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…
The souls under the altar represent the whole company of the oppressed. The former troubles were general; all the world suffers, whether it knows it or not, from conflict and selfishness and want and mortality; and its suffering is expressed before the throne by the representatives of all the animate creation. Now it is the voice of one part which is heard, the voice of the oppressed. It is not the whole of human life which is involved, as in the opening of the first four seals. "The altar" is an altar of sacrifice, on which victims are offered. The appeal of the souls is not an articulate voice from blessed spirits in Paradise. It is just like that tremendous phrase in Genesis, "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto Me from the ground." It is certainly not a vision of the blessed saints cherishing a spirit of common revenge, but a cry to Christ, as in former cases, from the personified life of sufferers on account of right. It is a cry, in oppression, of the Christian world concerning the unchristian, of the believing world concerning the unbelieving. Christ proclaimed it years before: "If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you." And the unbelieving world's weapons are very various. Because we have passed the times of persecution by the sword, at least in the civilised world, we cannot say that the force of this vision of St. John is spent. The world claims education. We need not put down the Faith by common violence, if we can destroy it at its foundation in the education children. Are we awakened rightly yet to the reality of this oppression? These are the two chief ways in which, at the moment, the principle of St. John's vision is being worked out in Christendom. But there are many individual lives that can enter in a wonderful way into the meaning of it. "A man's foes shall be they of his own household." Many a martyr-spirit is suffering to-day, so that none but God and the holy angels mark the suffering. The souls' cry for vengeance to the Lamb is of the same order as Christ's vengeance on St. Paul: that the spirit of the Lamb of God should take possession of the world, that the thoughts and desires of it may be brought, as St. Paul was, "into captivity to the obedience of Christ." Avenge our blood with this glorious vengeance, O Thou Master, upon all them that dwell on the earth! There is, in this case, an immediate answer. "And white robes were given," etc.
(A. H. Simms, M. A.)
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: