THE SOULS UNDER THE ALTAR
Another portion of the Word related to the question of where the departed saints are is Revelation 6:9-11. Verse 9 says, “And when He opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and because of the testimony which they held.” In Revelation 6:9 we see that the souls are underneath the altar. This points to the sacrifices killed on the altar. When a sacrifice was killed on the altar, its blood flowed down to the bottom of the altar and under it. The soul of the flesh is in the blood (Lev. 17:11). The fact that the souls of the martyred saints are under the altar indicates that, in the sight of God, they have all been offered to Him as sacrifices on the altar and that their blood, their life, was shed there. Now their position is under the altar. In figure, the altar is in the outer court of the tabernacle and the temple, and the outer court signifies the earth. Hence, “underneath the altar” is underneath the earth, where the souls of the martyred saints are. It is the Paradise where the Lord Jesus went after His death (Luke 23:43). This is in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:40), and is the comfortable section of Hades (Acts 2:27), where Abraham is (Luke 16:22-26). This Paradise differs from that in Revelation 2:7, which will be the New Jerusalem in the millennium.
THE SON OF MAN IN THE HEART OF THE EARTH
We also need to consider Matthew 12:40: “For as Jonah was in the belly of the sea monster three days and three nights, so shall the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” The “heart of the earth” is called the lower parts of the earth (Eph. 4:9) and Hades (Acts 2:27), where the Lord went after His death. Hades, equal to Sheol in the Old Testament, has two sections: the section of torment and the section of comfort (Luke 16:23-26). As we have seen, the section of comfort is Paradise. Hence, the heart of the earth, the lower parts of the earth, Hades, and Paradise are synonymous terms, referring to the one place where the Lord stayed for three days and three nights after His death and before His resurrection.
CAUGHT UP TO MEET WITH CHRIST
Others may use 1 Thessalonians 4 to argue that the dead saints are with the Lord in heaven. They say that when Christ comes back, He will bring the dead believers with Him, and that this proves that they must be with Him now in heaven. But if we read this chapter carefully, we shall see that it says that the “dead in Christ shall rise first” and that those “who are living, who remain, shall be caught up at the same time together with them in the clouds” (1 Thes. 4:16-17). According to 1 Thessalonians 4, the dead saints will be resurrected and, along with the living ones, will be caught up to the air to meet with Christ. This proves that before the rapture the dead saints are not in the heavens.
If we consider carefully and soberly all these verses, we shall be clear from the Word of God what is the truth concerning heaven and Paradise. Although there certainly are heavens, there is no heavenly mansion, and the believers do not go to heaven when they die.
We should read the Bible carefully and not follow today’s traditional, superficial teachings. We must be clear that the saved ones are not in the heavens today, but are in a pleasant place which the Bible calls Paradise, the place the Lord Jesus visited after He died.
According to John 17:1, when the Lord Jesus prayed to the Father concerning the glorification of the Son, He lifted up His eyes to heaven. Although the Lord had spoken in the previous chapters about the Father’s house, the Father did not yet have a house on earth. Because God the Father was still in heaven, the Lord lifted up His eyes to heaven. This action points to the fact that even at that time the Father did not yet have a house on earth.
(The Fulfillment of the Tabernacle and the Offerings in the Writings of John, Chapter 49, by Witness Lee)