In the book of Revelation it is written,

"When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained" (Rev 6:9 NIV)

The book of Revelation uses pictorial language to help one understand the "spirit world" an example being Satan being depicted as a "great red dragon" in Revelation 12. This language helps the reader to understand how ferocious Satan is.

Without the use of this pictorial language it would be difficult to grasp what is really happening in the spirit world as it is recorded in Revelation. John would be unable to get the meaning of the scripture across to the reader if he had written, "I saw the spirit of Satan appear in Heaven."

How is the reader of the Revelation to understand the verse where John says,

"I saw the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God"?

Here, John does not use pictorial language to get his point across to the reader; instead, one is left wondering what a soul looks like, since the text tells us John "saw the souls" of the slain.

What would a soul look like?

  • I would imagine it would look like what we tend to imagine a ghost looks like. To get the point across to you that you were seeing "souls of the slain" I think God would present it to you as you would imagine to see them. So the souls he saw looked like whatever John thought souls looked like. Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 7:23
  • @ david brainerd, Rev 6:11 informs the reader that each of the souls was given a white robe to wear.This would reflect your above quote-"I would imagine it would look like what we tend to imagine a ghost looks like." One must remember that John saw the souls before they were given "White Robes."
    – Bagpipes
    Commented Oct 12, 2014 at 11:04

4 Answers 4


Man is tri-part,(1 Thess. 5:23)

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are a spirit, we have a soul(mind, will, and emotions), and we live in a body.

To see the 'spirit' of an individual(sans flesh) is to see who they really are. Interestingly, those who have visited heaven(or hell) "knew" the individuals who were there, in spite of their 'glorified' or 'unglorified' state. The "souls" identified in Rev. 6:9 are very much recognizable, although their 'flesh' is in a state of decay.

And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.(1 Sam. 28:15)

Saul recognized Samuel-although the flesh of Samuel was decaying in his grave. Therefore, he saw the 'soul' of Samuel, who apparently was allowed to give Saul a final 'word', although through a source(medium) which was condemned. Therefore, one can conclude that souls can be recognized, although in this life it is their flesh that is seen with the naked eye.

Satan, in Chapters 12 and 13 is seen as a 'red dragon', not that he is one but there is a Truth which is being figuratively addressed. One must make the distinction, especially in Revelations, whether or not the narrative is Literal(the historical/grammatical context of the word used), or Figurative(the words used are representative of another reality). The simple way to understand this is when Jesus said to Nicodemus, "You must be born again", did He mean in the historical/grammatical context of the language which Nicodemus presumed He was using..."re-emerging through his natural mother's womb", or was He describing "regeneration", a spiritual re-birth where a spirit is re-born before God...representative of natural birth, yet the context is a spiritual one.

  • This is a good answer which got me thinking about "under the altar." Because of the scripture (1 Sam 28:15) which you quote and this scripture from Daniel 12:2 "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt." Am i correct to think that "under the altar" is actually "the earth" as in planet earth?
    – Bagpipes
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 8:36
  • 1
    @Bagpipes The altar is the place of consecration; the souls are not 'all bunched up', what we are seeing are those who's consecration is the ultimate sacrifice. Remember, they are "alive" and in Paradise with Christ(think of the of the thief on the cross), yet since their "flesh" is decaying in the dust of the earth, and they haven't been joined to their resurrected body yet, they are 'asleep', in that they have no physical 'house' by which their soul can express itself.
    – Tau
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 3:11

The belief that something immaterial ,intangible or immortal that leaves the body on death is a Platonic philosophical speculation or theological bias, and it is nowhere to be found in scriptures.

The Bible helps us understand what a soul is.


In the verse below we read that Adam became a living soul, observe, that Adam was not given a soul, hence man was a soul.

Genesis 2:7(KJV)

"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. "

Genesis 2:7 (NASB)

" Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being."


Ezekiel 18:4 (NASB)

"Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die."


Leviticus 24:17-18 (YLT)

17 "And when a man smiteth any soul of man, he is certainly put to death.18 `And he who smiteth a beast repayeth it, body for body."

Leviticus 24:17-18 (NASB)

17 ‘If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death. 18 The one who [b]takes the life of an animal shall make it good, life for life.

Acts 3:23 (NASB)

23" And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.

Acts 2:23 (ERV)

23 "And anyone who refuses to obey that prophet will die, separated from God’s people."

Naturally only eight souls were saved, but not their lives.

1 Peter 3:20 (DARBY)

20 "Heretofore disobedient, when the long-suffering of God waited in [the] days of Noah while the ark was preparing, into which few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water:"


Genesis 1:20 (DARBY)

20" And God said, Let the waters swarm with swarms of living souls, and let fowl fly above the earth in the expanse of the heavens."

