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Clissold on the sun turning to darkness

October 8, 2013

Augustus Clissold (1797-1882) presented the interpretations of numerous commentators on the sun turning to darkness in the sixth seal of Revelation 6, which John described as follows:

Revelation 6:12-17
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. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 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; 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: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?

The discussion following is from Augustus Clissold, The spiritual exposition of the Apocalypse: as derived from the writings of the Hon. Emanuel Swedenborg: illustrated and confirmed by ancient and modern authorities. Vol 2. (1851) pp. 160-182.

SWEDENBORG, ‘Apocalypse Revealed,’ verse 12;—

“‘And I saw when he had opened the sixth seal,’ signifies, exploration from the Lord into their state of life, who were interiorly evil, upon whom the last judgment was to be executed: ‘Lo, there was a great earthquake,’ signifies, the state of the church with those totally changed, and terror.”

Alcasar says that the Great Earthquake portends some “great change in affairs” — “some extraordinary vicissitude and alteration of things, whether for good or evil.” Aretas says it signifies “the change of those things which are moved, and their passing away.”

Pareus says, p. 125, that by earthquakes are sometimes set forth in the Bible “allegorically horrible alterations, or God’s great judgments.” Durham; that it signifies a “mighty change of affairs.” Vitringa, p. 283; “the greatest possible change.” Forbes, p. 38; “commotion and alteration of state.” Jones, p. 254; that it is the symbol of “a revolution or such an overturning in the state of affairs as should introduce a new order of things.” Brightman, p. 230, that the “Scriptures are wont to call any notable change by the name of an earthquake, even as when it is said, yet will I once more shake the earth, Heb. xii., 16.” He meaneth the changing of those things which are shaken, as St. Paul declares, and in the Old Testament the going of the Israelites forth of Egypt is called a moving of the earth, as Psalm vi., 8, 9, ‘The earth was moved, the heavens also dropped at the presence of God.’ Finally Cruden also observes, that “great alterations and changes are expressed in Scripture by a motion of the earth.” See Concordance, art. Earthquake.

Gill also observes, Apocalypse, p. 734;—

“Others are of opinion that this has respect to the strange change of affairs in the church of Christ, through the rise, power, and tyranny of Antichrist; by the earthquake they suppose is meant the shaking of both church and state by the man of sin; who shook the doctrines, ordinances, and discipline of the church, and threw all into confusion, and introduced a new face of things; and also shook the kingdoms of the earth, and the thrones and crowns of princes.”

SWEDENBORG, ‘Apocalypse Revealed,’ verses 12-17;—

“‘And the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood,’ signifies, the adulteration of all the good of love in them, and the falsification of all the truth of faith: ‘and the stars fell upon the earth,’ signifies, the dispersion of all knowledges of good and truth: ‘as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs when she is shaken by a mighty wind,’ signifies, by reasonings of the natural man separated from the spiritual: ‘and the heaven departed as a scroll rolled together,’ signifies, their separation from heaven and conjunction with hell: ‘and every mountain and island were moved out of their places,’ signifies, that all the good of love and truth of faith departed: ‘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 freeman,’ signifies, those who before separation were in the understanding of truth and good, in the science of the knowledges thereof, in erudition either from others or from themselves, and yet not in a life conformable thereto: ‘hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains,’ signifies, that they were now in evils and in falses of evil: ‘and said unto 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,’ signifies, confirmations of evil by means of falses grounded in evil, until they did not acknowledge any Divinity in the Lord: ‘for the great day of his wrath is come, and who is able to stand,’ signifies, that they were made such of themselves by separation from the good and faithful on account of the last judgment, which otherwise they would not be able to abide.”

Dr. Maitland; Attempt to Elucidate the Prophecies concerning Antichrist, p. 21;—

“Can any unbiassed reader, nay, I will venture to say, any reader who is not devoted to some system of chronological interpretation, doubt that this passage refers to the day of judgment? If it does not, may we not doubt whether there is any passage in the Seriptures about the day of judgment at all?”

Dr. Todd; Lectures on the Apocalypse, p. 71;—

“Who can doubt that these words describe the great and fearful day of final judgment, and that the whole vision of the seals, parallel as it clearly is with our Saviour’s prophecy on the Mount of Olives, is intended to foretell ‘the signs of his coming and the end of the world?” [1]

Wordsworth; Lectures on the Apocalypse, p. 188;—

“The sixth seal reveals a great revolution — an earthquake, darkness, and the falling of stars from heaven.”

“The present is a proper place for offering some remarks on the figurative character of these prophecies.”

“St. Peter thus speaks on the day of Pentecost: ‘This is that which is spoken by the prophet Joel. And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophecy.'”

“Mark now what follows.”

“‘And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke; the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.'”

