20. The Sixth Seal

The Unveiling of Jesus Christ

The Concordant Version

CHAPTER 6:12-17


THE sixth seal is the sequel to the fifth. The blood of the martyrs is to be avenged. By a few graphic strokes, we are given a general view of the inflictions which introduce the open manifestation of the day of Yahweh.

As usual, the key to this seal is found in our Lord's discourse on the mount of Olives, which is printed here-with, but it is also graphically described in the Prophets as perhaps no other single event in the future. Isaiah is very vivid in his vision (Isa.13:6-13)

6   Howl! For near is the day of Yahweh!
As devastation from Him Who-Suffices shall it come.

  Therefore all hands shall be slack,
8   And every mortal's heart shall melt and be flustered.
Throes and cramps shall take hold of them.
As a bearing woman shall they travail.
A man at his associate shall be amazed,
And as a facade of blazes are their faces.

9   Behold! The day of Yahweh has come, cruel, with rage and hot anger,
To make the entire earth a desolation,
And its sinners is He exterminating from it.
10      For the stars of the heavens are not appearing,
And their constellations are not irradiating their light.
Dark is the sun in its faring forth,
And the moon is not brightening with its light.
11                 And I check over all the habitance for its evil,
And on the wicked for their depravity.
And I eradicate the pomp of the arrogant,
And the pride of the terrifiers am I abasing
12   More precious am I making the remaining mortal than glittering gold.
And a human than certified African gold.

13   Therefore the heavens will I disturb,
And the earth shall quake from its place,
In the furious rage of Yahweh of hosts,
And in the day of His hot anger.

Dealing with the desolation of the land, he says again (Isa. 24:19-23):

19 Smashed by smashing is the earth. Quashed by quashing is the earth.
Slipped by slipping is the earth. Swayed by swaying is the earth.
20      And it staggers as a drunkard,
And it wanders as a mariner,
And its transgression is heavy upon it.
And it falls, and is not proceeding to rise.

21     And it comes in that day,
Yahweh will check over on the host of the height, in the height,
And on the kings of the ground, on the ground,
22      And they are gathered, a gathering imprisoned in a crypt,
And closed in an enclosure,
And for many days they will be missing.
23 And the brick will melt, And the wall will fall,

For Yahweh of hosts is King in mount Zion and in Jerusalem,
And in front of His elders is He glorified.

He threatens the nations (Isa.34:1-4)

1 Draw near, ye nations, to hear! And ye folkstems, attend!
Hear shall the earth and its fulness!
The habitance and all its offspring!
     For the wrath of Yahweh shall be on all the nations,
And fury on all their host.
He will doom them,
And He will give them to the slaughter.
3                 And their wounded shall be flung away,
And from their corpses shall ascend their stink.
And the mountains will melt from their blood,
And the vales shall be rent and putrefied.
4      All the host of the heavens shall decay,
And rolled up as a scroll are the heavens,
And all their host shall decay as decays the leaf from the vine,
And as a decaying leaf from a fig tree.

It has been suggested that, because the words "confusion" and "emptiness" in the eleventh verse of this chapter are the same as "waste" and "void" of Gen.1:2, it refers to the judgment at the end of the Lord's day. But these words apply equally well to the judgments at its beginning, and all other points indicate the time of the sixth seal. This time may well recall the convulsions which destroyed the former earth.

Much in Joel's prophecy of the invasion of Assyria has its fulfillment in the days to come (Joel 2:1,10-12,30,31):

1  Blow the trumpet in Zion!
And shout in My holy mountain!
All the dwellers of the land shall be disturbed,
For coming is the day of Yahweh!
For it is near!
10 Before it the earth is disturbed;
The heavens quake,
The sun and the moon are somber,
And the stars gather in their brightness.
11 And Yahweh gives forth His voice before His army,
For exceedingly numerous is His camp,
For staunch is the doer of His word.
For great is the day of Yahweh and exceedingly fearful,
And who shall endure it?
12 And, moreover, now, (averring is Yahweh, your Elohim),
Return unto Me with all your heart
And with fasting and with lamenting and with wailing.
30 And I will give miracles in the heavens above,
And signs on the earth,
Blood and fire and pillars of smoke.
31 The sun shall be turned to darkness,
And the moon to blood,
Before the coming of the day of Yahweh, the great and fearful day.

The great shaking is first predicted by Haggai (2:6,7):

For thus says Yahweh of hosts: Still once, a little it is, and I am
quaking the heavens and the earth and the sea and the drained
land; and I will quake all the nations; and the coveted of all the
nations shall come. And I will fill this house with glory, says Yahweh of hosts.

There is a close concord and happy harmony between the natural and the spiritual, which is hid from all but anointed eyes. Nature is not merely a painting of spiritual realities, rendering them visible to mortal perception, but is a moving picture of spiritual activities as well. Often when we are in doubt and ask, Is this literal or figurative? the answer is, It is both. Often have we been asked whether the new creation is a real physical phenomenon, or rather indicative of a great reorganization of spiritual forces. Our reply is, It is both. But the record is concerned with the physical.

