Who are the souls under the altar in the fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11)?

This is an article in the series on the vision of the book with the seven seals (Rev 4:1-8:1).

 

 

 

6:9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal,
I saw underneath the altar
the souls of those who had been slain
because of the word of God, and
because of the testimony which they had maintained;

10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying,
“How long, O Lord, holy and true,
will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood
on those who dwell on the earth?”

11 And there was given to each of them a white robe;
and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer,
until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren
who were to be killed even as they had been,
would be completed also.


Summary

A General Principle

The souls under the altar cry out for revenge (Rev 6:10). But they are told to wait a little longer and are given white robes (Rev 6:11). Is this a specific event at a specific point in time or a general principle?

God’s people would not seek revenge, as they are symbolized to do in the fifth seal. Rather, like Jesus and Stephan, they would say:

Father, forgive them; for they do not know
what they are doing
” (Luke 23:34)!

This, therefore, is not a literal cry for revenge. Rather, similar to Abel’s blood that cried out to God from the ground (Gen 4:10), their cry for revenge symbolizes the general principle that God is aware of the injustice to His people and His desire to set things right. It is not something that happens at a specific point in time.

Since their cry is not a specific event, by implication, receiving white robes is also not a specific event. Rather, it is also a general principle, namely that, during the church age:

They will … kill you, and
you will be hated by all nations because of My name. …
But the one who endures to the end,
he will be saved
” (Matt 24:9-11).

Are the souls under the altar alive?

The reference in this seal to souls under the altar is often used to support the popular belief that believers go to heaven in a bodiless state when they die. However, for the following reasons, this must NOT be interpreted literally:

1) In the Old Testament sacrificial rituals, the blood of the sacrificial animals was “poured out” at the base of the altar (e.g., Exo 29:12; Lev 9:9; Rev 16:6). The fifth seal converts this ritual into a metaphor: God’s people are symbolically sacrificed ON the altar. They are not under a literal altar.

2) The same “souls” who are under the altar in the fifth seal “CAME TO LIFE” when Christ returns (Rev 20:4). In other words, they are not alive today.

3) They are told to “REST” for a while longer (Rev 6:11). “Rest” implies that they are currently inactive. “Rest” is also a synonym for death. For example, an angel said to Daniel: “You will enter into REST and RISE AGAIN … at the end of the age” (Dan 12:13). And those who have died in the Lord “rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them” (Rev 14:13).

4) According to Revelation 6:11, the souls under the altar receive white robes (i.e., confirmation of salvation) NOT while alive or at death but “a little while” before Christ returns. Literally interpreted, since they have not yet received their white robes at death, they cannot go to heaven at death.

The idea that humans consist of two parts – a physical body and an immaterial soul – comes from Greek philosophy. In the Bible, the soul refers to the entire human being (cf. Gen 2:7; 1 Cor 14:45). (See the articles on Death and Eternal Torment.)

In the view of this website, the dead sleep. My mother died recently. From my perspective, she sleeps. But from her perspective, according to her experience, she is already awake and with her loved ones. From the experience of a person who dies, she or he is IMMEDIATELY AWAKE AFTER DEATH. Therefore, Paul could say, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21)!

For a much more in depth discussion, see – Are the souls alive?

Completed in Character

The souls under the altar are told:

Rest for a little while longer,
until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren
who were to be killed even as they had been,
would be completed also” (Rev 6:11).

This does not mean that a specific number of God’s people must be “killed” before Christ may return. Rather, it means that God’s people will be “completed” QUALITATIVELY IN CHARACTER. This is justified as follows:

a) This translation adds the words “number of” but there is no such phrase in the original Greek.

b) Would a God of love arbitrarily decree that a fixed number of people must suffer and die before He would intervene?

c) Both the souls under the altar and the innumerable multitude are clothed in white robes (Rev 6:11; 7:9). They are, therefore, the same people. But the innumerable multitude “NO ONE COULD COUNT” (Rev 7:9). The number, therefore, is not important.

d) Elsewhere, Revelation informs us that God’s end-time people will be spiritually mature. This supports the proposal that “completed” should be understood qualitatively, namely that God’s people must be completed in character. For example, in an end-time context:

His bride has made herself ready” (Rev 19:7-8).

The 144000 are sealed on their foreheads, namely, in their thinking, with the name (the character) of God (Rev 7:3-4; 14:1).

It is said of the 144000 that “no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless” (Rev 14:4-5).

Jesus will “reap” when “the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is RIPE” (Rev 14:15).

God’s end-time people will not be without sin, but they will be completely loyal to God as David apparently was despite his many flaws (1 Kings 11:4-6).

The fifth seal is discussed in more detail when we discuss the sealing of the 144000 (Rev 7:1-3) because, as it will be argued, that sealing begins in the fifth seal.

– END OF SUMMARY – 


Context of the Fifth Seal

The Lamb is Jesus Christ (Rev 5:6). In Rev 5:7, He received the book that is sealed with seven seals. A previous article identified this book as the book of life, identifying the people God has chosen for eternal life. Jesus breaks the first six seals in Revelation 6:

Previous articles identified the four horsemen in the first four seals as the experience of people during the Christian age. The white horse is the gospel going out. This is followed by persecution, famine, and death.

The sixth seal shifts the focus to the end of time. The sealing of the 144000 in Rev 7:1-8 jumps back in time to before the sixth seal. The sixth seal continues with the innumerable multitude standing before the throne of God, dressed in the white robes which they received in the fifth seal (Rev 7:9-17).

The seventh seal is extremely brief; only “silence in heaven” (Rev 8:1). The article on the seventh seal interprets this as the sorrow in God’s heart at the destruction of the lost at the return of Christ.

The fifth seal is different.

We might expect the fifth seal to continue along the lines of the previous four. But instead, there are significant differences:

Horses, riders, and the four living creatures are central to the first four seals but completely absent from the fifth.

The voices heard in the first four seals are heavenly ones; the voices of the four living creatures and a voice from the “midst of the throne” (Rev 6:6). The voices in the fifth and sixth seals are that of suffering humanity:

        • The cries of the persecuted saints (Rev 6:10) and
        • The anguish of the wicked as they contemplate the approaching wrath of the Lamb (Rev 6:16-17).
          (There are no voices at all in the seventh seal (Rev 8:1).)

What is added in the fifth seal, compared to the first four, is a strong sense of judgment: The souls under the altar cry for judgment and vengeance.