“Thus we are taught by an inspired apostle not to expect a literal fulfilment of the prophecies in this seal, which describe a great elemental convulsion. We are not to look for any terrific changes in the heavenly bodies before Christ’s second coming. But those prophecies are spiritual, and to be understood spiritually.”

“This is very necessary to be remembered, lest our mind’s eye should not be open to the signs of our Lord’s coming, and so its signs should be no signs to us; and lest we should look for other signs than the true ones; and then that day should come upon us unawares. It will so come on the world. Upon the world it will come as a thief in the night; but we are to take heed lest that day should overtake us as a thief.”


“The sun became black as sackcloth; the splendor of true doctrine will be hid from unbelievers.”


“The sun darkened is the church darkened by the smoke; i.e., the doctrine of heretics.”

See also Hale’s Analysis of Chronology, vol. iii., p. 619.

Primasius, Biblia Magna, p. 265;—

“In the sixth sign is recognized the sixth age of the world, at the end of which is announced the last persecution, by the vehement impetuosity of which, it is said, the whole universe is shaken as with an earthquake. The sun and the moon; Christ and the church; which, because many will through fear, deny in the last persecution, therefore the sun is said to be darkened. ‘But if our Gospel be hid,’ says the apostle, ‘it is hid to them that are lost;in whom the god of this world hath blinded their minds, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.’ Hence it is said, that, ‘if it were possible, even the very elect would be led into error.’ It is in this manner that it is said the sun is made black; viz., as if the power of Christ were for a while covered over from being visible, or his doctrine were for a time obscured, or the defence of it delayed, while the wicked are being permitted to prevail against the saints.”

Andreas; who in like manner refers these events to the time of Antichrist;—

…”The blackness of the sun, and the obscuration of the moon and its blood color, denote the blindness and darkness of those whom the Lord will then overtake in his wrath. For it is in this way that the blessed Cyril, in more than one place, explains these events. The stars falling to the earth . . . signify those who were reputed to be lights of the world; who, being cast down through fear of punishment, will fall away from the faith and truth, into perfidy and error. For, as Christ the Lord forewarns us, so great will be the affliction, that, if it were possible, the very elect will be seduced. Perhaps it is to designate this that the fig is taken as an example; for when its unripe fruits, (such as are they who have not yet been matured by the fire of temptation, nor have yet arrived at their sweetness through the warmth of charity,) these when they are very vehemently shaken by a diabolical wind, are wont to be shaken off, and cast to the earth. For the fig we know to be taken either in a good or an evil sense. This may be collected from the two baskets of good and bad figs, of which mention is made in Isaiah; as also from the fig-tree which Christ dried up by his malediction; as also from that which is alluded to in the Canticles. Moreover when Christ the Lord comes to judgment in glory and majesty, whether any of the foregoing particulars will take place after a sensible manner, He only knows in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge.”

Ambrose Ansbert;—

…”Because many who are placed within the holy church, alarmed at the last persecution, will deny Christ, therefore is it that the sun is said to be darkened;that sun of which it is written, ‘Unto you who fear the Lord shall the Sun of righteousness arise.’ Concerning which, likewise, say the wicked in hell, Wisdom v., 6, ‘The sun hath not risen upon us.’ For in the last days, the sun is, as it were, darkened, when those, who in the body of Christ were seen to give light, have fallen into the darkness of open error. Hence it is that, in the sequel, the third part of the sun is said to have been smitten; so that when smitten, it became darkened. For the third part of the sun is smitten, and when smitten is darkened, when the wicked ensnare the faithful members of the church, either by the fears or flatteries of persecutors; that they may be compelled openly to deny the Redeemer of the world. In this passage by the sun may be understood the shining life of preachers, &c., &c.” . . .

…”Heaven is the church of the saints. . . . The stars fall from heaven, i. e., those who, in the eyes of men, were seen to shine in the faith and works of saints, fall, through a love of earthly things, into the wickedness of open error. It is however to be known, that when figurative language seems to derive its comparisons from similitudes to other things, yet that in these comparisons there is a veritable reality. For in the signification of the stars falling from heaven, the comparison is to figs falling from a fig-tree. For the fig-tree is shaken by a great wind, when the whole church is shaken by the last persecution.”

