The Sixth Seal - (Revelation 6:12-17)

SYNOPSIS:  The sixth seal ushers in the Day of the Lord, the time of wrath and judgment upon the inhabitants of the earth for their opposition to the Lamb – No one can stand before the throne.

Photo by O12 on Unsplash
Photo by O12 on Unsplash
The sixth seal is opened, and the celestial and terrestrial trauma associated with the Day of the Lord appears. This is nothing less than the “great day of the wrath of God and of the Lamb.” Men from all societal ranks panic as the wrath appears imminent. Every attempt by the “inhabitants of the earth” to hide from the Lamb and the One Who sits on the throne is in vain. There is no escape for anyone and no one is able to “stand” before the throne.

(Revelation 6:12-17) – “And I beheld when he 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 to the earth, even as a fig tree casts her untimely figs when shaken by 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 sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb!’ For the great day of his wrath is come, and who will be able to stand?”

At the beginning and the end of the book, Christ’s return is something glorious, an event eagerly anticipated by his followers. “Behold, he comes with clouds, and every eye shall see him”; “Surely I come quickly; even so, come, Lord Jesus.” But when the sixth seal is opened, only doom and destruction are unleashed on all men and the entire created order is in chaos. All this is presented to raise an issue:  Who can stand before the Lamb on that day? That is the crux of the matter; all the noise and drama of this scene sets the stage for this question (Revelation 1:722:20).

The fifth seal left events dangling. The martyrs pleaded for judgment and vindication but did not receive it. Instead, they were told they must wait for the complete number of the witnesses to be assembled. But if judgment arrives at this point, no human being will remain standing before the onslaught of God’s wrath.

The sixth seal produces “a great earthquake,” which initiates chaos throughout the cosmos. This picture draws imagery from several Old Testament passages related to the “Day of Yahweh” (Revelation 8:511:13-1916:18):

(Joel 2:10) - “The earthquakes before them; the heavens tremble; the sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.”

(Joel 2:30-32) - “And I will set forth wonders in the heavens and on the earth; blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awful Day of Yahweh.”

 (Isaiah 34:3-5) - “Then shall be dissolved all the host of the heavens, and the heavens shall roll up as a scroll, Yea, all their host shall fade like the fading and falling of a leaf from a vine, and like what fades and falls from a fig-tree.”

This seal opening anticipates the “Day of Yahweh.” The disruption is universal, not local. The overthrow of the existing order prepares for the arrival of the New Creation. This is not another series of plagues; instead, it is the end of the age and the hour of the final judgment. The “hour of trial” has arrived (Revelation 3:10).

Cosmic chaos causes terror in all levels of society; neither political rank nor economic standing can save anyone from the imminent wrath. All hope is gone; it is too late for everyone when this day arrives. There is no place to hide, no escape. The section draws heavily on Isaiah 2:17-21. Note the verbal parallels:

(Isaiah 2:17-21) - “And the haughtiness of mean men shall be humbled, and the loftiness of great men shall be laid low, and Yahweh alone shall be exalted in that day.  And the idols shall wholly pass away, and they shall enter into the holes of the rocks and into the caves of clay, because of the terribleness of Yahweh and for his majestic splendor when he arises to shake terribly the earth. In that day shall the son of earth cast his idols of silver and his idols of gold, which had been made for him to worship, into the hole of the mice and to the bats; that he may enter into the clefts of the rocks and into the fissures of the crags, because of the terribleness of Yahweh and for his majestic splendor, when he arises to shake terribly the earth.”

The “inhabitants of the earth” are divided into several categories ranging from kings to slaves: “kings of the earth, princes, chief captains, the rich, the strong, slaves and freeman.” Parallel groupings of society also occur in later passages (“kings, captains, mighty men, freemen, slaves, the lowly and the great ones” – Revelation 13:15-18, 19:17-21).

This is the predicted “hour of trial” that is to come upon the “whole habitable earth” from which Jesus promised to keep the church at Philadelphia. The martyrs under the altar were told to wait for the completion of their number before receiving their vindication. Yet at this point in the narrative, no one is prepared for the arrival of wrath, hence the question – “Who can stand?” (Revelation 3:10)
What strikes terror in men’s hearts is the knowledge that “wrath” is about to fall, wrath from which there is no possibility of escape. In the book of Revelation, “wrath” (orge) refers to the final judgment at the end of the age (Revelation 11:18, 14:10, 16:19, 19:15).
The passage already included terminology from Joel 2:10-11: “Great is the day of Yahweh and awful exceedingly, Who then shall endure it?” This is the literary source of the question, though John has changed “endure” to “stand.” Another possible source is Nahum 1:2-6:

Yahweh is an avenger and a lord of wrath, an avenger towards his adversaries…Mountains have trembled because of him, and the hills have melted, and the earth has lifted itself up at his presence, the world also and all who dwell in it. Before his wrath, Who will stand? And who will abide the fierceness of his wrath?

The primary Old Testament source for the sixth seal is the passage from Isaiah 2:19-22, as pointed out above. It ends with, “Because of the terribleness of Yahweh and for his majestic, splendor, when he rises to shake terribly the earth. Cease from man in whose nostrils is breath, for what account is he?”

The question of the martyrs under the altar received a partial answer; they must wait until all the Lamb’s witnesses are assembled. But the sixth seal ends with this question left hanging - Can anyone stand before the Lamb?

Both questions will be addressed in the next two paragraphs - The assembly of the servants of God and the innumerable multitude that will “stand” before the Lamb and the Throne. The events set into motion by the death of the Lamb have yet to run their full course; the consummation of this process must wait until the full number of witnesses is counted and gathered before the throne (Revelation 7:1-87:9-17).

This vision is not about bringing in an exact number of martyrs foreordained in “eternity past” but, rather, the completion of the testimony of the saints before the “inhabitants of the earth.” The vision of the sealing of 144,000 males from Israel and its interpretation will provide further insight (Revelation 7:1-17).

The sixth seal ends with an open question: Who can stand before the Lamb on the day of wrath? The noise and drama of the first six seals have brought the reader to this point in order to answer this question.


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