The Sixth Seal

Revelation 6:12-17
The End Times

In my last post, we continued our journey in Revelation 6 as the fifth of the seven seals was opened.  In this post, we look at the Sixth Seal.

The Sixth Seal

The sixth seal contains terrible convulsions that will shake the earth and affect the sun, moon, and stars.  A meteor shower will bring destruction, and the earth’s crust will shift.  This is not a localized natural disaster but worldwide terror.  It will be so terrible that everyone – including the mighty – will realize that these events are “acts of God” in the most horrifyingly real sense of the term.  They realize that this is judgment, and that the end cannot be far off.  In some respects, this is like the description of the Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:12-21) which we will look at in a later post.

12 Then I watched as he broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake, the sun turned black as sackcloth worn in mourning, and the full moon became blood-red. 13 The stars fell from heaven to earth just as a fig tree drops its figs when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The sky receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved from its place. 15 Then the earth’s kings, the rulers, the generals, the rich and the mighty — indeed, everyone, slave and free — hid himself in caves and among the rocks in the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us, and hide us from the face of the One sitting on the throne and from the fury of the Lamb! 17 For the Great Day of their fury has come, and who can stand?’” ~ Revelation 6:12-17 (CJB)

The description of the breaking of the sixth seal alludes to descriptions of the end of the world found in Isaiah 2:10-12, 2:19, 13:10, 34:4, 50:3; Jeremiah 4:23-29; Joel 3:4(2:31), 4:15(3:15); Nahum 1:5-6; Haggai 2:6 (compare Matthew 24:29, Luke 23:30).

“‘But immediately following the trouble of those times, the sun will grow dark, the moon will stop shining, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in heaven will be shaken.’” ~ Matthew 24:29 (CJB)

Then I watched as he broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake, the sun turned black as sackcloth worn in mourning, and the full moon became blood-red. 13 The stars fell from heaven to earth just as a fig tree drops its figs when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The sky receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved from its place.  Up to this time, the Lord, revealed as the Lamb in Revelation 5:6-7, has opened five of the seven seals.  The carnage of human debris is primarily brought about by man’s injustice to man.  It is God’s judgment, but it is initiated by the evil in the hearts of men.  As we examine the sixth seal, we discover a direct hit of divine judgment on a sinful world.   Go back and re-read these verses noting the conjunction and, and how it is used to introduce six cataclysmic judgments.  God’s wrath is being poured out in an unprecedented way.  Because of this we find in next three verses the world’s largest prayer meeting going on!  However, they are praying for the wrong thing.

According to one commentary I read: [1]

It was a matter of faith to men in general, and Israel in particular, that the ordered movements of the heavenly bodies were a token of God’s providential control.  A breakdown of this order was a grim reminder that the “end of the world” was at hand.  Such is the general consensus in the still-existing non-biblical apocalyptic literature.  This had its original basis in Scripture, where physical manifestation of God’s interventions on earth are clearly taught as, for example, when God descended at Sinai “the whole mountain quaked greatly” (Exodos 19:18). There is no problem whatever with the understanding of the literal terms used; taking the language as it stands it would be difficult to depict a more terrible, or for men, a more terrifying scene.  The earth shaking, the sun darkened, the moon as blood, the stars falling, show in the plainest terms the catastrophic judgment of God. When some of these things have occurred on earth in the past, even in a very partial way, men have recognized them as “acts of God”.

Then the earth’s kings, the rulers, the generals, the rich and the mighty — indeed, everyone, slave and free — hid himself in caves and among the rocks in the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us, and hide us from the face of the One sitting on the throne and from the fury of the Lamb! 17 For the Great Day of their fury has come, and who can stand?  This is a clear picture of the arrogance of man and the wickedness of sin. One would think that in the reality of this type of judgment, man would fall down before God and cry out for mercy.  But pride won’t let him; instead, this prayer is directed to the created, not the Creator. When man thinks he can regulate a sinful nature without divine assistance, he is a fool.  The Word clearly teaches in Romans 6:23 (ESV), The wages of sin is death.  In James we read, “Then, having conceived, the desire gives birth to sin; and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.” James 1:15 (CJB)