These differences signal a shift of emphasis.

4-2-1 Structure of the Seals

The seals, similar to the seven trumpets, may be divided into a 4-2-interlude-1 sequence:

Him Who sat on the White HorseFirst Four – The first four are much shorter than the others and portray the general realities of the whole Christian age.

Fifth & Sixth – Since the fifth and sixth seals are much longer than the first four, they are probably more important. They also shift the focus towards the end-time. The fifth seal promises the judgment of the people who oppress God’s people. The sixth seal shows how people, in the end-time, will be divided into two groups:

        • While the persecutors of God’s people will hide “from the presence of Him who sits on the throne” (Rev 6:16),
        • God’s people will stand before His throne with palm branches in their hands (Rev 7:9).

Interlude – In both the seals and the trumpets, there is an interlude (interruption) in or after the sixth element in the series (Rev 7:1-8; 10:1-11:14). These interludes are very important because they reveal much about the nature of the seals and trumpets respectively, but in symbols that are easier to understand.

Seventh – The seventh seal is extremely brief. There is only “silence in heaven” (Rev 8:1). Furthermore, while the first six seals focus on earth, the seventh is located in heaven.

Revelation 6:9

When the Lamb broke the fifth seal,
I saw underneath the altar
the souls of those who had been slain
because of the word of God, and
because of the testimony which they had maintained;

The Altar

This is not a literal altar.

There were two altars in the ancient Jewish temple:

      • The altar of incense was inside the temple.
      • The very large altar of burnt offerings was outside the temple in the center of the courtyard. Smoke from this altar would rise over the city.

Souls Under the Altar

A casual reading of this text could leave the impression of disembodied souls literally crying out to God. This text is often used to support the popular belief that believers go to heaven in a bodiless state when they die. However, this is symbolic language:

An Ancient Temple Ritual

According to Revelation 16:6, the people of the world “poured out the blood of saints and prophets.” This refers to the ancient temple ritual in which the blood of the animal sacrifices was drained into a basin and poured out at the base of the altar of burnt offering (Exo 29:12; Lev 9:9, see also Exo 39:39; 40:29; Lev 4:7, 18, 25, 10, 34, etc.).

Ancients noticed that when the blood is poured out, the animal dies. Therefore, they regarded the life of the being to be in the blood (Lev 17:11). In that thinking, the life of the animals was been “poured out” at the base of the altar.

The fifth seal uses this as a symbol of God’s slain people. They are represented as “underneath the altar.” In other words, God’s people are symbolized as having been sacrificed ON the altar and their lives are poured out “underneath the altar;” at the base of the altar.

In Greek Philosophy

In Greek philosophy, human beings consist of two parts; a physical body and an immaterial soul. In this view, when a person dies, it is the body that dies and disintegrates into nothing but the soul lives on in a disembodied state.

In contrast, in the biblical context, the human being is a unity. The soul is the living combination of God’s breath (or life principle) and the material body (Gen 2:7). In other words, human beings do not have souls, they are souls. In light of the biblical context, this passage does not depict disembodied souls. It depicts whole persons, who died for their faith, as sacrificed on the altar. (For a discussion, see What Does the Bible Say About the “Immortal Soul”?)

Come alive when Christ returns.

Revelation 20:4 confirms this understanding. It is part of the description of Christ’s return (Rev 19:11). It describes the same group of people as in the fifth seal and says that they will come alive when Christ returns:

I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded
because of the testimony of Jesus and the word of God. …
they came to life
” (Rev 20:4).

If they come to life when Jesus returns, they are not alive today.

Revelation 20:4 refers specifically to “those who had been beheaded” but they represent all martyrs throughout history. Actually, they, and therefore the martyrs in the fifth seal, include all of God’s people of all ages; also those that have not been killed for their faith. In Revelation’s symbolism, all of God’s people are murdered because all of God’s people suffer some form of persecution.

Resurrected immediately after Death

I would like to explain the condition of the dead as follows: At death, the souls of God’s people go to God. But, with God, time does not exist. Therefore. while from our perspective living on earth, there is a time delay between death and resurrection, from the experience of His dead people, they are resurrected immediately after death. For them, there is no time delay: They are immediately with both their parents and their children.

What did John see?

John is described as seeing “souls” (Greek: psuchas) under the altar. What did he see? What does a soul look like? He did not see things through his physical eyes. In vision, images and thoughts came directly to his mind. Perhaps he simply knew things in vision, rather than receiving visual images. Artists have great difficulty drawing the images of Revelation because these images were not designed to be seen.

Slain” implies Sacrificed.

In the Greek Old Testament (LXX), the Greek word translated as “slain” is the primary word used in connection with sanctuary sacrifices (Exo 29:11, 16, 20; 34:25; Lev 1:5, 11; 3:2, 8, 11; 4:4, 15, 24, 29, 33, etc.). This confirms that Revelation presents these people as sacrificed on the altar. The Book of Revelation also uses this word for Christ’s death (Rev 5:6; cf. 13:8).

They include all of God’s people.

The souls under the altar were:

slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained” (Rev 6:9)

This indicates that the souls under the altar died because they were faithful to the gospel. However, since Revelation 20:4 shows that they represent all of God’s people, it may be more appropriate to say that they were “faithful until death,” despite the persecution they suffered, and, therefore, received “the crown of life” (Rev 2:10)

Revelation 6:10

and they cried out with a loud voice, saying,
“How long, O Lord, holy and true,
will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood
on those who dwell on the earth?”

Cried Out

In the first four seals, the voices came from heaven. Now, the loud voice comes from the souls under the altar.

The souls under the altar cry out for revenge. This does not confirm some kind of spirit-existence in heaven. God said that the blood of Abel is crying out to Him from the ground (Gen 4:10). It was not Abel that cried out because Abel himself was not conscious; Abel’s blood cried out. In the same way, the souls under the altar cry out for revenge (Rev 6:10) in a figurative manner. It should not be understood as the desire of God’s people for revenge but as God’s awareness of the suffering of His people on earth and His desire to set things right.

How long, O Lord

This cry has a long history in the Old Testament. It was used repeatedly around the time of the first destruction of Jerusalem (586 BC). For example:

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?
How long will your jealousy burn like fire? …
make known among the nations that you avenge the out poured blood of your servants
.” (Psalm 79:5-6, 10 – NIV; cf. Psalm 94:3; cf. Hab 1:2; Dan 8:13; 12:6; Zech 1:12 – NIV)

According to Revelation 6, this same cry will continue in John’s future. “How long” is a cry of protest over persecution. People suffer but God does not seem to be doing anything about the wrongs of the past.