. . “All these things which we have understood as spoken concerning the elect, may likewise be accommodated to the persons of the impious. Let it be said, then, that every mountain and island were moved from their places. The haughty powers of this world are designated by the mountains, as the prophet indicates when he says, Is. xiii.; ‘Lift up the standard upon the dark mountain; lift up the hands, and let the leaders enter into the gates.’ For whom did he wish to designate by the dark mountain, but the king of Babylon, covered over with the cloud of unbelief and wickedness? By the isles of the sea are not inaptly figured those who are tossed about on the waves of worldly affairs, to whom it is rightly said by the prophet, Is. xxiii., ‘Be still ye inhabitants of the isle; thou whom the merchants of Sidon that pass over the sea have replenished;’ who, shaken by the crash of the last persecution, are the more quickly separated from the unity of the church, the more they are seen to gasp with a desire of worldly things. For which of the mighty men, which of those who are the prey of their own cupidities, will not desert the faith, lest he should lose his stipend, lest he should lose honor? since in a time of peace not only will they snatch from others their worldly substance and honor by perjuries, frauds, and false testimonies, but also by the deaths of some, whether it be of their own relations or of strangers. The kings of the earth, princes, and tribunes designate the wicked according to their quality of action, proceeding by the several grades of wickedness. Those are called rich men, who, to whatever sin they have wished to extend their hands, feel no need of consolation from others. The mighty men are those who are strong to mingle drink, and to subvert the life of others by unjust councils. The slave of sin, is he who is free from righteousness; whence says Paul, ‘When ye were the slaves of sin, ye were free from righteousness.’ These all doubtless, when the future judgment is impending, betake themselves to help from demons; since, being without hope, they presume not to approach to any of the saints; that is, they seek hiding places in the caves and rocks of mountains, and wish to be covered under their ruins. But how shall those hide others from the wrath of fury, who will themselves be the first to receive it? All these things, even if understood according to the letter, inspire fear into the hearers; but figurative expressions are not therefore to be violently wrested into a literal meaning.”

Bede, Apocalypse;—

“The sun became black as sackcloth; as if the power of Christ was either under a cloud, or his doctrine obscured for a while, or hidden out of the way of defence; since the ministers of Antichrist are chosen in order to assail the servants of Christ. [2] …. And every mountain and island were moved from their places: alluding here to the different members of the church, according to the quality of their offices or capacities, he foretells that none would be excepted from this convulsion; but the movement of the two classes, the good and the wicked, would be diverse; in the case of the good, for instance, they would take to flight through precaution; in the case of the wicked, they would follow the evil times by concession.”

Anselm, Bishop of Havelberg;—

“This is the sixth state of the church, in which occurs a great earthquake, which is that most vehement persecution that is to occur in the times of Antichiist. And truly is it a great one; because, as the Lord says, ‘There will be such tribulation as was not since the nations have begun.’ In other times of persecutions, although many were the kinds of torments prepared against the confessors of the Christian name, still the faith was kept right and undoubted. In the present case, however, the torments are set before the person, and under the name of Christ is infused the persuasion of a false faith. For it is said, ‘Behold here is Christ, behold there;’ ‘And there shall be great tribulation, such as hath not yet been;’ not only by reason of the amount of persecution, but also by reason of the subversion of the faith, men not knowing what to believe or to maintain. The sun is made black as sackcloth; because the Sun of righteousness is Christ; and the Christian name will then be in abject repute, and under a dark cloud of contempt and obscurity; and both Christ himself and Christians will be vile and abject in the eyes of Antichrist and his followers; just as sackcloth is the meanest of all kinds of apparel. The whole moon became as blood; because in all parts of the world persecution unto blood will prevail against the church, which the growing and the waning of the moon evidently signifies. And the stars of heaven fell upon the earth; the stars of heaven, that is, holy men who in the firmament of the church were seen to shine as teachers, under the vehemence of the persecution, will, by revolting from the faith, fall to the earth; because they will inhere in earthly pleasures, and through the love of earthly things rush into iniquity. Whence it is added, as a fig-tree casts its figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Although, in the Gospel, the fig-tree signifies the synagogue, yet here it especially signifies the whole church; from which will then fall the unprofitable, and those who had been devoid of good works. For those are called untimely figs, who, before they come to maturity, fall, when shaken by a wind, to the earth; and thus will they, who have not yet arrived at ripeness in good works, but are devoid of them, fall when shaken by the wind, that is, by the last persecution. They shall fall to the earth, that is, into earthly delights. Rightly is the wind called mighty; because, as above said, the persecution will overtake even the elect. And the heaven departed as a scroll; heaven, that is, the church, in which are reposited the sacraments of the church; rolled up and closed; for they will withdraw themselves from the use of Christians, and be hidden from public and solemn observance. Men’s hearts failing them from fear of Antichrist, and for the expectation of those things which will come upon the whole earth. And who shall be able to stand? &c., that is, in the sixth state of the church.”

