THE BREAKING OF THE SIXTH SEAL DISPLAYS THE TRANSFORMATIVE COSMIC SIGNS THAT SIGNAL THE SECOND COMING AND GOD’S WRATH
Marvin Rosenthal: Timing of the Rapture and the Day of the Lord
Cosmic disturbance precedes the Day of the Lord. And that cosmic disturbance occurs with the opening of the sixth seal. To deny or ignore that fact is to force the Scriptures to conform to a pre-conceived pretribulation rapture mold. Two points are of great significance.
- First, the sixth seal is opened after the Great Tribulation. And the Great Tribulation is cut short and ends before the end of the seventieth week (Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:24; Luke 21:23-25; see also Rev. 6:12, where cosmic disturbance occurs after the martyrdom associated with the Great Tribulation).
- Second, the sign of the appearing of the Son of man in heaven will be manifested following the opening of the sixth seal (Matt. 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27). This occurs after the Great Tribulation but long before the end of the seventieth week. The seven trumpet judgments must be poured out before the seventieth week ends (Rev. 11:15). The fifth trumpet judgment alone is said to last five months (Rev. 9:1, 5). This appearance of the Son of man in heaven before the opening of the seventh seal is related to the rapturing of the church before the Day of the Lord’s wrath begins. God does not exempt His people from man’s wrath; He does exempt them from His wrath (Lot was told to flee Sodom and Noah to get into the ark before God’s wrath fell). God’s wrath begins with the opening of the seventh seal, for out of the seventh seal the seven trumpet judgments will emerge.
The cosmic disturbance introduced with the opening of the sixth seal is the prelude of the Rapture of the church and the Day of the Lord wrath.
John MacArthur: The Old Testament prophets also spoke of frightening natural disasters in connection with the Day of the Lord. Joel wrote, “Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; surely it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness…. The earth quakes, the heavens tremble, the sun and the moon grow dark and the stars lose their brightness” (Joel 2:1–2, 10; cf. 2:31; 3:16). Ezekiel wrote of violent weather accompanying the Day of the Lord (Ezek. 13:5–16), and Zephaniah described it as “a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Zeph. 1:15).
Richard Phillips: The sixth seal answers the prayer of the martyrs for justice and vengeance on the dwellers of earth. God told them to wait “until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete” (Rev. 6:11), and the sixth seal shows that this waiting will be fulfilled in God’s timing. Just as seven is the number of completion and salvation in Revelation, six is the number of man. Thus, when Christ “opened the sixth seal” (6:12), the day of God’s wrath appeared. William Hendriksen writes: “It describes the one great catastrophe at the end of this age. The dread and terror, the awe and consternation of that day is pictured under the twofold symbolism of a crashing universe and a thoroughly frightened human race.”
Bruce Hurt: “It would be difficult to paint any scene more moving or more terrible than that described at the opening of the sixth seal.” Up to now, the effects of the first five seals, although unprecedented in their global impact, could still be explained away as an intensification of what history already records: conflict, war, death, famine, disease, and martyrdom. With the opening of the sixth seal, all such explanations vanish for the signs which attend this seal are unmistakable in their uniqueness and scope.
The magnitude of the earthquake and cosmic disturbances that will occur when Christ breaks the sixth seal (Rev. 6:12-14+) forces the conclusion that this will be an awesome expression of the wrath of God, not the work of unregenerate mankind.
Kendell Easley: God’s wrath against sin has always been expressed through his judgments (Ps. 78:56–66). The biblical prophets, moreover, predicted a coming day in which the wrath of God would be fully and finally poured out (Isa. 13:9; Zeph. 1:14–15). This “day of the LORD” was inevitable, but persons and nations that repented would be spared.
Daniel Akin: Precisely what this describes we can only guess. What we do know is there is a total cosmic meltdown. The Day of the Lord has arrived in its climactic and eschatological reality. The wrath of the Lamb is here! On that day no one will be in doubt as to what is happening and who is bringing all of this about.
