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The Scriptorium

The Witnesses in Heaven

Who are these, under the altar in heaven?

Revelation 6, 7: The Third Facet

Week 5, Wednesday: Slain for the Word and testimony

At the same time events on earth are unfolding around the images suggested by Revelation 6.1-8, events in the timeless realm of heaven are also continuing. An altar appears in heaven, and under it are being gathered the souls of those who have been slain for the Word of God and their testimony. Let’s make a point of remembering that this is an image and should be taken above all for its symbolic nature. The word “martyr” does not appear in this passage, although commentators can seem unable to avoid it. But avoiding it might be just the point.

Read Revelation 6

Meditate on Revelation 6.9-11
1.      The life of faith is sometimes in Scripture represented as being a kind of sacrifice. Consider, for example, Psalm 84.1-4 and Romans 12.1 2. Even Jesus phrased discipleship in these terms (cf. Mk. 8.34, 35). Paul talks to believers who were very much alive in terms that suggest they had already “died” (cf. Rom. 6.8; 2 Tim. 2.11). Do Paul and the psalmists intend us to think that every believer should expect to die physically as a “martyr”? However, do the writers intend us to think about our lives in terms of being a sacrifice? What are the implications of this?

2.      Heaven is a “timeless” place, even though it and its furnishings are described in “in-time” terms. There is an “altar” in heaven – a timeless place of sacrifice. What does this represent, and why are souls “safe” “under” such an altar? Under the altar, under the Rider on the white horse: Do you see anything in these ideas to suggest how we ought to think about our relationship to the Lamb?  

3.      Those who have gathered under the altar in heaven are identified with two things: The Word of God and their testimony. What’s the difference? Should this identity be one that all believers in the Lamb have in common? Why or why not?

4.      In verse 10, those who are gathered under the altar appear to be looking forward to an event. What is it? They are clothed in a white garment, which is rather like a “uniform” identifying the “team” of which they are members. What “team” is that? How does Revelation 19.1-9 shed light on these questions?

5.      Note that this “timeless” period of time in which the saints wait longingly for the end of things is described as a period of “rest” (v. 11). Rest from what (see on, Rev. 7.16, 17)? This suggests that “heaven” is a temporary place of rest until further events ensue. Do you think of heaven in this way? Should you? From your reading of Revelation, what follows in chapters 21 and 22 after the great climactic events of chapters 19 and 20? Is heaven the believer’s final destination? Explain.

My Reflection
Meditate on Revelation 6.10. Do you share in this cry, this longing? Should you? Why or why not? In what ways?

The Glory of God
What is suggested about heaven by the presence of this altar and the saints’ ability to appeal directly to the Lord with their concerns? How should we fit this together with the majestic, awesome, fearful, worship-inspiring vision of chapters 4 and 5? How does this help to remind us Who is the Centerpiece of heaven, history, and our lives?

Glory to Glory
What will it mean for you today so to take the Word of God, and to live out your testimony, that your life becomes a living sacrifice for the Lord?

Recite your memory verses aloud: Revelation 6.1, 2. Share them with a Christian friend. Talk about ways these verses are beginning to affect your understanding of your calling as a follower of the Rider on the white horse.

Closing Prayer
How lovely is Your tabernacle,
O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, even faints
For the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
And the swallow a nest for herself,
Where she may lay her young—
Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
My King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in Your house;
They will still be praising You.

Psalm 84.1-4

T. M. Moore

The book of Revelation is the culminating episode in the story of God’s covenant. To learn more about that covenant, and to discover the way it integrates all of Scripture into the Gospel of Jesus Christ, order a copy of T. M.’s book, I Will Be Your God, by clicking here.

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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