A. Past Lessons
- John Taken to Heaven to See the 24 Elders (Rev 4:1-6a)
- John Take to Heaven to See 4 Living Beings (Rev 4:6b-11)
- The One Worthy to Open the Scroll (Rev 5:1-7)
- Why the Lamb Is Worthy to Open the Scroll (Rev 5:8-14)
- The Four Horsemen (Rev 6:1-8)
B. Text of Rev 6:9-17
“9And when the Lamb opened the fifth seal I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the Word of God and because of their testimony. 10Then they cried out in a loud voice: ‘How long, Lord—Holy and True—until you judge and punish those who live on the earth for our blood?’ 11Each of them was given a long white robe and was told they will rest a little longer until the number of their fellow slaves and brothers (who are about to be killed as they were) is fulfilled. 12Next I looked and the Lamb opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake and the sun became like dark sackcloth hair and the whole moon was like blood. 13The stars in the sky fell to the earth as a fig tree throws its unripe figs from a great wind which is stirring. 14The heavens separated like a book being rolled up and the mountains and islands were shaken from their place. 15The kings of the earth, dignitaries, military leaders, rich, strong, every slave and free person hid themselves in caves in the rocks of the mountains. 16They said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of the one who sits on the throne and from the anger of the Lamb.’ 17They said this because their great day of wrath has come, and who has power to stand?” (Rev 6:9-17)[ref]Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own. Greek text is from Nestle-Aland 28[/ref]
“The Opening of the Fifth and Sixth Seals” Matthais Gerung (1500-1570)
C. General Remarks
“The book of Revelation discredits those who teach that God is so loving and kind that He will never judge people who have not received His Son. Though the modern mind is reluctant to accept the fact that God will judge the wicked, the Bible clearly teaches that He will. The Scriptures reveal a God of love as clearly as they reveal a God of wrath who will deal with those who spurn the grace of Christ. The passage before us is a solemn word that there is inevitable judgment ahead for those who will not receive Christ by faith.” (Walvoord, Revelation, 135)
II. THE FIFTH SEAL’S MARTYRS (6:9-11)
A. The Souls of Those Martyred (v. 9)
Καὶ ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὴν πέμπτην σφραγῖδα, εἶδον ὑποκάτω τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου τὰς ψυχὰς τῶν ἐσφαγμένων διὰ τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ διὰ τὴν μαρτυρίαν ἣν εἶχον.
“And when the Lamb opened the fifth seal I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the Word of God and because of their testimony.” (Rev 6:9)
According to N. T. Wright, this is the only place in the New Testament where the specific location of the dead is described (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 65).
1. Timing of the Fifth Seal
There is debate about the timing of the fifth seal. Some say it was associated with martyrdoms under the first-century Roman Emperors of Nero and Domitian. Another view is that these are Christians martyrs throughout the Christian era. The best view, in my opinion, is that these will be martyrs in the future time of judgment because their prayers must be uttered during the time that others will be martyred just before the return of Christ (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 441).
2. Identity of the Martyrs
- Christian Martyrs of Every Age. This view has weaknesses because the martyrs’ persecutors were still alive and on the earth at the time of their prayer. (Mulholland, Revelation , 476).
- Christian Martyrs of Daniel’s 70th Week. Likely, this is during the first half of the week.
B. The Souls’ Song (v. 10)
καὶ ἔκραξαν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγοντες· ἕως πότε, ὁ δεσπότης ὁ ἅγιος καὶ ἀληθινός, οὐ κρίνεις καὶ ἐκδικεῖς τὸ αἷμα ἡμῶν ἐκ τῶν κατοικούντων ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς;
“Then they cried out in a loud voice: ‘How long, Lord—Holy and True—until you judge and punish those who live on the earth for our blood?’” (Rev 6:10)
1. How Long?
Many of us can relate to this “How long?” question of the souls under the altar. This type of questioning of God has frequently been asked by people in the Psalms and Prophets (Pss 79:5; 89:46; 90:13; Isa 6:11; Hab 1:2; Zech 1:12; Dan 12:6).
2. Earth Dwellers
Throughout the book of Revelation those who “live on the earth” are often designated as those who are evil and oppose God’s will. See examples below with my emphasis added:
- “Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world.” (Revelation 3:10, NLT)
- “Then I looked, and I heard a single eagle crying loudly as it flew through the air, ‘Terror, terror, terror to all who belong to this world because of what will happen when the last three angels blow their trumpets.’” (Revelation 8:13, NLT)
- “All the people who belong to this world will gloat over them and give presents to each other to celebrate the death of the two prophets who had tormented them.” (Revelation 11:10, NLT)
- “And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life that belongs to the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made.” (Revelation 13:8, NLT)
- “He exercised all the authority of the first beast. And he required all the earth and its people to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed.” (Revelation 13:12, NLT)
- “The kings of the world have committed adultery with her, and the people who belong to this world have been made drunk by the wine of her immorality.” (Revelation 17:2, NLT)
- “The beast you saw was once alive but isn’t now. And yet he will soon come up out of the bottomless pit and go to eternal destruction. And the people who belong to this world, whose names were not written in the Book of Life before the world was made, will be amazed at the reappearance of this beast who had died.” (Revelation 17:8, NLT)
I like how Lange describes the earth dwellers as the “antithesis to the servants of God” (Lange, Revelation, 176).
C. The Souls White Robe and Waiting (v. 11)
καὶ ἐδόθη αὐτοῖς ἑκάστῳ στολὴ λευκὴ καὶ ἐρρέθη αὐτοῖς ἵνα ἀναπαύσονται ἔτι χρόνον μικρόν, ἕως πληρωθῶσιν καὶ οἱ σύνδουλοι αὐτῶν καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ αὐτῶν οἱ μέλλοντες ἀποκτέννεσθαι ὡς καὶ αὐτοί.
“Each of them was given a long white robe and was told they will rest a little longer until the number of their fellow slaves and brothers (who are about to be killed as they were) is fulfilled.” (Rev 6:11)
1. Long White Robe
The long robe worn by these saints is used several other times in the New Testament.
- When the prodigal son returns the father says to grab a fine robe [but not a white robe here] to put on him (Luke 15:22).
- When women entered the tomb looking for Jesus they found a man wearing a white robe (Mark 16:5).
- Jesus warned believers about the teachers of religious law because they liked to walk around in flowing robes [but not a white robe] and receive greetings (Mark 12:38; Luke 20:46).
This word is used five times in the book of Revelation. Three times it is used in the description of the people God preserves and the praise of the crowd (Rev 7:9, 13, 14). In the New Heaven and Earth it is said that those who have washed their robes will be blessed and be able to enter the gates (Rev 22:14). Johnson says that these white robes are evidence of their righteousness and their victory (Johnson, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 655).
2. What Kind of Bodies?
The question that is often brought up with this verse is how can an intermediate body have a robe? Most in Christianity believe that believers souls are in heaven awaiting the resurrection of their bodies, therefore how can these believers wear a white robe? On this Thomas says, “these robes do nothing to advance the theological opinion about an intermediate body granted to the saints between death and bodily resurrection” (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 447). Some who take the book of Revelation primarily as speaking in symbols do not struggle with this idea because they say the white robe simply symbolizes purity and victory (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 66).
3. A Little Longer
The souls under the altar are told to rest “ἔτι χρόνον μικρόν / a little longer.” This same phrase is used by Jesus to refer to not more than a year (John 7:33; 12:35) and is used in Rev 20:3 to refer to a few days. The time of one year seems to fit within the seven year tribulation or three and a half years in the front or back of those seven (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 447).
According to Johnson these martyrs are the same ones that are mentioned in Rev 13:15; 18:24; 20:4 (Johnson, Bible Exposition Commentary).
III. THE SIXTH SEAL’S EARTHQUAKE (6:12-14)
A. Earthly Effects of the Sixth Seal (v. 12)
Καὶ εἶδον ὅτε ἤνοιξεν τὴν σφραγῖδα τὴν ἕκτην, καὶ σεισμὸς μέγας ἐγένετο καὶ ὁ ἥλιος ἐγένετο μέλας ὡς σάκκος τρίχινος καὶ ἡ σελήνη ὅλη ἐγένετο ὡς αἷμα
“Next I looked and the Lamb opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake and the sun became like dark sackcloth hair and the whole moon was like blood.” (Rev 6:12)
1. Literal or Symbolic?
The most common debate within the book of Revelation is what is literal and what is symbolic. On this topic, I find Thomas’s summary very good about why this might be literal and why it might be symbolic.
