The Hebraic Meaning of “Souls Under the Altar”

“Souls under the altar”—a reference to the immortal soul of man?

Revelation 6:9, Under the altar…souls. Souls under the altar, in biblical Hebraic thought, is another way of saying that when you die, your soul dies too and goes into the grave of the earth or ground along with your body awaiting the resurrection when your body and soul (i.e. your personality—your mind, will and emotions) will be reunited with your personal spirit or divine essence that goes back to heaven when you die. 

The altar is a poetic metaphor for the earth. Remember that the Bible says that heaven is Elohim’s throne and earth is his footstool (Isa 66:1; Matt 5:35; Acts 7:49). For example, the altar in the tabernacle was constructed of a pile of rocks placed on the bare earth and the blood of sacrificed animals was poured out on the earth. To me, the phrase “under the altar” (Rev 6:9) speaks of the human body being buried under or in the earth when they die where they await the resurrection. 

We know that souls are not immortal; they don’t go to heaven when a person dies, contrary to what the church teaches—a false teaching they picked up from the Greek philosophers, not from the Tanakh! 

On the contrary, the Tanakh tells us that the soul that sins dies (Ezek 18:4) and goes into the grave (Ps 16:10). Yeshua’s soul died when he went into he grave (Ps 16:10; Isa 53:12), but his spirit (his breath and his personal spirit) went up to heaven to be received of his Father (Luke 23:46) as did Stephen’s (Act 7:59). The same is true for all humans (Eccl 12:7). 

The idea that the altar is the earth is further corroborated in Jewish thought. The Jewish sages teach us that the four horns on the four corners of the altar of sacrifice in the tabernacle symbolically represent the four corners of the earth. “[T]he expanse of the earth is more than a huge altar, dedicated to God” (The ArtScroll Tehilim/Psalms Commentary on Ps 118:27), and at death, the soul is not immortal, but simply goes into the grave with the body awaiting the resurrection (Pss 16:10; 49:15; Ezek 18:4). 

Moreover, if the soul were immortal, than the lie the serpent told the first humans about not dying after going against Elohim’s instructions (i.e. committing sin) would be true wouldn’t it (Gen 3:4)?


5 thoughts on “The Hebraic Meaning of “Souls Under the Altar”

  1. in my early 40s I was diagnosed with breast cancer with 2 little kids in grade 1 & 3. Faced with surgery, chemo and radiation I was very distraught. I recall going back to my work to clean up my work for someone to come replace me for the long period I would be off I recall as a new believer silently calling out to God that I needed Him that I couldn’t walk through this on my own when I opened my eyes I was surrounded by maybe a dozen sweet old men and women in their street clothes (perhaps from the 40s or 50s not white gowns) holding me up. This was the second experience. The first was oh perhaps 15 years before when my Dad died.i was very depressed over my dads passing and being 2000 miles away I woke early one morning to sensation someone was petting my hand. I was instantly awake because I was alone. When I sat up I saw my dad and “an angel” (in long white gown) standing at the foot of the bed. Dad said 3 words “it will be ok”. Then they were gone

    I’m still working out what these experiences mean

    • I meant to say my dad was dressed in one of his plaid western shirts with snap buttons and polyester pants not the white gown. I have been working to reconcile what I was shown compared to many opinions on white gowns and wings

      • YHVH gives his people dreams and visions to convey various thoughts, ideas, encouragement and even spiritual direction using symbolic imagery. Where mistakes are made is to take this symbolic imagery and to turn it into literal truth or fact. If that were the case, then all of the symbolic imagery of the Bible would suddenly change are view of many things and reality would be distorted. For example, YHVH would have literal eagle’s wings, Yeshua would be a door, his saints would be actual salt and light, the nation of Israel would at times literally be a fig tree, a grape vineyard and an olive tree. You get the point. What YHVH was trying to convey in your vision would never go against his written word from the Bible or else the dream or vision is not from him. It sounds to me like that YHVH was trying to tell you, even though your father was dead, in the eyes of your Father in heaven, because your father’s name was written in the Lamb’s book of life, your father, spiritually speaking and in the mind of the YHVH, he was actually alive, for at the resurrection, he will be raised into immortality. This is totally consistent with Scripture regardless of what unbiblical Christian fantasy might tell you otherwise about the immortality of the soul. I hope that this helps and encourages you a bit. Blessings!

