We continue through Revelation 6 and look at the concept of Sheol and its use in the Bible. God’s justice is real and right and true. We should all be pursuing justice as image-bearers of Christ. As we wait for the prophecies of Revelation and the redemption of the earth, we are invited to participate in the Kingdom of God – to pursue justice and love one another. We begin this episode talking about the limits of death and Hades and why we should not be afraid.
What we’re going to see is at the end of Revelation, hades is going to actually be thrown into the lake of fire. It’s going to be destroyed. The fortress is going to be torn down.
I’ve already talked about Luke 16, the location of the rich man. He’s in torment. And he looks over and sees Abraham and Lazarus in his bosom.
1 Corinthians 15:55 is interesting. It says, “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”
So again, in 1 Corinthians, hades and death as a duo. They’re partners.
If we look at Revelation 1:18, it says, I am He who lives—this is Jesus speaking—and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.
Again we have a fortress, and it has a door, and it’s locked. And Jesus says, “I have the key. I can go open this up. I can undo death.” Which, of course, he already had done at one point. He was resurrected. And the great promise to us is a resurrection. We will be saved from being trapped in a body that doesn’t want to do the same thing as our spirit wants to do.
Revelation 6:8. Here we see an actor along with death.
And then Revelation 20:13 is where hades is abolished. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. So here death and hades are a pair again. The dead are in hades, and they deliver up the dead. And each one is judged according to his works, and Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
We see death and hades are going out on a horse, and they’re going to reap a fourth of the earth. But they’re eventually headed to the lake of fire. That is not going to be a permanent place.
So when we talk of hell, we usually get these things all muddled together. But the Bible’s actually pretty precise about this. What we call hell is a compilation of a lot of different things that are more properly broken out.
Sheol, a temporary dwelling place
And one is sheol or hades, and that’s a temporary dwelling place for people. Now who’s there now and how that works, I don’t know. I can’t tell you how that happens. It’s very clear that if believers are there, Jesus is there with them. It’s very clear if unbelievers are there, it’s not a pleasant place to be.
But it is clear that at the end of the age, there are still people in there, and it’s given up. But they’re not going to stay there. The permanent dwelling place for unbelievers is the lake of fire, not hades. They’re two separate things. But hades and death are key actors during this great tribulation.
And you see a fourth of the earth. That would be two billion people in today’s world. Two billion people die. That’s a lot of people dying.
If you think about how many people died in the great world wars and so forth, it’s nothing approaching a fourth of the earth.
Purgatory is a concept—the word purgatory comes from the Middle Ages. The Reformation actually took place because of purgatory. The word purgatory doesn’t show up in the Bible. It’s a word purging. The idea of purging does show up in the Bible. And that is the idea that your sins are purged with fire. So when we talk about the judgment seat of Christ, and you have fire, and you’re cleansed with fire, that is the same idea.
The early church very much focused on that event, that we all are going to appear before the judgment seat of Christ, and there’s going to be fire. We’re going to see fire here in a minute, on the altar. This fire is something that you can either take now in this life and be cleansed and then not have fire at the judgment seat, or have fire at the judgment seat.
If you embrace the fire of cleansing in this life, which comes through circumstances, and you live in dependence, then what you get is an amazing, incredible reward because you are a conqueror. You overcame sin in this life. And there’s a reward. And if you don’t, you lose those rewards.
The early church was so driven by this that they had a problem. And the problem was guys wanting to get thrown to the lions in the Coliseum. It was like, you know, “Take me! Take me! I want to get arrested and thrown to the lions!”
And they had to tell people, “no, no, no, no, no. If that happens to you, that’s OK; but don’t volunteer! Your job is to live as a faithful witness, but not try to get killed. If you get killed, that’s fine.”
That’s the way the early church was. And that’s why Rome fell: because they had no power over this huge block of people. That’s why they started a second capital because, “We can’t control these people anymore. They like dying.”
And Revelation, of course, is telling us that’s the attitude we’re supposed to have. “Oh, you want to criticize me? Awesome! You want to run me through the streets because of my faith? Couldn’t be better!”
Unfortunately, though, here’s what happened: That massive motivation was now put into the hands of an intermediary. The church became an institution instead of an organism. Instead of a body, it became a building, and the building had a boss. They realized people were really motivated by this. So we can make some real money off of this.
They started telling people, you know, you can die for your faith and all that sort of thing, but there’s another way. You can just pay us some money, and we’ll make that happen because we’re the intermediary. Pay us for your sins, and we’ll take care of it here. Money substitutes.
And the reason why the Reformation took place is because they started saying, “We’ll give you a lifetime subscription.” But the coupon book, they called it a—there was a certain kind of indulgence that took care of everything once and for all. They were selling these things to raise money to build St. Peter’s Cathedral, as I recall.
They sold these indulgences, and that was what created the tipping point for Luther. He said, look, you’re actually causing poor people to impoverish their families. If you’ll read the 95 Theses, you can kind of reverse engineer this. You’re causing poor people to impoverish their families to buy their relatives—it wasn’t just that you could buy it for yourself, you could buy it for all your relatives. And they would tell people, you know you’ve got to save all your relatives. You’ve got to save your family tree. Give us your money. And it became amazingly corrupt.
Of course the judgment seat of Christ is going to have nothing to do with buying anything, as the letter to the Laodiceans made very, very clear. He says, if you want gold, buy it from me. And the way you do it is by listening to me.
But we’re not going to see anything about the judgment seat at this point in time. We’re just seeing judgment on the earth.
The fifth seal: Praying for justice
Then he gets to the fifth seal. The fifth seal’s really fascinating because now it doesn’t say, “Come and see.” He says I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.
The altar in the throne room
So we break the fifth seal, and now we’re looking at an altar.
Now, there’s one question that pops up here: Why’s there an altar in the throne room in heaven? When you hear the word altar, what do you usually think of happening? A sacrifice, right? Are we killing things on this altar? Does there need to be a sacrifice in heaven? No, there doesn’t. But we still have an altar.
An altar’s role in the Bible is for sin to meet God and to be cleansed. An altar is a place where you go and you ask for something. There’s a petition, and God engages with the petition. It’s a place where you meet God.
Here the souls, or the lives, this is psuche. You can translate psuche soul or life—interchangeable in my experience.
This altar has souls under it. There are all these people, millions of people under this altar, so that’s another interesting thing. Is this altar gigantic? Or are these people tiny? Or maybe this is like C. S. Lewis’s deal where it’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Where space is different than what we’re used to.
They want justice
It doesn’t sound like a wonderful place to go and sit under the altar for a really long time. Why are these people interested in sitting under the altar? They want justice! And look what they’re asking: How long are you going to wait? Which tells you what about time in heaven? There’s still time. The idea of time shall be no more. Sort of. Because that means there’s no clock ticking until you die. So in that sense, time is no more, but you are still aware of time.
We’re going to get to a point in the pretty near future where he’s going to say there was a pause in heaven for 30 minutes. So John is even aware of time.
So they’re aware of time. And what they want is justice. They want vengeance on the people who killed them.
The word altar in Revelation
Yeah. In fact, we have multiple incidences of altar in Revelation. Let’s just look at them really quick.
Revelation 8:3. It says, Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.
So we see here prayers. So our prayers and the prayers of all of our brethren that have gone before us apparently are being collected, concentrated, put in a bowl, and at the appropriate time, they’re going to be poured out.
In fact, some of these bowl judgments are going to come directly from us asking for justice. Have you ever asked for justice from God? God, please make this right? I hope you are. Because you want to be in this bowl. You want to be a part of this.
And it’s going to happen.
Revelation 8:5, Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar—So this altar has fire on it. In fact, in Isaiah 6, when Isaiah goes to the throne room, he says, I’m a man of unclean lips. And an angel comes and takes a coal from the altar and scorches his lips to cleanse them. Cauterizes his lips.
So there’s a fire here to cauterize sin, and when he throws the prayers in, he throws the judgment on sin, the cauterization on sin, onto the earth as well.
Revelation 9:13. This is the sixth trumpet. Then the sixth angel sounded: And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels—
So this is really cool because this is Beauty and the Beast. “Be our guest. Be our guest. Put us to the test.” The furniture talks! The altar is speaking. Isn’t that awesome? Not only do the animals talk, the furniture talks.
