It would be difficult to paint any scene more moving or more terrible than that described at the opening of the sixth seal.1 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. 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.2When the sixth seal is opened, there are unmistakable global signs of astronomical proportions, but the Lamb has yet to ride forth on His horse (Rev. Rev. 19:11+)He is still in heaven loosing seals. How can His riding forth to destroy the armies of the earth be tonight if none of these unmistakable signs have transpired? Yet Scripture teaches His coming is imminent. The answer to this dilemma, as weve seen, is in recognizing that signs precede His final arrival in judgment, but not His coming as a bridegroom for His bridea separate coming which precedes these events. See Rapture.
By the time of the sixth seal, the Day of the Lord must be already underway. Having already come without warning, like a thief in the night, it is now made unmistakable to the earth dwellers in the cosmic signs which attend this seal:
Paul declared that the broad Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the nightsuddenly, unexpectedly, when the victims are unprepared [1Th. 1Th. 5:2]. A thief depends upon the element of surprise for success. He does not give his intended victims a forewarning of his coming. Pauls pointthe unsaved will be given no forewarning of the coming of the broad Day of the Lordrules out any of the seals of Revelation as being forewarnings of the beginning of the broad Day. For example, it rules out the sixth seal (Rev. Rev. 6:12-14+) which will cause great cosmic disturbances and a major earthquake causing the people of the world to flee to the mountains in terror (Rev. Rev. 6:15-17+). . . . if the disturbances of the sixth seal were a precursor to the Day of the Lord, the unsaved thereby would be given a graphic forewarning of its coming and will not be caught by surprise when it comes. Thus, the Day of the Lord would not come unexpectedly like a thief in the night.3a great earthquake
The uniquely intense earthquakes which attend the judgments of the Tribulation period provide tangible evidence of Gods hand in the events which transpire (Rev. Rev. 6:12+; Rev. 8:5+; Rev. 11:13+; Rev. 16:18+ cf. Mtt. Mat. 27:54). During the Tribulation, even though men understand the source of the earthquakes, most fail to repent (Rev. Rev. 6:16+). A rare exception is the case of the great earthquake in Jerusalem, where those who avoid death gave glory to the God of heaven (Rev. Rev. 11:13+).
Jesus said great earthquakes would be one of the signs of the beginning of sorrows (Mtt. Mat. 24:7-8). The OT prophets also predicted a time where God would intensely shake the earth.4 Haggai revealed that global earthquakes and the overthrow of the Gentile kingdoms would precede the return of Gods glory to His (millennial) Temple:5
For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory, says the Lord of hosts. . . . I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I will destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms. I will overthrow the chariots And those who ride in them; the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother. In that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will take you, Zerubbabel My servant, the son of Shealtiel, says the Lord, and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the Lord of hosts. (Hag Hag. 2:6-7, Hag. 2:22-23)Joel saw earthquakes associated with the mighty judgments of God poured out in the Day of the Lord, judgments which were intended to cause people to turn to God.
The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble; the sun and moon grow dark, and the stars diminish their brightness. The LORD gives voice before His army, for His camp is very great; for strong is the One who executes His word. For the day of the LORD is great and very terrible; who can endure it? Now, therefore, says the LORD, Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. (Joel Joel 2:10-12)The earthquake affects more than just the face of the earth. Σεισμὸς [Seismos] means Mat. 8:24].6 In the Septuagint, it is used in Joel Joel 2:10 to describe the heavens trembling.7 This catastrophic event extends beyond the geography of the earth to effect the cosmic realm.
