Revelation 6:12
And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, see, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(12-17) The sixth seal.—The seals follow the lines laid down by our Lord in Matthew 24. There He tells His disciples that wars (Revelation 6:6), famines and pestilences (Revelation 6:7), and persecutions (Revelation 6:9) are to be expected; these are necessary features in the history of the world. But these features are described by our Master as preliminary to His Coming and the end of the world (Matthew 24:3), and that when these had wrought their work then the Coming of the Son of Man would take place (Matthew 24:29-31). With this guide, it is impossible for us to deny that the opening of this sixth seal has reference to the Coming of the Son of Man, and finds its final and ultimate fulfilment in the day when He will come to gather His elect from the four winds. But it is not to be forgotten that our Lord wished us to regard certain great culminating epochs as in a secondary sense His advents. The eagles which swept down upon the carcase of any corrupt nationality were proofs of His reign and true shadows of His coming. The features indicated in the seals have a sequence which has been reproduced in the history of nations and churches. The promise of good; the breaking forth of the spirit of violence; the time of social misery, want, disease; the oppression of the good; revolution— these have repeated themselves in Jewish, Roman, French, and other histories; and the prophecy is not exhausted yet.

(12-14) And I beheld . . .—Better, And I saw when He opened the sixth seal, and (omit “lo!”) a great shaking took place, and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon all became as blood, and the stars of the heaven fell to the earth, as a fig-tree casts its winter figs when shaken by a great wind, and the heaven departed like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. It is well to keep in mind the parallel imagery of the Old Testament. The shaking (“earthquake” is hardly an adequate rendering, as the shaking extends to heaven as well as earth) was spoken of by Haggai: “Yet once for all” (not “once more,” as in the English version) “shake I not the earth only, but also the heavens. And this word ‘Once for all’ signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken” (Haggai 2:6, and Hebrews 12:26-27). Sun black as sackcloth: Joel has a similar thought —“the sun shall be turned into darkness” (Joel 2:30-31); and Isaiah,‘‘ I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering” (Isaiah 1:3). The moon as blood is repeated from Joel 2:30-31. The falling of the stars of heaven has its parallel in Isaiah 34:3-4, “All the host of heaven shall be dissolved.” As a fig-tree is an echo of Isaiah 34:4. It will be seen by these passages how closely the writer of the Apocalypse has kept to Old Testament imagery; and that events, such as great calamities, changes, and revolutions in the world’s history, are described by emblems similar to those used here. St. Peter, for example, illustrates the great spiritual revolution of the Day of Pentecost by the passage from Joel, “The sun turned into darkness and the moon into blood.” Hence it seems right to regard the language here as figurative, and to bear in mind that, though its fullest application belongs to the final advent, there may be many anticipatory advents. The judgment is often rehearsed before the day of judgment; the ages of oppression end in a day of catastrophe and confusion in which the righteous laws of a righteous King avenge themselves on the law breakers; the old lights and landmarks are for a time obliterated, and feeble, but pretentious, religionists are swept off as autumn figs from the fig-tree, and the proud and mighty are dismayed; things come to a crisis, and men “are proven by the hour” of that judgment; the unripe or untimely fruit drops off, as those who have no root in themselves fall away, and as the feebly- founded house fell in the tempest (Matthew 7:26-27). If this be so in the minor and preliminary crisis of the world, how much more so in the final crisis, which will try all? “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” The untimely figs, or unripe figs, are the grosses, or winter figs, which grow under the leaves, and do not ripen at the proper season, but hang upon the trees till the winter. They are a fit emblem of those who have not used the opportunity and season to ripen for God. Like the unwise virgins, they have not replenished their lamps with oil; or, to use the unique expression of St. Luke, they bring no fruit to perfection (Luke 8:14). The crisis thus puts the feeble, timid, and negligent to the test, and also proves the vanity of those who make any world-power their confidence. As the day of the Lord of which Isaiah spoke was upon every one that was proud and lifted up, upon the cedars and oaks, upon the towers and fenced walls, upon the loftiness and haughtiness of men, so does the Apocalyptic seer behold the dismay which falls upon every form of vain gloriousness, pretence, and pride.

Revelation 6:12-17. And I beheld — Further in my vision; when he — The Lamb; had opened the sixth seal; and lo! there was a great earthquake — Greek, σεισμος μεγας εγενετο, there was a great concussion: for the expression comprehends the shaking of heaven as well as of the earth; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair — It lost its usual lustre, and looked black and dark, as in a total eclipse; and the moon became as blood — Instead of appearing with its usual brightness in the heavens, it appeared of a dusky-red colour, as blood. And the stars of heaven fell — They seemed to disappear out of their places in the heavens, and to fall down upon the earth, like meteors, or as blasted fruit is blown down from the trees upon the ground in a violent storm. And the heaven departed as a scroll, &c. — It was further represented to me in my vision as if the heavens were no longer spread over the earth, but rolled up together as a roll of parchment; and every mountain and every island — The most secure from the danger of earthquakes, were not only shaken, but quite overturned and destroyed; so as never to be restored again: and all this, says Lowman, “to signify, according to the expressions of ancient prophecy, such a downfall of the empire and power of heathen Rome, as should never be recovered; but the power of these idolatrous enemies of the Christian faith should cease and be no more, as the power of the Assyrians and Babylonians, the ancient enemies of God’s people, was destroyed and never recovered.” Thus the Prophet Joel describing, in the beautiful images of prophetic style, a famine to be occasioned by a great number of locusts, which were to devour the whole fruits of the earth, so expresses it, Joel 2:10; The earth shall quake before them, the heavens shall tremble, the sun and moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. The Prophet Isaiah, prophesying of a great destruction of God’s enemies, for their opposition to his church, (which he calls the day of the Lord’s vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion, Isaiah 34:8,) thus describes it, Revelation 6:4; And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll, and all their hosts shall fall down as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig-tree. The general meaning of which expressions is explained in the following verse; For my sword shall be bathed in heaven; behold it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse to judgment. In like manner, the same prophet thus expresses the judgments of God in the punishment of sinners, Isaiah 13:10; For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. The meaning of which is thus explained in the next words, Revelation 6:11; I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible. The Prophet Ezekiel uses the same images to express the downfall of oppressive empires and power. Thus in the prophecy of the destruction of the empire of Egypt by the empire of Babylon, Ezekiel 32:7-8; And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light; all the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord God. And Jeremiah, concerning the land of Judah, Jeremiah 4:23-24; I beheld the earth, and, lo! it was without form and void; and the heavens, and they had no light; I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled; and all the hills moved lightly. And thus our Saviour himself also speaks, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, Matthew 24:29; The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. Now it is certain, says Bishop Newton, who interprets this prophecy in the same manner, that the fall of any of those cities and kingdoms was not of greater concern and consequence to the world, nor more deserving to be described in such pompous figures, than the fall of the pagan Roman empire, when the great lights of the heathen world, the sun, moon, and stars, the powers civil and ecclesiastical, were all eclipsed and obscured, the heathen emperors and Cesars were slain, the heathen priests and augurs were extirpated, the heathen officers and magistrates were removed, the temples demolished, and their revenues appropriated to better uses. It is customary with the prophets, after they have described a thing in the most symbolical and figurative diction, to represent the same again in plainer language; and the same method is observed here, Revelation 6:15-17 :

