Friday, August 27, 2021

31. The Revelation: The Sixth Seal: Physical Destruction (Revelation 6:12-17)


"I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev. 6:12–17)

Three features describe the overwhelming fear associated with the sixth seal: the reason for fear, the range of fear, and the reaction of fear.

The Reason for Fear (6:12–14)

Unlike the first five seals, each of which involved humans in one way or another, God acts alone with the sixth seal. By the time this seal is opened, the tribulation’s midpoint has passed and the world is in the “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21). By then the final Antichrist has desecrated the temple in Jerusalem (the “abomination of desolation”), the world worships him, and a massive persecution of Jews and Christians has broken out. Incredibly, in the midst of all the turmoil and chaos from the divine judgments on the world, it will be business as usual for most people (Matthew 24:37–39). But the sixth seal will be so devastating and terrifying that it will be attributable only to God.

First, will be a great earthquake. There have been many earthquakes in recorded history and more during the first half of the tribulation (Matthew 24:7). Yet the event John saw in this seal is to be far more powerful and devastating than any previous earthquake. In fact, this one will shake more than just the earth (6:13–14). The Greek word translated here as “earthquake” literally means “a shaking.” In Matthew 8:24 it describes a great storm on the Sea of Galilee. God has often made His presence felt in human history by shaking the earth (Exodus 19:18; Psalm 68:8; 1 Kings 19:11–12; Matthew 27:51, 54). This event, however, causes far more than the earth to be shaken. It will shake the heavens as well as the earth.

On the heels of the earthquake comes a second disaster, as the “sun became black as sackcloth made of hair.” Sackcloth was rough cloth worn by mourners, usually made from the hair of black goats. Following the violent earthquake that devastates the earth, the sun will turn as black as a mourner’s robe.

The prophet Joel spoke of these same phenomena in connection with the day of the Lord: “The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Joel 2:31). Darkness is associated with judgment elsewhere in Scripture (Exodus 10:21–22; Matthew 27:45).

The third disaster is closely connected with the darkening of the sun, as the whole “moon became like blood.” There will be vast clouds of ash and smoke spewed out by the volcanic activity associated with the great worldwide earthquake. That ash and smoke will eclipse the moon, coloring it bloodred as it attempts to pierce the smoke-darkened sky.

Isaiah also described this strange and terrifying phenomenon, writing in Isaiah 13:10, “The sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light.” Joel adds, “The sun and the moon grow dark” (Joel 2:10, 31). These phenomena will affect every aspect of life as the normal cycle of daylight and darkness is disrupted. The total eclipse of the sun and moon will add more reason for the world to be in panic.

Then, out of the darkened sky comes the fourth disaster; John records that the stars of the sky fell to the earth. The word translated “stars” can refer to actual stars, but it can also describe any heavenly body other than the sun and the moon. In this context it does not refer to actual stars, since they are far too large to fall to the earth and would incinerate it long before striking it. Also, the stars are still in place later when the fourth trumpet sounds (8:12). This is most likely a reference to asteroid or meteor showers bombarding the earth.

The fifth disaster in this seal affects the earth’s atmosphere, because the sky appears to split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up. This is the human perception of the magnitude of this judgment, but is not the final dissolving of heaven, which comes later (Rev. 21:1; 2 Peter 3:10). John likens the sky to an unrolled scroll that splits in the middle and rolls up on either side (cf. Isaiah 34:4).

John describes a sixth devastating natural phenomenon, noting that every mountain and island were moved out of their places. The whole unstable crust of the earth begins to move and shift.

The devastating natural disasters accompanying the sixth seal will be the most terrifying events ever to affect the earth. Their cumulative impact will be far more destructive than any of the current doomsday scenarios about asteroids hitting the earth.

The Reaction of Fear (6:15–17)

The debilitating fear caused by the disasters associated with the sixth seal will affect all unbelievers. These seven categories embrace all classes of society. “The kings of the earth” refers to the heads of state throughout the world. “The great men” are the high-ranking officials in government. “The commanders” are the military leaders, while “the rich” are those who control commerce and business, and “the strong” may well be the influential. Together, they comprise the elite elements of human society. Ironically, these are the very people who ignored the warnings of God’s impending judgment and persecuted believers. “Every slave” and “every free man” encompass all other individuals.

The reaction of the unbelieving world to the terrors unleashed by the sixth seal will not be repentance, but panic. They will finally acknowledge that the disasters they have experienced are God’s judgment. Yet they will continue to follow Antichrist. As a result, God will abandon them (see 2 Thessalonians 2:11–12). Those who repeatedly harden their hearts will have their hearts hardened by God.

The panic-stricken sinners will react irrationally, foolishly attempting to hide themselves “in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains” (cf. Isaiah 2:17–21)—the very places that are being shaken. They are no doubt seeking refuge from the swarms of meteors and asteroids bombarding the earth. But in light of the massive earthquake and its continuing aftershocks, the widespread volcanic eruptions, and the other disturbances to the earth’s crust, such hiding places will offer no safety. The terrifying events prompt a worldwide prayer meeting, but the prayers are to Mother Nature, not to God. They will say to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”1 People will be so terrified that they would rather die than face the wrath of a holy God.

“Him who sits on the throne” refers to God (Rev. 4:2, 3, 9, 10). They will have, by then, come to a clear understanding that God has been behind all the judgments. More specifically, they “fear the wrath of the Lamb.” The Lamb, Jesus Christ (5:6–8), is the agent of direct judgment. The wrath of the incarnate Jesus has displayed only twice before (John 2:13–17; Matthew 21:12–13). In the future, He will judge like a lion (5:5).

“The great day of their wrath” is another term for the day of the Lord. These “day of the Lord” horrors precede the coming of the Lord and even anticipate the worst that is yet to come in the seventh seal, which includes the trumpet (Rev. 8:1–9:21) and bowl (Rev. 16:1–21) judgments.

The scene closes with the asking of the rhetorical question “Who is able to stand?” The answer is “No one.”

This picture, horrifying and frightening as it is, is not altogether hopeless. The church will be delivered from that time (Rev. 3:10). Great multitudes of people will be saved in the midst of the terrors of divine judgment, both Gentiles (Rev. 7:9) and Jews (Romans 11:26). But for the rest the words of Hebrews will apply: “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).