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In Revelation 6:9-11 John reports a vision of 'souls' 'under the altar'. Here in this vision, under the altar, are the souls [the essential life or being] of all who have been slain because of their allegiance to the Lamb.

But what about the 'altar'? What does it symbolise?  The altar speaks of the sacrificial, sin-bearing, substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross. It speaks of the Lamb with the marks of slaughter upon him. By his death all that was symbolically achieved by the blood-stained altar in the Tabernacle and Temple is achieved in reality by the death of Jesus Christ, the Lamb: the consecration of priests [Exodus 29]; an offering pleasing to the Lord [Leviticus 1]; fellowship with the Lord [Leviticus 3]; atonement and forgiveness [Leviticus 4 & 5].

This is where the redeemed are: in the presence of God, safe under the protection of the Lamb.  Safe in Christ. Safe in the very presence of God – forgiven, reconciled, pleasing, consecrated.

Just as the Lamb had been slain, but still lived [5:6], even so those who are united to him by faith: they have been killed, but they still live [John 5:24; 11:25,26; Romans 6:8-11; 2Corinthians 5:1-9; Philippians 1:20-26].

They were killed because of the Gospel – the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. The word ‘maintained’ is inserted by the NIV translators. The Greek simply reads ‘which they had’. Revelation makes several references to this ‘testimony of Jesus’ –

1:2 uses the phrase ‘the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ’ to refer to everything that John saw in the visions recorded in Revelation. This teaches us that the content of Revelation is not additional to the truth already known, but rather an affirmation of known truth.

In 1:9 John states that he is in exile because of ‘the word of God and the testimony of Jesus’.

In 12:17 the church is referred to as those who ‘obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus’.

In 19:10 the angel referred to those ‘who hold to the testimony of Jesus’ and added ‘for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’.

Every genuine believer has and holds the ‘testimony of Jesus’.

It is because he has accepted the testimony of Jesus that he is a believer. The fact that he identifies as a Christian indicates that he has and holds to the truth about Jesus Christ and the truth revealed by Jesus Christ. This truth about Jesus Christ and revealed by Christ is the eternal truth embedded in both the Old Testament and New Testament scriptures. The Christian’s alignment with this truth is itself an affirmation of that truth and a witness to the world of the power of that truth to redeem and transform.

These believers ‘under the altar’ have been slain because they refused to deny the truth committed to them by Jesus Christ. They died, rather than revoke their belief. They died, rather than deny that truth.

And here is an ever-present challenge: there are Christians today who are being slain because they have and hold to 'the word of God and the testimony of Jesus'. They too are there in John's vision, under the altar, killed but still living, safe under the protection of the Lamb who was slain.

May we all, like them, so value the word of God and the testimony of Jesus!

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015