And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bond-man and every free- man; — That is, Maximian, Galerius, Maximin, Maxentius, Licinius, &c., with all their adherents and followers, were so routed and dispersed, that they hid themselves in the dens, and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us and hide us — Expressions used, as in other prophets, (Isaiah 2:19; Isaiah 2:21; Hosea 10:8; Luke 23:30,) to denote the utmost terror and consternation; Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, &c. — This is therefore a triumph of Christ over his heathen enemies, and a triumph after a severe persecution; so that the time and all the circumstances, as well as the series and order of the prophecy, agree perfectly with this interpretation. Galerius, Maximin, and Licinius made even a public confession of their guilt, recalled their decrees and edicts against the Christians, and acknowledged the just judgments of God and of Christ in their destruction. The history of this extraordinary event is given more at large by Lowman, from whose account the following short extract is taken. A short time after the heavy persecution of Dioclesian, termed, in the prophecy, a little season, (Revelation 6:11,) a very great change took place in the heathen Roman empire, attended with great calamities on the persecutors of the Christians, even such as broke in pieces their oppressive power. Dioclesian and Maximian had been compelled by Galerius to resign the empire and retire to private life; but upon the death of Constantius, and the accession of his son Constantine to his part of the empire, Maxentius having got himself declared emperor at Rome, Galerius, to suppress this rebellion, persuaded Maximian to resume the empire, which he did; but in a short time had the mortification of being deposed; and soon after, having in vain attempted to take the life of Constantine, put an end to his own life. Galerius was smitten with a very loathsome and incurable distemper, attended with such insupportable torments, that he often endeavoured to kill himself, and caused some of his physicians to be put to death because their medicines had not been effectual to remove his disorder. At last, his wicked and cruel conduct toward the Christians being brought to his remembrance, as the cause of his sufferings, he immediately put an end to the persecution (that had been carried on against them) by a public edict, in which he particularly desired their prayers for his recovery. Soon after this public acknowledgment, however, in favour of Christianity, he died of his loathsome distemper. Constantine, who had become a great favourer of the Christians, marched against Maxentius, who opposed him with an army of one hundred and seventy thousand foot, and eighteen thousand horse; after a very fierce and bloody battle, Maxentius was defeated by Constantine, who, having upon this victory secured to himself the whole empire of the west, gave free liberty to Christians openly to profess their religion. But in the east, Maximian revoked the liberties which had been granted to the Christians, and made war against Licinius; being defeated, however, with great slaughter of his numerous army, he put many heathen priests and soothsayers to death as cheats. But not long after, when he was endeavouring to try the event of a second battle, he was seized with a violent distemper, attended with intolerable pains and torments all over his body; so that, after being wasted to a skeleton, and becoming quite blind, he at length died in rage and despair; confessing, upon his death-bed, that his torments were a just punishment upon him for his malicious and unprovoked proceedings against Christ and his religion.

Constantine and Licinius now remained sole emperors, the former in the west, and the latter in the east. Licinius having cruelly persecuted the Christians in his part of the empire, a war broke out between him and Constantine, in which Licinius was overcome, and forced to flee; and after renewing the war, and carrying it on with greater fury than before, he was again defeated in a general battle, in which it is said one hundred thousand men were slain. He also was taken prisoner, and though his life was then spared, yet upon new attempts against the life of Constantine, he was put to death, and with him ended all the heathen power of Rome. Thus, by great and frequent calamities, in which so many emperors had their share one after another, this wonderful change was wrought in the heathen Roman empire. So that their power to oppress and persecute the Christians fell, never to rise again; and, together with it, fell the pagan superstition and idolatry. “This part of history,” as Lowman observes, “is very proper to the general design of this whole revelation; to support the patience, and encourage the perseverance of the church, by such an instance of God’s power and faithfulness in the protection of the religion of Christ, and punishment of its enemies. We see in this period, during the persecution of heathen Rome, the church in a state of great trial and suffering, and yet preserved and protected, and finally obtaining a state of peace and safety, when all the power of its persecutors was totally destroyed by God’s overruling providence. Thus this history confirms the general truth of all the prophecies: and the particular predictions of each of them severally: — a strong encouragement to the patience and constancy of the true church.” 6:12-17 When the sixth seal was opened, there was a great earthquake. The foundations of churches and states would be terribly shaken. Such bold figurative descriptions of great changes abound in the prophecies of Scripture; for these events are emblems, and declare the end of the world and the day of judgment. Dread and terror would seize on all sorts of men. Neither grandeur, riches, valour, nor strength, can support men at that time. They would be glad to be no more seen; yea, to have no longer any being. Though Christ be a Lamb, he can be angry, and the wrath of the Lamb is exceedingly dreadful; for if the Redeemer himself, who appeases the wrath of God, be our enemy, where shall we find a friend to plead for us? As men have their day of opportunity, and their seasons of grace, so God has his day of righteous wrath. It seems that the overthrow of the paganism of the Roman empire is here meant. The idolaters are described as hiding themselves in their dens and secret caves, and vainly seeking to escape ruin. In such a day, when the signs of the times show those who believe in God's word, that the King of kings is approaching, Christians are called to a decided course, and to a bold confession of Christ and his truth before their fellowmen. Whatever they may have to endure, the short contempt of man is to be borne, rather than that shame which is everlasting.And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal - See the notes at Revelation 5:1; Revelation 6:1.

