The sixth seal in context
"And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell . . . as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And [all the earth people] . . . said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" (Rev. 6:12-17)
This passage clearly describes
the plight of the wicked at the end of time. Where does it fit into the
picture of its context?
At the breaking of the fifth seal, we found the righteous dead as souls under the altar awaiting judgment and vindication r06d. As I understand it, the signs of impending doom in the heavens come — or at least begin — around the time the souls cry out, but the shaking of heavens with the earth dwellers in fear comes later.
Looking ahead, chapter 7 does not at first seem to connect. After seeing the 144,000 and the multitude we finally come to the 7th seal at the beginning of chapter 8. We may assume that this interlude is all part of the sixth seal scene. I believe that to be the case but will let you reserve judgment until we have studied through it.
At the beginning of chapter 4, when considering the whole scene of the throne in heaven, we discussed the principle that we were seeing in chapters 4 and 5. We saw how this was the unpacking of a simple statement at the end of chapter 3. We also mentioned the seals. You might want to look back for the explanation. re04a.
To apply that principle, we find the wicked exclaiming, "For the great day of his [the Lamb's] wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" In chapter 7, the Holy Spirit answers the question for us by showing us the sealed ones and the victorious ones. The wicked, too, have their answer to the question as they see that the righteous whom they despised, are saved while they themselves are lost.
With this perspective we are ready to examine some details.
Seeking divine guidance
Just a reminder: As we study, we must individually seek the enlightenment of "the spirit of truth." Safety here is not in popularity or in convincing rhetoric, but in the still, small voice heard by the soul committed to following Jesus. I don't say this because I'm worried about what I'm presenting here but because it's a principle I don't want us to take for granted. Even in a public place, we can flash a prayer to God to protect and guide our minds as we hear the word of the Lord discussed. Child image from Corel.
Signs in the sky
We saw God dealing with the
righteous dead and living under the fifth seal. Now, as the sixth seal
is broken, astrological and geological disturbances come to view. The wicked
are then seen trying to escape the one on the throne and the wrath of the
Lamb. They are facing the vengeance of God that the souls under the altar
had been expecting. We find no indication that they are sleeping so we
may understand them to represent the wicked who are alive at the end of
time. Okay, I'm running a bit fast here. I wanted to trace out the larger
picture before we begin on the details. Hold on and see if I'm right. Let's
begin with the first two verses:
"And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;
" And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind." (Rev. 6:12, 13).
God has used events of nature
before to speak to humanity. For example, darkness around the cross mt2745.
The coming of Jesus initiates the millennial judgment 20014. Also see is2419-end.
Magnificent Savior! For us He faced the outer darkness representing separation from God. That's the darkness we deserve!
Like figs shaken off
Paul explains the shaking See he1225ff.
and terrible day of the Lord
Joel also wrote of same time of celestial signs. "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come." (Joel 2:31) jl02.
The "great and terrible day of the Lord" is ultimately the time of God's wrath at the end of the world — the time we are studying. The next verse in Joel says that all who call on His name will be saved. Lets look at another passage.
"Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stinketh, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering." (Isa. 50:1-3)
The passage we are looking at in Revelation would not have been missed by William Miller. During the years preceding 1844 outstanding events occurred from all four cosmic participants (earth, sun, moon, and stars, in that order). The Lisbon earthquake came in 1755 and was felt as far away as Scandinavia. The 1780 darkness in New England (Miller's home turf) covered thousands of square miles. At that time, the sun disappeared and the moon turned blood red. The Leonid meteorite shower occurred in 1833. Of course there have been other such natural phenomena. The Bible doesn't say these were to be the only ones. But from the accounts of these events, we know that people were certainly sobered, and the timing was significant. The events in the next verses in Revelation have not yet occurred (sky rolling up, mountains and islands moved, etc.). I wouldn't be surprised if the earlier signs would replay with them. Perhaps God was directing nature to prepare us for what was and is to come.
celestial signs to the tribulation
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:" (Matt. 24:29). But were 1755, 1780 and 1833 at the end of the tribulation?
Signs follow the tribulation
looked at the signs that came at the end of the middle-ages "tribulation."
Many people today believe that the tribulation is coming as the last half
of a 7 year period before the millennium — the 1000 years of Revelation
We can see in Matthew 24:29 the same thing John saw when the sixth seal was opened. In Matthew, after the cosmic signs, the righteous are gathered with the sound of a trumpet and Christ is seen. That didn't all happen following the destruction of Jerusalem.
Let's sort out
what Jesus said.
The chapter in Matthew begins with the disciples asking a double question. Jesus had told them that the temple would be thrown down and they apparently thought that the event would be part of the final events at His second coming. Making assumptions and building wrong ideas on them is quite easy. Perhaps today's misunderstanding of the tribulation is a similar situation. Listen to the disciples' question:
"And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matt. 24:3)
You might want to stop and read the whole chapter. It seems to predict a mixture of the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and those at the end of time. Seeing the relationships takes a little study.
What was the "sign"?
It's a little complicated. In broad strokes, it was the temple destruction which became a model for destruction connected with later apostasy. First, the Jerusalem Christians were persecuted by the Jewish religious system which claimed to have the truth (Matt. 24:9,10; 10:17-20) — their "tribulation." When the armies came they fled from the city as Jesus had instructed them. From history, we know that the Jews who had rejected Christ were thrown into a much more terrible situation. Jesus called it a "great tribulation" (verse 21). They believed God would help them fight the Romans and ended up being slaughtered, and the temple whose priests had rejected the Messiah was destroyed (Matt. 23:37, 38).
