The opening of the sixth seal brings before us the great Day of Wrath; in view is Judgment Day.
The horrifying scene is described in verses 12–14: “I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.”
The first thing we behold with the opening of the sixth seal is a great earthquake—the Greek says literally a “great shaking”—it is the great shaking of the heavens and the earth.
The earth, of course, has been shaken before. Remember the scene at the giving of the Law, Exodus 19:16–18, “Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.” The judge Deborah recalls the scene as she sings her song in Judges 5:4–5, “Lord, when You went out from Seir, when You marched from the field of Edom, the earth trembled and the heavens poured, the clouds also poured water; the mountains gushed before the Lord, this Sinai, before the Lord God of Israel.” David also recalls the scene as he sings the words of Psalm 68:7-8, “O God, when You went out before Your people, when You marched through the wilderness, the earth shook; the heavens also dropped rain at the presence of God; Sinai itself was moved at the presence of God, the God of Israel.”
The earth beholds its Creator, and shakes in His presence. It shakes not only because God is present, but because God speaks. Two of the minor prophets draw a connection between the revelation of God’s Word and the shaking of the earth. Consider Amos 1:1, “The words of Amos, who was among the sheep breeders of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.” Compare that with Zechariah 14:5, “Then you shall flee through My mountain valley, for the mountain valley shall reach to Azal. Yes, you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with You.” Amos and Zechariah both connect the revelation of God’s Word to an earthquake. God’s Word is power; it is living and active; it brings with it a shaking of the earth.
The earth trembles at God’s presence. The earth shakes at His revelation, the revelation of His Word. The earth trembles and shakes because God comes forth in judgment. Consider Psalm 18:7–15, “Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken, because He was angry. Smoke went up from His nostrils, and devouring fire from His mouth; coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and came down with darkness under His feet. And He rode upon a cherub, and flew; He flew upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness His secret place; His canopy around Him was dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. From the brightness before Him, His thick clouds passed with hailstones and coals of fire. The Lord thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered His voice, hailstones and coals of fire. He sent out His arrows and scattered the foe, lightnings in abundance, and He vanquished them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, the foundations of the world were uncovered at Your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.” The earth shakes and trembles at God’s coming in judgment.
It is fitting, then, that the prophets depict the coming day of the Lord in terms of a great earthquake. Isaiah 13:13, “Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of hosts and in the day of His fierce anger.” Again in Isaiah 29:6, “You will be punished by the Lord of hosts with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with storm and tempest and the flame of devouring fire.”
Consider also Ezekiel 38:18–23, “And it will come to pass at the same time, when Gog comes against the land of Israel,’ says the Lord God, ‘that My fury will show in My face. For in My jealousy and in the fire of My wrath I have spoken: ‘Surely in that day there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel, so that the fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, the beasts of the field, all creeping things that creep on the earth, and all men who are on the face of the earth shall shake at My presence. The mountains shall be thrown down, the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground. I will call for a sword against Gog throughout all My mountains, says the Lord God. Every man’s sword will be against his brother. And I will bring him to judgment with pestilence and bloodshed; I will rain down on him, on his troops, and on the many peoples who are with him, flooding rain, great hailstones, fire, and brimstone. Thus I will magnify Myself and sanctify Myself, and I will be known in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the Lord.” The coming of the Day of the Lord is pictured in terms of a great earthquake.
We find such imagery also in the Minor Prophets. Joel 2:10, “The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble; the sun and moon grow dark, and the stars diminish their brightness.” Again in Joel 3:16, “The Lord also will roar from Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem; the heavens and earth will shake; but the Lord will be a shelter for His people, and the strength of the children of Israel.” Finally, consider Haggai 2:6, “For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land.” The great and coming Day of the Lord is pictured in terms of an earthquake.
Revelation picks up on this theme picturing the great and coming Day of the Lord in terms of a great and terrible earthquake. God shakes the earth in His great indignation and wrath. Judgment Day shall bring a shaking of the heavens and the earth—a shaking of the created order—a rending of the created order—a destruction of the created order—an undoing of the created order.
So great will be this final shaking of the heavens and the earth that it will affect all of creation. The sun will become black like sackcloth of hair; the moon will become like blood; the stars of heaven will fall to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind; the sky will recede as a scroll.