Robert Mounce: As followers of the slain Lamb, God’s people suffer persecution and martyrdom. Their cry for vindication leads to the fundamental theological point of revelation—that God will vindicate himself by vindicating his people. The faithful are to live with the assurance that God is in command of his universe. At the moment it may appear that the forces of evil have gained the edge, but the one who defeated those very forces by means of his sacrificial death on the cross will return at the end of time to claim his own people and destroy forever all that stands in opposition.
G.K. Beale: These verses express the explicit and final answer to the saints’ plea in vv. 9-11. The time must be the last judgment, because we have just been told that the judgment pictured here will not be executed until the full number of the suffering saints has been completed (v. 11). The calamitous scene of vv. 12-17 assumes that the persecution of all Christians has finally run its course, and now all that remains is to execute final punishment on the persecutors, which strikes the very last note of world history. Consequently, this passage cannot deal with judgments of unbelievers before the return of Christ during an extended tribulation period, since they have not yet finished persecuting the saints at that point.
“And I looked when He broke the sixth seal,”
I. (:12b-14) TRANSFORMATIVE COSMIC DISTURBANCES IN THE EARTH AND SKY
A. (:12b) Great Earthquake
“and there was a great earthquake;”
David Aune: In biblical tradition, earthquakes are often expected to occur in the end time as one effect of the presence or coming of God (Joel 2:10; 3:16[MT 4:16]; Isa 24:18–23; 29:6; Mic 1:4; Nah 1:5.
B. (:12c) Sun and Moon Transformed – cf. Joel 2:31
- Sun Became Black
“and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair,”
Cf. Is. 50:3
Grant Osborne: The darkening of the sun is frequent in the OT as a sign of judgment (Exod. 10:22; Isa. 13:10; Ezek. 32:7–8), and the turning of the moon bloodred deepens the image. A terrible judgment is about to fall on the earth-dwellers.
- Moon Became Like Blood
“and the whole moon became like blood;”
Marvin Rosenthal: The cosmic disturbances concerning which the Lord taught (Matt. 24:29) and which parallel the sixth seal (Rev. 6:12-13) signal the coming of the Son of man in heaven. This sign will occur after the Great Tribulation but before the end of the seventieth week. The cosmic disturbance (the sun will be darkened, the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven) will result in a darkened universe. It will be the manifestation of the glory of God which will dispel that darkness. The natural light of the heavenly bodies will be shut off (darkened) and then the supernatural light (the glory of God) will be revealed. The manifestation of God’s glory was called by the Jewish people shekinah (dwelling) and indicated God’s presence. Here then is the answer to the question posed by the disciples, “What shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matt. 24:3). God’s presence will be known through the universal manifestation of His glory. He will rapture the church before He begins to pour out His wrath (the trumpet and bowl judgments) on an unrepentant world.
C. (:13) Stars Falling to Earth
“and the stars of the sky fell to the earth,
as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind.”
John MacArthur: Asteres (stars) can refer to actual stars, but can also describe any heavenly body other than the sun and the moon. Obviously, 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. There has been much speculation among scientists recently about the effects of a large asteroid striking the earth. Modern experts believe that the impacts of asteroids, comets, and meteors striking the earth would be devastating and cause unprecedented destruction. There will be so many such bodies hitting the earth that John, in a vivid analogy, likens the scene to a fig tree that casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. With the whole earth being pummeled by fiery balls plunging out of the blackness there will be nowhere for people to flee, nowhere for them to hide.
D. (:14a) Sky Split Apart – cf. Is. 34:4
“And the sky was split apart
like a scroll when it is rolled up;”
Grant Osborne: At Jesus’ baptism the heavens were “split apart” (Mark 1:10 par.), also an apocalyptic symbol for the end of the age, and here the heavens will be “rolled up.” Jesus’ first coming began the coming of the kingdom and the end times; this act of God will culminate and finalize the end times.