  2. Rev 6:9 When the Lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of THOSE SLAUGHTERED FOR THE SAKE OF THE WORD OF GOD AND FOR THE WITNESS THEY HAD.
    Rev 6:10 And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “O Sovereign Master, holy and true, how long before You judge those who dwell on the earth and avenge our blood?”

    Here, the souls under the altar are referenced as only those slaughtered for the sake of the word of God and for the witness they had. Therefore, is it not erroneously over-generalizing to infer that the souls under the altar are all souls who have died? If so, then this cannot mean that the altar is the earth, where you say the body and soul of every man goes to be upon death. It may be, and I agree is likely, as you say, that it is only man’s spirit that goes to be with Elohim upon death and that both the body and soul die (though there is the concept of a “soul SLEEP” that could be considered), but to interpret this text to mean that the souls under the altar refers to all the souls of men upon death may be to negate or at least grievously minimize the significance of what was seen in the vision as to what happens to the souls of those special ones who have loved not their lives, even unto death, for the sake of the word of God. (Also, as an aside, if the vision included hearing these souls cry out from under the altar, could it even mean that their souls did not die? After all, we do have the account of the appearance of Elijah and Moses on the “mount of transfiguration”, also.)

    Nevertheless, though I understand you are trying to focus on and emphasize here that one’s soul does not go to heaven upon death, I don’t think it is best to use this phrase in Rev. 6:9 for that purpose and it might do the phrase an injustice by trying to make it serve that purpose. Additionally, the four corners of the altar of sacrifice representing the four corners of the earth may be true, too, but does that then mean that Messiah’s sacrifice covers the sins of very soul or just that it is meant to but still depends upon the faith and faithfulness of each soul?

    I think the altar in this phrase must mean something other than the earth. I think it may mean something more in keeping with one or two other possible ideas. There was both an altar of sacrifice in the outer court and an altar of incense in the Holy Place before the entrance to the Holy of Holies, the place of His Presence over the mercy seat. Therefore, the altar in Rev. 6:9 could represent the altar of sacrifice, implying that the souls under the altar also gave their lives as a sacrificial offering, even as Shaul expressed he was doing, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and in my physical body—for the sake of His body, Messiah’s community—I fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Messiah.” [Col 1:24] Or the altar in this phrase could mean the altar of incense, where incense is symbolic of the sweet aroma of the souls of those who had given their lives a pleasing offering to YHVH, as well as being symbolic of prayers, the prayers of those souls crying out to Elohim for Him to avenge their blood.

    It does seem important to understand what happens to one’s soul upon death, but more so to realize the special honor YHVH gives to those who love not their own lives, even unto death, for the sake of the gospel of the kingdom, as in being the first fruits of the harvest of His righteousness in the earth, those who will be raised in the first resurrection, those ones who were martyred for His name’s sake.

    • Thank you for your comments on this. This is how we all grow and learn.

      In my article, though I didn’t spell it out specifically, I mentioned the souls of those who are awaiting the resurrection——perhaps a too oblique reference to the souls of the righteous saints who have been martyred, as opposed to everyone on planet earth who has died. So we have no disagreements on this point.

      With regard to the four corners of the altar. Yes, Messiah died for the whole world. Yet his sacrifice is only efficacious for those who place their trust in him. John expresses the same idea in John 3:16 when he said that Elohim so love the world….This doesn’t mean the whole world will be saved, but he made provision through Yeshua for the whole world to be saved for only those who will accept this free gift of salvation.

      As to which altar John is referencing in this passage—the altar of sacrifice or the altar of incense—I’m not sure that it really makes a difference which one. The fact is that the saints died and are in the earth awaiting the resurrection. Both altars sat on the earth.

      As far as the Christian myth that Moses and Elijah are alive before the resurrection in light of the Mount of Transfiguration event, this was a vision. Why do I say this? If they actually saw M and E, then Scripture lies when it says that no man has ascended to heaven, that the righteous are in their graves awaiting the resurrection, and so on and so on. We have covered this issue in other places on this blog, so I won’t belabor the point now. Moreover, if the disciples actually saw M and E in person rather than in vision, then I guess that Saul actually saw Samuel through the necromancy of the witch of Endor rather than a demon posing as Samuel. If that was actually Samuel, then that raises a whole other can of worms about Satan authority to be able to summons or even resurrect the dead saints.

      Whatever the case, these are all minor and non-salvational issues about which well-meaning and loving brothers can disagree, while not being disagreeable to one another.

      Again, thank you for your comments.

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