“And when he had opened the Sixth Seal a tremendous upheaval occurred. I saw the sun become as black as hairy sackcloth, and the entire moon turned blood red. Then the stars of heaven fell to earth, like a fig tree dropping its unripened fruit when violently shaken by a great wind, and the sky separated and vanished like a scroll being rolled together, and all the mountains and islands were uprooted and moved out of their proper place. Then the kings of the earth and their ministers, and all their subjects, slave and citizen alike, concealed themselves in the caverns and in the crags of the mountains. And they all cried out to the mountains and the rocks:
Fall on us! Hide us from the presence of the One residing on the Throne and from the violent wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has arrived, and who is able to withstand it?”
“And when he opened the Sixth Seal a tremendous upheaval occurred….”
This particular Seal has been the subject of various and mutually exclusive interpretations for centuries. Gaius Marius Victorinus, a Latin commentator of the fourth century, interpreted the entire passage to be a symbol of “the very last persecution” preceding the Parousia. The blood red moon represents the death of the Saints and the falling stars represents the low estate to which they will descend during this period. In a similar manner, some of the critical commentators of the nineteenth century have insisted that this passage is a poetic description of the destruction of Jerusalem, and has no significance apart from this ancient bit of history. One can only marvel at the imagination and ingenuity of these expositors. But there is no confirming evidence presented for either interpretation, and both ideas fail to correspond, in any manner, to the imagery of the vision. For these reasons we dismiss these suggestions out of hand.
An equally unfortunate interpretation has been offered by some of the Fundamentalist exegetes. The Scofield commentators, for instance, consider the Sixth Seal to represent world-wide anarchy, which, according to Donald Barnhouse, is the result of “the shaking of all political and ecclesiastical institutions.” Louis Talbot, from whom Mr. Barnhouse adopted the idea, interprets the passage to mean “a great moral, spiritual, and political upheaval.” According to Dr. Talbot, the sun, moon and stars are all “symbols of authority”, and the fact that they are darkened, and fall from the sky, indicates the disappearance of all centralized government.
At the same time, however, and without the slightest feeling of inconsistency, these same commentators insist that out of this chaos will arise the highly centralized political system of the Antichrist. I submit that the chaotic political upheaval necessary to meet the language requirements of the text would take decades, if not centuries, to heal. This fact alone makes the interpretation untenable. Like a good many of the ideas offered by this particular group of expositors, their interpretation of this Seal contains a central grain of truth. Political anarchy will be inevitable at this time, although it will not approach the degree suggested above. But this could not, in any way, be the primary meaning of the text, not even in a typical or symbolic manner. The destruction of the political systems of the nations, to whatever degree it occurs, will be an indirect and secondary effect of the events described by the Prophet.
“The particular Greek word used here actually means ‘a violent, catastrophic shaking.’ This meaning, coupled with the darkening of the sun and moon, leads me to believe that the Apostle John is describing an earthquake set off by a nuclear explosion.”
Hal Lindsey, who offered this particular suggestion, goes on to interpret the falling stars to be the fiery glow of the nuclear missiles as they enter the atmosphere. But such an exchange, as every grade school student knows, would mean the immediate extinction of all earthly life. Since this is clearly not the case at the opening of the Sixth Seal, we must conclude that it does not represent a nuclear holocaust. Let me hasten to add that I am not saying that no nuclear weapons will be exploded during the Great Tribulation period. I simply mean that this is not what John is describing in this vision.
It is essential from this point onward, that we be extremely careful in the way we interpret the language of John’s vision. Carelessness here can only lead to interpretive confusion. The reader must at all times remember that John is not discussing the end of the world, or the destruction of the cosmic system as we know it. The closing images of the vision indicate quite clearly that men are going to survive the cataclysmic upheavals that begin at this time. Bear in mind that this is only the Sixth Seal, the last and most powerful of the signs that make up the beginning of woes. The Seventh Seal, and all that ensues out of it, are yet to happen. With these thoughts in mind let us examine the language of the text in detail.