Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 14 - The Sixth Seal: Jewry Destroyed (6:12-17)

It can now be shewn that the Sixth Seal continues the theme of the other five with a lurid figurative description of the complete overturning of the Jewish kosmos in Palestine. One allusion after another to other parts of Scripture confirms such a conclusion. It is worthwhile to catalogue them separately:

Verse 12. In Scripture a great earthquake may signify the coming in of a new dispensation; e.g. Hebrews 12:26. Several prophecies in particular use this figure of an earthquake with regard to God’s judgements on Jerusalem. In Psalm 18:7 earthquake is the open token of the wrath of God for the rejection of His Son. Isaiah 2:10-22 is a vigorous pronouncement of divine chastisement of human pride. The basis or primary fulfilment of this prophecy is probably the great earthquake in the reign of Uzziah (Amos 1:1; Zechariah 14:5). But it would be definitely wrong to limit its scope to that only. The prophecy runs on into chapter 3, verse 1: “For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water.” Clearly the doom Isaiah foretells concerns Jerusalem especially. “For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory” (3: 8). The very next verse speaks of the holy city as Sodom, a vigorous analogy used with force in Revelation 11:8. More than this, in various other ways there are marked resemblances here to the Sixth Seal. The catalogue of mighty men corresponds to that in Revelation 6:15: “The mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent and ancient, the captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator” (Isaiah 3 :2, 3); with this compare: “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondsman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains” (Revelation 6:15). The last words quoted here echo Isaiah 2:19: “they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty,” whilst other words of Revelation 6: “every mountain and island were moved out of their places,” have a practical parallel in Isaiah 2:14: “the day of the Lord is upon all the high mountains and upon all the hills that are lifted up.” Since Isaiah 2 has specific application to Israel, it is reasonable in the light of these correspondences to apply the Sixth Seal also to Israel - and no more appropriate time than A.D. 70 can be found.

Verse 12: “the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood.” These are Joel’s words, used by Peter at Pentecost thus: “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel: And it shall come to pass in the last days ... the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.” In this context, the judgements mentioned here must be the destruction of Jerusalem. But more on this passage later (cp. also Amos 8:8,9 and the context there). The same v. 12 has allusion also to Isaiah 50:3: “I clothe the heavens with blackness and make sackcloth their covering,” the context of which is the rejection of Christ and the consequent “divorcement” (v. 1) of Israel.

Verse 13: The fig tree shaken of a mighty wind is an obvious figure of Israel enduring judgement; cp. especially Luke 13:6-9; Mark 11:13, 14. By itself this detail should settle the interpretation of the Sixth Seal.

Verse 14: “the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together.” With this compare Hebrews 1:10-12 “(the heavens) shall perish ... they shall wax old as doth a garment ... and as a vesture shalt thou roll them up.” Here the idea, very probably, is that of the dissolution of Judaism. The very words: “departed as a scroll,” suggest the roll of the Law being put away as now fulfilled and finished with.

“They said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us ...” The words are directly from Hosea 10 8, which Jesus on his way to crucifixion applied explicitly to the Day of Wrath in A.D. 70 (Luke 23:30). Again, this detail by itself should be conclusive.

Finally, in Jeremiah 4 a whole series of phrases can be traced resembling the words of the Sixth Seal. This in a chapter, which is a sustained condemnation and warning of Israel and Jerusalem:

Sixth Seal
Jeremiah 4

Earthquake, every mountain moved out of its place.
I beheld the mountains, and lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly (v. 24).

Sun black as sackcloth.
The heavens had no light (v. 23)...the heavens above are black (v. 28).

The face of him that sitteth on the throne, the wrath of the Lamb.
The presence of the Lord and his fierce anger (v. 26).

Hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains.
They shall go into the thickets, and climb up upon the rocks (v. 29).

Shaken of a mighty wind.
A dry wind of the high places...a full wind shall a whirlwind (vv. 11-13).


The appropriateness of all the foregoing to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 needs little emphasis. But it is specially interesting to observe that the outstanding historians of the time - Tacitus and Josephus - both emphasize repeatedly that immediately prior to the last bitter troubles and final downfall of the city a whole series of most impressive and often inexplicable signs were seen. The temple shone at night time with unaccustomed brightness, its mighty doors opened noisily of their own accord, voices were heard, a star resembling a drawn sword (actually it was Halley’s Comet) hung over the city. How like the words of Jesus: “fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.” Also, how like the language of the Sixth Seal.

It is interesting further to observe that at the time of the destruction of the city, “the kings of the earth” (i.e. of the Land, as in v. 4) and other leaders did literally hide themselves in the caves and rocks of the mountains. The leaders of the various factions, when driven from their strongholds, took refuge in secret caverns and limestone chambers beneath the city, and were only “winkled out” with difficulty by Roman soldiers.