Genesis 1:24 (DARBY)

24 "And God said, Let the earth bring forth living souls after their kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth, after their kind. And it was so."


Matthew 10:28 (YLT)

28 "And be not afraid of those killing the body, and are not able to kill the soul, but fear rather Him who is able both soul and body to destroy in gehenna."

We read in the verse above, to fear God that can destroy both soul and body in gehenna, this proves that the soul is not something immortal that lives after the body dies. There are scores of scriptures that show that "nephesh", "phykhe" or soul are mortal and are subject to death.

Leviticus 17:11 (NASB)

11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the [b]life that makes atonement.’

Leviticus 17:11 Darby (DARBY)

11 "For the soul of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul".

Since the soul / life of the flesh is in the blood,” what is represented as being at the foot of the altar is the blood of faithful servants of Jesus "who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained" (Rev 6:9 NIV)


The Priest springle the blood at the base of the altar as a burnt offering.

Leviticus 3:2 (NASB)

He shall lay his hand on the head of his offering and slay it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall sprinkle the blood around on the altar."

Their deaths represent a sacrificial offering.

Revelation 6:9 (NIV)

"When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained".


The souls under the altar are awaiting their total number to be completed. They are the martyrs who have died defending the word of God {YHWH}. Revelation 6:9-12 "And when he had opened the fifth seal I saw under the altar the souls of them that were 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, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them, that they should rest for a little season until their fellow servants and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled." Revelation 7:9-17 speaks of a great multitude clothed in white robes before God's throne crying with a loud voice "Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb........." "These are they which came out of the great tribulation and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb........" Note:Revelation 8:1 "And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour." At this point the multitude are silent appreciating the seven angels with the seven trumpets (of war). Prayers of the saints and much incense is offered up to God. Revelation 8:5 "And the angel took the censor and filled it with the fire of the altar and cast it into the earth and there were voices and thunderings and lightnings and an earthquake" Revelation 18:20 tells them to rejoice over the destruction of Babylon the Great for God has avenged you on her, because- Rev.18:24 "in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all that were slain upon the earth." Rev.19:1-7 The faithful servants of God are praising God for his true and righteous judgements. Rev.20:4-5 The faithful servants of God are seated on thrones of judgement "and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus and the word of God.........and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years."

There is an old saying 'seeing is believing' but in this case believing is seeing. I suppose you could say that heaven and the earth are one, but on different dimensions. God in heaven is not subject to 4 dimensions that are his creation. Time and space are irrelevant to our Heavenly Creator.

This is my roundabout way of explaining how the souls under the altar in heaven are in the dust of the earth whilst simultaneously occupying heaven.


John wrote, "I saw the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God." What would a soul look like?

Firstly, John did not see anything; at least not with his physical eyes. These are images which the Holy Spirit gave directly to his mind. As he wrote, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Rev 1:10).

Therefore, we ask, what “image” did the Holy Spirit give him? Since these “souls” “cried out with a loud voice” (Rev 6:10), they seem to have mouths. And since they wore white robes (Rev 6:11), they had normal bodies. It seems as if they looked just like normal human beings.

But John did not only see them. Without anybody telling him, He also knew that they “had been slain because of the word of God” (Rev 6:9). So, I do not think that John saw something like we can see with our eyes. Rather, these are things John JUST KNEW “in the Spirit.”

Why did he refer to them as “souls” and not as “people?” Because they were dead. We read of these “souls” again in Revelation 20:4, where John wrote that “the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God … came to life.” Since they "came to life" when Christ returns (cf. Rev 19:11), they were dead until at that point in time.

That is also the meaning of the word “rest.” The “souls” were told “that they should REST for a little while longer” (Rev 6:11). In other words, when John saw them, they were resting. This means “dead.” Notice how the word “rest” is associated with death:

“THE DEAD WHO DIE in the Lord from now on … may REST from their labors” (Rev 14:13)

Daniel was told: “go your way to the end; then you will enter into REST and RISE AGAIN for your allotted portion at the end of the age” (Dan 12:13).

All this seems to support Ozzie’s view that the soul is not something immortal that lives after the body dies.

  • Hi Andries, thanks for your answer. I have read some of your views on your web-site and i like what i read. I hope to keep in touch with you as time goes on so we can share our understanding regarding the book of Revelation. Please read my answer to the following question and i would ask you to pay attention to the comments below my question. hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/56349/…
    – Bagpipes
    Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 18:19
  • Thanks @Bagpipes Will do.
    – Andries
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 4:27

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