The sixth seal describes a point in time just before Armageddon.

6:12 I looked when He broke the sixth seal,

and there was a great earthquake;
and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair,
and the whole moon became like blood;
13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth,
as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind.
14 The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up,
and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.

15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man
hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains;
16 and they said to the mountains and to the rocks,

“Fall on us and hide us
from the presence of Him who sits on the throne,
and from the wrath of the Lamb;
17 for the great day of their wrath has come,
and who is able to stand?”

SUMMARY

This seal divides into two parts:

    • Dramatic natural events (Rev 6:12-14).
    • The reaction of people who live in rebellion against God (Rev 6:15-17)

Literally interpreted, everything in heaven and on earth is destroyed. But we should not interpret these signs symbolically because, even after the stars have fallen on the earth (Rev 6:13), the people still hide in the mountains.

Him who sits on the throne” is the Father. The Lamb is Jesus Christ. He now appears as the loving Ruler of the universe, but for people who have cursed God all their lives, His appearance is pure torment.

THE SIXTH SEAL IS NOT YET THE END.

The sixth seal seems to be the end of all things. A “great earthquake” moves islands and mountains out of their places and the signs in the sun, moon, and stars are associated with the return of Christ (Matt 24:29). But it is not yet the end, for the hiding multitude will be put to death when Christ returns (Rev 19:18-21). The sixth seal, therefore, describes the situation on the earth immediately before the destruction of the lost at His return. (See, The Case for Annihilationism.)

THE SIXTH SEAL IS THE DAY OF THE LORD.

These signs in the sun, moon, and stars, coupled with the phrase “the great day,” identify the sixth seal as the well-known Old Testament “great and terrible Day of the LORD.” The New Testament converts the Day of the Lord into the Second Coming of Jesus; the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:8).

THE SIXTH SEAL DESCRIBES CONDITIONS AFTER THE PLAGUES.

During the seven last plagues, the people still refuse to repent (Rev 16:9, 11) but in the sixth seal, the people hide in the mountains from the wrath of the Lamb (Rev 6:15-17). This, therefore, must be after the plagues.

The revenge requested in the fifth plague is the judgment on Babylon (compare Rev 6:9-11 to Rev 19:2), which is the seventh plague (Rev 16:19; cf. 16:6). Since the sixth seal is after the plagues, it is a point in time after that revenge.

THE SIXTH SEAL IS JUST BEFORE ARMAGEDDON

In the sixth seal, “the great day of their wrath has come” (Rev 6:17). The “great day” is also called Armageddon (Rev 16:14-16). The sixth plague only prepares for the “great day” through the gathering of the kings. Christ’s return, as described in Revelation 19:11-21, is the real Armageddon, for then the kings of the earth and their armies are gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army (Rev 19:19).

Has come” in the phrase “the great day of their wrath has come” (Rev 6:17) means that “the great day” is about to begin (e.g., Rev 14:15). In other words, the sixth seal brings us to just before the slaughter of Armageddon (Rev 19:17-18), at the return of Christ. 

THE SIXTH SEAL DIVIDES THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD INTO TWO GROUPS.

The multitude that hides in the mountains asks, “who is able to stand” (Rev 6:17)?  After an interruption (Rev 7:1-8), the seventh seal continues when Revelation 7 answers that question by describing “a great multitude which no one could count … standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7:9). The sixth seal, therefore, divides the world into these two multitudes. As Jesus said:

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, …
All the nations will be gathered before Him;
and He will separate them from one another,
as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats

(Matt 25:31-32).

– END OF SUMMARY – 

INTRODUCTION

The sixth seal is the longest of all the seals. Of the 17 verses in chapter 6, it occupies 6.

This seal divides into two parts:

    • Dramatic natural events (Rev 6:12-14).
    • The reaction of people who live in rebellion against God (Rev 6:15-17)

The expression – The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up – suggests that the sky rips apart at the zenith (top) and rolls up in both directions.