O Lord

It is not clear whether “Lord” here is addressed to God or to Christ. Revelation makes a clear distinction between God and Jesus but refers to both as “Lord:”

Him who sits on the throne … Him who lives forever and ever … our Lord and our God … You created all things” (Rev 4:10-11; cf. 1:8; 11:15, 17; 15:3-4; 16:7; 19:6; 21:22).

Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (Rev 11:8; cf. 17:14; 19:16; 22:20-21).

But John also addressed one of the elders as “lord” (Rev 7:14). In the Greek, it is the same word (kurios). Whether the first letter is capitalized depends on the context. When the title “God” is used in combination with “Lord,” it refers to the Father.

The context, therefore, must indicate whether “Lord” here refers to God or to Christ. In Revelation 19:1, God is praised for avenging the blood of His people. For that reason, our verse (Rev 6:10) probably refers to God.

The Holy and True One

When humans are called “holy,” it means devout or pleasing to God (1 Tim 2:8; Tit 1:8). The souls cry out to Him who is “holy and true” (Rev 6:10). Does this refer to God or to Jesus?

Holy and true” recalls Jesus’ self-introduction to the church in Philadelphia (Rev 3:7), which may indicate that this cry is directed to the Lamb. Furthermore, the word in Revelation 6:10 is hagios, which means ‘set apart’ by God, and is a more appropriate choice for Christ than for God.

On the other hand, Revelation says of “Lord God, the AlmightyYou alone are holy” (Rev 15:3-4; cf. Rev 16:5) and the title “Almighty” refers exclusively to the Father (e.g., Rev 21:22). As the One who exists without a cause, the Almighty is truly different from all else.

The word for true means the perfect realization of an idea. For example, while Moses gave the Israelites bread, Jesus is the true bread (John 6:31-32). While Israel was the vine of God’s planting (Psa 80:8; Isa 5:1-7), Christ is the true vine (John 15:1). While the Bible refers to Jesus as theos a number of times, the Father is “the only true God” (John 17:3).

Do You not judge and avenge our blood

Revelation 19:1-2 uses the same words “judge and avenge” when “a great multitude in heaven” says:

He has judged the great harlot … He has
avenged the blood of his bond-servants on her.

This great multitude, therefore, praises God for complying with the request of the souls under the altar. Revelation 19 is a continuation of the seventh plague, where:

Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (Rev 16:19).

Babylon is the one who killed all of God’s people:

In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (Rev 18:24).

Her judgment, therefore, is the answer to the cries of the souls under the altar.

Many are troubled by the implication that here the people of God in some sense are calling on God for vengeance, seemingly contrary to the example of Stephen (Acts 7:60) and Jesus Christ Himself, who, while dying, cried out “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)! But it is not the slain ones themselves who are calling for vengeance, any more than it was Abel himself who cried out to God from the ground (Gen 4:10). These are figures of speech, symbolizing God’s burning desire to set things right.

There is no vengeance with God. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44, ESV). This reflects God’s character. In the end, God will set things right, but not because He hates or because He is angry. God does not have “an impatient thirst for blood revenge” (Expositor’s Greek New Testament). God will deal with oppressors in the most constructive way possible.

Those who live on the Earth

Consistently in the book of Revelation, “those who live on the earth” represents those who oppose God and His people (Rev 1:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 14; 17:2). In contrast, the faithful saints of God are depicted as “those who live in heaven” (Rev 13:6; cf. 14:3; 15:2). 

As an example of this, Revelation 12 describes a war in heaven (Rev 12:7) but then implies that the war in heaven was won on earth:

They overcame him
because of the blood of the Lamb and
because of the word of their testimony,
and they did not love their life
even when faced with death
” (Rev 12:11)

Therefore, is that war literally or symbolically in heaven? It is a war of accusations (Rev 12:10) that is won by demonstrations, firstly of the character (worthiness – Rev 5:9) of the Son of God, but secondly also of the faith of God’s people (Rev 12:11). I would propose that we understand this as a literal war of words in heaven that is won through demonstrations on earth. For a further discussion, see:

As another example, Revelation 19 describes the return of Christ:

The armies which are in heaven,
clothed in fine linen, white and clean,
were following Him on white horses
” (Rev 19:14).

Fine linen is the clothing of God’s people on earth (see below) and of angels (Mark 16:5), and the “white horses” remind of the white horse of the first seal, which is the gospel. Elsewhere in the Bible, “the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels” (Matt 16:26). Are the “armies which are in heaven” angels or people on earth?

Examples like these show how difficult it is to distinguish between heaven and earth in the book of Revelation.

Revelation 6:11

And there was given to each of them a white robe;
and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer,
until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren
who were to be killed even as they had been,
would be completed also.

And there was given
to each of them a White Robe

The robe (Gr. stolê) is a long, flowing robe (Luke 15:22; 20:46) that is also worn by angels (Mark 16:5) and by Jesus:

I saw one like a son of man,
clothed in a robe reaching to the feet
” (Rev 1:13).

White robes” and related terms are mentioned elsewhere in Revelation:

A few people in Sardis … have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life” (Rev 3:4-5).

Buy from me … white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed” (Rev 3:18).

Behold, a great multitude which no one could count … clothed in white robes … they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:7-14).

The marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (Rev 19:7-8)

Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame” (Rev 16:15).

From these verses, we learn the following:

White robes are a sign of acceptance by God.

The white robes given to each of these martyrs are the assurance that they will be accepted in the judgment at the end of time. For example:

The innumerable multitude “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14).

He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life” (Rev 3:4-5).

In Revelation 20:4-6, the souls under the altar, who have received these white robes, “came to life and reigned with Christ.”

In Matthew 22:11-14, Jesus told a parable of a wedding where there was a man “who was not dressed in wedding clothes.” The king gave instructions that the man be thrown “into the outer darkness.”

Isaiah also wrote: “I will rejoice greatly in the LORD … For He has clothed me with garments of salvation” (Isa 61:10).

White is the same as clean.

White is the opposite of “soiled” (Rev 3:4). White and “clean” have the same meaning (Rev 7:14). In Revelation, the color white is always associated with God and His people. (See the discussion of the first seal.)