The message in Matthew 24 is that the whole world will follow the pattern and finally be destroyed with only a remnant saved. What happened then will be a "sign" of the coming of Christ and of the end of the world. First would come tribulation or persecution by the established religious power which persisted for over a thousand years, then, still ahead for us, the time of trouble for the wicked.
Under the sixth seal, at the
end of the world, the earth dwellers try to hide from the wrath of the
Lamb as foreshadowed by the slaughter and trouble of those that remained
in the city.
To strengthen the connection between the tribulation and the 1260 prophetic days 1305a, notice that Matt. 24:22 says that the "days" would be "shortened," implying a time period with an anticipated length. Verse 29, which we quoted, speaks of the "tribulation of those days." The term "tribulation" is introduced with persecution of the righteous in verse 9.
Picking up verse 29, we read that "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken."
These things occurred in the years around the end of the 1700s. Will signs in sun, moon, and stars happen again before Jesus comes? Perhaps, but they did come after the intensive tribulation part of the 1260 days. In the next verse (30) we read that the sign of the Son of Man would appear and all the tribes of the earth would mourn, seeing Him coming on the clouds in power and glory.
It's interesting that we have the same sequence in the sixth seal. We can see ourselves between verses 29 and 30 in Matthew 24 and between 13 and 14 in Revelation 7. We are living between the end of the "days" — the 1260 days symbolic of 1260 years — and the outpouring of the wrath of the Lamb. A sobering thought.
I'm aware that many Christians today hold that the tribulation will come in the distant future. I don't see this fitting into the prophecy of that time in Rev. 20 because the wicked dead "lived not again until the 1000 years are finished" (20:5). They are not resurrected when Jesus comes (1 Thess. 4:16, 17).
Does all this sound a little confusing? In the chart below, I show two times of apostasy. One foreshadowed the other. In looking more closely, I believe there are two more. See the study of Matt. 24 with chart, mt24.
Who is in trouble?
Here is a significant point to underline. The most significant tribulation of Matthew 24 is not in the future at all. It's trouble for the righteous, not the wicked, because tribulation is introduced for the believers (verse 9), and verse 22 mentions the elect in explaining why the days were shortened (also Rev. 13:4-7; Dan. 7:25). During the thousand years, the righteous are not experiencing trouble. They are seen living and reigning (judging) with Christ (Rev. 20:4).
By contrast, the time of trouble just before the return of Christ is trouble for the wicked. This time is described beginning at 6:14. "And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places." While the wicked suffer, the righteous are protected. (Dan. 12:1; Ps. 91; Isa. 26:20). Of course, it will be a tough time for the righteous, too, although they are soon delivered.
May we each be faithful and prepared for the days soon to come on the earth.
|False religion (apostasy - deception)||Love lost, deception predicted 13, 4, 5||Abomination, false christs 15, 24||Rage against covenant 11:30, 32||Beast of blasphemy worshipped 13:1, 4||Rider of red horse allowed to remove peace 6:4|
Also see the Matt. 24 page, Mt24-v21.
|Christ's followers to experience tribulation 9||Great tribulation 21, 22||Godly ones persevere and fall by sword for  days||Beast granted authority against saints for 42 mo. [1260 days]; 13:5, 7||Multitude came out of tribulation 7:14|
|Signs and events before end (Time of the End)||Early times gospel to world, then comes end 14||Cosmic chaos after tribulation of  days 29||Knowledge increased (book unsealed) 12:4 Daniel in his place at end of days 12:13||Creator of heaven and all, to be worshipped; Judgment 14:7||Cosmic disturbances; earthquake, shaking; 7:12, 13|
|End of probation||Flee when abomination comes 15; In "this generation" 34||not/applicable||Michael stands [after sitting in judgment] 12:1||Time to reap has come 14:15||Heaven like scroll rolled up 6:14|
|Time of trouble||Destruction of Jerusalem, 70 AD|| n/a
Rest of Matt. 24 applies to fall of Protestantism. See Periods-of-Apostasy chart Mt24-2
|Time of trouble 12:1||Beast worshippers drink God's wrath; tormented 14:9-11; Grapes trampled 17-20||Earth people try to escape wrath of Lamb 15|
|Coming of Christ / Salvation||Christians escaped Jerusalem||n/a||Faithful delivered and will shine like stars forever 12:1-3||Wheat is reaped by the One on the cloud 14:16||144,000 sealed 7:1-8; Multitude victorious 7:9|
Why are celestial signs part of God's warning?
We have talked about the signs in the heavens under the 6th plague as being literal. I believe they are also symbolic.
And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. (Rev. 6:12, 13)
Why would God choose the darkening of the sun and changed color of the moon as warnings? These are sources of light for God's people (See Rev. 12:1). Remember that the souls under the altar were slain because of the word and the testimony (6:9) — the greater and lesser lights (Gen. 1:16) of truth. We will see these lights in connection with the pure woman of Rev. 12. She is clothed with the sun and has the moon under her feet. When men prefer darkness, the Lord allows it to come to them.
"And this is the condemnation,
that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light,
because their deeds were evil." (John 3:19)
". . . Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stinketh, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering." (Isa. 50:2, 3)
I see the falling of the stars (like the figs shaken from the tree) as a representation of the apostasy of many professed Christians when confronted with light near the end of time (Rev. 18:1), making them leave the path of righteousness and fall into the class of those who call for the rocks and the mountains to hide them.
Also the traditional enemies of God's people worshiped the heavenly bodies. "If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the LORD thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the LORD thy God, in transgressing his covenant, And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded; And it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, and enquired diligently, and, behold, it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel: Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die." (Deut. 17:2-5)
With the failure of sun, moon, and stars, is seen the failure of end-time false religion.
May God keep us, each one, faithful to Him.