tou qeou (oV) gen. "of God" - The genitive may simply be adjectival, possessive, since the gospel is God's own message for humanity, which sense presses toward verbal, subjective. As the message is from God the genitive could also be classified as ablative, source / origin.
kai "and" - and [because of the witness which they have]. More likely serving epexegetically than as a connective / a coordinative conjunction, so Blount; "because of the word of God (the gospel), that is, because of their witness to the gospel which they had (which had been given to them / entrusted with)."
ii] The martyr-church calls out for vindication, v10. The suffering church asks how long must it wait before the Lord vindicates his people, cf., Ps.79:10. The "souls" are not calling on God to judge and punish godless humanity, because the day of judgment is a given; what they want to know is how long they must wait for this day, the day of their vindication. The answer is "not long."
kai "-" - and. Serving to indicate a step in the narrative. Often de serves this function, but de is rarely used in the Revelation. We could translate it as "then", as in v11, but there are only so many times one can use "then" without becoming repetitious.
fwnh/ (h) dat. "in a [loud] voice" - [they cried out] in, with a [loud] voice. The dative is adverbial, modal, expressing manner.
legonteV (legw) "-" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle, redundant, expressing action accompanying the verb "to cry out"; "they cried out ... and said." See legwn 1:17 for the use of this participle to introduce speech in a vision.
eJwV pote "How long" - until when. Temporal construction: temporal preposition eJwV, "until", + the temporal interrogative particle, pote, "when" = "until when .......?", "How much longer is it to be .....?", Cassirer. Serving as "an anguished plea for justice", Osborne.
oJ aJagioV kai alhqinoV adj. "holy and true" - [master] the holy one and true. "Pure and trustworthy." The adjectives serve as substantives, standing in apposition to the nominative "master" = "Sovereign Lord." The nominative "master" probably serves as a vocative, so Aune; "O Sovereign Lord", ESV. The title "master" is a strange one for the Lord, but carries the sense of absolute power and authority.
ou krineiV (krinw) pres. "until you judge" - do you not judge [and avenge the blood of us]? The presence of ou in a question indicates a positive outcome. The sense is possibly "vindicate", but "judge" in the sense of "decide the guilt of" is more likely, with "vengeance" taking the sense of "apply justice"; "are you not vindicating and extracting vengeance for our blood?" The present tense, being durative, gives the sense "how long are you going to refrain from judging and avenging?", Osborne. This is not "a call for judgment on the people of the earth", Koester, with all the moral issues such a call generates. Judgment is a given, the question is how long do we have to wait for it. The genitive pronoun hJmwn, "our [blood]", is possessive.
ek + gen. "-" - from. Here the preposition is used to designate those who face the "vengeance", lit., "and avenge the blood of us on the ones dwelling upon the earth", cf. Zerwick #134, BAGD 238. "How long will it be before you judge and punish the people of this earth who killed us", CEV.
twn katoikountwn (kadoikew) pres. part. "the inhabitants" - the ones dwelling. The participle serves as a substantive.
epi + gen. "of [the earth]" - upon [the earth]. Spacial; "upon, on." The term "those who dwell on the earth" usually takes a negative sense, "the world in its hostility to God's messiah", Smalley.
iii] The reward, v11: The "souls", the martyrs, represent the suffering church, the redeemed, those washed in the blood of the Lamb who have stayed true to their faith in the face of the trials and temptations of life (note their position at the foot the altar). They have asked how long they must wait for the Great Day of the Lord. The question is answered by observing the drama being played out in the throne-room of the Ancient of Days. Even now the "souls" are putting on their dazzling robes. Even so, it is not quite midnight, so there remains a moment of grace for the church's mission to testify to (communicate) the gospel for the salvation of lost humanity, and of course, suffer in the doing of it.
kai "then" - and. See kai v11.
autoiV dat. pro. "each of them [was given a white robe]" - [a white robe was given] to them [each one]. Dative of indirect object, with the adjective ekastw/, "each one", modifying the pronoun by giving it a distributive sense; "was given to each one of them" These faithful witnesses who have suffered for the gospel, these members of the redeemed community of believers, even now receive the reward of their white robes, cf., 7:9. "White" may better be rendered "dazzling", given that they have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, cf., 3:4-5.
autoiV dat. pro. "they [were told]" - [and it was told] to them. Dative of indirect object.
iJna + fut. "to [wait a little longer]" - that [they will rest yet a little time]. Introducing a noun clause, subject of the verb "was told" / dependent statement of indirect speech / command, expressing what they were told, namely, to wait a little longer. Note again the use of a future tense with iJna when a subjunctive would be expected.
eJwV + subj. "until [the full number]" - [and] until [the / their fellow servants of them, and the brothers of them, the ones about to be killed, as also / indeed they are being killed, should finish = complete their work]. Introducing an indefinite future temporal clause with respect to the main verb; "it was told .... that they rest ...until ....... they complete their work." This reading follows the variant aorist active subjunctive plhrwswsin, "they finish, complete, fulfill", rather than the passive plhrwqwsin. "But each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to rest for a short time, until those who were their fellow servants and their brethren - who were to be killed as they were - were finished", Koester, ie., "finished their work of witnessing to the gospel". Are they finished when godless society will no longer listen, or when God says "enough is enough"? On the the assumed "number [should be complete]", see "Interpretation" above.
kai .... kai "-" - and [until the fellows servants of them] and [the brothers of them]. We have two problematic uses of the conjunction kai, "and". The two conjunctions may be correlative; "until both their fellow servants and their brothers ....... is complete." Then again, the second may be epexegetic; "and until their fellow servants, that is, their brothers and sisters who are about to be killed / put to death, as indeed they are being killed, complete their work."
autwn gen. pro. "their [brothers and sisters" - [the brothers] of them. The genitive is adjectival, relational.
oiJ mellonteV (mellw) pres. part. "were [killed]" - the ones being about [to be killed]. The participle may be taken as a substantive, standing in apposition to "brothers", or adjectival, attributive, limiting "brothers", "who were to be killed", ESV. The infinitive apoktennesqai, "to be killed", is complementary, completing the participle "being about." John uses the imagery of martyrdom to depict the suffering church, a church struggling to communicate the gospel in the face of dark powers. Martyrdom was not common in John's day, as it is not common today, although it does occur. The common experience of the Christian community is resistance to the gospel. The powers of darkness use every trick to nullify its communication. We face societal pressure to limit proselytizing; we face pressure from within the church to replace the gospel with social activism; we are constantly tempted to allocate our resources toward our own ends rather than gospel ministry.
wJV "just as [they had been]" - as [and they are]. Here the comparative also expresses manner. The conjunction kai, and, could be adjunctive, "also", or emphatic, "indeed"; "as indeed they are being killed.