Aquinas, Catena Aurea, Luke xxi., 25, p. 686;—

“(Augustin.) But that the Lord may not seem to have foretold as extraordinary those things concerning his second coming, which were wont to happen to this world even before his first coming, and that we may not be laughed at by those who have read more and greater events than these in the history of nations, I think what has been said may be better understood to apply to the church. For the church is the sun, the moon, and the stars, to whom it was said, Fair as the moon, elect as the sun. And she will then not be seen for the unbounded rage of the persecutors. (Ambrose); while many also fall away from religion, clear faith will be obscured by the cloud of unbelief, for to me that Sun of righteousness is either diminished or increased according to my faith; and as the moon in its monthly wanings, or when it is opposite the sun by the interposition of the earth, suffers eclipse, so also the holy church when the sins of the flesh oppose the heavenly light, cannot borrow the brightness of divine life from Christ’s rays. For in persecutions, the love of this world generally shuts out the light of the divine sun; the stars also fall; that is, men who shine in glory fall, when the bitterness of persecution waxes sharp and prevails. And this must be until the multitude of the church be gathered in, for thus are the good tried and the weak made manifest.”

Aquiuas, Apocalypse, p. 168;—

The sun, that is, Christ the light of men and angels, with whose rays our minds are illustrated and adorned. Malachi iii.: ‘The Sun of righteousness shall arise in your hearts.’ Was made black, i.e., obscure, not in itself, but in all those in whom its brightness will be hidden. As sackcloth; which is the vilest covering; for in the time of Antichrist the magnificence of Christ shall not be made to appear by teaching, as it does now; because men will not be bold enough so to preach. . . . Matt, xxiii.: ‘There shall arise false Christs,’ &c. See Isidore, De Summo Bono. . . . The moon; that is, the church which in some of its members suffers eclipse, as does the moon, which receives light from Christ the true Sun. . . . The stars of heaven, those who before were bright by their conversation or preaching; fell, from the faith; upon the earth, i.e., into concupiscence and the love of earthly things. For then shall many fall from the faith, and shall love earthly things more than heavenly; for such shall Antichrist corrupt by his gifts and promises. Joel ii.: ‘The stars have withdrawn their shining.’ . . . Moved from their places, that is, shall be separated from the evil by faith and good works.”

Aquinas, interpreting some of the remaining symbols in a favorable sense, considers the kings of the earth to signify pastors of the highest grade, such as primates, archbishops; princes of the earth, to signify bishops; tribunes, to signify archdeacons, archpresbyters, priests, curates; rich men, to signify the rich in good works and virtues; strong men, to signify those who are strong against vice, &c. &c. These are to hide themselves from Antichrist. Mountains, he says, signify angels; rocks, the perfect and constant; fall on us, signifies protect us.

A similar interpretation is admitted by Anselm Archbishop of Canterbury, the Glossa Ordinaria, Joachim, Gagneus, De Lyra, and other Roman Catholic writers.

We may here add the interpretation attributed by some to Tichonius, and occurring in the Fifth and Sixth Homilies upon the Apocalypse, in the works of Augustin, vol. xvi., p. 618;—

“The great earthquake is the last persecution. In that he says, ‘the sun became black, the moon bloody, and the stars fell from heaven;’ the sun, moon, and stars are the church diffused throughout the whole world. In that he says, ‘they fell,‘ we are not to understand that the whole fell; but by the whole [3] we are to understand a part. For in every persecution the good remain constant, while the evil fall, as it were, from heaven, i. e., from the church. Next follows, ‘as a fig-tree sheddeth her figs when she is shaken by a wind;’ thus do the wicked fall from the church, when they are disturbed by any tribulation. That ‘the heaven departed as a scroll,’ signifies, that the church is separated from the evil, and, like a book rolled up, contains divine mysteries known only to itself.”

Again, in the Sixth Homily;—

“‘The sun, moon, and stars:’ that is, the church; but by the whole is understood a part. For it is not the whole church, but the wicked who are in the church that fall from heaven. He says indeed the whole, because the last persecution will extend throughout the whole world. Then will they who had been righteous remain in the church, as in heaven; while the lovers of earthly things, the unjust, and adulterers will offer their sacrifices to the devil. Then also will they who in words only called themselves Christians, fall as stars from heaven which is the church. ‘As a fig-tree casteth her figs when shaken by a great wind.‘ The tree shaken he compares to the church; the great wind, to persecution; the figs, to evil men who are to be shaken off and who will depart from the church. ‘And the heaven departed as a scroll:‘ in this passage he calls the church, heaven; which departs from the wicked, and contains within itself mysteries known to itself alone: ‘as a book rolled up,’ which the wicked neither will nor can at all understand. ‘And every mountain and island were moved from their places:‘ the same which is understood by heaven is understood also by mountains and islands, i. e., in the last persecution: the whole church departed out of its place, whether in the good by flying from persecution, or in the evil by departing from the faith. This may be taken in either sense; because the good part is moved from its place by flight; that is, losing that which it possesses; as we read in another passage, ‘I will move thy candlestick out of its place.’ ‘Kings of the earth and masters.’ By kings we understand powerful men of every degree and condition, which shall be converted unto Christ.”

Pareus; Apocalypse, Preface, p. 14;—

“This book sets forth the afflicted state and condition of the church in this life, especially in the latter times. … It representeth also bishops deserting the orthodox faith and the study of divine things, and cumbering themselves with worldly affairs, under the type of stars falling from heaven unto earth; with their nature and plottings against the godly,” &c.

Ibid., Apocalypse, p. 127;—

“The sun became black as sackcloth of hair. This is the second wonder. Christ the Sun of righteousness shall be horribly eclipsed; that is, the doctrine touching his offices and benefits darkened and utterly defaced. We heard before how the church lost her whiteness, and became black in regard of the many foul heresies of that time; yet something still remained pure in her by reason of some sound teachers who firmly maintained the truth of Christ. But under Antichrist even the sun is made black as sackcloth of hair; that is, most black and hurtful. Not that Christ in himself can be so made, but because Antichrist by his profession both teacheth and maketh such a Christ.”

…”But say they (the monks) Christ the Sun of righteousness is not darkened unto us; for the Pope professeth Christ to be God and man against all heretics. I answer, if he should openly cast off the name of Christ, then he could not have brought the Christian church under his bondage, neither suppress the truth as now he doth. ‘But his coming,’ as the apostle witnesseth, ‘is with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish.’ So that by the cunning pretence of a Christian profession, he hath fraudulently overthrown the church; yea, herein he hath mainly opposed Christ, in that he was looked upon to be a preacher of his name, as Hilary and Austen write concerning him. The profession of Christ’s person, and of the Trinity, was indeed the mask under which he deceived the church, for otherwise Christians would have shunned him as the devil.”

Marloratus; Apocalypse;—

“Therefore not amiss do we take the darkening of the sun, to be the failing of the simple and pure doctrine of Christ, by the thriving or rather reigning of Antichrist’s abominations through all the churches; according to this saying, ‘When the Son of Man cometh, think you that he shall find faith upon the earth?’ Luke xviii., 8. So also is the heat of charity now become cold (Sebastian Meyer).”

‘And the stars fell from heaven.‘ … By the name of stars are commonly meant the ministers and teachers of the Word, as is said afore, i., 16, 20 (Caspar Megander). They are said to fall from heaven when they forsake the heavenly doctrine, and embrace and teach men’s traditions (Bullinger).”

The Abbot Joachim applies this prophecy to the destruction of Babylon or the church of Rome. According, however, to the principle upon which we have been proceeding, the throne of the Lamb is the throne of the Last Judgment; and the subjects of the Last Judgment, hence of the Seals, are not merely any one particular church, but the seven churches. Bearing this in mind, we may observe that, with the interpretations which have above been presented, the following of Joachim will not appear inconsistent.

On the opening of the sixth seal this Abbot thus observes;—

“Ponder these words, O miserable Babylon; for behold thy desolation approaches. Put off thy golden worship, and take up a lamentation, for it cometh! behold, thy perfect perdition shall come! From ages past it has been foretold; by prophets it has been fore written. It hath been announced unto thee from the days of old. Thou hast not laid up these things in thine heart; neither hast thou believed those who told thee of them: but thou hast always walked in the pride of thy works. Thy rage was not against man, nor thy indignation against the sons of men, but against the king of heaven, whose bed thou hast defiled. Against the king of heaven thou hast lifted up thine heart; against the Prince of power; against the sanctuary of his kingdom. The burden of prophecy is therefore against thee. For thee there is laid up and there is set before thee this banquet in the day of the indignation and vengeance of his Christ; that thou mightest drink the dregs of the cup which thou hast given Jerusalem to drink. For it is necessary that in the sixth age thou shouldest receive, what thou gavest to others in the fifth. For the burden thou hast imposed upon others, thou shalt receive a burden, and double for all thy gifts and bribes. But perchance thou art ignorant of thyself, and what thou hast read, thou attributest to another;at least either thou hast not read; or if thou hast, yet not diligently, the things which belong unto thy peace; and now they are hid from thine eyes. But at the voices of such mighty thunderings wilt thou be permitted to sleep on? Dost thou think to understand even that which now thou readest, that thou mightest know thyself? Read vigilantly in the works of the fathers; if thou art ignorant of the testimonies of Peter and John, read, I say, in the works of Jerome and Augustin, and that which is written of thee or what thou art, may be revealed to thee from out of their opinions.”

…”There are two ways in which the day of the last judgment is understood. It is taken in a wider sense for any uncertain time, as Augustin appropriately remarks in his book on the City of God; and it is taken in a stricter sense for the close of time itself; because, when all the mysteries of God are finished, the wicked shall go into eternal punishment, and the just into life eternal. If therefore it be taken in the wider sense, then every thing which is said after this manner may be referred immediately to the last day likewise, that is, to the extreme, or ultimate, or last time. It is the same way of speaking in which we are to understand the saying of the apostle, ‘We are those upon whom the ends of the world have come.’ And says John, ‘Little children, it is the last time.’ Nor must we pass over in silence the mention that so vehement and sudden will be the blast of the sixth plague, that God as it were conceding to the opposition, (human wickedness doubtless requiring it,) the light of evangelical preaching shall grow dark, and the teaching of our mother church turn pale with alarm. And what is still more to be apprehended, the stars of heaven shall fall to the earth;for many who were deemed zealous and excellent teachers shall be prostrated. ‘The sun,’ saith he, ‘became black as sackcloth and the moon as blood.'”

. . .”‘The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come,’ &c. In the darkness and blackness are designated grief and obcoecation of mind; in sackcloth of hair, affliction of the heart.” . . .

“‘The righteous,’ saith the prophet, ‘perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart; and merciful men are taken away, and no man regardeth,’ Is. lvii., 1. But after the righteous are taken away, there is left, in a marvellous manner, a certain imitation in outward forms, and a certain propagation as it were of the perfect life; and then will even this become obscure and perfectly black as sackcloth; and the life of the clergy, which was wont at first to send forth its rays of light among the people, we behold, alas! turned into blood. There is in it nothing spiritual, nothing heavenward; nearly the whole has become degenerate, the whole carnal, the whole flesh and blood; with an extraction of all the spirit out of it. Where is it we behold strifes? where scandals? where quarrels? where envyings? where emulations? Is it not in the church of the clergy? Is it not among those who ought to have given the light of their example to the people put under their care? And finally we behold the stars of heaven fall without number to the earth; or the fall resulting from the wickedness of heresy, or, as is the case with many, into carnal delights. And no wonder! For our Counsellor is departed far from us, provoked by the multitude of our inventions.”

. . . “In that night will the light be hidden, and, as when a book is rolled up, whatsoever is within it does not appear, so will the whole church of the saints be hidden from view. For thus will the elect of God, whatsoever wisdom they possess, keep it to themselves; so that the darkness then prevailing, they will not venture to preach in public. Not that the faithful will desist from prayer and from exhortation in private, but that they will not venture to preach in public. Hence it is said of the beast which cometh up out of the earth, and the false prophets mentioned by John. . . ‘He shall cause that none shall sell or buy but those who have the mark of the beast.’ For the sellers are the preachers in the church, and the buyers are the hearers. For the former sell precious stones, the latter give for them all they can; and at a sum which they themselves have freely received, purchase that which cannot be purchased by gold. But in that day of darkness, it will not be allowable to those who obey not the law of the beast to sell or buy; because at that time it will not be allowable to preach, or to countenance a preacher with impunity, except to those who fear not publicly to profess themselves the disciples of the beast.”

Pellicanus observes, Apocalypse, p. 24;—

“We may therefore not inaptly understand the darkening of the sun to signify a defect of the simple and pure doctrine of Christ, the abomination of Antichrist increasing and now even obtaining among all the churches, according as it was said, ‘When the Son of Man cometh, think you that he will find faith upon the earth?’ In like manner also the fervour of charity is now grown cold.”

Pearson; Apocalypse, p. 140;—

“Upon the sounding of the fourth trumpet, the same kind of stroke, which had fallen upon the other divisions of the creation, falls upon the heavenly luminaries, the sun, the moon, and the stars;and the third part of them is smitten, and ceases to give light. Under the symbolical imagery of the darkening of these luminaries, is represented, in the prophetical language of the Old Testament, the removal of that glory which was vouchsafed by the Almighty to his chosen kingdom and people. In the same manner, by the increasing splendor of these heavenly luminaries, are represented the increasing glories of the Christian dispensation; and there is frequent allusion to this mode of expression in the apostolical writings. Under the imagery, therefore, which is contained under this trumpet, is represented the spiritual darkness which followed the promulgation of those heretical opinions which were directly opposed to the great and vital doctrines of the Gospel, and which so effectually obscured the purity and simplicity of the Christian faith.”

Hooper; Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 151;—

“The Lord Jesus, the Sun of righteousness, from whom emanates all the light the church receives, was hidden, by giving to man those prerogatives which belong unto Christ alone. The Lord Jesus Christ being hidden by the assumptions of the papal hierarchy, the church was deprived of her light, which she had ever until then received from the Lord, that she might give light, during the night of the darkness of this world, to those that dwell upon the earth. The church being deprived of her light, the ministers ceased also to enlighten them that were in darkness, and to guide their feet into the paths of peace. This darkening of the ordinances of heaven, or the church, by the obscuration of the ruling, enlightening, and guiding power of the Lord Jesus, is fitly represented by the darkening of the third part of the sun, moon, and stars, bringing that spiritual darkness over the earth which prevailed during this period’, called emphatically in the page of ecclesiastical history, ‘the Dark Ages.'”