the sun became black as sackcloth of hair
Jesus said that cosmic signs would be associated with the time of the end (Mtt. Mat. 24:29; Mark Mark 13:24-25; Luke Luke 21:11). From other considerations, we understand that the signs associated with this sixth seal are not the only cosmic signs of this time period.8
The Isaiah Isa. 13:9-10 and Joel Joel 3:14-15 passages [concerning cosmic disturbances] clearly take place within the Day of the Lord, . . . Joel Joel 2:30-31 describes cosmic disturbances before the Day of the Lord. In the prophetic scheme of things, there are several cosmic disturbances.9
There are reasons for concluding that the cosmic disturbances related to the beginning of the Joel Joel 3:1 Day of the Lord and the Second Coming of Christ immediately after the Great Tribulation are not the same as those of the sixth seal. First, the cosmic disturbances of Joel Joel 3:1 will occur when the armies of the nations have gathered for war in Israel. Those armies will not begin to gather for war until the sixth bowl has been poured out (Rev. Rev. 16:12-16+), long after the sixth sealone seal, seven trumpets, and five bowls after the cosmic disturbances of the sixth seal. . . . other cosmic disturbances will occur after those of the sixth seal. A third of the sun, moon, and stars will be darkened by the fourth trumpet (Rev. Rev. 8:12+); the sun will be darkened by smoke from the abyss at the fifth trumpet (Rev. Rev. 9:1-2+); the sun will scorch people on the earth with fire and fierce heat when the fourth bowl is poured out (Rev. Rev. 16:8-9+). . . . when the cosmic disturbances of the sixth seal take place, kings, military men, and all other classes of people will run to the caves and rocks of the mountains to hide. . . . By contrast, when the cosmic disturbances immediately before the Joel Joel 3:1 Day of the Lord occur after the sixth bowl, the kings and military men will not run and hide. Rather, they will remain assembled together in battle array to boldly attempt war against God, His Messiah, and the holy angels (Ps. Ps. 2:1-3; Joel Joel 3:9-16; Zec. Zec. 12:2-9; Zec. 14:1-6, Zec. 14:12-14).10The sun and moon were created for signs (Gen. Gen. 1:14).11 They now provide indication that the events associated with this seal cannot be explained by natural phenomenabut result from the One Who controls the universe!
The darkening of the sun may be from the perspective of viewers on the earthdue to material ejected into the upper atmosphere by the earthquake or the impact of asteroids in the next verse. Although the sun is darkened, the moon continues to reflect light (as if the path light follows between the sun and moon is only minimally affected). In the fifth trumpet judgment, it is smoke which darkens the sun (Rev. Rev. 9:2+).
Eventually, like the earth, the sun and moon are judged to show those who dwell on the earth Who the true source of light isthe Lord Himself. If the trend in our own day is any indication, worship of the heavenly bodies will still be prevalent at that time and so God interferes with that which man has idolized (Zep. Zep. 1:5).12 As always, the message is to turn from dead idols to serve the living God:
The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; but the Lord will be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, nor shall your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended. (Isa. Isa. 60:19-20)the moon became like blood
ἡ σελήνη ὅλη [hē selēnē holē] , the entire moon in all its fullness. John uses simile to describe the effects upon the moon. The entire moon takes on a reddish appearance, as when atmospheric dust darkens or moisture refracts its light. The red appearance conveys the idea of judgment.
3 Ibid., 60.
4 McLean believes this earthquake to be correlated with the timing of the Abomination of Desolation: If the time sequence of A (the Abomination of Desolation at the midpoint of the Seventieth Week of Daniel and the tribulation of the synoptics), equals B (at this time the people flee to the mountains and women are warned about impending dangers); and the time frame of B equals C (the people cry out for the mountains to fall on them); and the reference C equals D (the sixth seal of Revelation when the wrath of God and the Lamb initiate the great day of their wrath, and people cry for the mountains to fall on them), then A (the Abomination of Desolation at the midpoint of Daniels Seventieth Week), equals or occurs at the [same] time as D (the time of the sixth seal of the Apocalypse).John A. McLean, Structure of the Book of Revelation, in Mal Couch, ed., Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 375-376.
5 In this passage Zerubbabel typifies the Messiah.
6 Frederick William Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 746.
7 John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), Rev. 6:12.
8 Fruchtenbaum recognizes five cosmic disturbances: one before the seven years, three during, and one after.Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, A Review of the Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, n.d.), 25.
11 Passages describing astronomical signs: Isa. Isa. 5:30; Isa. 13:10; Isa. 24:23; Isa. 30:26; Isa. 50:3; Jer. Jer. 4:23-28; Eze. Eze. 32:7; Joel Joel 2:10; Joel 2:31; Joel 3:15; Amos Amos 8:9; Mtt. Mat. 24:29; Mark Mark 13:24; Luke Luke 21:25; Luke 23:45; Acts Acts 2:20; Rev. Rev. 6:12+; Rev. 8:12+; Rev. 9:2+.
12 Concerning the worship of heavenly bodies: Gen. Gen. 11:4; Deu. Deu. 4:19; Deu. 17:3; 2K. 2K. 17:16; 2K. 23:5, 2K. 23:11; 2Chr. 2Chr. 33:3; Job Job 31:26-28; Isa. Isa. 47:13; Jer. Jer. 8:2; Jer. 10:2; Jer. 19:13; Acts Acts 7:42; Rom. Rom. 1:25; Rev. Rev. 8:12+.