THESE SINGS ARE SYMBOLIC.

Literally interpreted, this is creation in reverse; everything in heaven and on earth is destroyed. The word “every” appears 3 times in this seal, indicating the worldwide nature of this cataclysm. It truly transcends all past experience.

But we should not interpret these signs literally because, even after the stars have fallen on the earth (Rev 6:13), the people hide in the mountains.

HIM WHO SIT ON THE THRONE

They hide from “Him who sits on the throne” and from the wrath of the Lamb (Rev 6:15-17). “Him who sits on the throne” (Rev 6:16) refers to the Father. For example, in Rev 5:13, the entire creation gives glory “to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” “The Lamb” is Jesus Christ. He appears as the loving Ruler of the universe, but for people who have cursed God all their lives, His appearance is pure torment.

In the sixth seal, the multitude in the mountains tries to hide from the Father’s “presence.” The Scriptures, elsewhere, do not say that the Father will accompany Christ when He returns.  Perhaps we must understand this as that “the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father” (Matt 16:27), for the Father cannot be seen. For example:

    • Christ “is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).
    • The King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim 1:17)
    • “Who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim 6:16).

THIS IS NOT YET THE END.

The sixth seal does not concern ordinary events in the course of human history. A “great earthquake” moves islands and mountains out of their places and the signs in the sun, moon, and stars are associated with the return of Christ (Matt 24:29). The people hide in the mountains and cry for the rocks and mountains to fall on them, but it is not yet the end, for the hiding multitude will be put to death when Christ returns: 

The rest were killed with the sword
which came from the mouth
of Him who sat on the horse,
and all the birds were filled with their flesh

(Rev 19:18-21).

The sixth seal describes the lost immediately before their destruction in the seventh seal.

THIS SEAL DESCRIBES A SINGLE MOMENT IN TIME.

Rev 6:12-14, describing the natural disasters, begins with “a great earthquake” and end with “every mountain and island were moved out of their places.” Some see two earthquakes in the text and, therefore, propose that these verses describe a series of events rather than a single event.  But perhaps the more natural reading of the text is that the mountains move out of their places as a result of the preceding events, which would mean that verses 12-14 describe a single moment in time.

OLD TESTAMENT ALLUSIONS

This seal alludes to a huge number of Old Testament verses, but we should not assume that these words and phrases retain the same meaning in Revelation. Revelation often alludes to Old Testament passages but changes the meaning. For example:

    • In Revelation 17, the waters of Babylon become a symbol for the peoples of the world (Rev 17:15).
    • The ten horns of the fourth beast in Daniel 7 are not the same as the ten horns of the beast in Revelation. Actually, in Daniel 7, there are 11 horns and, as discussed, the 11th horn is the beast in Revelation, which has 10 horns.
    • Hosea 10:8 predicted that the idolaters of Samaria would one day “say to the mountains, ‘Cover us,’ and to the hills, ‘Fall on us.” As shown below, the sixth seal applies this language to the Second Coming.

THE WRATH OF THE LAMB

The concept “wrath of the Lamb” (Rev 6:16) is certainly paradoxical. The third angel later similarly warns that people who accept the mark of the beast “will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence … of the Lamb” (Rev 14:10). We should not think that Jesus will become cruel. He will always love every one of God’s creatures (Rev 4:10-11). We need to find an explanation of these symbols that retain the principle that God is love.

THE SIXTH SEAL IS THE DAY OF THE LORD.

The signs in the sun, moon, and stars are found frequently in the Old Testament (Isa 13:10-13; 34:4; Ezek 32:7-8; 38:19-20; Jer 4:23-27; Joel 2:30-31; 3:15; Amos 8:9-10; Nahum 3:12 and Micah 3:6), usually associated with the Day of the Lord; the great, final Old Testament day of judgment, when He judges His opponents and delivers His people. For that reason these signs, particularly when coupled with the phrase “the great day,” identify the sixth seal as the well-known Old Testament “Day of the Lord,” also called:

      • Great day of the Lord” (Zeph 1:14),
      • Day of the LORD’S wrath” (Zeph 1:18),
      • Great and terrible day of the LORD” (Mal 4:5) or simply the
      • Great day” (Jude 1:6).