And, lo, there was a great earthquake - Before endeavoring to ascertain to what the sixth seal was designed to refer, it is proper, as in the previous cases, to furnish a particular explanation of the meaning of the symbols. All the symbols represented in the opening of this seal denote consternation, commotion, changes; but still they are all significant, and we are to suppose that something would occur corresponding with each one of them. It cannot be supposed that the things here described were represented on the part of the roll or volume that was now unfolded in any other way than that they were pictures, or that the whole was a species of panoramic representation made to pass before the eyes. Thus understood, it would not be difficult to represent each one of these things in a painting: as the heaving ground - the agitated forests - the trembling hills - the falling cities and houses - the sun blackened, and the moon turned to blood:

(a) The earthquake, Revelation 6:12; "There was a great earthquake." The word used here denotes a shaking or agitation of the earth. The effect, when violent, is to produce important changes - opening chasms in the earth; throwing down houses and temples; sinking hills, and elevating plains; causing ponds and lakes to dry up, or forming them where none existed; elevating the ocean from its bed, rending rocks, etc. As all that occurs in the opening of the other seals is symbolical, it is to be presumed that this is also, and that for the fulfillment of this we are not to look for a literal earthquake, but for such agitations and changes in the world as would be properly symbolized by this. The earthquake, as a symbol, would merely denote great agitations or overturnings on the earth. The particular character of those changes must be determined by other circumstances in the symbol that would limit and explain it.

There are, it is said, but three literal earthquakes referred to in the Scripture: that mentioned in 1 Kings 19:11; that in Uzziah's time, Amos 1:1; Zechariah 14:5; and what took place at the Saviour's death. All the rest are emblematical or symbolical-referring mostly to civil commotions and changes. Then in Haggai 2:6-7; "Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land, and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come; and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts." That is, there would be great agitations in the world before he came. See the notes on Hebrews 12:26-28. So also great changes and commotions are referred to in Isaiah 24:19-20; "The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage." An earthquake, if there were no other circumstances limiting and explaining the symbol, would merely denote great agitation and commotion - as if states and empires were tumbling to ruin. As this is here a mere symbol, it is not necessary to look for a literal fulfillment, or to expect to find in history actual earthquakes to which this had reference, anymore than when it is said that "the heavens departed as a scroll" we are to expect that they will be literally rolled up; but if, in the course of history, earthquakes preceded remarkable political convulsions and revolutions, it would be proper to represent such events in this way.

(b) The darkening of the sun: "And the sun became black as sackcloth of hair." Sackcloth was a coarse black cloth, commonly, though not always, made of hair. It was used for sacks, for strainers, and for mourning garments; and as thus worn it was not an improper emblem of sadness and distress. The idea here is, that the sun put on a dark, dingy, doleful appearance, as if it were in mourning. The general image, then, in this emblem, is that of calamity - as if the very sun should put on the robes of mourning. We are by no means to suppose that this was literally to occur, but that some great calamity would happen, of which this would be an appropriate emblem. See the Isaiah 13:10 note; Matthew 24:29 note; Compare Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 34:4; 1, 3; Isaiah 60:19-20; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:10; Joel 3:15-16; Amos 8:9. What is the particular nature of the calamity is to be learned from other parts of the symbol.

(c) The discoloration of the moon: "And the moon became as blood." Red like blood - either from the smoke and vapor that usually precedes an earthquake, or as a mere emblem. This also would betoken calamity, and perhaps the symbol may be so far limited and modified by this as to denote war, for that would be most naturally suggested by the color - red. Compare the notes on Revelation 6:4 of this chapter. But any great calamity would be appropriately represented by this - as the change of the moon to such a color would be a natural emblem of distress.

(d) The falling of the stars, Revelation 6:13; "And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth." This language is derived from the poetic idea that the sky seems to be a solid concave, in which the stars are set, and that when any convulsion takes place, that concave will be shaken, and the stars will be loosened and fall from their places. See this language explained in the notes on Isaiah 34:4. Sometimes the expanse above us is spoken of as a curtain that is spread out, and that may be rolled up; sometimes as a solid crystalline expanse in which the stars are fixed. According to either representation the stars are described as falling to the earth. If the expanse is rolled up, the stars, having nothing to support them, fall if violent tempests or concussions shake the heavens, the stars, loosened from their fixtures, fall to the earth. Stars, in the Scriptures, are symbols of princes and rulers (see Daniel 8:10; Revelation 8:10-11; Revelation 9:1); and the natural meaning of this symbol is, that there would be commotions which would unsettle princes, and bring them down from their thrones - like stars falling from the sky.

Even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs - Mart., "green"; Greek, ὀλύνθους olunthous. This word properly denotes "winter-figs," or such as grow under the leaves, and do not ripen at the proper season, but hang upon the trees during the winter (Robinson, Lexicon). This fruit seldom matures, and easily falls off in the spring of the year (Stuart, in loco). A violent wind shaking a plantation of fig-trees would of course cast many such figs to the ground. The point of the comparison is, the ease with which the stars would seem to be shaken from their places, and hence, the ease with which, in these commotions, princes would be dethroned.