Why the sun? What is the sun but that which gives light and governs the day? What is the sun but that which, in giving light and governing the day, also governs the seasons: seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer. On the Day of Judgment, the sun is turned black like sackcloth of hair. The point is clear: no more light to govern the day, no more light to govern the seasons, no more seedtime and harvest, no more cold and heat, no more winter and summer, no more day and night. The earth no longer remains. The created order is undone.
Why the moon? What is the moon but the reflection of the light of the sun? The moon reminds us of God’s faithfulness, even in the midst of darkness. You can look up in the blackness of night and though the sun is hidden from your view, you know that it continues to shine by evidence of the moon. Now the moon is turned to blood. The created order is undone.
Why the stars? Consider how many worship the stars through astrology, daily consulting the horoscope for guidance. Is your hope in the stars of heaven? Do you read the horoscope with great interest, thinking that it has great bearing upon the events of your life? Look what becomes of those precious stars! They fall into disarray, and are cast down upon the earth. The created order is undone.
Why the sky? The firmament above is that which separates the heavens and the earth. Now the firmament recedes like a scroll. The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and there is no place for the ungodly. He is coming to Judge!
In His coming to judge, every mountain and island is moved out of place. From Mt. St. Helens to the Hawaiian islands. From Mt. Everest to the Everglades. The created order is shaken and undone.
The shaking of the created order brings about another shaking as well: the shaking of mankind. Consider verse 15, “And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains.” All mankind sees the shaking of the created order, and they, like the earth, tremble and shake as well. The entire godless world—kings, great men, rich men, commanders, mighty men, slaves, free men—is shaken with fear and terror. They may have ignored God all their lives long, refusing to tremble at His Word, but now they can ignore Him no more, now they do tremble! The Day of Judgment is here. The great day of His wrath has come.
As Adam and Eve hid from God on that original judgment day of Genesis 3, so unrepentant mankind hides from God on the great Day of Judgment in Revelation 6.
They run to and fro, hiding themselves in the mountains and caves, crying out to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” So great and terrible are the events of that Day, that mankind will run about looking for death, crying out for death, death being a better alternative than facing the wrath of the Lamb! But that which they seek they will not find. Death will escape them. The one thing they desire, they will not receive. How horrible that Day! They cry out for the rocks and mountains to fall upon them. These are shrieks of agony and terror, unlike any heard on the face of the earth before. How horrible that Day!
In view, then, with the opening of the sixth seal is the great day of wrath; in view is Judgment Day. The horror of Judgment Day is that there is no more mercy. The horror of the Day of wrath is that there is no more grace. Once that day has arrived, the door of grace is closed forever, for all eternity.
But the good news is this: that day is not yet here! God’s Word continues to go forth while it is yet the day of salvation! In that connection, don’t miss the point of the sixth seal. The seven seals are being opened from the time of Christ’s ascension to the time of His return in glory to judge the living and the dead. That means that every earthquake, every conflagration of creation, every shaking of the earth serves as a harbinger, a harbinger of the great shaking of the heaven and earth that is yet to come. God’s Word instructs us to view each earthquake as a reminder that the great earthquake is yet to come! Each earthquake, then, serves as a summons; a summons to faith and repentance, a summons to warn you and transform you, a summons that is intended to drive you to Christ.
Remember the scene at the cross. Jesus breathes His last, and the earth quaked and the rocks were split. Remember the confession of the centurion: “Surely, this was the Son of God!” The earth shook, and the centurion got the point!
Remember the scene at the jail in Philippi. Paul and Silas were in prison, singing hymns and praying at midnight, when suddenly there was a great earthquake. Remember the confession of the Philippian jailer: “What must I do to be saved?” The earth shook, and the Philippian jailer got the point!
As the final shaking of the heavens and earth will transform the created order—removing it to make way for the new—so each preliminary shaking of the earth is a summons to you, a summons to repentance and faith, a summons to warn you, a summons to transform you, a summons to drive you to Christ, for in Him alone are you able to stand on that last great day!
The earth shakes in California, in India, in Pakistan, telling you that the Day is coming in which the heavens and the earth will be shaken with a great earthquake. The great Day of His wrath is coming. Will you be able to stand?
Rev. Brian Vos is the pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Caledonia, Michigan.