Joel describes the signs in the heavenly bodies on this day:

The sun will be turned into darkness
and the moon into blood
” 

(Joel 2:31; Act 2:20; compare Isa 13:10).

Similar to the sixth seal:

The earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of the LORD of hosts in the day of His burning anger” (Isa 13:13).

Men will go into caves of the rocks and into holes of the ground before the terror of the LORD” (Isa 2:19).

Who can endure” the day of the LORD? (Joel 2:11)

DAY OF JUDGMENT

The Day of the Lord will a day of judgment (Jude 1:6):

As you have done, it will be done to you. Your dealings will return on your own head” (Obad 1:15).

It is a day of “fury and burning angerwhen God will exterminate sinners (Isa 13:9; Zeph 1:18; 2:2). 

DAY OF THE LORD IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

The New Testament adopts the concept of the Day of the Lord. 2 Peter 3:10 adds destruction on earth to the signs in the heavens:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,
in which the heavens will pass away with a roar …
and the earth and its works will be burned up
.”

But the New Testament applies Old Testament Day of the Lord imagery to the Second Coming of Jesus and refers to it as:

      • The “day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:8),
      • The “day of Christ” (Phil 1:6, 10), or
      • The “day of judgment” (1 John 2:28 and 4:17).

This supports the sense that the sixth seal is approaching the end of the world’s history.

SYNOPTIC APOCALYPSE

The description of the sixth seal bears a striking resemblance to Matthew 24:29, which is part of Jesus’ Synoptic Apocalypse:

Immediately after the distress of those days
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken
” (NIV).

Verse 30 continues, “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky” (cf. Luke 21:25-28; Mark 13).

This confirms that signs in the sun, moon, and stars, in the New Testament refer to His return.

THE SIXTH SEAL IS JUST BEFORE ARMAGEDDON.

This section compares the sixth seal to the other symbols in Revelation and dates the sixth seal as:

    • After the seven last plagues,
    • After the revenge promised in the fifth plague, and
    • Just before the slaughter at Armageddon.

AT THE END OF THE SEVEN LAST PLAGUES

During the plagues, the people refuse to repent (Rev 16:9, 11) but in the sixth seal, they hide in the mountains from the wrath of the Lamb (Rev 6:15-17). This scene is described elsewhere as that the tribes of the earth mourn when they see the Son of Man coming (Matt 24:29-30; Rev 1:7, see also Luke 23:30). It is the cry of those who realize that there is no escape from a dreadful fate.

The sixth seal, therefore, must be after or at the end of the seven last plagues.

The “great earthquake,” that moves islands and mountains out of their places, appears in both the sixth seal and the seventh plague (Rev 6:14; 16:18). This confirms that the sixth seal relates to the end of the seven last plagues.

AFTER THE REVENGE PROMISED IN THE FIFTH PLAGUE

In the fifth seal, “the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God” ask God, “How long … will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood?” They are told; “for a little while longer” (Rev 6:9-11).

In Revelation 19:2, the same great multitude as in Revelation 7 praises God because He has already “avenged the blood of his bond-servants.” All main concepts from the fifth seal, such as judge, avenge, and the slain fellow-servants, are found in Rev 19:2. This verse, therefore, praises God that He has executed the judgment requested in the fifth seal.

The great multitude adds that their deaths were avenged on “the great harlot.” This refers to Babylon (Rev 18:21; 17:1, 5). She is guilty of the death of all God’s people that have ever been killed (Rev 18:24). She receives God’s fierce wrath in the seventh plague (16:19). Rev 19:2, therefore, indicates that God fulfilled the request of the souls under the altar in the seventh plague.