And in p. 183, the author applies the same symbols to the time of the French Revolution;—

“Spiritually, the Lord Jesus, the Sun of righteousness, was eclipsed, and his light esteemed as darkness, human reason being worshipped instead of the Lord! Ecclesiastically, the authorities and rulers in the church lost all power and influence over the people, their office being utterly disregarded. ‘The moon’ also, which symbolizes the church, was in consequence deprived of her light ‘and became as blood,’ suffering equally with the ordinances of rule in the kingdom, through the infidelity with which she was leavened. ‘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 stars’ are the ministers of the church, who by these mighty convulsions fell from their places, being deprived of their offices and services. Their falling to the earth may also relate to the infidelity with which they themselves also were leavened, loosing all faith in their ecclesiastical and spiritual standing as ministers of Christ, as well as to their office being regarded as secular only.”

Mr. Newman applies the same symbols to the state of the church in the present time. Thus in his Sermons on Subjects of the Day, p. 378;—

“Alas! I cannot deny that the outward notes of the church are partly gone from us, and partly going; and a most fearful judgment it is. ‘Behold . . . the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.’ ‘I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day. And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation.’ ‘All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over them, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord God.’ This in good measure hath fallen upon us. The church of God is under eclipse among us. Where is our unity, for which Christ prayed? where our charity, which He enjoined? where the faith once delivered, when each has his own doctrine? where our visibility, which was to be a light to the world? where that awful worship, which struck fear into every soul? And what is the consequence? ‘We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes; we stumble at noonday as in the night: we are in desolate places as dead men.’ And as the Jews shortly before their own rejection had two dark tokens, — the one, a bitter contempt of the whole world, and the other, multiplied divisions and furious quarrels at home, — so we English, as if some abomination of desolation were coming on us also, scorn almost all Christianity but our own; and yet have, not one, but a hundred gospels among ourselves, and each of them with its own hot defenders, till our very note and symbol is discord, and we wrangle and denounce, and call it life; but peace we know not, nor faith, nor love. And this being so, what a temptation is it to those who read and understand the Word of God, who perceive what it enjoins and promises, and also feel keenly what we are, — what a temptation is it to many such to be impatient under this visitation! Who indeed is there at all, who lets himself dwell upon the thought of it, but must at times be deeply troubled at it? and who can be startled, not I, if a person here or there, painfully sensible of this fearful eclipse of the sun of truth, and hoping, if that be possible, to find something better elsewhere; and either not having cherished, or neglecting to look for those tokens of Christ’s presence in the church, which are personal to himself, leaves us for some other communion?”

On reviewing the foregoing interpretations, there are some points upon which it will be desirable more particularly to enlarge.

Swedenborg observes that by the moon being turned into blood is signified “the falsification of the truth of faith.” Mr. Horne, in his Index to the Symbolical Language of Scripture, observes, that in Rev. vii., 14, by blood is meant the doctrines of the cross. In that passage the symbol is taken in a good sense. In the present, all agree that it is taken in a bad sense; therefore it must mean those doctrines falsified and corrupted, as will be abundantly shewn in the sequel, in which the symbol blood occurs very frequently.

Again, Swedenborg observes that by being shaken by the wind is meant being shaken by the reasonings of the natural man. The same correspondence is used by the apostle Paul in Eph. iv., 14, “carried about by every wind of doctrine,” which De Lyra interprets as the persuasions of wicked men. Scott in his Commentaries, as being carried about “with the false and pernicious doctrines which subtle and ingenious men devised, and by the plausible reasonings and pretences with which they propagated them.” And the Religious Tract Society, as being carried about “by false and pernicious doctrines devised of men, and set forth by plausible reasonings and pretences.” A similar interpretation is given by Calvin and A Lapide; only that Calvin applies it to the church of Rome, and A Lapide to the Protestant church; thus showing how the existing church is itself blown about by contrary winds, or agitated by contrary reasonings. [4] Moreover, Seneca observes at the end of his book, De Vita Beata: “Turbo quidem animos vestros rotat et involvit, fugientes petentesque eadem; et nunc in sublime allevatos, nunc in infima allisos rapit.” (Grotius.)

‘By hiding themselves in the dens and rocks of mountains,’ &c., is signified, according to Swedenborg, that they were now in evils and in the falses of evil and in confirmations of evil by means of falses. Accordingly Lauretus observes, art. Spelunca;—

…”The cave in the mouth of which stood Elias, is this habitation of corruption, in which we are detained from times of old. This is the cave in which are hidden the five kings; Joshua XX. The caverns of the earth are the senses of man.” (Gregory, Jerome.)

