The sixth seal

June 21, 2011

Two commentaries on John’s description of the opening of the sixth seal in Revelation 6:12-17 are provided. In the table below the middle column contains my interpretation and the column on the right contains comments by Robert L. Thomas. [1]

Revelation 6 Interpretation Robert L. Thomas
12 And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; In a natural earthquake, heavenly bodies are not affected, as in the sixth seal. In scripture, the promised land represents the things promised to the saints, (Hebrews 11:16) and so an earthquake may represent a dramatic change in man’s perception and understanding of the holy scriptures, and of the Gospel. The English word earthquake is not quite adequate to describe this seal because the heavens are shaken along with the seas and the dry land. One suggested rendering is “convulsions” (Bullinger). These convulsions are precursors of the end, but do not announce immediate final judgment (Charles; Walvoord; Mounce). Their chronological placement is best accomplished through comparison with Jesus’ Olivet discourse. In all the accounts of His listing of events during “the beginning of birth-pains,” earthquakes come at the end or toward the end (Matt. 24:7; Mark 13:8; cf. Luke 21:11) and before the abomination of desolation at the midpoint of Daniel’s seventieth week (Matt. 24:15; Mark 13:14).
and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, The woman in heaven in Revelation 12:1, who represents the church, is clothed with the sun, and so the sun represents the gospel. The sun becoming black like sackcloth is a metaphor representing the gospel becoming obscured by false teachings in the early church. These included Plato’s doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and the idea of unending infernal torment of unbelievers. In OT prophecy of an apocalyptic type, references to the darkening of the sun are common (cf. Isa. 13:10; Ezek. 32:7-8; Joel 2:10, 31; Amos 8:9; cf. Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:24-25; Luke 21:25) (Swete). The literal darkening of the sun will be a blackness comparable to sakkos trichinos (sackcloth of hair”). This black garment was made of course cloth and worn as a visible expression of mourning and despair (cf. Isa. 50:3) (Beckwith; Lenski).
and the moon became as blood; In Revelation 12:1, the moon is at the woman’s feet. It represents the Mosaic law, and the Old Covenant. The moon becoming as blood represents an aversion to the Old Covenant and things pertaining to it. The reddening of the moon was another precursor of end-time judgment. The reddish color expressed by hōs haima (“as blood”) probably derives from the deep copper color of the moon during an eclipse when observed through atmospheric conditions (cf. Joel 2:31; Acts 2:20) (Swete; Beckwith). Because “the whole moon” (hē sēlenē holē) is affected, this is a total eclipse that contributes to the panic of the world’s population.
13 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. The fig tree is significant as it is a symbol for Israel and the church. [Luke 13:6-9; 21:29-32] The fig tree casting her unripe fruit pictures Christians who abandon their faith. The “mighty wind” represents a powerful doctrine. [Ephesians 4:14] The third heavenly disturbance sees an unparalleled outbreak of meteors and comets (Seiss; Lenski). … The phenomenon is so large scale that it appears from man’s perspective that the stars are falling, when in reality it is probably a very large meteor shower that invades the terrestrial atmosphere (Hailey).
14 And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; The spindles cease their rotation when a scroll is rolled together. The heavens also ceased their imagined revolutions due to scientific discoveries in astronomy, especially those of Sir Isaac Newton. Belief in the rigid heavenly firmament was abolished. The fourth disturbance from above will affect the whole expanse of heaven as man sees it. Heaven will appear to split and roll back in two opposite directions: … (“and heaven was separated into parts as a scroll being rolled up”). The divided portions will shrivel, curl up like paper, and form a roll on either hand (cf. Isa. 34:4).
and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. Prophecies and promises are misinterpreted. Promises intended for the saints were wrongly applied to unbelieving Jews. Time prophecies are also misinterpreted, and their application in the present age is denied, either by inserting a gap, and applying the prophecies to a future seven year tribulation (dispensationalism) or by saying all prophecy was fulfilled in the first century (preterism). The moving of the mountains with their islands is probably tied to the great earthquake in v. 12 and possibly to volcanic disturbances through which mountains and islands rise and disappear. … Because Jesus used the moving of a mountain in a figurative way to challenge His disciples’ faith (Matt. 21:21; Mark 11:23; cf. 1 Cor. 13:2), some want to take this description to speak figuratively of the unsettling of established international powers (Swete; Charles; Scott).
15 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;
16 And 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:
17 For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
The mountains are metaphors representing God’s promises, such as the promise of salvation. Men of all kinds align themselves to religion, and to particular denominations, seeking to escape future judgment, and wrath of God. Of the promise of salvation that applies to those who believe in Christ, they say, “fall on us.” They call upon the promises of the gospel to cover them, and shield them from the face of Christ, and from the light of Gospel. All divisions of people respond in the same way. They “hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains.” (…) They were seeking shelter from the collapse of the natural world. The uniqueness of what they saw told them that the routinization of nature to which they had become so accustomed was at an end and that the only alternative left was to hide. It was not rational to hide in the very mountains that were being shaken by the earthquake (vv. 12, 14), but rationality was no longer an option. This was the only place they could think of.


