In May of 2015, i moved into my first apartment. Now, sure, i was renting with friends, but the first night, for whatever reason, i was alone. This apartment was on the third floor in Bolivar, Missouri. So when the clouds rolled in that night, i didn’t think anything of it at first.
Now, having grown up in Southern California, earthquakes are nothing special, but spinning clouds are the freakiest thing in the world. And being alone, in a new place, the first night (when i never sleep well the first night anywhere) was already well on its way to being a nerve-wracking situation. Not that i’m scared to be alone, but a new part of town, alone, 1600 miles from any family can make you nervous.
I believe i had finally fallen asleep. And then the siren went off.
I ended up being fine, the tornado never touched down around my area, but the point is: Natural disasters are terrifying. Worse than being alone is being alone during a potential disaster.
At this point, the roller coaster i described a few weeks back has dropped again. We started in the station (where John gave us an introduction to our journey in this book in 1:1-9) until it accelerated us out and over the first hill (which was John’s vision of the resurrected Christ in 1:10-20). John then took us through some dives and inclines as he described the holy, catholic church (2:1-3:22). Then we went up another hill as John took us into the throne room of heaven (4:1-5:14). And now it continues its downward plunge that began with the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
John writes as follows in Revelation 6:12-17,
Then I saw Him open the sixth seal. A violent earthquake occurred; the sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair; the entire moon became like blood; the stars of heaven fell to the earth as a fig tree drops its unripe figs when shaken by a high wind; the sky separated like a scroll being rolled up; and every mountain and island was moved from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the military commanders, the rich, the powerful, and every slave and free person hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of Their wrath has come! And who is able to stand?”
As i pointed out in the previous posts, there is nothing to make us think that Christ is opening this seal at a later time. We are in the midst of this today, and we have been since the time of John’s writing this book in A.D. 90. I will expand on this fact in the following sections.
When Jesus opens the sixth seal, John sees a plethora of natural disasters occur. While we often make a big deal about the earthquake in this particular judgment, there is no reason to think this earthquake is anything special. We will also see earthquakes in multiple places throughout our journey through Revelation.
John describes “natural” calamities in 6:12-14,
A violent earthquake occurred; the sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair; the entire moon became like blood; the stars of heaven fell to the earth as a fig tree drops its unripe figs when shaken by a high wind; the sky separated like a scroll being rolled up; and every mountain and island was moved from its place.
As with everything in Revelation 6, God is in control. These things don’t occur until Christ opens the seal. He has total sovereignty over them. With that said, we can trust God even during the worst calamities ever.
But what all kinds of natural disasters is Christ sovereign over?
The first is earthquakes. Growing up in California, these are always in the back of my mind. A school I’m subbing for this week has an earthquake drill on Thursday. They are real threats on the west coast. And it is relatively common to hear talk about “the big one.” Funnily enough, I’ve always equated “the big one” with what we see in Revelation 6, but that isn’t necessarily accurate. The point is that God is in control no matter where the earthquake strikes and no matter how powerfully destructive the earthquake is. No earthquakes occur apart from His sovereignty. We will see more earthquakes throughout our time in Revelation.
The second is the sun going dark. While not so much a natural disaster, this is what we know today as a “solar eclipse.” In the Ancient Greek world, these were thought to be a sign of angry gods and the beginning of disasters and destruction. However, more than merely a “scientifically explainable” solar eclipse, there was an event when the whole world recorded a darkened sun at the same time. This is not scientifically explainable. The only solution is that God is in control of the sun’s light. We will see more of this throughout Revelation.
The third is the moon turning to blood. This is quite similar to the previous one. When there is a lunar eclipse, the moon often ends up with a reddish tint. “Blood.” There is also a reference to this (as well as the previous) in Joel 2:31. “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and awe-inspiring Day of the LORD comes.” These are signs of the end. I will continue to prove this as we proceed.
The fourth is meteor showers. It is not a natural disaster, but it cannot merely be science. God is in control of the heavens. This is further proven by the fact that we see two shooting stars in Revelation 8 (9:1-12 is not a shooting star). God is in control of them. And they lead to disaster. When we see meteor showers, we should remember the One who is throwing the stars through the sky. It isn’t just science.