This thought is clearly seen in the sixth seal. Not only is there the supreme cataclysmic convulsion in nature, but the upheaval of the spiritual forces of the universe is implied. Our first object, however, should be to get a good grasp of the physical side.

The spiritual cause of this cataclysm is clear. It is the coming of the Enthroned One. Can we not account for the physical phenomena on similar grounds? From far out in stellar space comes a mighty visitor--—call it a star, a comet, or any other name—--and we at once have an adequate cause for the mighty portents and awful calamities under the sixth seal. Such a star would drive millions of asteroids out of their path, it would rack earth's faulty framework and send a shudder throughout the universe.

The judgments under the first four seals are, as their number indicates, of an earthly character. Five speaks of weakness, and fitly stands for the Semitic persecutions of the fifth seal. Six suggests the height of human arrogance, when man combines his weakness with celestial spiritual powers, to force God from the earth. The moment man confederates with the heavenly hordes of wickedness, God brings on His heavenly hosts. So that, in the sixth seal, we have the physical aspect of that supreme spiritual conflict which occurs at the same time and which is recorded in detail in the Temple section of this scroll from chapter twelve to twenty.

There is something supremely solemn and awful in this scene which records the crisis of universal history. So long as heaven keeps its distance the denizens of earth dare to do as they please, but the instant that this mighty celestial visitant appears, the whole fabric of nature collapses. So it has always been in Yahweh's presence. When He descended to give the law "Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire, and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a great furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly" (Ex.19:18). Even the judgment of the cross caused the sun to hide its beams, and its dreadfulness was draped in darkness. So, when the severest of earth's judgments is staged, the setting is in accord with its fearful fury.

Of the "scientific" accuracy of holy writ no reverent student is ever in doubt. When science teaches facts and not philosophy, and when theology does the same, all need of reconciling them will be gone, for they will be in perfect agreement. We have a notable instance of a scientific distinction in the passages which record this cataclysm which illustrates this.

A man of science would scoff at the idea of the stars falling to the earth, especially as the sun and the moon are expressly excepted. Why, if any heavenly body would fall to earth, it would be the moon, and as to the sun or the larger stars, the earth would fall into them, rather than a multitude of stars upon it!

But let us note carefully a distinction which is usually overlooked. We are told that the stars shall fall from heaven (singular) and, in contrast to this, the powers of the heavens (plural) shall be shaken. What is the reason for this change in number? What is the difference between the heaven and the heavens? It is well known that "heaven" is sometimes translated "air." The "birds [or fowls] of the air" (Matt.6:26; 8:20; 13:32; Mark 4:4,32; Luke 8:5; 9:58; 13:19; Acts 10:12; 11:6) brings before us a very limited sphere. The strongest eagle cannot fly more than a few miles above the earth. This should be translated "heaven" always, in the singular. This heaven is not so far away as we supposed! Many a plane is winging its way through this "heaven" today!

Sometimes our translators have rendered it "sky." The sky is sometimes red (Matt.16:2,3,3; Luke 12:56). This can refer, of course, only to the lower strata of the atmosphere. The lightning is said to flash "under heaven" (Luke 17:24), the rain or shower is given by heaven (James 5:18), and hail comes down thence in these judgments (Rev.16:21), for it is the home of the clouds (Matt.24:30; 26:64; Mark 14:62). These occurrences are always in the singular, never in the plural. It is evident, even to the unscientific mind, that "the heaven," in Scripture, is limited to that part of the heavens contiguous to the earth, and which is within the sphere of its influence.

This is confirmed by such phrases as "a voice from heaven" (Luke 3:22; John 12:28; 2 Peter 1:18; Rev.11:12; 11:15; 14:2,13; 18:4; 21:3), fire from heaven (Luke 9:54; Rev.13:13), a sign in heaven or from heaven (Matt.16:1; 29:30; Mark 8:11; Luke 11:16; 21:11; Rev.12:1; 15:1), and, what is especially in point at present, stars from heaven (Matt.24:29; Mark 13:25). These are not the stars of the heavens to which the scientist would refer it, but "stars" visible only as they come into that sphere which we have clearly shown is immediately adjacent to the earth.

It is a striking fact, and one which we have never seen set forth, that the scope of the Unveiling is limited to "the heaven" and the earth. It is not concerned with "the heavens." Heaven, in the singular, is mentioned more than half a hundred times, while the single occurrence of heavens is in contrast to the nether sphere (Rev.12:12). In the perfection epistles of Paul this is reversed. It is always the "heavens," and only once "heaven," referring to the scope of the proclamation of the creation evangel.