In support for the symbolic view he writes that earlier apocalyptic literature often used symbolic language to such an extent than no one expected it to be taken literally. As a result, the person reading John’s visions in the first-century would have thought this to be symbolic. Additionally and more convincingly, Old Testament prophets used symbolism in their messages. For example, Isa 2:12-19 uses earthquake to over throw human arrogance. Rolling up the sky and shaking the stars symbolize punishment in Isa 34:2-4. Jesus applied Hosea 10:8 to the destruction of Jerusalem.
In support for the literal view he writes that the companion Olivet discourse clearly describes coming earthquakes (Matt 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11). Additionally, literal events of this kind must take place to have such a strong effect on the world.
However, other commentators say that these parts of Revelation are “not to be taken literally but as images of radical reversal in the present state of things” (Mulholland, Revelation , 474). According to Metzger, John uses symbolism from the Old Testament as “cosmic convulsion to describe social and political upheaval” (Metzger, Breaking the Code, 59).
An earthquake as a sign of the end of times should not surprise us if we are familiar with words of the Old Testament prophets:
- “When the LORD rises to shake the earth, his enemies will crawl into holes in the ground. They will hide in caves in the rocks from the terror of the LORD and the glory of his majesty.” (Isaiah 2:19, NLT)
- “I, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, will act for you with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with whirlwind and storm and consuming fire.” (Isa 29:6, NLT)
- “The earth quakes as they advance, and the heavens tremble. The sun and moon grow dark, and the stars no longer shine.” (Joel 2:10, NLT)
- “For this is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: In just a little while I will again shake the heavens and the earth, the oceans and the dry land. I will shake all the nations, and the treasures of all the nations will be brought to this Temple. I will fill this place with glory, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.” (Haggai 2:6–7, NLT)
- “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south. You will flee through this valley, for it will reach across to Azal. Yes, you will flee as you did from the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all his holy ones with him.” (Zech 14:4–5, NLT)
3. Darkening of the Sun
Like the earthquake, the darkening of the sun should not surprise us based on Old Testament prophesies:
- “The heavens will be black above them; the stars will give no light. The sun will be dark when it rises, and the moon will provide no light.” (Isaiah 13:10, NLT)
- “When I blot you out, I will veil the heavens and darken the stars. I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give you its light. I will darken the bright stars overhead and cover your land in darkness. I, the Sovereign LORD, have spoken!” (Ezekiel 32:7–8, NLT)
- “The earth quakes as they advance, and the heavens tremble. The sun and moon grow dark, and the stars no longer shine.” (Joel 2:10, NLT)
- “The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and terrible day of the LORD arrives.” (Joel 2:31, NLT)
- “’In that day,’ says the Sovereign LORD, ‘I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth while it is still day.’” (Amos 8:9, NLT)
4. Blood Moon
The moon that was as red as blood might be a connection to an eclipse (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 453).
B. Stars Fall from the Sky (v. 13)
καὶ οἱ ἀστέρες τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἔπεσαν εἰς τὴν γῆν, ὡς συκῆ βάλλει τοὺς ὀλύνθους αὐτῆς ὑπὸ ἀνέμου μεγάλου σειομένη,
“The stars in the sky fell to the earth as a fig tree throws its unripe figs from a great wind which is stirring.” (Rev 6:13)
Isaiah writes about this event: “The heavens above will melt away and disappear like a rolled-up scroll. The stars will fall from the sky like withered leaves from a grapevine, or shriveled figs from a fig tree.” (Isaiah 34:4, NLT)
C. Heavens, Mountains, and Islands Effected (v. 14)
καὶ ὁ οὐρανὸς ἀπεχωρίσθη ὡς βιβλίον ἑλισσόμενον καὶ πᾶν ὄρος καὶ νῆσος ἐκ τῶν τόπων αὐτῶν ἐκινήθησαν.
“The heavens separated like a book being rolled up and the mountains and islands were shaken from their place.” (Rev 6:14)
1. Heaven Still Exists
Heaven is not passing away here because we know that it still exists later into the book (Rev 20:11; 21:1). And because the “heavens” here is referring to the sphere of the sky that has stars in it, not the heaven where God sits. Other passages of Scripture refer to a future time when the heavens will disappear (Pss 102:25-26; Matt 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33; Heb 1:10-12; 2 Peter 3:10).
