When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. – Revelation 6:9-11 ESV
As Jesus opens the seals on the scroll there first comes a series of riders on horses that seem to bring judgement on the earth and it’s inhabitants. After the four horsemen of the apocalypse the fifth seal is opened, and it seems quite different. Rather than judgement, John sees under the altar the souls of those slain for their faith. They inquire as to how much longer until the judgement is completed and are told to chill for a bit longer.
There are many thoughts as to what is represented here, who these believers are, what is meant by the white robes, and why they are crying out. But I see in this those who were slain for their witness to Christ; Christian martyrs. Not just during a tribulational period, but throughout history. Their sacrifice on the altar is not forgotten, but is honored (the white robes) and remembered.
Suffering for our faith and martyrdom are probably not high up on the list of things we look forward to. But what a privilege it would be to join this select group under the altar. Remember, and hold in honor, those who have given their lives for Christ in the past, and continue to offer the ultimate sacrifice today.