And they were told
that they should rest
for a little while longer

This phrase implies that they have been resting and currently still are resting. It is the injustice they had suffered that cries out to God; not living beings. “Rest” means that they are sleeping, for example:

    • Those who have died in the Lord “rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them” (Rev 14:13).
    • The righteous man perishes … They rest in their beds” (Isa 57:1-2).
    • An angel said to Daniel: “You will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age” (Dan 12:13).
    • Earlier in Daniel, we read: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake” (Dan 12:2).

The phrase “little while” occurs again in Revelation 20:3, saying that Satan, at the end of the millennium, will be loosed for a short time from his chains in the Abyss. Revelation always describes time as short (Rev 1:1, 3, and 12:12). The time on this earth is “little” in comparison with eternity.

Since they must rest for only “a little while” longer, it means that they receive their white robes only “a little while” before Christ’s return. Therefore, it makes no sense to suggest that the righteous dead at death goes directly to heaven or that the wicked dead go directly to hell.

Until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.

Servants and Brethren

The “servants” and “brothers” are mentioned together again in Revelation 19:10 and 22:9. They refer to the same people. They are “servants” of the “master” (“Lord”—Greek: despotês – Rev 6:10) but also brothers of Christ.

Completed

Since it may seem awkward to say that people must be completed, many translations add the phrase “number of” to the verse. However, there is no such word in the Greek text. The NASB puts “the number of” in italics to acknowledge that it has been added.

For the following reasons, the phrase “the number of” should NOT be added:

      • If John meant that a certain “number” must be “completed,” he would have stated that.
      • In Revelation 7:9-14, John indicates that no one will be able to number those who come through the great tribulation. So, the exact number does not seem to be important.
      • Would a God of love arbitrarily decree that a fixed number of His people must suffer before Christ may return?

According to the Greek, it is not the number to be killed that was to be made complete. Rather, the fellow servants and brothers must be “completed” in character.  There are many indications in Revelation that God’s end-time people will be made ‘complete’ in character before Christ returns:

      • His bride has made herself ready” (Rev 19:7-8).
      • The 144000 are sealed on their foreheads, namely, in their thinking, with the name (the character) of God (Rev 7:3-4; 14:1). It is said of them that “no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless” (Rev 14:4-5).
      • Those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful” (Rev 17:14).
      • Jesus will “reap” when “the hour to reap has come, because THE HARVEST OF THE EARTH IS RIPE” (Rev 14:15).

God’s people will not be perfect in an absolute sense, but they will be completely loyal to God as David apparently was in spite of his many flaws (1 Kings 11:4-6). This is discussed further in the article on the sealing (Rev 7:1-8). That article shows that to “be completed” is the same as that God’s 144,000 Israelites are sealed on their foreheads. Until they are all sealed, the winds (the seven last plagues) are delayed.

Final Conclusions

      • The souls under the altar are NOT believers that went to heaven in a bodiless state when they died. Rather, it is a symbol of God’s slain people as sacrificed ON the altar.
         
      • The cry of the souls under the altar for revenge is a symbol of God’s awareness of the suffering of His people and His desire to set things right.
         
      • The cry of the martyrs is answered by the seventh plague; the judgment of Babylon.
         
      • White robes are a sign of acceptance by God.
         
      • God’s people have to clean their own robes. People are judged by their “deeds” but salvation is a gift by God’s grace; never deserved.
         
      • The souls under the altar must wait until God’s end-time people have been made complete in character; not in number.

Other Articles

The sixth seal describes the seven last plagues and Christ’s return.

SUMMARY

Overview of the sixth seal.

As discussed, Revelation 5 describes what happens in heaven after Jesus’ ascension. That includes receiving a book that was sealed up with seven seals (Rev 5:1, 7). He breaks the seals over the church age. Each time that He breaks a seal, something happens on Earth.

The sixth seal has two parts. The first is the natural catastrophes (Rev 6:12-14) that are the signs of His return (Matt 24:29-30). The second is the response of the people who refused to repent (Rev 6:15-17). They hide in the mountains and cry out:

“The great day of their wrath has come,
and who is able to stand?”

After an interruption, describing the sealing of God’s end-time people (the 144000 – Rev 7:1-8), the sixth seal continues in Rev 7:9 with a description of the people who are “able to stand.” In other words, the sixth seal divides the people of the world between two great multitudes; those who hide and those who stand before Him. 

The sixth seal is not literal.

Literally interpreted, in the sixth seal, everything in heaven and on earth disintegrates. But we should not interpret these things literally because, even after the stars have fallen on the earth, and all mountains have been moved out of their places, the unrepentant are still alive and able to hide in the mountains. These are symbols of great upheaval on earth, which may, of course, include natural catastrophes.

Overview of the End-Time Events

Revelation 13 describes the end-time persecution of God’s people. The image of the beast attempts to force all people to receive the mark of the beast. Revelation 14 shows the response of God’s people; the 144,000. They refuse the mark of the beast and receive “the seal of the living God” (Rev 7:2). The end-time persecution ends in 14:13 and goes over to the return of Christ (Rev 14:14-20).

The seven last plagues in the next chapter (Rev 16) jump back in time to before Christ’s return for they describe the people with the mark of the beast as still refusing to repent. As discussed, these plagues begin to fall when all people have been marked either with the mark of the beast or the seal of God.

In the sixth plague, demon spirits gather the kings of the world together at Armageddon for “the war of the great day of God” (Rev 16:14, 16). This is not the war itself but the preparation for the war.

The seventh and final plague is the destruction of Babylon (Rev 16:19). After Revelation 17 and 18 had interrupted the seventh plague, that plague continues in Revelation 19 with “a great multitude in heaven” praising God for Babylon’s destruction (Rev 19:1-2).

Revelation 19 ends with Christ’s return (Rev 19:11-20:6). The seventh plague, therefore, is followed by or continues into Christ’s return. In summary, Revelation 13 to 19 represents the end-time events as consisting of three broad phases:

      1. The end-time persecution (Rev 13-14),
      2. The seven last plagues (Rev 16), and
      3. Christ returns (Rev 14:14-20; 19:11-20:6).

The Sixth Seal is Christ’s Return.

So, where does the sixth seal fit in this sequence of events?

1) Is later than the Seven Last Plagues.

