“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of all who had been martyred for the word of God and for being faithful in their testimony. They shouted to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?” Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters—their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred—had joined them.” Revelation 6:9-11
In the fifth seal the scene shifts from earth to heaven and John sees a vision of those who will be martyred for their faith in Christ. They are described as being under the altar, in keeping with the fact that the blood of the sacrifices of the Old Testament was poured out under the altar (Exodus 29:12; Lev. 4:7). In this case it is the “souls of them that were slain for the Word of God” which are seen under the altar. John hears them crying with a loud voice asking why God has not judged their persecutors. In the fact that the martyrs ask for judgment upon those that dwell on the earth it is apparent that their persecutors are still living. Their cry for righteous judgment is in the same spirit as the Psalmist’s call to God to vindicate His holiness and righteousness in dealing with the injustice and oppression which characterize the human race. In answer to their question as to how long it will be, the reply is given in verse 11 that there is still a little time required for the fulfillment of God’s program, that other events must take place, that still additional martyrs must be added to their number. In a word, they are to wait until the time of Christ’s return in power and glory when God will deal in summary judgment with the earth.
Two elements make up God’s response to His martyred saints: a symbolic gift, and a spoken word. The gift given to each of them was a white robe. These long, brilliant white robes were a reward of grace, symbolizing God’s gift of eternal righteousness. They symbolize all the glory that redeemed saints will enjoy in heaven. God told them to wait for others that will be martyred.