SYNOPSIS: The sixth seal opening ushers in the Day of the Lord, the time of wrath upon the inhabitants of the earth – No one can stand before the Lamb or the Throne – Revelation 6:12-17.
The Lamb next opens the sixth seal, causing celestial and terrestrial trauma as the Day of the Lord dawns. This is nothing less than the “great day of the wrath of God and of the Lamb.” Men from every societal rank panic at the very thought of the impending “wrath.” Every attempt by the “inhabitants of the earth” to hide from the Lamb and the “One Who sits on the Throne” is in vain. There is no escape for anyone; no one is able to “stand” before the Throne.
(Revelation 6:12-17) – “And I saw when he opened the sixth seal, that a great earthquake took place; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the full moon became as blood, and the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig-tree sheddeth her winter figs when, by a great wind, it is shaken, and the heaven was withdrawn, as a scroll rolling itself up, and every mountain and island out of their places were shaken. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rulers of thousands, and the rich, and the mighty, and every bondman and freeman, hid themselves within the caves and within the rocks of the mountains; and they say unto the mountains and unto the rocks—Fall upon us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the anger of the Lamb; Because the great day of their anger is come, and who is able to stand?”
At the beginning and the end of the book, the return of Jesus is something glorious, an event eagerly anticipated by his followers. “Behold, he comes with clouds, and every eye shall see him”; “Surely I come quickly; even so, come, Lord Jesus.” However, when the sixth seal is opened, only doom and destruction are unleashed on all humanity and the entire created order is thrown into chaos.
All this activity is presented to raise a question – Who can stand before the Lamb on that day? This is the crux of the matter. All the noise and drama of the scene set the stage for this question (Revelation 1:7, 22:20).
The fifth seal left events dangling. The martyrs “underneath the altar” pleaded for judgment and vindication but did not receive it. Instead, they were told to wait until the complete number of the witnesses destined also to suffer martyrdom was collected. From that point, the narrative jumps immediately to the final day of “wrath.”
The sixth seal produces “a great earthquake,” which initiates chaos throughout the Cosmos. The picture draws imagery from several Old Testament passages related to the “Day of Yahweh” (Revelation 8:5, 11:13-19, 16:18):
(Joel 2:10) – “The earthquakes before them; the heavens tremble; the sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.”
(Joel 2:30-32) – “And I will set forth wonders in the heavens and on the earth; blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awful Day of Yahweh.”
(Isaiah 34:3-5) – “Then shall be dissolved all the host of the heavens, and the heavens shall roll up as a scroll, Yea, all their host shall fade like the fading and falling of a leaf from a vine, and like what fades and falls from a fig-tree.”
The sixth seal opening anticipates the “Day of Yahweh.” The disruption is universal, not local. The overthrow of the existing order sets in to prepare for the arrival of the New Creation. This is not another series of plagues – It is the end of the age and the hour of the final judgment. The final “hour of trial” has arrived (Revelation 3:10).
Cosmic chaos causes terror in all levels of society. Neither political rank nor economic standing can save anyone from the “wrath.” All hope is gone. It is too late for everyone when this day arrives. There is no place to hide, and no escape. The section draws heavily on a passage from the book of Isaiah. Note the verbal parallels:
(Isaiah 2:17-21) – “And the haughtiness of mean men shall be humbled, and the loftiness of great men shall be laid low, and Yahweh alone shall be exalted in that day. And the idols shall wholly pass away, and they shall enter into the holes of the rocks and into the caves of clay, because of the terribleness of Yahweh and for his majestic splendor when he arises to shake terribly the earth. In that day shall the son of earth cast his idols of silver and his idols of gold, which had been made for him to worship, into the hole of the mice and to the bats; that he may enter into the clefts of the rocks and into the fissures of the crags, because of the terribleness of Yahweh and for his majestic splendor, when he arises to shake terribly the earth.”
The “inhabitants of the earth” are divided into several categories ranging from kings to slaves – The “kings of the earth, princes, chief captains, the rich, the strong, slaves and freeman.” Parallel groupings occur in later passages (“kings, captains, mighty men, freemen, slaves, the lowly and the great ones” – Revelation 13:15-18, 19:17-21).
This is the predicted “hour of trial” that is to come upon the “whole habitable earth,” an event from which Jesus promised to spare the church at Philadelphia. The martyrs under the altar were told to wait for the completion of their number before receiving their vindication. Yet, at this point in the narrative, no one is prepared for the arrival of wrath, hence the question – “Who can stand?” (Revelation 3:10).
What strikes terror in the hearts of men is the knowledge that “wrath” is about to fall, wrath from which there is no escape. In the book of Revelation, “wrath” or orge refers to the final judgment on the Day of the Lord, not to any preliminary judgments or plagues (Revelation 11:18, 14:10, 16:19, 19:15).
The passage included terminology from Joel 2:10-11: “Great is the day of Yahweh and awful exceedingly, Who then shall endure it?” This is the literary source of the question, although John has changed “endure” to “stand.” Another possible source is Nahum 1:2-6:
“Yahweh is an avenger and a lord of wrath, an avenger towards his adversaries…Mountains have trembled because of him, and the hills have melted, and the earth has lifted itself up at his presence, the world also and all who dwell in it. Before his wrath, Who will stand? And who will abide the fierceness of his wrath?”
The primary Old Testament source for the sixth seal is a passage from the book of Isaiah:
(Isaiah 2:19-22) – “Because of the terribleness of Yahweh and for his majestic, splendor, when he rises to shake terribly the earth. Cease from man in whose nostrils is breath, for what account is he?”
The plea of the martyrs received a partial answer – They must wait until all the Lamb’s witnesses are assembled before they can be vindicated. However, the sixth seal ends without any mention of the final gathering of the martyrs, and with this question hanging unanswered – Can anyone stand before the Lamb?
Both questions are addressed in the next two paragraphs – The assembly of the “servants of God” and the “innumerable multitude” of the redeemed that “stand” before the Lamb and the Throne. The events set into motion by the death of the Lamb have yet to run their full course. The consummation of the process must wait until the full number of witnesses is counted and gathered before the Throne (Revelation 7:1-8, 7:9-17).
This vision is not about bringing in an exact number of martyrs foreordained in “eternity past” but, rather, the completion of the testimony of the saints before the “inhabitants of the earth.” The vision of the sealing of 144,000 males from Israel and its interpretation will provide fuller insight (Revelation 7:1-17).
The sixth seal ends with an open question – Who can stand before the Lamb on the day of wrath? The noise and drama of the first six seals have brought the reader to this point to answer the question.