And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those having been slain because of the word of God and because of the testimony which they upheld. And they were crying with a loud voice saying, “Until when, O Lord Holy and True, do you not judge and avenge our blood on those dwelling upon the earth?” And they were each given white robes, and it was said to them that they will rest yet a little time, until their fellow servants, and their brothers, those being about to be killed as they would also be fulfilled.
And I saw when he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood, and the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs by being shaken by a great wind, and heaven departed like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth and the great ones and the commanders and the rich and the powerful and every servant and freeman hid themselves 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 sitting on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of his wrath as come, and who is able to stand?”
As we work through this, remember our overview. We said that the sixth seal appears to be the return of Jesus, and we’ll examine this more thoroughly in this section. The first four seals seem to lead us directly up to the establishment of the abomination of desolation, which would then explain to us these martyrs. This fifth seal represents a time of about 3 ½ years. It actually would not be unlikely if this fifth seal is opened almost immediately before the sixth seal, which then would explain how they are granted white robes.
Also, something else to consider, is the question of whether these are they who come out of the Great Tribulation, as in 7:14, or if these are the faithful from Abel through to the time of this seal? Either way, there is no doubt that these are the “invisible cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews 12:1.
The altar has not been mentioned up to this point. Exodus 25:4, 40 along with Hebrews 8:5, 9:23 would attest that Jews and Christians both believed in a heavenly altar, matched by the pattern of the earthly altar. The question is, do we find this to be the altar of incense, or is this the altar of sacrifice in the outer court? It must be the altar of incense, because with the martyrdom of these saints, they are still praying (see Rev 5:8 and 8:5 for prayers and incense going together). The altar of incense would have been in the inner court before the Holy of Holies where the throne of God sat. This altar “before the throne” (8:5) is the altar of incense, which explains why these martyrs are under it. It is not that they are being sacrificed as redemptive means for the earth, as Christ was sacrificed. No, they are giving their lives unto God, and in devoting their lives – even unto death – they are thus worshiping God.
Notice the reason for their being slain. This is similar language to John’s introduction in 1:9.
For “holy and true”, see Rev 19:2 and 1 Sam 24:13
Compare the avenging of blood to 2 Kings 9:7, Luke 18:7-8, and Psalm 6:3.
The white robes are resurrection bodies (see note on 3:5). The rest that is generated by these white robes is disputed. Some interpret it to mean they held their peace until they were avenged; others that they found eternal blessed rest. Hebrews 11:40 seems to speak against the latter idea, unless as already mentioned this is directly before the coming of Jesus, and thus they are receiving their resurrection bodies as they are now beginning to assemble to return with Christ. Hebrews 12:23 might hint at these righteous being given white robes (being made perfect), but even in this it seems bizarre to receive perfection without their fellow servants (Heb 11:40).
I would suspect that Romans 11:25 would fall into this “until the full number…” In Romans 11:25, πληρωμα is used, where in Rev 6:11 we find πληρωθωσιν – πληροω being the root. Paul is quoting Genesis 48:19 – Ephraim is to be a melo goyim – fullness of Gentiles. The idea of melo is “fullness” like air “filling” a balloon, or water that “fills” a bucket. Only Abraham, Jacob, and Ephraim are given the promise that their descendants would be “nations”. Ephraim, unlike Abraham and Jacob, would be “filled” with nations – the word typifying an amount. Ephraim is sometimes used to mean “families” (see Ezekiel 2:3 as example). This is not how Paul sees it. The context of Roma 11:11-24 is that we have been grafted in (see Eze 37:19-22, Isa 14:1, 56:5-7). Paul is using the prophecy in Gen 48:19 to typify the Gentiles that come to Christ and inherit eternal life. There is a specific number – I assume to rule with Christ, or maybe a representative from all nations (the number being of nations and not individuals) – that is filling up until the time Christ will return to avenge the blood of His servants, and all Israel will behold Him and be saved.
With the sixth seal, we have the return of Christ. Let us begin to digest this verse by verse, piece by piece. For this earthquake, we find in Zechariah 14:4-5 that when the LORD shall “stand on the Mount of Olives”, a great earthquake will cause the mountain to be split in two, and a great valley in between. “Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.” Notice that last statement. Jesus directly quotes this in Matthew 25 in regards to when the “Son of Man comes”. This earthquake takes place at the return of Jesus.
Ezekiel 38:19, with the war against Gog and Magog at the end of the age, God says, “There shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel… I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him.” Notice that last part from verse 22 about sulfure corresponds with Revelation 14:10, 19:20, 20:10, and 21:8.
We find the sign of the Day of the Lord in Joel 2:10, “Before them the earth shakes, the sky trembles, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars shine no longer. The LORD thunders at the head of his army” (remember Zechariah 14:5 where the LORD comes with all the holy ones with him) “his forces are beyond number, and mighty are those who obey his command. The day of the LORD is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?” Notice that last part of Joel 2:10-11. The day of the LORD is great, and who can endure it? This sounds strangely similar to Revelation 6:17. They are the same event.