But the third plague also avenged “the blood of saints and prophets” (Rev 16:6). Therefore, the seven last plagues are the “judging and avenging” requested from God in the fifth seal.

In conclusion, the “judging and avenging,” requested by God’s saints in the fifth seal, are fulfilled in the seven last plagues. And since the sixth seal describes the situation in the world at the end of the seven last plagues, the sixth seal also describes the world after God has avenged the deaths of His people, as requested in the fifth seal.

JUST BEFORE ARMAGEDDON

In the sixth seal, “the great day of their wrath has come” (6:17). In the sixth plague, the kings of the world are gathered for the “great day” at a place called Armageddon (Rev 16:14-16). The “great day,” therefore, is Armageddon.

The sixth plague is not the “great day” itself. It is only the preparation for that day through the gathering of the kings. We should, therefore, look for the “great day” (Armageddon) in the seventh plague. This is supported by the fact that both the sixth seal and the seventh plague contain “a great earthquake” that causes islands and mountains to move out of their places (Rev 6:12-14; 16:18-20).

The seventh plague is interrupted by Revelation 17 and 18 which jump back in time to explain the origin, nature, and the end of Babylon. The seventh plague continues in Revelation 19 (compare 16:19 with 19:2). Revelation 19 ends with the return of Christ (Rev 19:11-21). The seventh plague, therefore, is followed by the return of Christ.

Christ’s return, as described in Revelation 19:11-21, is the real Armageddon, for while the sixth plague is the gathering together of the kings (16:16), at His return, the kings of the earth and their armies are gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army (Rev 19:19).

In the sixth seal, “the great day of their wrath has come” (Rev 6:17). “Has come,” in Revelation, does not mean that the identified event has already come, but that it is about to begin (e.g., Rev 14:15). In other words, the sixth seal brings us to the brink of the slaughter at Armageddon, when Christ returns. 

THE SIXTH SEAL SEPARATES THOSE THAT WILL DIE FROM THOSE THAT WILL LIVE.

The sixth seal ends with the question, “The great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev 6:17)

To stand before the Son of Man” refers to His return. According to Luke 21:36, those who “keep on the alert at all times” and pray will be able to stand. They will have confidence and not be ashamed in the presence of the Son (1 John 2:28). They will stand justified and not condemned before the judge of all the earth.

After the question in 6:17, the next section (Rev 7:1-8) jumps back in time to describe some of the history leading up to the sixth seal, namely the sealing of the end-time 144000. Then the question at the end of chapter 6 is answered in verse 9:

Behold, a great multitude …
from every nation …
standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

The sixth seal, therefore, divides the people of the world into two multitudes; those that hide from Him (Rev 6:17) and those that stand before Him (Rev 7:9).  This is also what Jesus said of His return:

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, …
All the nations will be gathered before Him;
and He will separate them from one another,
as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats

(Mat 25:31-32).

Although the sixth seal shows them hiding from God, all “kings, … commanders, … mighty men and … and … all men” will be put to death by “the Word of God” (Rev 19:13, 18, 21 & 14:19-20).

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

The sixth seal:

      • Seems to be the end of all things but it is not yet the end, when the hiding multitude will be put to death at Christ’s returns.
      • Is the Old Testament “Day of the LORD.
      • Describes a point in time after the seven last plagues but just before the slaughter at Armageddon, at the return of Christ. 

ARTICLES ON THE SEVEN SEALS

OVERVIEW

REVELATION 4

REVELATION 5

REVELATION 6

    • Seal 1: The white horse is the gospel.
    • Seals 2 to 4: Bloodshed, famine, and death
    • Seal 5: Who are the souls under the altar?
    • Seal 6 includes the plagues and concludes with Christ’s return.

REVELATION 7

REVELATION 8

For further reading on Revelation, I recommend Jon Paulien’s commentary. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.

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