© 1979 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1956 (56.48)

“How long will it be?” the martyrs cry out after the fifth seal is opened, as shown in this painting by El Greco (1541–1614). God responds that they must “wait a little season” until all the others who will be martyrs are killed, and then he will avenge their blood. The author of Revelation, St. John, at left, stands with the martyrs, who undress as angels bring them fresh white robes.

Koresh and the other members of the Branch Davidian group, who were obsessed with the Seven Seals, believed that the first raid on the compound, by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on February 28, was part of the opening of the fifth seal. They counted the members who died during this attack among the waiting martyrs. Those who survived understood the text of Revelation to mean that they would be reunited with other martyrs on their own imminent death. They remained holed up in the compound in anticipation of the end of the “little season.”