2. Heavens Folding Up
The heaven’s departing like a book are mentioned in Isa 34:4, “The heavens above will melt away and disappear like a rolled-up scroll. The stars will fall from the sky like withered leaves from a grapevine, or shriveled figs from a fig tree” (NLT).
IV. EVERYONE HIDES FROM THE WRATH (6:15-17)
A. People Hide (v. 15)
Καὶ οἱ βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς καὶ οἱ μεγιστᾶνες καὶ οἱ χιλίαρχοι καὶ οἱ πλούσιοι καὶ οἱ ἰσχυροὶ καὶ πᾶς δοῦλος καὶ ἐλεύθερος ἔκρυψαν ἑαυτοὺς εἰς τὰ σπήλαια καὶ εἰς τὰς πέτρας τῶν ὀρέων
“The kings of the earth, dignitaries, military leaders, rich, strong, every slave and free person hid themselves in caves in the rocks of the mountains.” (Rev 6:15)
I think this supports how severe the wrath of Jesus will be. The most powerful people on earth end up being in the same place as the slaves. Any people group will do anything to get away from the wrath of God.
B. The Lamb’s Anger (v. 16)
καὶ λέγουσιν τοῖς ὄρεσιν καὶ ταῖς πέτραις· πέσετε ἐφʼ ἡμᾶς καὶ κρύψατε ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ προσώπου τοῦ καθημένου ἐπὶ τοῦ θρόνου καὶ ἀπὸ τῆς ὀργῆς τοῦ ἀρνίου,
“They said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of the one who sits on the throne and from the anger of the Lamb.’” (Rev 6:16)
The term for “wrath” here is the Greek word, “ὀργη” which is a “technical term for the eschatological visitation of God by way of temporal punishments against rebellious mankind” (Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 457).
Sometimes it is easy to only think of Christ as loving and kind instead of remembering that he also has a righteous anger. One pastor I know once gave a sermon titled, “Jesus: The Bearded Woman.” The basis of this sermon was that culture often feminizes Jesus and portrays him as always nice and never angry. Yet, Jesus Christ was fully human and there are numerous passages that support him being fully human (Gen 3:15; 12:3; Dan 7:13-14; Gal 3:6-9; Phil 2:5-8; Heb 2:14-15).
Throughout the New Testament Christ became angry:
- at the stubborn hearted Pharisees (Mark 3:5)
- at those using the temple for business (Matt 12:13)
- at evil spirits (Mark 1:23-28)
- at the disciples for inhibiting children (Mark 10:13-16)
Seeing Christ’s anger and wrath should not be a surprise to us. He is holy and perfect, and therefore he gets angry at unrighteousness. The seven years of tribulation which the book of Revelation describes is the time when his wrath is poured out on the people who belong to the earth.
C. The Great Day of Wrath (v. 17)
ὅτι ἦλθεν ἡ ἡμέρα ἡ μεγάλη τῆς ὀργῆς αὐτῶν, καὶ τίς δύναται σταθῆναι;
“They said this because their great day of wrath has come, and who has power to stand?” (Rev 6:17)
I appreciate John Walvoord’s comments about the day of God’s wrath, “The day of God’s wrath is not a twenty-four-hour day, but a period of unspecified length. The day of wrath in one sense is the whole period of the great tribulation, when God will deal in direct judgment with the world, climaxing with the return of Christ in power and glory and divine judgment upon all who oppose His coming” (Walvoord, Revelation, 134).
V. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
God is my foundation and guide.
John and his original audience used land, the sun, the moon, stars, mountains, and islands for their daily navigation whether on land or sea. The sixth seal involves earthquakes, the sun becoming dark, the moon becoming red, the stars falling from the sky, and the mountains and islands being moved from their places. This massive breakup of navigational features would have caused massive chaos in the mind of the original readers. Their entire way of life would have been disturbed. Yet, as believers we know that God is our foundation and our God. As Proverbs tells us, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” (Prov 3:5–6, NLT)
Isaiah tells us, “Though the LORD is very great and lives in heaven, he will make Jerusalem his home of justice and righteousness. In that day he will be your sure foundation, providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. The fear of the LORD will be your treasure” (Isa 33:5–6, NLT)
With that said, believers should be assured that regardless of what happens on earth our God will be our foundation and guide.