Craig Keener: The rolling up of the heavens “like a scroll” (6:14) comes from day of the Lord images in Isaiah 34:4, referring to the cosmic judgment when God punishes the wicked nations, a text in which heaven’s hosts also wither like a leaf on a fig tree (cf. Rev. 6:13). For most of Revelation’s audience, the picture likely evoked the mundane image of reading a scroll, which one would typically unroll with the right hand while with the left one rolled up what one had just finished reading. But the mundane image here translates into one of terror for humanity! Earlier texts had used this image of the heavens being rolled up like a scroll (Sib. Or. 3.82) to emphasize God’s sovereignty over the heavens (3.81) and that the entire dome of heaven would collapse on the earth (3.83), as the entire universe unraveled at its seams (3.80).
E. (:14b) Mountains and Islands Displaced
“and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.”
Buist Fanning: Mountains and islands are physically fixed in place; how can “every” one of them be “moved from its place”? But purely naturalistic readings (i.e., seeing these as essentially normal occurrences) or purely figurative readings (i.e., social or political upheaval) fail to do justice to the typological character of the descriptions or to how the Old Testament prophets and Jesus himself seemed to use such images. It is better to take these as severe disruptions in the visible sky, as dramatic portents of the coming cosmic re-creation but not the actual dissolution of the creation yet. The text itself indicates that the world does not immediately come to an end (6:15–17, people have time to hide and lament what is still to come; 7:3, there is delay so that God’s servants can be sealed from judgments still to come). But these severe disruptions point forward to the ultimate escalation soon-to-come, the dissolution of the present sky and earth in connection with the arrival of the new creation of Revelation 21–22 (cf. 20:11, sky and earth “fled”; 21:1, first sky and first earth “passed away”; 21:23; 22:5, no need of sun or moon).
John MacArthur: 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. And the even more intense trumpet and bowl judgments are still to come! The total flattening of all mountains will come later at the seventh bowl judgment (16:20).
David Aune: The metaphor of the most stable features of the world, such as mountains, islands, and coastlands, “shaken” and “moved” occurs in contexts of a divine theophany or divine judgment (Judg 5:5; Pss 18:7[LXX 17:7]; 46:2–3; Isa 5:25; 54:10; 64:1; Jer 4:24; Ezek 26:18; 38:20; Mic 1:4; Nah 1:5; Hab 1:6; Zech 14:4).
Sola Scriptura: Clearly, these six cataclysms are designed to accomplish one thing – to get man’s attention. No man on the face of the earth at this time can possibly conclude anything other than the fact that the great God of heaven is coming in wrath, particularly when the Lamb is seen descending from heaven!
II. (:15-17) TERRIFYING RESPONSES TO THE OUTBREAK OF GOD’S WRATH
Buist Fanning: In vv. 15–17 John narrates the final portion of this vision, the response of those who experience the cataclysmic events of the sixth seal (vv. 12–14). His portrayal captures the universal impact these woes will have, the desperation people will feel when faced with such catastrophes, and their recognition that such judgments represent God’s anger against human sin. He also masterfully connects this entire section (6:1–17) with what precedes (chs. 4–5) and follows (7:1–17). To communicate that such judgments affect the whole world of humanity (cf. 3:10), John uses a list of groups drawn from Old Testament prophecies about the day of the Lord (Isa 24:1–4, 21; 34:12), emphasizing especially that not even the privileged and powerful of the earth will be exempt (v. 15). He refers first to a series of elites in the plural: “The kings of the earth and the nobles and the commanders and the wealthy and the powerful.” Shifting to the generic singular and including a contrasting disadvantaged class shows that all are included: “Everyone, slave and free.” What they all do is try to escape God’s judgment by “hiding themselves,” desperately seeking protection “in the caves and rocks of the mountains,” another set of images from texts about the day of the Lord (Isa 2:10–21; cf. Jer 4:29; Matt 24:16; Mark 13:14; Luke 21:21, escape to the mountains).