The reaction to these cosmic happenings of the people of earth belonging to all levels of society confirms that the literal interpretation of the phenomena is the only one tenable. Any symbolic interpretation does not give a convincing picture; it is very questionable whether the collapse of governments and institutions affecting social, political and ecclesiastical life would bring the terror and panic here described.  Such an idea is refuted by history.  When the fabric of society crumbled in the French Revolution (1793) and every stable institution was shaken men did not betake themselves to caves and cry for the rocks to fall upon them.  Men and women joined in the anarchy.  On the other hand, any disturbance or unusual happening in the astronomical realm causes fear and even panic; men seem to sense that here they are confronted with the divine.  H. B. Swete is often quoted in this connection, “What sinners dread most is not death, but the revealed presence of God”.

Happenings in the universe show man his weakness and bring him face to face with God. A society embracing atheists, evolutionists, and humanists and that has publicly denied the very existence of God is now forced to acknowledge God and the Lamb. Instead of seeking mercy through repentance men call on the very rocks, whose testimony to a God of creation they have denied, to hide them from His face. If the mountains and rocks are literal, and there seems no other way of interpreting them, then it is strange exegesis to deny the same literalness to the mountains of the previous verse.

Men in all levels of society have found that their make-believe world has collapsed and they must face God. Reality has displaced the sham of their lives.  Royal lineage or humble origin makes no difference, whether a military commander or a captain of industry, all are conscious that there is a God dealing with earth. Atheism has no answer, agnosticism is inadequate in this crisis.  Suddenly they know that, having rejected the blood of the Lamb, they must now face the wrath of the Lamb. This is a direct fulfilment of the word spoken by Isaiah in connection with the day of the Lord, “People will enter cracks in the rocks and holes in the ground to escape the terror of Adonai and his glorious majesty, when he sets out to convulse the earth.” ~ Isaiah 2:19 (CJB)

Special Comparative Note on Chapter 6:12-17 [2]

Historicist Approach:

At least one Historicist sees these great apocalyptic signs as symbolizing the fall of paganism to Christianity in the Roman Empire associated with Constantine’s accession and conversion.  Some relate the vision to the division of the empire in 395 CE between the East, under Honorius, and the West, under Arcadius.  It is taken as a portent of the eventual fall of the empire which did not occur until 476 CE.  Barnes applies the seal differently, seeing in it the invasions of the Roman Empire by the northern hordes of Goths and Vandals between 376 and 418 CE.  Adam Clarke waffles at this point between the view of the Preterists ~ that this is 70 CE ~ and that of the other Historicists.  Matthew Henry, in most respects a Historicist, concurs with the Preterists on this seal.

Preterist Approach:

Some Preterists view this vision to depict the end of the Jewish state and the fall of its leaders symbolically in 70 CE.  In the Tanakh, cosmic calamities are seen in Isaiah 13:10; 34:4 and Ezekiel 32:7-8.  Yeshua also uses similar images in Matthew (cited above).  Not all the language is strictly symbolic.  Yeshua predicted that the people would seek refuge in caves and under rocks in Luke 23:28-30 and is verified by Josephus.

Futurist Approach:

Some Futurists do take much of this passage symbolically at the end of the age, but most take it literally.  Bullinger writes:

“It is impossible for us to take this as symbolical…The difficulties of the symbolical interpretation are insuperable, while no difficulties whatever attend the literal interpretation.”

Ryrie, Walvoord, Morris take this passage quite literally (except in the case of stars falling refer to a meteor shower).  Mankind will surely know that the Tribulation has begun.  Hal Lindsey contends that this seal describes the first nuclear exchange which would trigger an earthquake.  He also asserts that the falling stars are Russian bombs.

Idealist Approach:

Almost all Idealist interpreters recognize, in this seal, the end of the world at the Second Coming of Yeshua.  Some consider this too early in the book to portray the final judgment of the world since Yeshua’s Second Coming does not occur until Revelation 20:11-15.  These interpreters would view these calamities as representing the judgment of God upon those oppressing Believers in Yochanan’s day.

In my next post, we will begin to explore Revelation 7.

Click here for PDF version.

[1]  What the Bible Teaches – Revelation

[2] Material in this section is taken from “Revelation: Four Views, Revised & Updated” by Steve Gregg

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