Thus, the entire series of visions in the Six Seals hangs together as a vivid and even lurid prophecy of unerring judgement on Jerusalem and its people. Once again it should be observed that there is no distinct chronological sequence about the Seals. It cannot be said that the beginning of the fulfilmcnt of each one waits for the completion of fulfilment of its predecessor. The whole series applies to one particular epoch, without special reference to order of fulfilment. This important conclusion should be borne in mind since it suggests the possibility (at least) of a similar design about the Seven Trumpets and the Seven Vials.


Whilst it is thus undeniably true that much of the language of the Sixth Seal has evident connections with the overthrow of Jewry by Titus, it is at least as evident that it is intimately connected in Scripture with the Last Day and the Coming of the Lord.

“The great earthquake” (v. 12) finds mention also in the Vials (Revelation 16:18), in direct association with the warning: “Behold I come as a thief.” Compare also Haggai 2:6, 7. This idea of an earthquake as a figure of the cataclysmic coming of the Lord is common in Scripture. Isaiah 2, already considered, is an undeniable example, for in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 Paul quotes part of v. 19 with reference to the coming of the Lord.[24]

Joel 3:15, 16 (also of clear application to the Last Days) combines earthquake and signs in sun, moon and stars, as does the Sixth Seal: “The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel.” Isaiah 24:20, 23 and 30:32 might also be considered.

Of course, in the light of Zechariah 14:4 and the similar occurrences at the death and resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 27:51-54 and 28:2), the idea of a literal earthquake at the Lord’s return must not be lost sight of.

“The sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood, and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth” (v. 12, 13) are almost verbatim the words of Joel 2:10, 31, where the “Last Day” context is undeniable.

The Lord’s Olivet Prophecy also provides forceful evidence here: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from the heaven, and the powers of the heaven shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven” (Matthew 24:29, 30). Yet another parallel is found in Isaiah 13. Here verse 6 speaks of “the day of the Lord”; and v. 13 reads like a detailed anticipation of the Sixth Seal: “Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger.” Now to these points must be added v. 10, which also is Sixth Seal language: “For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.”[25]

It is important to observe that although this chapter is headed “The Burden of Babylon,” the first thirteen verses at least describe wrath against Israel. Then judgement on Babylon follows for the vicious part it plays in this operation.

“The fig tree casting her unripe figs” has obvious connections with the shooting forth of the fig-tree nation of Israel (Matthew 24:32; Hebrews 3:17). Observe here that the green figs appear “when summer is nigh” (Song of Songs 2:11, 13).

“The heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places” (v. 14) is an echo of:

Isaiah 34:4, which passage also has: “all their host shall fall down ... as a falling fig from the fig tree” (Seal Six again!). It is the same chapter which speaks of “the indignation of the Lord upon all nations ... the day of the Lord’s vengeance, and the year of recompense for the controversy of Zion.”

“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:32) where the context is undeniably the coming of the Lord.

“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away” (Revelation 20:11). Again, the context is the same.

Also, “every mountain and island were moved out of their places” has a distinct parallel in Revelation 16:20, the Seventh Vial: “every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.”

Verses 16, 17: “The wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of his wrath is come.” No comment is necessary here.

Verse 17: “and who shall be able to stand?” The counterpart is in Luke 21:36: “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, in order that ... ye may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” Cp. Malachi 3:2.

That the case is fully made for an application of the Sixth Seal (at least) to both First Century and the Twentieth now hardly admits of argument.

The strength of the Biblical evidence for the two-fold application of the Sixth Seal to the destruction of Jerusalem and to the Last Days at the coming of the Lord is exhibited in the following summary of the evidence which has been cited:

Seal Six
The Last Days
Matt. 24:7.
Jer. 4:24.
Is. 2:19 (= 2 Thess. 1:9)
Ez.38: 20; Is.24: 20; 30:32; Joel 3:16.
Rev.16: 18; Hab.3: 6, 7.
Sun black as sackcloth, moon as blood.
Joel 2:31
(Acts 2: 20);
Jer. 4:28.
Joel 2: 10; 3: 15;
Matt. 24: 29; Is.13: 10.
Zech. 13:4.
Stars fell.
Dan. 8:10.
Is. 34:4.
Fig tree.
Luke 13:6-9
Mk.11: 14.
Is.34: 4; Mt.24: 32;
Hab.3: 17.
Shaken of a mighty wind.
Jer.4: 10-12;
Ez. 1: 4.
Jer.51: 1
(Zech. 6: 5).
Heaven parted as a scroll (of the Law).
Heb. 1: 11,12
Is.51: 6.
Is.34: 4; 13: 13;
Matt. 24:35; Rev.20: 11.
Mountains and islands moved.