“The caverns of the earth may he said to be evil thoughts, (Gregory, Jerome), in which heretics or wicked men hide themselves from human eyes. For wicked men shun appearing to others such as they are; and while they pretend to be other than they are, conceal themselves in the coverts of their own consciousness, as in caverns.”

“A den of thieves may be said to be a soul full of evil thoughts, sins, rapines, &c. Heresies also may be said to be a den of thieves.” (Gregory.)

Ibid.; art. Petra;—

“Impending rocks are the errors of heretics, (Jerome, Origen, Augustin, Isychius). The rock in the hole of which Jeremiah hid his girdle, may signify protection of vices and errors.”

“Precipices may signify the concupiscence and sin which occupy the mind and body of heretics.” (Gregory.)

Caverns, moreover, may be said to be the carnal senses of the law, (Gregory, Jerome);also the occult preachings of heretics; and their councils, which are the secret places where Christ is said to be.”

Pyle, Paraphrase on the Apocalypse, p. 59;—

“‘Hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks; and said to the mountains. Fall on us.’ Exactly the words of Isaiah ii., 19, 20. See also Hosea x., 8, speaking of these very times, the latter days, viz., the times of the Christian church.”

From a review of the various interpretations of this seal, it may be seen how the exposition of Swedenborg embraces all, and harmonizes all; and how in return they add their own testimony to his exposition. For,

First, the prophecy relates to the Last Judgment. Secondly, it is not to be understood in relation to the church upon earth in a literal sense.

Thirdly, Antichrist is not an individual but a moral body of persons, that is to say, a professing church.

Fourthly, it is the consummation of this church that is here described.

Fifthly, although according to Swedenborg the primary application is to the consummation of the church in the spiritual world, yet this extends its effects to the church upon earth, where a similar consummation is effected, as described in its general features by the foregoing authors. For all agree that,

The earthquake relates to a great change in the church.

The sun, moon, and stars, to the extinction of love or charity, light, and knowledge.

The shaking of the fig-tree by the wind and the casting of figs to the earth, to errors and apostasies induced by false [5] reasonings, &c.

The departure of heaven, to the departure of the knowledge of the Scriptures, and of the church.

Mountains, islands, kings of the earth, great men, &c., to men according to their several grades and conditions in the church.

Rocks, &c., to the refuges of the wicked, who betake themselves to darkness, and lies.

The Lamb, to the Glorified Humanity, as expressly noticed by Richard of St. Victor, Marloratus, &c.

It is observed by Vitringa that the judgment here described is not against the church, but against the enemies of the church. Who then are these enemies? According to Vitringa they are the church of Rome; that is to say, the enemies of the church are those who call themselves the true church, the only church, the catholic church; a circumstance not peculiar to the church of Rome.

We observe, finally, that the first four seals are descriptive of the states of the church now made manifest; according to the command to ‘Come and see.’ After which follows a separation of those described by the white horse and its rider from those described by the red, black, and pale horses with their riders respectively. In the same manner as persons who had lived together in outward friendship so long as their inward character was not known, immediately separate when it becomes manifested, and is seen to be hostile the one to the other. The consequence is, the good flee to the altar of Christ for protection, the wicked to the mountains and rocks, to the dens and caves of the earth. The former betake themselves to the temple, the latter to the wilderness; and as the wicked are preserved only for the sake of the good, so when the good are taken away, the wicked are left to themselves, and to the further developments and discriminations of their character, preliminary to their condemnation.

For a fuller consideration of this subject the reader is referred to the respective articles in the Apocalypse Revealed, and the Apocalypse Explained.

Author’s notes & References

1. Alcasar objects to this seal being made to apply to the Last Judgment; because, he says, it interrupts the continuous order of the Apocalypse, which he regards as a fundamental principle in the structure of this book. According to the system inculcated by Swedenborg, not only does the sixth seal but all the seals refer to the Last Judgment, and in such a way as nevertheless strictly to observe the uninterrupted and continuous order insisted on by Alcasar.

2. “And the heaven departed as a scroll: as a book rolled up contains within, mysteries which do not appear without; so at that time will the church, known only to its own, discretely avoiding persecution, withdraw itself; so that being hidden, it may not be seen by those who are extraneous to it.” (Bede.)

3. This seems to be the true reading; although the original is, a parte totum intelligitur; which seems to be a misprint for a toto pars intelligitur; as we read in the Sixth Homily; yet Ambrose says, tota sane & non ex parte.

4. See also Cartwright’s Annotations on the Rhemish Testament; Eph. iv., 14.

5. See what is said on the four winds, chap. vii.