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Revelation 6:12–17

“When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place” (vv. 12–14).

One difficult issue regarding the book of Revelation concerns the dating of the work. We have noted that while most scholars today believe John wrote the book in the mid-90s, a significant minority argues for a mid-60s date. If the second position is correct, many of the judgment scenes in Revelation likely predict the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Thus, proponents of the earlier date think more of the book of Revelation has already been fulfilled than those who hold to the later date. Advocates of the later date tend to believe Revelation describes the entire church age and the things that will happen throughout that era. Typically, they hold that Revelation does this in a cyclical fashion, looking at the same events repeatedly but from different perspectives. Early date advocates can read the book cyclically as well, the difference being that John is returning to the destruction of Jerusalem again and again.

The different dates might affect one’s interpretation of today’s passage. The imagery of Revelation 6:12–17 conveys the idea of cataclysmic, universe-transforming judgment. The created order is coming undone. Some interpreters read this language as if the moon will turn as red as blood, the skies will go away like a scroll that is rolled up, and so forth. However, the imagery is more likely figurative. The Old Testament sometimes describes God’s judgments in history with such language. Consider Jeremiah 4:24, which is part of a passage concerning the fall of Judah to Babylon. Much destruction happened at that time, but the mountains did not literally move on their own. Similarly, Isaiah 13 describes the fall of Babylon with universe-shaking imagery, though the stars did not stop shining when the Persians conquered the Babylonians in 538 BC (see v. 10). In each case, the judgment on a particular people marked the end of one era in God’s plan of redemption and the beginning of a new one. The change was so momentous that one could say it transformed the entire cosmos even if the natural world carried on as usual.

Revelation 6:12–17 could be using similar images to mark the fall of Jerusalem and the decisive setting aside of the old covenant in favor of the new. Such judgment also serves as a foretaste of the final judgment to come on all people. But if Revelation was written in the mid-90s, we likely have a description of the final judgment, also in a manner that is not strictly literal. Either way, the point is similar—the Lord will certainly judge all those who oppose Him.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Revelation 6:15 makes it clear that even the most powerful people on earth will not escape divine judgment. No amount of money, no political status, no position of authority, no earthly advantage will protect the enemies of God’s people on judgment day. Because of that, it is also foolish to put our ultimate hope in any of those things. Our security is found in God alone.

For Further Study
  • Ecclesiastes 12:1–8
  • Matthew 24:29–31

The Cry of the Martyrs

God Is Good

Keep Reading Covenant Theology

From the October 2020 Issue
Oct 2020 Issue