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…
I. John, being in the spirit, could see spirits. Men, indeed, clad in flesh, can hardly imagine how a soul can have existence out of the flesh. Eagles can see that which owls cannot; so is that visible and credible to a spiritual man which to a natural is invisible, incredible. And yet even nature's dim eyes have been clear enough to see this truth. The soul's eternity is an inbred instinct in the souls of men.
II. Now if this much revived John to see the soul's continuance after death, how much more to see their safety and rest under the altar; that is, under Christ's protection and custody. The phrase alluding to the altar in the tabernacle, which gave the offerings grace and acceptation; and partly to the safety of such as fled from the avenger to the altar.
III. If John had seen souls at rest, though in poor and mean condition, yet were a corner of a house with peace to be preferred to a wide palace with disquiet. But behold, he sees not naked, beggarly, ragged souls, but adorned with white robes; that is, endowed now, and glorified with perfect righteousness, purity, clarity, dignity, and festivity, of all which white apparel hath ever been an emblem and symbol in Divine and human heraldry, a clothing of princes in their great solemnities of coronation, triumphs and ovations. The lilies, and Solomon, in all their royalties, not like unto the meanest of them.
IV. Were heaven nothing else but a haven of rest, we know how welcome the one is to a seasick weather-beaten traveller, and may by that guess how desirable the other should be to a soul that long hath been tossed in the waves of this world, sick of its own sinful imaginations, and tired with external temptations.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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: