For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Who shall be (or, is) able to stand?—The thought is derived from Malachi 3:2, which spoke of a coming of the Lord. Every advent of Christ is the advent of One whose fan is in His hand, and who will thoroughly purge His floor. Whether it be His advent in the flesh, He tested men; or whether one of His advents in Providence—such as the fall of Jerusalem, the overthrow of Pagan Rome, the convulsions of the Reformation and Revolution epochs of history—He still tests men whether they are able to abide in faith and love the day of His coming; and much more, then, in the closing personal advent, when these visions will receive their fullest illustration, will He try men. “Who is able to stand?” It is the question of questions. Christ’s answer is: “Apart from Me ye can do nothing.” “Let your loins be girt about and your lights burning, and ye yourselves like to men that wait for their Lord’s coming.” And parallel is St. Paul’s advice: “Wherefore take unto you, (not the weapons on which men rely, but) the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand.” This anxiety that his converts should be ready for the day of testing is continually appearing in his Epistles. Comp, the recurrence of “the day of Christ” in Philippians 1:6; Philippians 1:10, and the Apostle’s wish that the Philippians might be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; and St. John’s desire that Christians should not “be ashamed before Him at His coming,” and “may have boldness in the day of judgment” (1John 2:28; 1John 4:17). “Who is able to stand?” The question is answered in the next chapter. They shall stand who are sealed with the seal of the living God.
The sixth seal does not give us a completed picture. We see the great and awe-inspiring movements which are heralds of the day of wrath. The whole world is stirred and startled at the tread of the approaching Christ, and then the vision melts away; we see no more, but we have seen enough to be sure that the close of the age is at hand. Yet we are anxious to know something of those who have been faithful, pure, and chivalrous witnesses for truth and right, for Christ and God. In that day, that awful day, the whole population of the world seems to be smitten with dismay; the trees, shaken with that terrible tempest, seem to be shedding all their fruit; the trembling of all created things seems to be about to shake down every building. Are all to go? Are none strong enough to survive? We heard that there were seven seals attached to the mystic book which the Lion of the tribe of Judah was opening; but this sixth seal presents us with the picture of universal desolation; what is there left for the seventh seal to tell us? The answer to these questions is given in the seventh chapter, which introduces scenes which may either be taken as dissolving views, presented in the course of the sixth seal, or as complementary visions. And those scenes show us in pictorial form that the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation: that in the midst of the time of the shaking of all things, when all might, majesty, strength, and genius of men is laid low, and every mere earth-born kingdom is overthrown, there is a kingdom which cannot be shaken. The germ of life was indestructible, and ready to break forth in fruit again: an ark, which sheltered all that was good, moved ever secure over the desolating floods:—
“I looked: aside the dust-cloud rolled,
The waster seemed the builder too;
Upspringing from the ruined old
I saw the new.
“’Twas but the ruin of the bad—
The wasting of the wrong and ill;
Whate’er of good the old time had Was living still.
Was living still.”
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.
to stand—to stand justified, and not condemned before the Judge. Thus the sixth seal brings us to the verge of the Lord's coming. The ungodly "tribes of the earth" tremble at the signs of His immediate approach. But before He actually inflicts the blow in person, "the elect" must be "gathered "out.
There are other more particular explications of the sun, moon, stars, heavens, & c., but they all centre in this general, that here is prophesied a great and universal change of the religion of the world, which should strike a great terror into the pagan rulers, and issue in the overturning of all their altars and temples, and the ruin of the great men, relating either to their civil or ecclesiastical state; and that they at last should know that, God was God, and that these judgments came upon them for their opposition to Christ. And (which addeth strength to this interpretation) Mr. Durham hath observed, that no so short period of time hath produced so many remarkable judgments, and extorted so many ingenuous confessions from enemies, that what came upon them was for their persecutions; and a catalogue of which may be found in Mr. Mede, and in Mr. Durham. Mr. Mede reckoneth Galerius, Maximinus, and Licinius. Galerius was eaten up of worms, being before he died sensible of his guilt, ceasing from his persecution, and begging the Christians’ prayers. Maximinus, another Roman emperor, (or partner in the empire with the former), being beaten by Licinius, fled to Tarsus, and there fell upon his pagan priests, who had deceived him by their lying oracles, and made a decree for the Christians’ liberty; but God would not suffer so bloodly a wretch to die after the ordinary death of man; he died miserably through intolerable pain, his eyes dropping out of his head. Licinius was a Christian, and joined a while with Constantine, but apostatized, was overcome in two battles, taken, and by him put to death. All these three were within the space of eighteen years. Mr. Durham to these adds the instances of Dioclesian and Maximinian, little above twenty years before, in the heat of their persecution making a stop, and through a horror of conscience laying down their imperial dignity; and Maxentius, drowned in the river Tiber; and he says Licinius, before mentioned, before he died, revenged himself upon his idolatrous priests that had persuaded him to forsake Constantine’s God. The change was so great in the empire, upon Constantine the Great’s coming to the throne, by the death of some great persons, turning others out of place, destroying the whole frame and practice of the pagans’ religion, that it might well be expressed by earthquakes, the sun turning black, the moon as blood, the stars falling from heaven to earth, the heavens departing like a scroll, and the removal of islands and mountains, and by the consternation it would bring all the pagan great men into, &c. And this time, which was a period of about twenty-five or twenty-seven years, is thought to be understood to be the time predicted upon the opening of the sixth seal. Thus we see the dragon’s reign at an end in about three hundred and eleven or three hundred and twenty-five years after Christ; the empire, as pagan, persecuting the church of Christ, and following it with ten successive persecutions, quite overturned, and a Christian emperor, Constantine the Great, ruling it. But we must understand these great things were not perfected in a few months; some relics of paganism remained; for though Constantine shut up the pagan temples, yet all the idols in them were not destroyed until the time of Theodosius, who began to rule in the empire Anno 379, and reigned sixteen years. Between Constantine and him were Constantius and Constans, Julian the Apostate, and Jovianus, Valentinianus, Valens, and Gratian; during some of whose reigns (Julian’s especially) the Christians suffered much both from pagans and Arians, so that the Christians had not a full and perfect quiet till after the year 390. Revelation 6:9. For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)17. for the great day of his wrath is come] So the world has thought in every great social convulsion, since they have learnt so far to believe the Gospel, as to confess that such a day is coming. The thought has led men to repentance or to despair, as they were worthy of one or other: but, since the world has so often thought wrongly that the Day has come, it does not follow that, when this Book tells us that the world thinks it has come, we must suppose the world to be right.
who shall be able to stand?] Cf. Malachi 3:2.τίς, who) They who are freed from wrath to come, having fellowship with the Lamb.—V. g. ABCh Vulg. support ὅλη: Rec. Text omits it.—E.Verse 17. - For the great day of his wrath is come. Of their wrath, which is read in the Revised Version, is found in א, C, 38, Vulgate, Syriae; but αὐτοῦ, "his," is supported by A, B, F, Coptic, Andreas, Arethas, Primasius. The article is repeated, making the term almost a proper name - the day, the great [day]. Alford remarks that this of itself should be sufficient to keep commentators right in confining their interpretation of this seal to the last judgment (cf. Joel 1:15; Joel 2:1, 2; Acts 2:20; Jude 1:6). And who shall be able to stand? Who is able (Revised Version). Thus Malachi 3:2, "Who shall stand when he appeareth?" And Nahum 1:6. Thus, then, the question in ver. 10, "How long?" is answered; not by limiting the length of time, but by a renewed assurance of an awful termination of the course of the world, at the appearance of the Judge. The dread attending that end is vividly portrayed, and the fear of the wicked, with their conscience-stricken inquiry, "Who is able to stand?" an answer to which is required for the edification of the faithful. And, therefore, the seer immediately describes the preservation of the righteous from amidst the destruction of the wicked, and their raptured praises, a joyous contrast with the despairing fate of those whose doom has just been narrated.
Lit., the day, the great (day). For the construction, see on 1 John 4:9.
Is come (ἦλθεν)
Shall be able to stand (δύναται σταθῆναι)
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