(e) The departing of the heavens, Revelation 6:14; "And the heaven departed as a scroll." That is, as a book or volume - βιβλίον biblion - rolled up. The heavens are here described as spread out, and their passing away is represented by the idea that they might be rolled up, and thus disappear. See the notes on Isaiah 34:4. This, too, is a symbol, and we are not to suppose that it will literally occur. Indeed it never can literally occur; and we are not, therefore, to look for the fulfillment of this in any physical fact that would correspond with what is here said. The plain meaning is, that there would be changes as if such an event would happen; that is, that revolutions would occur in the high places of the earth, and among those in power, as if the stars should fall, and the very heavens were swept away. This is the natural meaning of the symbol, and this accords with the usage of the language elsewhere.

(f) The removal of mountains and islands, Revelation 6:14; "And every mountain and island were moved out of their places." This would denote convulsions in the political or moral world, as great as would occur in the physical world if the very mountains were removed and the islands should change their places. We are not to suppose that this would literally occur; but we should be authorized from this to expect that, in regard to those things which seemed to be permanent and fixed on an immov able basis, like mountains and islands, there would be violent and important changes. If thrones and dynasties long established were overthrown; if institutions that seemed to be fixed and per manent were abolished; if a new order of things should rise in the political world, the meaning of the symbol, so far as the language is concerned, would be fulfilled.

(g) The universal consternation, Revelation 6:15-17; "And the kings of the earth, etc." The design of these verses Revelation 6:15-17, in the varied language used, is evidently to denote universal consternation and alarm - as if the earth should be convulsed, and the stars should fall, and the heavens should pass away. This consternation would extend to all classes of people, and fill the world with alarm, as if the end of all things were coming.

The kings of the earth - Rulers - all who occupied thrones.

The great men - High officers of state.

And the rich men - Their wealth would not secure them from destruction, and they would be alarmed like others.

continued...

12. As Re 6:4, 6-8, the sword, famine, and pestilence, answer to Mt 24:6, 7; Re 6:9, 10, as to martyrdoms, answer to Mt 24:9, 10; so this passage, Re 6:12, 17, answers to Mt 24:29, 30, "the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven; … then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming"; imagery describing the portents of the immediate coming of the day of the Lord; but not the coming itself until the elect are sealed, and the judgments invoked by the martyrs descend on the earth, the sea, and the trees (Re 7:1-3).

and, lo—So A reads. But B and C omit "lo."

earthquake—Greek, "shaking" of the heavens, the sea, and the dry land; the shaking of these mutable things being the necessary preliminary to the setting up of those things which cannot be shaken. This is one of the catchwords [Wordsworth] connecting the sixth seal with the sixth trumpet (Re 11:13) and the seventh vial (Re 16:17-21); also the seventh seal (Re 8:5).

sackcloth—One kind, made of the "hair" of Cilician goats, was called "cilicium," or Cilician cloth, and was used for tents, &c. Paul, a Cilician, made such tents (Ac 18:3).

moon—A, B, C, and oldest versions read, "the whole moon"; the full moon; not merely the crescent moon.

as blood—(Joe 2:31).

And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal; the sixth of those seals with which the book was sealed, mentioned Revelation 5:1: this signifieth the revelation of some things which should happen in some certain period of time, but what period is the question, as to which interpreters differ. Some think, the time when Jerusalem was taken; but this was a time past twenty-six or twenty-seven years before John was in Patmos, where he had this vision about things that shall be, Revelation 1:1 22:6. Some think, that period of time which shall be immediately before the day of judgment; but that guess seemeth worse, for after this there was a seventh seal to be opened. Some think, the period of the church’s conflict with antichrist. But Mr. Mede’s judgment (followed by many other famous men) seems best, that it denotes that period when Constantine, the first Christian emperor, restored peace to the church, by overturning the whole pagan state, and making Christianity the religion of the greatest part of the world. This was about the year 311, and perfected upon his victory over Licinius, 325. In this I acquiesce. Let us now see how what is said in this and the following verses about this period will agree to that time.

And, lo, there was a great earthquake: the great question is here, what is meant by this great earthquake, the darkening of the sun, the moon becoming as blood, &c. No history recording any such prodigies, hath made many (taking these things in the natural, literal sense) to say the period under the first seal signifies either the time when Jerusalem was taken, or the day of judgment; but there is a metaphorical sense of these expressions, very usual in the prophetical writings, to show great changes in states; and in this sense it is to be taken here. Thus the prophet describeth the great change God would make in Jerusalem, Isaiah 29:6, Thou shalt be visited of the Lord of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire: and Jeremiah 15:9, Her sun is gone down whlie it was yet day. And, Ezekiel 32:7, the change God would work in the ruin of Egypt, is thus expressed: When I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee. So Joel 2:10,31, and Joel 3:15. What is an earthquake, but the shaking of the earth? And under this notion God expresseth the changes he makes in states and kingdoms, Isaiah 2:19,21 24:18 Haggai 2:6,7. Thus by

earthquake here is to be understood a great change in the Roman empire.