The sixth seal is later than the sixth plague. Both refer to “the great day” but, while the sixth plague is the PREPARATION for “the war of the great day” (Rev 16:14), in the sixth seal, that “great day … has (ALREADY) come” (Rev 6:17).

The sixth seal is also later than the seventh plague. While, in the seventh plague, the people still refuse to repent (Rev 16:21; cf. Rev 16:9, 11), in the sixth seal they hide in the mountains from “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev 6:15-17).

2) Separates the Living from the Dead.

As discussed above, the sixth seal divides the people of the world between the living and the dead:

      • Those who refused to repent hide from Him (Rev 6:17) and
      • The innumerable multitude stands before Him (Rev 7:9). 

This is what Jesus said He will do when He returns, “as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matt 25:31-32).

3) Is equivalent to Matthew 24:29-30.

Matthew 24:29-30 bears a striking resemblance to the two parts of the sixth seal. While verse 29 is parallel to the first part of the sixth seal, describing the signs in the sun, moon, stars, and heavens, verse 30 is parallel to the second part because it describes the response of “all the tribes of the earth” as mourning. Verse 30 explicitly states that they will mourn when they “see the Son of man coming” (cf. Luke 21:25-28; Mark 13).

4) Is the Day of the Lord.

The many similarities between the sixth seal and the Old Testament Day of the Lord identify the sixth seal as that great day. For example, both include:

      • The darkening of the sun, moon, and stars (Isaiah 13:10; Zeph 1:15; Joel 2:1-2, 31; 3:14-15);
      • A huge earthquake (Isaiah 13:13);
      • People hiding “in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains” (Rev 6:15-16; Isa 2:19).

So, the sixth seal is the Old Testament Day of the Lord but, in the New Testament, that day becomes Christ’s return (e.g., 1 Thess 4:15-17; 5:2).

5) Is “the great day.”

Since the seventh plague continues in Revelation 19 and since all ‘sinners’ are dead by the end of that chapter (Rev 19:21), the sixth seal must describe an event somewhere in Revelation 19. Beginning in Revelation 19:11, that chapter describes Christ’s return. As part of that, John saw:

“The kings of the earth and their armies assembled
to make war against Him who sat on the horse” (Rev 19:19).

For the following reasons, this (19:19) and the multitude hiding in the mountains in the sixth seal (Rev 6:15-17) describe the same event and the same people:

Both describe all the people of the world as gathered.

Both are “the great day.” In the sixth seal, the people are hiding because “the great day of their wrath has come” (Rev 6:17). The only other place in Revelation where we find the “great day” mentioned is in the sixth plague, where demons gather together “the kings of the whole world” to prepare them for “the war of the great day.” (Rev 16:14, 16) Since 19:19 describes the kings of the earth and their armies as gathered together “to make war,” that is the “great day” for which the demons gathered the kings (Rev 16:14) and which “has come” in the sixth seal.

The sixth seal, therefore, is Christ’s return, when He separates the Living from the Dead. It follows after the seven last plagues. It is the Old Testament the Day of the Lord.

The First Part is the Seven Last Plagues.

So, the sixth seal describes a moment during Christ’s return when the people who refused to repent realize that there is no escape (Rev 19:17-19). However, as discussed, the sixth seal consists of two parts. For the following reasons, the first part is the seven last plagues that precede Christ’s return:

Firstly, since the second part of the seal is the response of unrepentant humanity to the massive natural catastrophes in the first part, the two parts describe different events.

Secondly, both the natural catastrophes and the seven last plagues are the revenge promised to the souls in the fifth seal (Rev 6:10-11):

The natural catastrophes in the first part of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-14) are that promised revenge because they follow immediately after the fifth seal.

However, according to Revelation 19:2, God will fulfill that promise of revenge through the judgment on Babylon, and that judgment is the seventh plague (Rev 16:19). Furthermore, according to Revelation 16:5-6, the third plague is also part of that revenge. Therefore, all seven plagues are that revenge.

Thirdly, both the seventh plague and the natural catastrophes in the sixth seal begin with “a great earthquake” (Rev 6:12; 16:18) and conclude with the destruction of “every mountain and island” (Rev 6:12; 16: 20).

For these reasons, the first part of the sixth seal is the seven last plagues. It follows that the second part is the subsequent return of Christ.

So, what is the Seventh Seal?

The seventh seal is very brief. It is only a single verse and says “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (Rev 8:1). Since it is so brief, the context must explain it. Since the second part of the sixth seal describes a point in time during Christ’s return, when the people realize that they are doomed (Rev 19:17-19), another article interprets the silence of the seventh seal as the extreme sorrow in God’s heart and the hearts of His people when God’s enemies are put to death (Rev 19:20-21).

– END OF SUMMARY –


INTRODUCTION

The Text

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?”

Purpose of this article

In Revelation 5, Jesus arrives in heaven after His ascension and receives a book that was sealed up with seven seals (Rev 5:1, 7). In Revelation 6, He breaks the first six seals. Each time that He breaks a seal, something happens on earth.

When He broke the sixth seal, there was a huge earthquake and all mountains were moved out of their places (Rev 6:12-14). However, apparently, Christ has already returned because the people of the world were more scared of Him than of this earthquake, for they attempted to hide from Him in the rocks and caves of the mountains (Rev 6:15-17).

The purpose of this article is to explain the sixth seal.

Introduction

The sixth seal is the longest of all the seals. Of the 17 verses in chapter 6, it occupies 6. It consists of two parts, namely:

    • Natural Catastrophes (Rev 6:12-14)
    • Response of the people who live in rebellion against God (Rev 6:15-17)

Part 1: Natural Catastrophes

The first part is the dramatic natural catastrophes of Revelation 6:12-14. When Jesus broke the sixth seal:

      • There was a great earthquake.
        • The sun became black as sackcloth made of hair.
        • The moon became like blood.
        • The stars of the sky fell to the earth.
        • The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up.
      • Every mountain and island was moved out of their places.

That 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.

One Single Event

These natural disasters begin with “a great earthquake” and end with “every mountain and island were moved out of their places.” Some see two different 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 event.

Signs of Christ’s return

Between these two references to the earthquake, there are signs in the sun, moon, and stars. These signs seem to be the signs of Christ’s return, for Jesus gave the following sequence of events immediately preceding His return:

      • There will be a great tribulation as never before (Matt 24:21, 29). Then:
        • The sun will be darkened.
        • The moon will not give its light.
        • The stars will fall from the sky.
        • The heavens will be shaken. (Matt 24:29)
      • Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky (Matt 24:30).

Part 2: The Living and the Dead

The second part of the sixth seal begins with the response of the people who live in rebellion against God. They will attempt to hide in the caves and in the mountains and say to the mountains and to the rocks to fall on them and hide them:

“From the presence of
Him who sits on the throne,
and from the wrath of the Lamb.”

Then they ask:

“The great day of their wrath has come,
and who is able to stand?” (Rev 6:15-17)

“To stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36) refers to His return. Those who “keep on the alert at all times” will be able to stand (Luke 21:36). They will “have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming” (1 John 2:28).

The response of the hiding multitude is followed by the sealing of God’s end-time people (the 144000 – Rev 7:1-8). However, this sealing should precede the worldwide turmoil described by the sixth seal. One often finds in Revelation that the sequence of events is interrupted to provide a bit of background information as context.

The sealing is followed by a description of “a great multitude which no one could count … standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7:9). Since this is the answer to the question of the hiding multitude (Rev 6:17), it is proposed that:

1) The multitude hiding in the mountains and the innumerable multitude standing before the throne describe the same point in time.

2) In other words, this description of the innumerable multitude is part of the sixth seal and the sixth seal describes the people of the world divided into these two great multitudes:

        • Those hiding from Him (Rev 6:17) and
        • The innumerable multitude standing before Him (Rev 7:9). 

(For a further discussion, see, Who is the innumerable multitude?)

Him who sits on the throne

They hide from both “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, the entire creation gives glory “to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev 5:13)

“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 attempts 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).

The Wrath of the Lamb

The concept of the “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 for these symbols that retain the principle that God is love. For a discussion, see – The smoke of their torment goes up forever (Rev 14:9-11).

Not Literal

Literally interpreted, in the sixth seal, everything in heaven and on earth is destroyed. A “great earthquake” moves every island and mountain out of their places. The word “every” appears 3 times in this seal, indicating the worldwide nature of this cataclysm.

But we should not interpret these things literally. For example, even after the stars have fallen on the earth, and all mountains have been moved out of their places, the rebellious people are still alive and able to hide in the mountains.

In other words, it is not a real earthquake and the sun is not literally darkened. These are all symbols. The great earthquake, moving the mountains and islands out of their places symbolizes some great upheaval on earth, which may include some natural catastrophes, such as an acceleration of climate change.

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; 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.

OVERVIEW OF THE END-TIME EVENTS

The purpose of the next section is to show where the sixth and seventh seals fit in the end-time events as described elsewhere in the book of Revelation. The first half of Revelation emphasizes the entire church age, with references to the end-time events at the end of the seals and at the end of the trumpets. For example, at the end of the trumpets:

“The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ” (Rev 11:15).

“We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty …
because You have taken Your great power
and have begun to reign” (Rev 11:17).

In contrast, the emphasis of the last 11 chapters of Revelation is on the end-time events. For that reason, this section provides an overview of the events in Revelation 13 to 20:

End-Time Persecution

The end-time persecution is described in Revelation 13. The false prophet will convince the people of the world to make an image of the beast (Rev 13:14). In other words, an end-time replica will be created of the evil system that is symbolized by the beast in Revelation and by the eleventh horn of Daniel 7.

This image will persecute God’s people. It will attempt to force all people, with threats of violence, to receive the mark of the beast “on their right hand or on their forehead” (Rev 13:15-17). This “image,” therefore, symbolizes authority of religious organizations over civil authorities in the end-time. The harlot woman sitting on a beast (Rev 17:3-5) symbolizes the same principle but during the entire church age (during all seven heads).

But God’s people, symbolized as 144,000, will refuse. In place of the mark of the beast, “on their foreheads” (Rev 7:3), they will receive “the seal of the living God” (Rev 7:2), which is “His name (Jesus’ name) and the name of His Father written on their foreheads” (Rev 14:1). While the mark of the beast “on their right hand or on their forehead” (Rev 13:16) symbolize that the followers of the beast DO and/or THINK like the beast, the seal of God on the foreheads symbolize that they will THINK like God.

The description of that end-time persecution ends in 14:13 and goes over to the return of Christ (Rev 14:14-20), when blood will flow “out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred” (Rev 14:20).

The Seven Last Plagues

The seven last plagues, as described in Revelation 16, jump back to the time before Christ’s return because it describes the people with the mark of the beast (Rev 16:2) as still refusing to repent (Rev 16:9, 11, 21). But it does not jump back to the beginning of the church age. It begins by describing “those who had been victorious over the beast and his image” (Rev 15:2). Furthermore, the plagues only fall on “the people who had the mark of the beast” (Rev 16:2). The plagues, therefore, begin to fall at a point in time during the end-time persecution when all people have been marked either with the mark of the beast or the seal of God.

In the sixth plague, demon spirits GATHER the kings of the world together at Armageddon for “the war of the great day of God” (Rev 16:14, 16). This is not the war of Armageddon itself; only the preparation for it.

The seventh and final plague is the destruction of Babylon (Rev 16:19). 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. She is:

      • “The Mother of Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth” (Rev 17:5),
      • “The great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev 17:18), and
      • The one who kills God’s people (Rev 18:24).

The seventh plague continues in Revelation 19 where “a great multitude in heaven” praises God because “He has judged the great harlot” (Rev 19:1-2; cf. Rev 16:19).

Christ’s Return

Revelation 19 ends with Christ’s return (Rev 19:11-20:6). The seventh plague, therefore, is followed by or continues into the return of Christ.

This means that Christ’s return is described both in chapters 14 and 19. His return is also described at the end of the seven seals and at the end of the seven trumpets (e.g., Rev 11:15-17).

Three Stages

In summary, Revelation 13 to 19 represents the end-time events as consisting of three broad phases:

      1. The end-time persecution (Rev 13-14),
      2. The seven last plagues (Rev 16), and
      3. Christ returns (Rev 14:14-20; 19:11-20:6).

CHRIST’S RETURN.

The Sixth Seal is Christ’s Return.

So, where does the sixth seal fit in this sequence of events?

Later than the seven last plagues.

In both the sixth seal and in the sixth plague, we find the phrase “the great day.” But there is a difference:

In the sixth plague, the people PREPARE for “the war of the great day of God” (Rev 16:14). In other words, the sixth plague describes events PRECEDING that “great day.”