Rev.16: 20; Is. 24:19.
Chief captains (chilarchs).
Jn.18: 12.

Kings of the earth (the Land).
Rev. 16:14.

Hid themselves.
Is. 2:19
(see 3 :1,9).

“Fall on us.”
Jer.4: 29.
Hos.10: 8;
Lk.23: 30.

The wrath of the Lamb.

Rev.11 :18.
The great day of His wrath.
Zeph.1: 14, 15
Is.13: 6,13.
Who is able to stand?

Mal.3 :2; Lk.21:36.
Nahum 1:6.

One or two brief comments may be added. Verse 15 describes the might of man in all its (seven-fold) fulness. Yet none of it can abide. The question: “Who is able to stand?” finds its satisfying answer in the next chapter, where the palm-bearing multitude stands before the Throne - and they prevail through no human resource whatever, but through “the blood of the Lamb.” The more this contrast is contemplated, the more impressive it becomes. The mighty men seek to hide in dens and rocks of the mountains, forgetting that even mountains flee away before the face of Him that sits on the throne, whereas these stand in serene joy and thanksgiving before the full blaze of divine glory: Those cry a frantic “Fall on us, and hide us,” but these with a loud voice say: “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.” Those endure the awful wrath of the Lamb, but these have every tear wiped away, and serve God day and night in His temple.


The problem of the interpretation of the Sixth Seal is an extremely difficult OZIC It is a comparatively easy matter to use the copious Bible evidence available in order to establish that fulfilments should be looked for in both the First and Twentieth Centuries. But then how is one to answer the real problem: What do all these various details mean? It is not easy to particularise.

Certainly it may be said that an earthquake is an obvious Biblical symbol for the manifest wrath of God. Psalm 18, a quite outstanding Messianic prophecy, has these words: “Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved, and were shaken, because he was wroth” (v. 7). And since the sun, moon and stars were symbols of Israel in its very earliest days (Gcnesis 37:9), there is also a vivid representation of the eclipse of national Israel - as is made yet more evident by the allusion to first-ripe figs falling from the fig-tree. Such a catastrophe overtook Israel in A.D. 70, and it is a matter of the most elementary knowledge of Bible prophecy that such will just as certainly happen again in days not far ahead.

It has already been mentioned that the words describing men of war seeking sanctuary in underground caves and passages did actually have a literal fulfilment when Titus’s Roman army eventually forced its way into Jerusalem (Josephus’ “Wars of the Jews” 11:7:3 and 11:2:1). For the Last Days, comparison with Micah 7:17 and Isaiah 24:18 is tempting.

Nevertheless, since the rest of the language of this Seal is undoubtedly symbolic, this part of it also should be given a symbolic interpretation. However, it is not easy to particularise beyond saying that here is an evident representation of the consternation and helplessness of man’s might and last resource when face to face with the judgements of God in the era to which the Seal applies.

That there was also a kind of literal fulfilment of some of these things serves to provide an interesting illustration of the fact that the symbols of Scripture are apt at times to be so marvelously appropriate as to receive both literal and figurative fulfilment. Passages like Revelation 16:21; 2 Peter 3:10 and Isaiah 24:18-21 are further illustrations of the same kind of thing.

It may well be that other symbolic prophecies will also have a kind of literal fulfilment in the days to come - actual signs in heaven, literal pillars of smoke, and so on. To be dogmatic, either pro or con, on this matter would be foolish.

Summary of Seals 1-6. Triple Fulfilment

[24] Here is an interesting example of a prophecy with three separate and distinct fulfilments, and Biblical sanction for every one of them.
[25] “The Time of the End,” chapter 11, has a good deal more on this topic.
First Century
Continuous-Historic (as in “Eureka”)
Twentieth Century
1. Conquest
Christianity’s victory over Judaism
Gospel’s conquest of Paganism; 96- 180 A period of Peace
Conversion of Israel (in part) immediately before the Lord’s return
2. War
The Roman War; 67-70
Civil war and much bloodshed; 180-211
A time of trouble in Israel, such as never was
3. Famine
Great distress in Empire through famine; 220-235
4. Pestilence
War and pestilence throughout the Empire235 - 265
5. Persecution
Bitter persecution of Christians both in Judea and in the Roman Empire
Diocletian’s persecution of Christians303 - 313
Persecution of Jewish(and Gentile) saints just before the return of Christ
6. Destruction
Overthrow of of Jerusalem
Constantine emperor. The forces of the Empire now turned in judgement against Paganism 313 - 324
The wrath of the Lamb against all human pride and opposition
Previous Index Next