And the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood: the sun signifies those that are in the highest power; the moon, those that are next to them in place and dignity. And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal,.... Of the sealed book which the Lamb took out of the hand of him that sat upon the throne, in order to open it, and unloose its seals. About this seal interpreters much differ; some refer this to the destruction of Jerusalem, because of the likeness of expressions here used, and in Matthew 24:7; but this was past many years before this seal was opened; and besides, though that time was a day of wrath to the uttermost upon the Jewish people, and it was the Lamb's day of wrath, taking vengeance on them for their unbelief and rejection of him as the Messiah; yet they had no sense of the Lamb, nor any apprehension of his wrath at that time, nor have they now, but imputed their calamity to their divisions and quarrels among themselves. Others think this seal belongs to the destruction of the Roman empire by the Goths, Huns, Vandals, &c. but it should be observed, that the empire stood some hundreds of years after the end of the fifth seal and the opening of this; and it was after the seventh seal, and at the sounding of the trumpets, that that destruction came on; moreover, that calamity was by the savageness of some barbarous nations which overrun the empire, but this here spoken of comes from the wrath of the Lamb; add to which, that that calamity distressed the Christians in the empire, and them chiefly, whereas this falls only upon the enemies of the Lamb, and the persecutors of his people. Others are of opinion that this has respect to the strange change of affairs in the church of Christ, through the rise, power, and tyranny of antichrist; by "the earthquake" they suppose is meant the shaking of both church and state by the man of sin; who shook the doctrines, ordinances, and discipline of the church, and threw all into confusion, and introduced a new face of things; and also shook the kingdoms of the earth, and the thrones and crowns of princes: by the "sun" becoming "black", they think is meant the sun of righteousness, Jesus Christ, who was obscured in the doctrines concerning him, as the one and only Mediator, and justification by his righteousness, and pardon through his blood, by introducing the mediation of angels and saints, the doctrine of justification by works, and the doctrine of merit, works of supererogation, indulgences, pardons, penance, and purgatory: by the "moon" they understand the church, which receives all its light, grace, righteousness, and holiness, from Christ, and which, like the moon, is changeable as to its outward form and circumstances; and this became "as blood", through the persecutions, massacres, and cruelties of the Romish antichrist, who has been made drunk with the blood of the saints and martyrs of Jesus: the "stars" they take to be the ministers of the word; either hypocritical ones, who were like unripe figs, destitute of true grace, and so were easily shaken with the wind of Papal power, and fell into the earth, and apostatized from the faith, and conformed to the corruptions of antichrist; or the true ministers of the Gospel, who were put to death, and that to an untimely and violent one, signified by the shaking of untimely figs by a mighty wind: by the "heaven" departing as a scroll rolled up, they suppose is designed either the church, which fled into the wilderness, and remained invisible during the Papal power and cruelty; or else the Scriptures, which the pope made himself sole judge and interpreter of and shut up from the common people in an unknown language, and forbid the laity the reading of them: by "mountains" they think are intended the kings and princes of the earth, who were obliged to submit to the Romish antichrist, and give their kingdoms to him, and receive their crowns and kingdoms from him, and be his vassals: and by "the islands", the people their subjects, who were forced to acknowledge him as the supreme head, and receive his mark in their right hand or forehead, or they could not buy and sell: and by all ranks and degrees of men, as "kings", &c. hiding themselves in rocks and mountains, and calling upon them to fall on them and cover them, they apply either to their invoking the virgin Mary, and other saints, to intercede for them, and screen them from the wrath of God and Christ, on account of their sins; or else to the persecutors of the saints, of every rank and in every age, and to the punishments that shall fall upon them. But however feasible this interpretation may seem to be, it is certain that this was not the face of things at the close of the fifth seal, or the Dioclesian persecution, and at the opening of the sixth, when Constantine came to the imperial throne, for then the church appeared as she is described in Revelation 12:1; which is just the reverse of this. There are others, who because of the very awful things here spoken of, and the very awful language in which they are expressed, conclude that this seal respects the day of judgment; not considering that the fifth seal ends about the year 313, at the close of the last of the ten persecutions, and that the sixth seal begins where that ends; and though above 1750 years have elapsed since that time, yet the day of judgment is not come, and we know not when it will; besides, here is another seal, a seventh seal, which follows, and introduces punishments on the Roman empire, and seven vials follow, which pour out plagues upon antichrist, all which can never be thought to be after the day of judgment; moreover, the account of the day of judgment stands in its proper place in Revelation 20:12; after the destruction of Babylon, the first resurrection, and the saints' thousand years' reign with Christ. But to proceed; the business which is the subject of this seal is the removing of Paganism, and Pagan governors out of the Roman empire; this was the thing the rider upon the white horse, under the first seal, set out upon to effect, and never ceased until he had accomplished it; and this is what ensued upon the close of the fifth seal, when Pagan persecution ceased, on Constantine, a Christian emperor, having the reins of power in his hands; and it cannot be thought, that so wonderful a change of things as this should be omitted in this prophetic history; and it is easy to observe that changes in kingdoms and governments, both as to the polity and religion of them, are sometimes expressed in such like figurative terms as here; see Isaiah 13:9; and which may be accommodated to this event as follows:

and, lo, there was a great earthquake; or "shaking", both of the heavens and earth, and which, as it denotes in Haggai 2:6; compared with Hebrews 12:26; the removing of Jewish worship and ordinances, in order to make way for the Christian ordinances and institutions, which were to remain; so here it intends the removing of Pagan worship and idolatry, and of Pagan magistrates, that the Christian religion and Christian magistrates might take place. This, with what follows, concerning the darkness of the sun and moon, might be literally true; and it seems by historians, that there were such phenomena about those times; for it is asserted (h), that a very great earthquake in Syria followed the Dioclesian persecution, which shook and caused to fall the tops of houses at Tyre and Sidon, and killed many thousands; and some such like happened at Rome, and at Spoletum, where above three hundred and fifty Pagans perished, as they were serving their idols. It is also observed (i), that the moon was turned into blood in the times of Galerius, who succeeded. Dioclesian; and that the sun failed, and the stars shined for four hours, when Licinius was conquered by Constantine; but then these may be considered as symbols of the change in the empire.

And the sun came black as sackcloth of hair; which is made of black hairs; see Isaiah 50:3; as when eclipsed. The sun was the chief deity worshipped by the Heathens, under various names, and this becoming black, may design the removing of their principal gods from their honour and glory, or the downfall of idolatry, which the Jews (k) call , "the sun of idolatry", which they suppose is meant in Sol 1:6. And Satan, the god of this world, who was worshipped in different forms, now fell, as Lucifer, the son of the morning, and as lightning from heaven, and was cast down from all his dignity, influence, and power, to the earth; for the casting out of the red dragon, the old serpent, and Satan, after his combat with Michael and his angels, in Revelation 12:3, refers to this very time; likewise the chief magistrate, the Heathen Roman emperor, may be included; and it is remarkable, that Dioclesian the emperor, who had now retired from the imperial government, and was under a cloud, under disgrace, and in distress, had, in the zenith of his glory, caused himself to be worshipped as a god, and as the brother of the sun and moon.

And the moon became as blood; as when obscured; the Alexandrian copy and some others, the Complutensian edition, the Vulgate Latin, and all the Oriental versions, read, "the whole moon"; this may design the next Heathen deity, or class of deities, for the moon was also worshipped by the Heathens under different names; and may likewise include the Pagan priesthood, which was next, and was annexed to the imperial dignity; and which was disused by, Constantine and his successors; and even the very title, and the robe which was a symbol of it, were laid aside as unworthy of Christian princes; see Mede upon the place.

(h) Magdeburg. Centuriator. cent. 4. c. 3. p. 86. & c. 13. p. 837. (i) Alsted. Chronolog. Thesaur. p. 59. (k) Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 6. 2.

{9} And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as {c} sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;

(9) The sixth sign, a narration, has two parts: the sign and the event. The sign is that the earth, heaven, and the things that are in them, for the horror of the sins of the world after those most heavy warnings from God, and complaints of the saints shall be shaken most severely, trembling in horrible manner, and losing their light, in this verse: things falling from heaven Re 6:13 withdrawing themselves and fleeing from the greatness of the trouble Re 6:14. So completely do all creatures depend on the will of God, and content themselves in his glory.

(c) So they called in old time those woven works that were of hair.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Revelation 6:12-17. The sixth seal-vision. As the visions portrayed, Revelation 6:3-8, have presented the signs of his coming, announced by the Lord himself in his eschatological discourse (Matthew 24:6 sqq.), and as, also, the fifth seal-vision stands in close connection with Matthew 24:9, so the sixth vision brings what is found in Matthew 24:7 (σεισμοὶ κατὰ τόπους), and especially the signs predicted in Matthew 6:29, which[2154] refer to the immediate entrance of the day of judgment itself.[2155] Incorrect, therefore, because of the connection with what precedes, not only does that explanation appear to be, according to which the entire description, Revelation 6:12-17, refers to the Jewish-Roman war, and the “great day of wrath,” Revelation 6:17, is regarded as nothing else than the destruction of Jerusalem;[2156] but, also, that which seems to be directly the opposite, yet which actually depends upon a similarly arbitrary treatment, as well as also, in many particular interpretations, the harmonious exposition of allegorizing expositors from Victorin. to Hengstenberg,[2157] who in the earthquake, the darkening of the sun, etc., find figurative prophecies of certain events pertaining to the development of the Church, etc. If the reference of the entire vision be limited to the destruction of Jerusalem, it is, of course, more natural in Revelation 6:12 (ὁ ἥλ. ἐγ. μελ., κ.τ.λ.) to think of an eclipse of the sun and moon at the time of Claudius,[2158] than, with Böhmer, to interpret sun and moon as prophecy and the law; but even Grot. cannot adequately represent the context, since he refers to the falling of the stars, Revelation 6:13, as a prognostic of terrible events derived from the notions of the time, and on ὁ οὐρανὸς ἀπεχ., κ.τ.λ., he has to remark: “Because of thick clouds, the heavens cannot be seen.”[2159] In arbitrariness of allegorical interpretation, Böhmer[2160] vies with Victorin., Beda, Vitr., Hengstenb., etc. The earthquake, Revelation 6:12, is made to signify “great revolutions in political or ecclesiastical spheres;”[2161] the sun becoming black is intended to be “the blasphemed Christ,”[2162] “prophecy,”[2163] “worldly emperors and kings;”[2164] the blood-red moon, “the Church reddened by the blood of martyrs,”[2165] “the law,”[2166] “spiritual princes;”[2167] the fallen stars, “the fallen, exalted church-teachers,”[2168] the “Jews who desert the true Church for corrupt Judaism, which is signified by the earth;”[2169] the mountains and islands are “prophets and philosophical pursuits,”[2170] etc. The whole refers, according to Vitr., to the destruction of the papal dominion, and the fearful disturbances in the political governments of Europe which were attached to the Papacy.[2171] Hengstenb. is distinguished from these interpreters only by indecision. The earthquake, the eclipse of sun and moon, the falling of the stars, etc., are to him figurative of “grievous and disturbed times,” which impend by God’s judgment over his enemies. “Heaven,” e.g., he says on Revelation 6:13, “is the heaven of princes, the entire magisterial and sovereign estate. The stars are individual princes and nobles.” This figurative explanation is regarded as necessary “because the falling from heaven of the stars, generally so called, would destroy every thing, while, in what follows, the races of the earth appear as still existing;” to which Ebrard objects: “The shaking down is only from the standpoint of the appearance to human vision; while the human eye sees the stars sinking as stars to earth, yet must they in reality sink, and pass far from the earth in the void expanse.”

[2154] Cf. Revelation 6:16-17, with Matthew 24:30 sqq.; Luke 23:30.

[2155] Cf. Ew., De Wette, Ebrard.

[2156] Grot., Wetst., Alcas., Herd., Böhmer.

[2157] Cf. Beda, N. de Lyra, Aret., Zeger, Vitr., etc.

[2158] Grot.

[2159] Cf. also Eich.

[2160] Cf. Alcas., etc.

[2161] Böhm., Vitr.

[2162] N. de Lyra, Aret.

[2163] Böhm.

[2164] Vitr.

[2165] N. de Lyra, Aret.

[2166] Böhm.

[2167] Vitr.

[2168] N. de Lyra, Aret., Vitr.

[2169] Böhm.

[2170] Aret.

[2171] Cf. Revelation 16:17 sq.