A. (:15) Irrational Attempts at Concealment
- No Exemptions from God’s Judgment – Universal Terror
“And the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders
and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man,”
James Hamilton: Did you notice how the manifestation of the wrath of God functions as a leveler of humankind? Did you see how the reaction of the kings is the same as the reaction of the slaves? Did you see how the rich and the powerful are no better than the merely free?
- Status—“kings”—is nothing before the wrath of God.
- Human greatness—“the great ones”—is nothing before the wrath of God.
- An army—“generals”—is nothing before the wrath of God.
- Money—“the rich”—
- and influence—“the powerful”—are nothing before the wrath of God.
All these people are looking for a place to hide, but there is no place to hide.
Everything people sell their souls to gain fails them when the great day comes. Politicians sacrifice their integrity to get elected, but their office won’t help them when Jesus comes. The rich trade life for money, the powerful exchange loving relationships to gain influence, and people everywhere prefer enhancing their image to building character and learning truth. But when God knocks the mountains off their roots and yanks the earth’s surface flat, when he rolls up the scroll of the sky, nothing that people forsook him to gain will protect them from his wrath.
John MacArthur: This verse indicates that the debilitating fear caused by the disasters associated with the sixth seal will affect all unbelievers. These seven categories embrace all classes of society.
- No Safe Refuge
“hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains;”
John MacArthur: The panic-stricken sinners will react irrationally, foolishly attempting to hide themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains (cf. Isa. 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. Further, it is impossible to hide from God or evade His judgment. Speaking of rebellious Israel, God said, “Though they dig into Sheol, from there shall My hand take them; and though they ascend to heaven, from there will I bring them down. Though they hide on the summit of Carmel, I will search them out and take them from there; and though they conceal themselves from My sight on the floor of the sea, from there I will command the serpent and it will bite them”(Amos 9:2–3; cf. Ps. 139:7–12).
Grant Osborne: All of these will also be united in their fear. Terror is a great equalizer, and all social distinctions drop away in light of the shaking of the heavens and the arrival of the terrible judgment of God. Two things demonstrate the totality of their terror. First, they “hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains.” The picture of hiding in caves from an irresistible force is frequent in the OT. Lot and his daughters lived in a cave in fear after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:30); five Amorite kings hid in a cave after Joshua had destroyed their armies (Josh. 10:16); and David hid in a cave from the wrath of Saul (1 Sam. 22:1). In 1 Sam. 13:6 the armies of Israel hid in caves and rocks from the Philistines. In particular, this passage probably alludes to Isa. 2:10, 19, 21, which describe the effects of the day of the Lord. Isaiah 2:10 commands Judah to “go into the rocks, hide in the ground,” while verses 19 and 21 predict that “men will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the grounds” due to “dread of the LORD.” This results from the rebellion and sin of Judah (chap. 1) resulting in God’s judgment upon the nation in chapters 2–4. Therefore, this first reaction is a natural result of the desire to flee from the wrath of God. At the same time, it is ironic, for Rev. 6:14 told us that at the “great earthquake,” “every mountain” was “removed from its place.” Therefore, these people are hiding in what is soon to disappear and leave them face to face with God.
Bruce Hurt: Here is the classic record of man’s response to his own sin—a vain attempt to hide from the omnipresent, omniscient, almighty God (Gen. 3:8; Rev. 6:16+). In the irony of God, those who persecuted God’s servants, who were “destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy,” who “wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb. 11:38) now experience firsthand a similar affliction from the very hand of God.
