The Sixth Seal: Cosmic Disruption (Revelation 6:12-17)

“When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and there came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree drops its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll rolling itself up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated 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?’ — Revelation 6:12-17 (NRSV)

This next scene in Revelation is filled to the brim with powerful imagery from the Old Testament that was used to describe the coming Day of the Lord (judgment day). Consider the following prophecies:

  • Isaiah 13:9-13 (CSB) – “Look, the day of the Lord is coming—cruel, with rage and burning anger—to make the earth a desolation and to destroy its sinners. Indeed, the stars of the sky and its constellations will not give their light. The sun will be dark when it rises, and the moon will not shine. I will punish the world for its evil, and wicked people for their iniquities. I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant and humiliate the insolence of tyrants. I will make a human more scarce than fine gold, and mankind more rare than the gold of Ophir. Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will shake from its foundations at the wrath of the LORD of Armies, on the day of his burning anger.”
  • Isaiah 34:4 (CSB) – “All the stars in the sky will dissolve. The sky will roll up like a scroll, and its stars will all wither as leaves on the vine, and foliage on the fig tree.”
  • Joel 2:30-31 (CSB) – “I will display wonders in the heavens and on the earth: blood, fire, and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes.”

In other words, with the sixth seal in Revelation we have a depiction of the onset of the Day of the Lord. This is the answer to the prayers of the martyrs in 6:9-11 that we looked at last time — God will indeed step in to judge the world of the ungodly.

But the surprise twist is that the story of the book of Revelation doesn’t end here!

It takes us all the way up to the dramatic end, the climactic moment of judgment — and then it suddenly rewinds. John gets more visions, because Jesus has much more to show us about the things leading up to this end.

The people of earth declare an important question: “Who can stand?” Who can stand before God in this final judgment and be saved? That’s one of many questions to be answered in the rest of the book, before we get to the real ending.

Three reasons the sixth seal represents the end of history:

  1. The way that this imagery (cosmic destruction, the great earthquake, and the opening of the heavens and onset of God’s wrath) is used in the rest of Scripture points to the time of final judgment. OT prophecy uses these images as metaphors for God’s judgment, and similar language appears in 2 Pet 3:10-13 which refers to final judgment.
  2. Elsewhere in Revelation, the imagery of a great earthquake and earth’s destruction show up in scenes that very probably refer to the final judgment day (11:13-19; 16:17-21). Interestingly, both of those latter passages refer to the seventh trumpet and bowl plagues, suggesting that the sixth & seventh seal, the seventh trumpet, and the seventh bowl all describe the end of history.
  3. If the cataclysmic events of the sixth seal are literal and will occur before the final tribulation, it’s hard to see how human life could continue – there’d be no more atmosphere! Of course, the depiction is almost certainly meant to be taken as somewhat figurative, but the visions that follow mention activities that happen to the stars and the mountains. Even if Revelation’s symbolism isn’t to be taken literally, we should at least expect it to be internally consistent within the visionary narrative. Therefore, it makes more sense to take the sixth seal as the onset of final judgment and the following visions as “rewinding” the story to show additional information.

Theological Themes of Seal 6:

The Day of the Lord is on the way, and everyone needs to be ready for it. People might feel good right now, thinking that this material universe is all there is and that there’s no God they’ll have to face in judgment one day. But this passage and many like it are meant to be a wake-up call. One day all of the illusions will be stripped away and everyone will stand before God.

The Day of the Lord involves the removal of all idols, all false gods, and all things people have trusted in besides Jesus for their security. Since people have worshiped the creation rather than the Creator (see Rom 1:18-25), even the creation itself will be, in a sense, removed (G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, NIGTC, 402).

As we are currently in the season of Advent, Christians around the world are prayerfully anticipating the second coming of Christ. (It’s also traditional to read Revelation during Advent, since it is a time focused on anticipating the coming Day of the Lord.) This is a perfect time to reflect on whether your life is being lived in readiness for that day.

See you down the path.

Categories: Eschatology, revelation

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