In contrast, in the sixth seal, they hide in the mountains because that “great dayhas come” (Rev 6:17).

Therefore, the sixth seal is later than the sixth plague.

During the plagues, the people refuse to repent (Rev 16:9, 11). Even after Babylon (the false religious system) has been judged in the seventh plague (Rev 16:19), the people still refuse to repent (Rev 16:21). But, in the sixth seal, they hide in the mountains from “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev 6:15-17). It is the cry of those who realize that there is no escape from a dreadful fate (cf. Matt 24:29-30; Rev 1:7, Luke 23:30). Consequently, the sixth seal describes events later than the seventh plague.

Separates the Living from the Dead

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).

As discussed above, this is what we find in the sixth seal. The people are divided between:

      • Those hiding from Him (Rev 6:17) and
      • The innumerable multitude of God’s people standing before His throne (Rev 7:9).

Therefore, it is proposed that the sixth seal is Christ’s return. This may be confirmed as follows:

Equivalent to Matthew 24:29-30.

Matthew 24:29-30, which is part of Jesus’ Synoptic Apocalypse, bears a striking resemblance to the two parts of the sixth seal. Both the first part of the sixth seal and Matthew 24:29 describe the signs in the heavens:

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will fall from the sky,
and … the heavens will be shaken.”

The second part of the sixth seal, where the multitude hides in the mountains, is parallel to Matthew 24:30 because that verse also describes the response of the people to these signs, namely that they will “mourn.” But that verse explicitly states that that will be when Christ returns

“Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky,
and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn,
and they will see the Son of man coming
on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory”
(cf. Luke 21:25-28; Mark 13).

This confirms that the sixth seal describes Christ’s return.

Is the Day of the Lord.

This is further confirmed by showing that the sixth seal is the Old Testament Day of the Lord, which becomes Christ’s return in the New Testament:

Many of the Old Testament prophets referred to “the Day of the Lord” (e.g., Isa 13:6; Ezek 13:5; Joel 1:15; Amos 5:18; Obad 1:15). There are also variations of this phrase, such as:

        • “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).

Similarities to the Sixth Seal

The many similarities with the sixth seal identify the sixth seal as that Day of the Lord. Consider, for example, Isaiah 13:9-13, which I summarized as follows:

The day of the LORD is coming.
The LORD will exterminate sinners from the land.
The stars of heaven will not flash forth their light.
The sun will be dark.
The moon will not shed its light.
I will punish the world for its evil.
The heavens will tremble.
The earth will be shaken from its place.
At the fury of the LORD of hosts
In the day of His burning anger.

In these verses, similar to the sixth seal, we find:

      • Signs in the sun, moon, and stars,
      • A huge earthquake, and
      • “The fury of the LORD of hosts in the day of His burning anger” (Isa 13:13) becomes the “wrath of the Lamb” in the sixth seal (Rev 6:17).

Other examples of similarities between the sixth seal and the Old Testament Day of the Lord include the following:

Similar to “the great day of their wrath” in the sixth seal (Rev 6:17), Zephaniah refers to “the day of the LORD” as “the great day … of the LORD’S wrath” (Zeph 1:14, 18; 2:2).

Similar to the darkening of the sun and moon in the sixth seal:

Zephaniah describes it as “a day of … thick darkness” (Zeph 1:15).

Joel describes it as “a day of darkness and gloom” (Joel 2:1-2). “The sun will be turned into darkness And the moon into blood Before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes” (Joel 2:31). “The day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon grow dark And the stars lose their brightness” (Joel 3:14-15).

See also Ezekiel 32:7-8; 38:19-20; Jeremiah 4:23-27; Amos 8:9-10; Nahum 3:12 and Micah 3:6.

In both the sixth seal (Rev 6:14) and Isaiah 34:4, “the sky will be rolled up like a scroll.”

Similar to the people who ask, “who can stand” (Rev 6:17), Joel asks: “The day of the LORD is indeed great and very awesome, and who can endure it” (Joel 2:11)?

Similar to the people hiding in the mountains in the sixth seal (Rev 6:15-16), “men will go into caves of the rocks and into holes of the ground before the terror of the LORD” (Isa 2:19).

These similarities between the sixth seal and the Old Testament Day of the Lord mean that the sixth seal is that “great day.”

Day of Judgment

One aspect of the Old Testament Day of the Lord, which is not explicitly clear from the sixth seal, but implied, is that it is a day of judgment on sinners. For example:

“The day of the LORD … will bring distress on men …
because they have sinned against the LORD”
(Zeph 1:14, 17).

“The day of the LORD draws near …
As you have done, it will be done to you” (Obad 1:15).

“The day of the LORD is near … I will punish on that day all who … fill the house of their lord with violence and deceit” (Zeph 1:7-9).

“The day of the LORD is coming … with fury and burning anger, To make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it” (Isa 1:9).

“I will bring distress on men … because they have sinned against the LORD.” “He will make a complete end … of all the inhabitants of the earth.” (Zephaniah 1:17-18)

Since the sixth seal is the Old Testament Day of the Lord, we are able to read these statements into the sixth seal. In other words, the people hiding in the mountains in the sixth seal are sinners and they will soon be exterminated.

The Day of the Lord is Christ’s Return.

In the New Testament, the Day of the Lord becomes Christ’s return. For example:

(a) Paul explained that, at “the coming of the Lord,” when He “will descend from heaven with a shout,” “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” He added that “the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night” (1 Thess 4:15-17; 5:2). By implication, the three instances of “the Lord” in these quotes refer to the same Person (Jesus Christ) and “the day of the Lord” is “the coming of the Lord.”

(b) We see the same in the following:

“Now we request you, brethren,
with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ
and our gathering together to Him,
that you not be quickly … be disturbed … by …
a message … as if from us,
to the effect that the day of the Lord has come” (2 Thess 2:1-2)

(c) Still, in other places, Paul describes that day of judgments as follows:

“Jesus Christ … will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:7-8),

“I have decided to deliver such a one … for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor 5:5)

“He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6, 10).

1 John 4:17 says that “we may have confidence in the day of judgment” but 1 John 2:28 states that, “when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.” These two statements are linked by the phrase “we may have confidence,” implying that “His coming” is “the day of judgment.”

Consequently, the sixth seal is the Day of the Lord, and the Day of the Lord is Christ’s return.

Is “the great day.”