I let my imagination run wild with this one. I’m really looking forward to that. See where all that goes. Maybe this is the only one; maybe not.
But the altar actually has a speaking part. It’s engaged in this. Apparently everything in the throne room has a real purpose, and there’s nothing static in there that’s just sitting there being used. The altar’s alive.
In Revelation 14:18, And another angel came out from the altar—So the altar is apparently an office tower in addition to being a piece of furniture.
And finally, Revelation 16:7. And I heard another from the altar saying, “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.”
Apparently this altar is a pretty central place in the throne room, and justice is happening at the altar.
Longing for justice
I don’t know about you, but I long for justice to be done. I long for there to be a time where there’s no more injustice. We still see this to a major degree in the culture today. People want justice.
I’ve already spoken to this once, but when Osama Bin Laden was killed, there was a national celebration. Because somebody died. You don’t even know for sure what his life had been like. You just knew he’d killed a bunch of our people and was trying to kill more. And that ended, and people were happy about it.
We want justice. And justice is going to be done. Jesus says vengeance is mine. I shall repay. And that’s what he’s going to do.
Okay, then we see that they’re given a white robe and told just hang on, because your number has to be fulfilled. So it is God’s intent that many of us will die.
Not fearing death
This idea of being a faithful martyr and not fearing death is in fact what being an overcomer or a conqueror is. Not fearing death. Not fearing rejection.
Death is just a separation. When your battery dies, the chemical flow is disconnected from the terminals. You know, it’s a separation.
Lots of things can die. Relationships can die. A dream can die. And, in this case, death is something we’re not to fear. And we can die to the world.
And when we die to the world, the world hates us. And the world will pay us back. We will be rejected from the world. That’s a very good thing. Don’t fear rejection from the world. Don’t fear being pushed back from the world.
And the world may try to kill us at some point. Don’t fear dying for your faith. There are Christians dying for their faith in the world today simply because they believe and will not recant. And that’s been the case all the way through.
It’s going to be very wide spread during the Great Tribulation.
Let’s look at Revelation 14:13. Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write—because remember John is writing all this down. This is a book, a letter he’s to write. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”
There’s actually a special blessing to dying for your faith during the Great Tribulation. A special blessing.
Christ stands for Stephen
And we see this in scripture, Stephen got an actual hint of this, and it was conveyed to us. He stands up as he’s being martyred and says, “I see Jesus standing,” because Jesus, of course, is not in the habit of standing when we see the throne room scene. What is he in the habit of doing? Sitting at the right hand of the Father.
In the ancient throne rooms, the sovereign doesn’t stand. Everybody else stands or goes prostrate on their face. No one sits in the presence of a sovereign. Only the sovereign sits.
And here’s Jesus standing because Jesus wants to honor Stephen, his faithful witness who did not fear death. In fact, Stephen was stoned for witnessing about Jesus as Messiah right in the process of that happening.
The Apostle Paul saw that, and, no doubt, that was part of his image of what he was to be when he said later, “I count my life as nothing.” I’m glad to give my life. All these hardships I have: being beaten by rods, being thrown in jail, being shipwrecked—it’s nothing compared to the amazing glory that I’m looking for. Just like Stephen saw.
Stephen saw the Sovereign of the Universe standing to welcome him because he had been faithful unto death.
That is what we’re asked to do. Be faithful unto death.
What we’ll do next time is we’ll start the cosmic disturbances in the sixth seal when the moon becomes like blood and the stars of the heavens fall. There’s a lot of juicy stuff in this one.
Then we’ll go into the sealing of the 144,000. So we’re going to go from breaking seals to sealing, which is an interesting thing in and of itself. And we’re going to see these people sealed.
We usually say the term all hell breaks loose, but, in this case, hell is actually set loose in terms of hades being set loose, and all kinds of horrific things are going to take place on the earth. It’s going to be very sad to go through this because we love the earth. We want to see it restored. But, this is just a process to get to the point of restoring the earth.
The earth is going to actually be remade, and that’s what we’re headed towards, which is our great hope.