9 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. 10 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?” 11 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[c] should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. Revelation 6:9-11
When Seal 5 is opened, we see a group of souls before the throne of God. This is a very specific group of people – they have been martyred for their faith in God. Note that it doesn’t say that it was specifically for their faith in Jesus, so this group could include Old Testament martyrs as well. David Lowe has an excellent discussion on this in his book “Earthquake Resurrection”. From the time of Abel’s murder in Genesis 4:10, innocent blood has cried out to God from the ground. The shedding of innocent blood pollutes the land, and at some point [when “the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been”] will tip the scales of God’s wrath and cause it to be unleashed in the Day of the Lord. There is an allotted number of martyrs.
The purpose of the Day of the Lord is very specifically to cleanse the land of its guilt and bloodshed, which is why so many of the judgments involve blood. We see the ultimate answer to the martyrs’ prayers in the pouring out of the Bowls – Revelation 16:5-6 – “Now I heard the angel of the waters saying: “You are just – the one who is and who was, the Holy One – because you have passed these judgments, because they poured out the blood of your saints and prophets, so you have given them blood to drink”.
Note that these saints are not “tribulation martyrs”. They have been waiting a long time for vengeance. If they had only been waiting a few months or years, they would be very impatient indeed. Also, they would also not be asking “how long until you avenge us”, if God was already in the process of avenging them! The period of greatest persecution of the saints is after the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week, but most models have the Seals being opened in the first half of the week (following a straightforward, literal reading of Revelation). To try to place Seal 5 martyrs as tribulation martyrs makes a real muddle of the Day of the Lord timeline. Plus, we see the tribulation martyrs as a separate group later on, standing on the sea of glass in Revelation 15:2 (And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.) and again in Revelation 20:4 (Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands.)
In Seal 5 we see that it is not only the blood that cries out from the land, but the souls of the slain are given a special place before God’s altar to cry out to Him. They are praying for vengeance on their murderers – for divine judgment. They are souls, because their bodily resurrection has not taken place yet. This refutes the idea of “soul sleep” – these souls are very much alive and awake and are actively petitioning God. Seal 5 does not involve judgment or wrath. It’s more of an observance or a description. Martyrs have been crying out to God for a long time now, and He is about to rise in answer. The Day of the Lord is beginning.
Douglas Berner provides the only logical explanation for the white robes these saints are given. We never see souls wearing robes – spirits don’t need clothes. We get our white robes when we get our resurrection bodies. Therefore, Seal 5 is a picture of the dead in Christ rising first and being transformed into robed resurrection bodies, followed immediately after by Seal 6 where the ones still alive are transformed. We all enter our rest in heaven (as per Isaiah 26), while on earth the number of martyrs keeps accumulating until their fullness is complete. The Seal 5 martyrs join with the multitude seen in Revelation 7, and the souls of the new martyrs begin accumulating on the sea of glass.
A Disclaimer: The Bible is infallible. I am not. Be a Berean – examine the scriptures to see if these things are so!