1. Robert L. Thomas. Revelation 1-7 Commentary (Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary) Moody Publishers, 1992.

  1. September 26, 2012 at 11:35 am

    How about this interpretation? Let’s take a literal scientific approach. Let’s see, what would cause the sun and moon to both be eclipsed at the same time, and further that the whole world would see it at the same time. Well, how about a big heavenly body (large asteroid, comet, small rogue planet) which is carrying along debris in its gravitational pull, comes between the sun and the earth, thereby not only eclipsing the sun, but also the moon, as the sun’s light would also be blocked from the moon. Then this heavenly body coming so close to the earth would cause earthquakes, tsunamis, and things of that nature from the gravitational pull of the one on the other. So far the scenario fits. What about the sky being rolled up like a scroll and stars falling? Well, as it gets closer, it will block the stars from being seen also, and as it moves through space, it will appear that the sky is rolling up as the heavens gradually disappear from view as it blocks our view of the heavens. The debris being pulled along with this would get caught in our gravitational pull, thus pulling them down upon us (meteorites look like stars falling). Mountains and islands being moved out of their place? The destruction caused by these two bodies passing so close to each other would cause our world to rock and roll, causing the shifting of tectonic plates, causing mountains and islands to shift in their places. And everybody thinking it is the end of the world and God’s wrath? Yes, I think people would react this way and try to hide anyplace they can. Now let’s see if Revelation continues this thought. We now have the trumpets. Hail and fire fall to the earth burning up a third of the trees, and grass. (again the debris, meteorites) Then we are hit with a “burning mountain” (asteroid) and a third part of the seas are turned to blood from the third part of the sea creatures which die and also the iron released into the waters (plus red tide sort of thing), plus all the ships in that area are destroyed. Then a “star” (comet or maybe another asteroid?) falls and cause a third part of the fresh water of the earth to become wormwood (in Russian”wormwood” is “chernobyl”), a clue that maybe this is radiation? The waters certainly would be radiated after all this. This is followed by a third part of the day, sun, moon, and stars, becoming darkened (the ash clouds from all this stuff happening over that part of the world?) Oddly enough, the part of the world known as the Orient and Australia comprises a third part of the forests, fresh water, seas,etc. As this area does not seem to be mentioned in conjunction with end times prophecies (those kings of the east are most likely Muslim countries east of Israel), is it possible that this asteroid and “star” hit this part of the world obliterating it? It certainly is a possibility given the many times earth has had near misses of this sort. Taking the prophecies totally literally, it gives a complete scientific description of what would happen should we be approached by a rogue heavenly body. It is certainly not outside of the realm of possibility, so why should we not just simply believe that what God said is what He meant? The first lie Satan told Eve was “Has God REALLY said?” In other words, “You don’t think He meant that literally, did you?” That lie is still being used by Satan today to keep people from understanding God’s Word, as they try to spiritualize everything that God said. Maybe it is time we throw away the lie and believe that He meant what He said, don’t you think? If you were John and you were shown the scenario above and wanted to explain it, how would you describe it given that he did not have our scientific understandings and vocabulary?

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