The context itself should have been a sufficient protection from all these aberrations; for here, just as in the preceding seal-visions, the simple admonition is entirely valid, that every thing portrayed in Revelation 6:12-17 is the subject of a vision, and not something objectively real. In the vision, John beholds as the stars fall to the earth (εἰς τ. γην, not “in the expanse”). The consideration, how after such an event men can still live upon earth, is here utterly strange, and contrary to the context. For the sixth seal-vision concludes with the express testimony, that—as also its entire contents, in harmony with Matthew 24:27 sqq., indicate—the day of final judgment has come, and is now present.[2172] 1 There is, therefore, actually,—i.e., if that which was shown in Revelation 6:12-17 in vision to the gazing prophet occurred at the end of days,—no further life of the human race on this earth any longer possible, as, with the destruction of the world (Revelation 6:12 sqq.), the day of the Lord begins. The signs are made known: ὍΤΙ ἘΓΓΎς ἘΣΤΙΝ ἘΠῚ ΘΎΡΑΙς.[2173] Already also the unbelieving note that the day of wrath has come (Revelation 6:15 sqq.). It may accordingly be expected that the seventh seal is opened immediately after Revelation 6:17; and thus to the seer is shown the judgment itself, with its condemning and its beatifying influence. That this does not happen now,[2174] but that first of all ch. 7 is still placed before the seventh seal, and that then, again, the last seal itself brings an entire series of visions, can interfere with the clear meaning of the sixth seal-vision the less, as the further development has the correct meaning just as it has been given.[2175]

[2172] ἦλθεν, v. 17.

[2173] Matthew 24:33.

[2174] Although in fact from the seventh seal, the entire rest of the prophecy, even that of the final judgment corresponding to the fundamental plan of Revelation 5:1 sqq., proceeds.

[2175] Cf. Introd., sec. 1, and on ch. Revelation 7:8.

σεισμός. As Revelation 11:13, Revelation 16:18, Revelation 8:5.[2176] Earthquake;[2177] not indefinitely, “trembling,”[2178] for it is not at all said that by this ΣΕΙΣΜΌς the heavens shall be shaken.

Ὡς ΣΆΚΚΟς ΤΡΊΧΙΝΟς. Cf. Isaiah 50:3.

Ὡς ΑἸΜΑ. Cf. Joel 3:4.

Τ. ὈΛΎΝΘΟΥς. Hesych: ὌΛΥΝΘΟς, ΤῸ ΜῊ ΠΕΠΑΜΜΈΝΟΝ ΣΥΚΟΝ.[2179] Cf. Song of Solomon 2:13. פַנִּים Winer, Rwb., B. I., 429.

Ὁ ΟὐΡΑΝῸς ΑΠΕΧΩΡΊΣΘΗ Ὡς ΒΙΒΛΊΟΝ ἙΛΙΣΣΌΜΕΝΟΝ. Cf. Isaiah 34:4. The idea that the firmament itself, from which the stars fall,[2180] gradually vanishes,[2181] is illustrated by the rolling-together of a book, since the heaven, the firmament, appears stretched out like tent-canvas.[2182]

πᾶν ὄρος, κ.τ.λ. As in Revelation 6:12-17. The sixth seal opened (cf. Crashaw’s To the Name of Jesus, 220–234).The Sixth Seal, Revelation 6:12-1712. a great earthquake] Earthquakes follow wars, famines, and pestilences in Matthew 24:7, as the earlier signs of the approach of Christ’s Coming. But here it is coupled with the darkening of the sun and fall of the stars which, ibid. 29, precede His Coming immediately: whence Alford says, that here it is more than the earth that quakes—that it is a fulfilment of Haggai 2:6, cf. Hebrews 12:26 sqq.

black as sackcloth] The image is used in Isaiah 50:3.

the moon became] Read, the moon wholly became, or, the whole [i.e. full] moon became.

as blood] From Joel 2:31, “the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood.” The image, no doubt, is suggested by the phenomena of natural total eclipses, when the sun disappears entirely, but the moon, though ceasing to be luminous, does not in general become invisible, but assumes a dull reddish colour. We are told of “signs in the Heaven” before the fall of Jerusalem which, if natural, must be assigned to this last cause, and in any case may be regarded as partial fulfilments of these prophecies, and types of their final fulfilment. See Jos. B. J. VI. Revelation 6:3; Tac. Hist. V. xiii. 1.Revelation 6:12. Τὴν ἕκτην, the sixth) See notes at Revelation 6:9. D. Lange, Comm. Apoc., f. 11, says, that it is proved by the agreement of almost all interpreters, that the events of the sixth seal are future. But almost all interpreters, with the exception of those who refer it to the very consummation of the world, interpret it of the past; as even the Apocalyptic Parallels of Sentiments by Jungnitius teach, p. 138, and following. As far as relates to the subject, he has not proved that this seal refers to those things which are about to take place before the end of the world, and have not however as yet taken place: and yet on this theory he has built up the whole mass of his superstructure, fol. foll. Wherefore this ought to have been demonstrated as firmly as possible. We lately vindicated the passage from Matthew 24, to which there is a parallel in Luke 21—ὁ ἥλιοςἡ σελήνη,[79] the sun—the moon) They are here taken in their literal sense. There is a description of the alarm occasioned to the dead by that condition of the universe which there shall be at the last day: an alarm occasioned at the time when the Apocalypse was written: which even at that early time truly said, it is coming. [It is plain that these things cannot be referred to the destruction of the world itself; for there follows at length (not until after the sixth) the seventh seal, containing many things, and those of importance: nor to any other judgment, to be put into execution against enemies; of whom, in fact, the mention is made afterwards. In like manner, under the fifth seal, it was revealed to the souls under the altar, out of favour to them, what was being done on their account. The beginning is made from the earth; as ch. Revelation 20:11.—V. g.][80]

[79] The epithet, ὅλη, is considered of less importance in the margin of Ed. maj. than in Ed. 2 and Vers. Germ.—E. B.