As for this darkening of the sun, we read in Amos 8:9, “In that day… I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.” More convincingly parallel is Isaiah 13:10, where we read, “The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.” Once again, notice the resemblance to Matthew 24:29. This is the return of Jesus. This is the Day of the Lord. In Isaiah 50:3, “I will cloth the sky with darkness and make sackcloth its covering” – the exact prescribed kind of darkening in Revelation 6. Once again, notice the context of Isaiah 50. This is the day that the Lord shall redeem Israel. This is the appearance of the Servant who shall judge between the righteous and the wicked – between they who have no light and who provide themselves with their own light.
Notice Joel 2:31, “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.” Once again, this isn’t simply cosmic hyperbolic language, as the preterist wants us to believe. The prophets are consistently prophesying of a day when the sun and moon shall go dark, and it is consistently on the Day of the Lord. Are there exceptions? Yes. Always. That is the difficulty with theology; we must wrestle with it. However, just because there are exceptions doesn’t mean that the overabundance of evidence that this is all on the Day of the Lord should be tossed aside. Everything culminated together at a pinhead. Just because we don’t see these things in the past means we should say it is only symbolic metaphor? Wouldn’t it make sense that God has spoken these things for literal fulfillment in so many other places (like the fulfilled prophecies of Jesus), so we should expect that these prophetic words shall also have some sort of literal fulfillment?
Notice Revelation 9:2. Here we have the darkening of the sun before the return of Christ. This fifth trumpet is most likely the Antichrist charging on Jerusalem. (See the parallel of this trumpet with the book of Joel, and learn from the context of Joel what is happening here.) How does the prophecy against Pharaoh in Ezekiel 32:7 fit in? Probably right here in Revelation 9.
Verse 13 of Rev 6 seems to be based off of Isaiah 34:4, “All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.” Notice again the similarity to Matthew 24:29. Notice the context of Isaiah 34. This is the judgment against the nations, which is the Day of the LORD. The Day of the LORD is the Day of Christ, which is the second coming of Christ. There is no distinction. You can go through the context of each time the Day of Christ is mentioned in the New Testament. Literally every time has the same kind of language that is being patterned as the Day of the LORD. Only two places in the New Testament is the Day of the LORD mentioned, all other times it is the Day of Christ – the assumption being that the Day of the LORD is the Day of Christ. The only two times that the Day of the Lord is used in the New Testament is when Paul and Peter quote Jesus about His return, and He claims that His return is the Day of the Lord (see Matthew 24:42-44, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, and 2 Peter 3:10).
Rev 6:14 and 16:20 parallel one another in the mountains and islands fleeing. Also notice 20:11 where the earth and heaven flee away.
Compare Rev 6:15 with Isaiah 2:10, 19. “Go into the rocks, hide in the ground from the dread of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty! Men will flee into caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from the dread of the LORD and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth.” Also see Rev 13:16 and 19:18 for a similar classification of people. The number of classes is seven. Compare the thought of Rev 6:15-16 with Luke 21:26. The kings of the earth = heads of heathen nations (17:2, 10, 12, 18, 18:3, 9). Also notice the wording back in the fifth seal. In Rev 6:10, we read of “the inhabitants of the earth”. This is strictly contrasting they who “dwell in heaven” (Rev 11:15, 12:10, 12, 14:2, 19:1, and Ephesians 2:6). See also Isaiah 2:21.
In verse 16, we find this same statement in Hosea 10:8 and Luke 23:30. In both places it is referencing Israel, but here in Revelations the author has expanded it beyond just Israel. As we’ve established before, and we’ll continue to expand, there are two Israels being addressed in Revelations. There are the righteous to be preserved, and then there are the wicked who align with the Antichrist. It is still assumed that when they behold Him whom they have pierced, all Israel shall be saved. However, we see the distinction quite clearly. Whether this particular verse addresses Israel alone, I doubt it.
Some have objected that the wrath of the Lamb is somehow misplaced. In Revelation, the Lamb is always peaceful (6:9-11, 11:18, 14:10, 19, 15:7, 16:1, 19, and 19:15 all call it the wrath of God, and not the Lamb). The response is obvious. They cry out against the wrath of the Lamb because it is the second advent of the Lamb. That is the whole point. These scholars caught that John was doing something different, but instead of realizing it was on purpose, they assumed that it was by accident. They call it either a misnomer or a corruption, but they didn’t realize that John wants us to notice the variation. This is the return of Jesus, and thus the “wrath of the Lamb”.
To finish, compare verse 17 with Joel 2:11, Nahum 1:6, and Luke 21:36. Contrast it with Rev 7:9. Though the wicked are judged and, “Who can stand?”, there are still righteous from every nation, tribe, people, and language to stand before the throne.