Another important conclusion which comes from these considerations, limits the phrase "heaven and earth" to a much narrower sphere than creation, which included "the heavens and the earth." When we read that heaven and earth shall pass by, the immediate thought is confined to the sphere of the earth's influence, though, of course, it does not deny a wider range to the final conflagration (Matt.5:18; 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 16:17; Rev.20:11).

In Greek and Hebrew, one term was applied to all the luminaries of the heavens, except the sun and the moon. The Greek word aster is found in English in our asteroid, and is the source of our word star. One form of it, astron, they set aside for designating groups of stars, or constellations (Luke 21:25; Acts 7:43; 27:20; Heb.11:12). The word star is used the same in English. A speck of incandescent dust is called a shooting or falling star. So we need have no hesitancy in applying the term to any luminous object in the sky.

In contrast with "the stars of heaven" is the phrase "the powers of the heavens." While the special location of the stars is limited to the neighborhood of the earth, so tremendous will be the convulsion which centers about the earth that the shock will send a shudder to the utmost bounds of the universe.

There is ample reason to believe that a convulsion of this nature has already taken place, not so very far from the earth. The guarded phrase "since mankind came to be on the earth" (Rev. 16:18) suggests not only that there have been earthquakes much greater than any known at present, as indicated by the enormous faults in the earth's surface, but that these may have been occasioned by strains from without as well as within. It is well known that, besides the planets and their attendants which wander about the ecliptic, there are a vast number of fragments where we would look for another planet. Evidently some enormous alien force has entered among the planets and rent one of them into thousands of pieces.

Space seems to be filled with flying fragments, millions of which fall to the earth even at the present time. I have counted hundreds of "shooting stars" in a single evening. For three hours of the night of November 13, 1833, men were frightened almost to death, thinking that the sixth seal was being broken (if they had ever heard of it), or that the end of all things had come. The sky was filled with flashing meteors, and looked as if all the stars were falling to the earth. This alone is evidence that "the stars of heaven" are ready for the great day when the sudden shock will send them hurtling to the earth.

Fig trees often fail to ripen the full crop, especially if water is wanting and there is much heat. The figs shrivel up, their stems become brittle, so that the least touch breaks them off. A sudden gust of wind will send showers of these shriveled figs to the ground. Such is the picture presented of the falling stars. I have watched a single meteor with considerable dread as it hissed across the sky, for there was no telling where it would strike. How terrible it would be to have the sky covered with them, thick as a barrage of bullets in a battle!

Picture to yourself the awful scene. Sun and moon obscured, the blackness stabbed by millions of menacing meteors, the ground swaying beneath your feet, even the mountains moving and the islands leaving their places! Can we imagine a more desperate situation! Yet, terrible as it is, this is not the worst. These are all the forces of nature, impersonal, implacable, heartless, yet limited to their present fury and unable to do more than kill their victims. In milder forms, all these have been met before. The sun hides its face each evening, yet reappears at dawn. The moon is often invisible. Clouds and ashes have darkened the air, and meteors have fallen before. Even the ground has shaken, taking a terrible toll of life. It is their combined intensity which appalls mankind. But these do not send men scurrying into caves and the rocks of the mountains. These do not urge them to hide. These are but the prelude to the most momentous vision earth will ever see.

Suddenly the black pall that covers all is rolled back, and reveals the sign of the Son of Mankind in all His glory. The vision that had been vouchsafed to heaven alone is now visible on earth. Like a new luminary, blotting out the sun by its brightness, appears the most glorious majesty of the epiphany of the coming Christ. Just as the lightning flashes forth from the sullen clouds, so the presence of the Son of Mankind will be. Not a secret session, or a subtle influence, but a sudden and awful manifestation of glory.

This marks the turning point in God's dealing with mankind. He no longer hides behind His providence. He appears in the open. Man is no longer contending with nature's forces but with a personal and present Judge. The inflictions henceforth are supernatural, miraculous. This is the important lesson of the sixth seal. It contains the crisis, the turning point in the divine dealings with mankind. The heart of man is so hard that the darkness and the quaking fail to make it quail. But when the veil of heaven is drawn aside and the glorious One is revealed, that is more than it can bear. As Isaiah has said (2:19):

And they come into caves of the rocks,
And into tunnels of the soil,
From the face of awe-inspiring Yahweh,
And form the honor of His pomp,
When He rises to terrify the earth.

The day of indignation has come. Of old, when Adam sinned, he dreaded God's displeasure, and so hid himself. Now, once more, sinners are confronted not merely with war, or famine, or disease, but with a personal, indignant Deity, and so they instinctively seek to hide from the divine presence. Before Him, who can stand? Is not this the climax of man's alienation, the very summit of the estrangement of the race from its Creator? Let us turn for a few minutes to another scene and, not the contrast. On the new earth, no one is afraid of God. His presence brings balm and blessing. He is compassionate, not indignant. So should it always be. Life and joy are in His smile. But His frown brings fear. His fury is terrible. His indignation wrings from their hearts a cry of abject despair, for no one is able to stand when He visits the earth with His wrath.

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