B. (:16) Irrational Appeals of Desperation
“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;’”
Grant Osborne: Second, they are so filled with terror that they cry out to the mountains and rocks in which they are hiding, Πέσετε ἐϕ’ ἡμᾶς (pesete eph’ hēmas, fall on us). In their first reaction, they hid among the caves and rocks. Now they want those caves and rocks to fall on them. These people are so filled with irrational terror that they plead for an avalanche to bury them rather than face God and the Lamb. There are not many times in history people have begged to be smothered in an avalanche. This is an allusion to Hos. 10:8, which describes the destruction of Israel’s idolatrous high places and altars and then predicts that Israel will “say to the mountains, ‘Cover us!’ and to the hills, ‘Fall on us!’” Both in Hosea and here the enemies of God wish to perish in order to escape the divine wrath. This plea is also filled with irony, for death will not keep them from the judgment seat of God (Rev. 20:11–14). In short, their terror is so great that they will try anything to escape.
Richard Phillips: Coupled with humans’ attempt to flee is their terror in God’s judgment. This is why they find death preferable to “the face of him who is seated on the throne” (Rev. 6:16). Like Adam and Eve fleeing from God in the garden after they had sinned (Gen. 3:8), the human race is unified in desiring above all to avoid the face of their Creator, against whom they had so viciously rebelled, and whose countenance is now revealed in wrath. Here, we are shown that “what sinners dread most is not death, but the revealed Presence of God.” God is revealed to condemned humanity as the enthroned Creator and as the Lamb whose offered salvation was spurned and despised. How total will their alarm be when “the great day of their wrath has come” (Rev. 6:17)!
Warren Wiersbe: The phrase “wrath of the Lamb” seems a paradox. “Wrath of the lion” would be more consistent. We are so accustomed to emphasizing the meekness and gentleness of Christ (Matt. 11:28–30) that we forget His holiness and justice. The same Christ who welcomed the children also drove the merchants from the temple. God’s wrath is not like a child’s temper tantrum or punishment meted out by an impatient parent. God’s wrath is the evidence of His holy love for all that is right and His holy hatred for all that is evil. Only a soft and sentimental person would want to worship a God who did not deal justly with evil in the world.
C. (:17) Intense Awareness of the Outbreak of Divine Wrath = the Day of the Lord
- Divine Wrath about to be Unleashed
“for the great day of their wrath has come;”
This timing statement supports the position that the first 4 seals of the first half of Daniel’s 70th week were not part of the outpouring of divine wrath.
John MacArthur: Even those alive during the Tribulation will not know the precise time that the Day of the Lord will begin. They will be duped by false prophets, who will reassure them that judgment is not near; rather “peace and safety” are at hand–just as their predecessors falsely reassured rebellious Israel (Mic. 3:5; cf. Jer. 6:14; 8:11). These lying deceivers will scoff at the idea that Christ will return, demanding mockingly, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:4). Deceived by the false prophets, the world will plunge blindly into the Day of the Lord and face disastrous, hopeless ruin.
- Day of the Lord Cannot Be Endured
“and who is able to stand?”
Buist Fanning: None can resist or withstand his judgment when it arrives at last. All attempts at protection or escape are futile. The question is left unanswered in chapter 6. However, John skillfully uses this question to lead the reader into the interlude (7:1–17) that he has inserted between the sixth seal (6:12–17) and the seventh (8:1). Some humans in fact will be able to stand in that day because God himself will protect and enable them to do so.
Daniel Akin: The time of Jacob’s trouble is here (Jer 30:7). Daniel’s seventieth week is on us (Dan 9:24-27). The great tribulation has come (Rev 7:14). The Day of the Lord has arrived. The great day of the wrath of the Lamb visits planet Earth. Only one question remains: “Who can stand?” The answer, of course, is, “No one!” No one can stand! Rather than turn to Christ in faith, they hide in fear. And according to verse 16, they know from whom they are hiding! They know who has come and what has come. Knowing it is the Lord and His judgment, they run rather than repent. They flee rather than turn to Christ in faith. The great and awesome Day of the Lord is here. The end has finally arrived. What will men do? What can they do? No one can stand before divine judgment. No one. Craig Keener is right:
The impact on the reader is . . . complete: There is no security, no firm ground to stand on, nothing in the universe to depend on except God himself. The rest of creation will collapse. (Revelation, 225)