[80] Ver. 15. ἔκρυψαν ἑαυτοὺς, hid themselves) Where was now the spirit of those whom the world had so greatly feared?—V. g.Verse 12. - And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal; and I saw when he opened. The events described accompany the opening as in the case of the preceding visions (see on vers. 1, 3, 5, etc.). The sixth seal describes the end of the world - the transition of the saints from earth to heaven, with the accompanying circumstances. It is important to remember that the whole is a vision, and we must therefore guard against expecting a literal interpretation of the language used. Following the manner of the prophets, and the description given by our Lord himself of the judgment day, St. John portrays the wonder and awe and consternation which will then be prevalent under the figure of falling stars. etc. How much, if any, may, in the destruction of the world, literally come to pass, it is impossible to say; but we must be content to receive the general impression which is undoubtedly intended to be conveyed to us, without pressing the individual particulars too far. The symbolism, as usual, bears evidence of its Old Testament origin; and the influence of our Lord's description in Matthew 24. is noticeable. The special revelation of God's presence or of his judgments is usually depicted under the figure of terrestrial commotion (see on Revelation 6:1; also Isaiah 2:19; Isaiah 13:12; Isaiah 34:4: Ezekiel 32:7, 8; Hosea 10:8; Joel 2:30; Haggai 2:6). The last three seals seem connected more especially with life in the next world. The fifth seal displays to us the souls of the faithful in peace, but desiring the perfect consummation of their bliss; the sixth announces the certainty of future judgment, when all will be set right, when the righteous will be preserved and the wicked justly recompensed; the seventh typifies the indescribable joy and peace of heaven. It seems reasonable, therefore, to consider the passage Revelation 6:12-7:17 as all contained under the sixth seal; since, although set forth at rather greater length than the other seals, it all follows in natural sequence - the destruction of the earth, the fear of the wicked, the preservation and joy of the righteous; and then follows heaven, portrayed under the opening of the seventh seal. Some have tried to separate Revelation 7. as "an episode," or rather two episodes, commencing at, and marked off by, the μετά τοῦτο of ver. 1 and μετὰ ταῦτα of ver. 9, "after these things." But this expression, though undoubtedly marking, the beginning of a fresh phase of the subject, does not necessarily imply the opening of an entirely new and unconnected discourse. This view of the sixth seal is in harmony with what appears to be the general plan of the visions of the seals. It is important to bear in mind, in our interpretation of the Apocalypse, these two principles - first, the book was addressed to certain Christians for a definite purpose, and its object would be set forth so as to be comprehended by them; second, the truths thus contained must be such as to be applicable to the position of mankind in general in all ages. We have, therefore, to inquire to whom and for what purpose the book was primarily written, and then how the lessons contained can benefit mankind in general. It thus appears that the message was originally intended as an encouragement and a support to those Christians who were being persecuted, and were suffering in various ways, and whose patience might be inadequate to preserve them through trials so severe or so long. The visions of the seals would speak plainly to such as these. The first four would tell them that, though they must not doubt of Christ's final victory, it is yet with God's knowledge and permission that this life is afflicted with troubles of different kinds; it is not because God is weak, forgetful, or unjust Then, lest any should be tempted to ask, "Is it worth while? If Christianity involves all this suffering, would it not be better to be as the world is, and escape?" a picture of the future is given. The fifth seal shows that, immediately upon the completion of this life, the souls of the righteous are at peace; and the sixth seal shows that a day of reckoning will certainly come for the world; while the seventh seal is an assurance of heaven. It is worth while, therefore, to endure and to persevere, both on account of God's reward to the just, and his retribution upon the unjust. Thus would the signification of the visions be easily comprehended by those for whom they were originally intended; and the same lessons are equally valuable for the Church at all time. Grotius considers that this vision refers to the destruction of Jerusalem; Elliott, Faber, and Mede refer its accomplishment to the beginning of the fourth century; Wordsworth sees the "last age" of the Church represented; Stern thinks it indicates the general state of the Church; Wetstein, the commotions in Judaea previous to the destruction of Jerusalem; while Cunninghame and Frere see a reference to the French Revolution of 1789. But these interpretations do not fulfil the conditions mentioned above, since the Christians to whom this book is addressed were ignorant of those events yet in the future. And, lo, there was a great earthquake. Omit "lo." The earthquake is the usual manifestation of God's presence or special dealing with men (vide supra). This is the answer to the question of the saints in the fifth seal - the period of probation is finite. And the sun became black as sackcloth of hair. Thus Isaiah 50:3, "I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering" (cf. Matthew 24:29). And the moon became as blood; the whole moon (cf. Joel 2:31, quoted in Acts 2:20). The sixth seal

"The Apocalypse is molded by the great discourse of our Lord upon 'the last things' which has been preserved for us in the first three Gospels (Matthew 24:4; 25.; Mark 13:5-37; Luke 21:8-36; compare 17:20-37). The parallelism between the two is, to a certain extent, acknowledged by all inquirers, and is indeed, in many respects, so obvious, that it can hardly escape the notice of even the ordinary reader. Let any one compare, for example, the account of the opening of the sixth seal with the description of the end (Matthew 24:29, Matthew 24:30), and he will see that the one is almost a transcript of the other. It is remarkable that we find no account of this discourse in the Gospel of St. John; nor does it seem as sufficient explanation of the omission that the later Evangelist was satisfied with the records of the discourse already given by his predecessors" (Milligan).

Earthquake (σεισμὸς)

Lit., shaking. Used also of a tempest. See on Matthew 8:24, and compare Matthew 24:7. The word here is not necessarily confined to shaking the earth. In Matthew 24:29, it is predicted that the powers of the heavens shall be shaken (σαλευθήσονται, see on Luke 21:26). Here also the heaven is removed (Revelation 6:14). Compare Hebrews 12:26, where the verb σείω to shake (kindred with σεισμὸς) is used.

Black as sackcloth of hair (μέλας ὡς σάκκος)

Compare Matthew 24:29; Isaiah 50:3; Isaiah 13:10; Jeremiah 4:23; Ezekiel 32:7, Ezekiel 32:8; Joel 2:31; Joel 3:15; Amos 8:9, Amos 8:10; Micah 3:6. For sackcloth, see on Luke 10:13.

The moon (ἡ σελήνη)

Add ὅλη whole. Rev., the whole moon.

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