Literally interpreted, the massive destruction in the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-14) is the end of all things. A “great earthquake” moves every island and mountain out of their places and 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 is still alive. When Christ returns, the hiding multitude will be put to death:

“The rest were killed
with the sword which came
from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse”

(Rev 19:21; cf. Rev 19:19-20; 14:19-20).

Since the seventh plague continues in Revelation 19 and since all ‘sinners’ are killed by the end of that chapter, the sixth seal must describe an event somewhere in Revelation 19. As from Revelation 19:11, that chapter describes Christ’s return. As part of that, John saw:

“The kings of the earth and their armies assembled
to make war against Him who sat on the horse” (Rev 19:19).

For the following reasons, I propose that this (19:19) and the multitude hiding in the mountains in the sixth seal (Rev 6:15-17) describe the same event and the same people:

(a) All People Gathered

Both describe all the people of the world as gathered. Revelation 19:18 describes them as “all men.”

(b) The Great Day

Both are “the great day:”

In the sixth seal, the people are hiding because “the great day of their wrath has come” (Rev 6:17). The only other place in Revelation where we find the phrase “great day” is in the sixth plague, where demons gather “the kings of the whole world” at Armageddon (Rev 16:14, 16) to prepare them for “the war of the great day of God.” The battle of Armageddon, therefore, is that “war of the great day.” The sixth plague is not the “great day” itself; it is only the preparation for that day through the gathering of the kings and their armies.

Since 19:19 describes the kings of the earth and their armies as gathered together (assembled) “to make war against Him who sat on the horse,” that is the “great day” for which the demons gathered the kings (Rev 16:14) and which “has come” in the sixth seal.

Christ’s return, therefore, is the real Armageddon; the real “great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev 16:14). For further discussion, see – Armageddon is not a literal place; it is Judgment Day.

THE FIRST PART

The First Part is the seven last plagues.

So, the sixth seal describes a moment during Christ’s return when the people who refused to repent realize that there is no escape from a dreadful fate (Rev 19:17-19). However, as discussed, the sixth seal consists of two parts. Do both parts describe Christ’s return?

For the following reasons, it is proposed that the first part of the sixth seal is the seven last plagues that precede Christ’s return:

1) Cause and Consequence

Firstly, since the second part of the seal is the response of unrepentant humanity to the massive natural catastrophes in the first part, it is proposed that it is possible that they describe two different events.

2) The Promised Revenge

Secondly, both the natural catastrophes and the seven last plagues are the revenge promised to the souls in the fifth seal. To explain:

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 to wait “for a little while longer” (Rev 6:9-11).

The natural catastrophes in the first part of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-14) may be understood as that promised revenge because they follow immediately after the fifth seal.

However, in Revelation 19:2, a great multitude praises God because He has “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 19:2. This verse, therefore, praises God that He has executed the judgment promised in the fifth seal.

But 19:2 indicates that God has fulfilled that promise by judging “the great harlot;” also known as Babylon (Rev 17:5). She is identified as the one who is guilty of the deaths of all of God’s people that have ever been killed (Rev 18:24).

However, Babylon was judged in the seventh plague. That plague reads: “Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (Rev 16:19).

Furthermore, Revelation 16:5-6 indicates that the third plague, where water is turned to blood, is also part of that revenge:

“Righteous are You, who are and who were …
because You judged these things;
for they poured out the blood of saints …”
(Rev 16:5-6).

Therefore, we conclude that the seven last plagues are the revenge promised in the fifth seal. But, since the first part of the sixth seal is that revenge, that first part is equivalent to the seven last plagues.

3) Great Earthquake

Thirdly, both the seventh plague and the natural catastrophes begin with “a great earthquake” (Rev 6:12; 16:18) and conclude with the destruction of “every mountain and island” (Rev 6:12; 16: 20).

For these reasons, it is proposed that, while the second part of the sixth seal is Christ’s return, the first part is the preceding seven last plagues. A series of articles is available on the seven last plagues.

THE SEVENTH SEAL

So, what is the seventh seal? The seventh seal is very brief. It is only a single verse and says “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (Rev 8:1). Therefore, it must be understood relative to the context. Since the second part of the sixth seal has been interpreted as describing a point in time during Christ’s return, when the people realize that they are doomed (Rev 19:17-19), another article interprets the silence of the seventh seal as the sorrow in God’s heart and in the hearts of God’s people when God’s enemies are put to death in Revelation 19:20-21.

OVERVIEW OF THE SEVEN SEALS

As a summary of the conclusions of this and other articles, this section provides an overview of the sequence of events in the seven seals:

The white horse of the first seal (Rev 6:1-2) has been interpreted as the gospel going forth into all the world. That rider “went out conquering and to conquer,” meaning that the gospel will never stop conquering. This is not one specific event but covers the entire church age.

The next three seals bring killing (Rev 6:4), famine (Rev 6:5-6), and death (Rev 7:8). Since the first seal is the gospel, this killing, famine, and death are the consequences of preaching the gospel; also during the entire church age. Since the fifth seal shows God’s slain people, these three seals have been interpreted as follows:

        • Seal 2 (killing) = the killing of God’s messengers
        • Seal 3 (famine) = the resulting famine for the word of God
        • Seal 4 (death) = the resulting spiritual death

While the first four seals describe the ENTIRE church age, the last three seals describe specific events during the church age:

The fifth seal (Rev 6:9-11) describes a specific and significant POINT IN HISTORY during the church age when “the souls of” God’s people who have already “been slain because of the word of God” (Rev 6:9) cry out for revenge. But they are told to rest a little time longer until God’s people have been ‘completed’ (Rev 6:11). This ‘completion’ has been interpreted as equivalent to the sealing of God’s people (Rev 7:1-8), which has been interpreted as an end-time only event. For that reason, the point in history described in the fifth seal sal been interpreted as the beginning of the Time of the End.

This is followed by the natural catastrophes in the first part of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-14) – interpreted above as the seven last plagues and as the revenge on the people who killed God’s messengers.

This is further followed by the people hiding in the mountains, in the second part of the sixth seal, which has been interpreted above as Armageddon; a point in time during Christ’s return when the people who refused to repent realize that they are doomed (Rev 19:17-19).

This is followed by the silence of the seventh seal (Rev 8:1), interpreted as the sorrow in the heart of God and His people at the destruction of the lost:

“The rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse” (Rev 19:20-21).


OTHER ARTICLES