The fifth is “the sky rolling up like a scroll.” There are many ways in which to interpret this text. First, and most common, is the opposite of Psalm 104:2, where the psalmist praises God for creating the heavens by “stretching them out like a tent.” But here, we must remember where we are in Revelation. This is not decreation. How can the sun still exist (cf. 8:12) if the sky is destroyed and the sun sits in the sky? (I will prove in 8:1-6 that the trumpet judgments flow out of the seals semi-chronologically.)
So is there a better understanding?
Some want to see this as a reference to a nuclear bomb (mushroom cloud). There is a problem here too. Where are we in Revelation? What are bombs results of? Yep. War. War was discussed in 6:1-8. So it can’t be a nuclear bomb.
What is it then?
Well, we’re discussing natural disasters. What kind of natural disaster might look like the sky rolling up? If you live in the Midwest, you know where I’m going with this. Tornadoes. And as such, hurricanes might fit the bill as well, though tornadoes are much clearer. In short, the point is that Christ is in control of these calamities. They don’t happen outside of His sovereignty. They happen to draw our eyes to Him!
The sixth is “every mountain and island fleeing.” This can’t be understood literally for several reasons. First and foremost, we see a mountain in 16:16. Armageddon. In other words, “The Mountain of Megiddo.” If all the mountains disappeared, how is this one still there?
Instead, again, this is a reference to natural disasters. How might mountains and islands flee?
Volcanoes can destroy mountains. Tsunamis can destroy islands. A volcano can erupt, causing a part of a mountain to fall into the ocean, creating a tsunami that wipes out islands. But again, the point is that Christ is in control.
We must remember that Revelation is at least partially prophetic. As such, we must not forget that prophecies are often conflated. Two things could be stuck together in a prophecy that have hundreds or thousands of years between them. It’s like looking at a mountain range and seeing one large mountain, but as you set out to climb it, you get to the top and find an expansive valley on the other side with an even taller peak in the distance. Initially, you saw the top of the distant mountain, but from a distance, you couldn’t tell there was a valley between two mountains.
This is why in Revelation 16:20 we also read, “Every island fled, and the mountains disappeared.” On the last day, it will be very similar to what we see throughout history. The point—again—is that we not take God’s patience for granted. We must turn to Him in faith today. The next disaster might only be moments before Christ returns.
It could also be that John is being shown the whole history of God’s sovereignty over nature here, and that is why we read the same thing in the seventh bowl that we read in the sixth seal. God controls all of history and all of nature (but more on this in 8:1-6).
Whenever we hear news of another natural disaster or hear about a forthcoming eclipse, we should remember that these are signs of the end. Christ can return at any time. The next one could be the end! Instead of chalking it up to science, we should look to God and draw near to Him through Christ before it’s too late!
John describes humanity’s response to these calamities in 6:15-17,
Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the military commanders, the rich, the powerful, and every slave and free person hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of Their wrath has come! And who is able to stand?”
The point here is that people don’t get the point. They continue to resist God. They blame God. They don’t embrace the One who’s trying to get their attention, even though it is clear that they know who is responsible for the events (cf. Romans 1:18-21).
John’s point throughout Revelation is that unbelievers have no excuse on the last day. God has done so much throughout history to get people’s attention, but they harden their hearts and run farther from Him. It should not be this way!
When it comes to natural disasters, no one is better than anyone else. All humans, regardless of their rank in society, are terrified of these calamities. All humanity will flee from God instead of embracing Him.
The “great day of Their wrath” is a reference to the time between Christ’s death and His still future return. John wrote himself, in 1 John 2:18, “It is the last hour. And as you have heard, ‘Antichrist is coming,’ even now many antichrists have come. We know from this that it is the last hour.” If it was the last hour when John wrote that in c. A.D. 90, then it’s been the last day at least that long.
But some will be able to stand on that day. Joel 2:32 says, “Everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved, for there will be an escape for those on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem as the LORD promised, among the survivors the LORD calls.”
When the news reports another hurricane or earthquake or fire or tornado, turn your eyes to Jesus. When He died on the cross, there was a worldwide eclipse for three hours. God controls the sun, and that was His way of showing that it was the great day of His wrath. Jesus took God’s wrath for all who call on His name in faith. But the day of His wrath continues for those who refuse to believe.
You don’t want to face His wrath. Place your faith in Christ today!
I’m begging you.
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks for reading.
The next entry can be found here.