However we might describe the “intermediate” state (the mode of existence for those who have died in the Lord), their sharing our sense of “waiting” for the fullness of God’s kingdom. Though they have passed from earth to the throne room of God through the portal of death, nevertheless they sense that their own journey is incomplete. They have not yet arrived at the final destination.
The “souls” under the altar in the heavenly temple had sacrificed their blood for the testimony of Jesus Christ (Rev. 6:9-11). Their blood had been poured out at the sacrificial altar. They live in the presence of God, dressed in their white robes (Rev. 6:11) and holding their harps (cf. Rev. 15:2) and palm branches (Rev. 7:9). They have moved from earth–with all its trials and pains–to a heavenly reality where they are protected by the Lamb.
Even though joy surrounds them in the presence of God and the Lamb, they nevertheless know that saints upon the earth still undergo travail. In the presence of God, they lament. They ask their questions, including: “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
The martyred saints recognize both the sovereignty (power) and the holiness (holy and true) of God (cf. Rev. 15:3-4). They appeal to both aspects as they lament the injustice upon the earth. The cosmos has not yet reached the fullness of God’s kingdom. The saints before the throne share the lament of those who still live upon the earth. They both still cry out, “your kingdom come.” They both still await the time when the will of God will done on earth as it is in heaven. The cosmos is not yet complete. The cosmic journey is not yet over. There is more to come. The martyred saints share our lament and continue it in the presence of God. They, too, yearn for the fullness of God’s kingdom to manifest itself in a new heaven and new earth.
The divine response? “Wait.” God has a “number” in mind. More witnesses must testify. God patiently reaches out to his world, not willing that any should perish. And God calls his saints to patiently wait for the finality to come (cf. Romans 8:25) and at the same time to bear witness to the reality of that coming kingdom through sacrificing their lives.
We, upon the earth, wait through the power of the Spirit who comforts and empowers us (cf. Romans 15:13). The saints around the throne wait as they are sustained by the presence of God and the Lamb. And we wait together. And we lament together. And we know the comfort and joy of God by his power…together.