“And I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell to the earth, even as a fig tree casts its untimely figs, when it is shaken by a mighty wind. And the sky departed as a scroll when it is rolled together, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every slave, and every free man, 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 from the face of Him that sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of His wrath has come, and who shall be able to stand?” (Revelation 6: 12-17).

Since the preceding five seals represent categories of people whose names have been written in the Book of Life and who will be considered in the investigative judgment, it follows that the sixth seal would also be a category of people. The context is a great earthquake, signs in the sun and moon, falling stars and the shaking of the powers of heaven and earth. These are the same signs that are listed in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 as immediately preceding the Second Coming of Christ.[1] Besides the heavenly signs, Matthew and Luke also mention the fear and distress of those who see these signs (“all the tribes of the earth will mourn,” “distress of nations with perplexity,” “men’s hearts failing them from fear”),[2] which is a direct parallel to the distress of the “kings of the earth, the great men” who call on “the mountains and rocks” to “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him that sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb”.

The only sign in this passage that is not mentioned in Matthew 24 is the great earthquake,[3] and within the Book of Revelation itself this earthquake is identified: it is the tremendous earthquake of Revelation 16:18 which throws down the great city of Babylon, and which, like the earthquake of chapter 6, also destroys the islands and mountains (Revelation 16:20). This earthquake occurs during the seventh of the Seven Last Plagues, just before the Second Coming of Christ. The obvious conclusion is that all of these signs, as well as their counterparts in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, take place immediately before the Second Coming.[4] This implies that the portion of the sixth seal that is depicted in chapter 6 is the investigative judgment of one of the two classes of people who will be alive when Christ comes (the other class is portrayed in chapter 7).

It is clear that the people mentioned in Revelation 6:15-17 are not God’s faithful people who have been eagerly waiting for Him to come and redeem them; rather, they are those who have realized that they are Christ’s enemies. In Revelation 19:11-21 this same group (see v. 18) is portrayed as being “killed by the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse” (v.21). This is a symbolic picture of Jesus at his Second Coming, and those who have resisted Jesus and persecuted His followers will die and their bodies will become food for the birds who “gather for the supper of the great God” (v. 17).The great deceptions of the last days will be so subtle that multitudes will believe that they have been loving and serving God, but as we will see in chapter 13, they will actually be worshiping “the beast.” In the investigative judgment their names will be blotted out of the Book of Life .[5]

In Jesus’ description of the investigative judgment (the separating of the sheep from the goats in Matthew 25:31-46), it is apparent that many who believed that they are meeting all of God’s requirements are actually refusing to serve Him in the person of His needy children, and as such they will forfeit their right to eternal life—“inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these [help the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick or in prison], you did not do it to me…depart from Me, you cursed” (Matthew 25:45, 41). He also made it clear that many who seem to be filled with the Spirit and blessed with great spiritual gifts actually do not know Jesus—“Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Jesus warned that in the very last days “Many will come in My name, saying ‘I am the Christ’ and will deceive many” and “many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matthew 24:5,11). The ultimate deception will be by the “beast and the false prophet” mentioned in chapters 13 and 19 who work signs and false miracles through which they "deceived those who received the mark of the beast” (Revelation 19:20) In Revelation 13:13-17 it is apparent that the beast religion will even incite those who are deceived to persecute and kill those who are true to God, just as Jesus predicted—“the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service” (John 16:2).

The difference between those who are deceived and those who are not does not have to do with their understanding of prophecy, but rather with their willingness to love and obey God and know Him through His Holy Spirit. “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).

This passage shows that it is the love of sin that brings people to the point that they participate in the persecution of God’s children, believing that they are serving Him by doing so! But during the tremendous upheavals of nature just preceding Christ’s Second Coming they will suddenly realize that they have never really known Jesus. As they see Him coming they will try to hide themselves “in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains,” seeking any possible way to flee “from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb.”

“Wrath” and “Lamb” seem to be a contradiction, the lamb being a symbol of God’s mercy. However, God’s wrath is not like man’s anger, but is an expression of His glory and his character of love (see 15: Wrath of God). The raw, blinding energy of love that radiates from God will be life and joy to the righteous, but will provoke an overwhelming sense of condemnation in those who love and cherish sin. In the day when His glory fills the whole earth, He will not force anyone to live in His glorious presence if they have formed a character that would make His presence a continual torment. And that is what it would be for this sixth-seal sub-group, as is proven by their final cry, “the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:17). This cry brings us to the real focus of the sixth seal and the subject of chapter 7: those who are able to stand.

[1] “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:29-31). “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:25-27).

[2] Matthew 24:30, Luke 21:25,26

[3] “Earthquakes in various places” are mentioned in Matthew 24:7 and Luke 21:11, but these are general signs, the “beginnings of sorrows” (Matthew 24:8) but “the end is not yet” (v.6). The earthquake mentioned in Revelation 6:12 is a specific, super-destructive earthquake.

[4] There are some scholars who believe that these signs, as well as those in Matthew 24, were fulfilled in the past, with events such as the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the Dark Day in New England in 1780 and the extensive Leonid meteor shower of 1833. However, it is obvious from Revelation 16:18-20 that at least the earthquake was within the context of the seven last plagues (the earthquake resulted in the destruction of the islands and mountains, which is also the final result of the signs of 6:12-14), which calls into question applying these earlier events as the primary fulfillment of the signs in the sun, moon and falling stars. In addition, these signs as they are listed in Matthew 24 come “immediately after the tribulation of those days.” The tribulation of the medieval period ended in 1798 with the arrest of the pope (see 13:3 The Deadly Wound) but the Lisbon earthquake and the dark day took place before the end of the tribulation, not immediately after. The tribulation itself is a reference back to v. 21 “Then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.” It is apparent from the language that this is the same time period referred to by Daniel 12:1, “And there shall be a time of trouble (the same Greek word that is used for tribulation in Matthew 24:21), such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time.” In Daniel it is obvious that this time of trouble happens at the very end when Michael stands up. Both tribulations are said to be the greatest that would ever happen, suggesting that they are the same event. Therefore the signs that follow, the earthquake, darkening of sun and moon, falling of the stars, the rolling up of the sky and the disappearance of the mountains and islands all happen at about the same time—just as Christ is ready to come. It is actually incredible to think that the signs of Christ’s immediate coming would be spread over more than 250 years. While the earlier signs were notable, it is probable that these events were important in drawing the attention of the people of that time to the momentous heavenly event of 1844, the beginning of the Day of Atonement. In that sense they were a fulfillment, but not the primary fulfillment, of the prophecies, just as the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 was a fulfillment but not the primary one of these same prophecies, and the Day of Pentecost was a fulfillment, but not the primary one, of the prophecies of Joel (see Acts 2:16-23, Joel 2:28-30).

[5] “All who dwell on the earth will worship him [the beast] whose names are not written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” Revelation 13:8.