Commentary on Revelation 6:12-17

Notes (NET Translation)

12 Then I looked when the Lamb opened the sixth seal, and a huge earthquake took place; the sun became as black as sackcloth made of hair, and the full moon became blood red; 13 and the stars in the sky fell to the earth like a fig tree dropping its unripe figs when shaken by a fierce wind. 14 The sky was split apart like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved from its place.

Verses 12-17 are the answer to the pleas of the martyrs in 6:9-11 to avenge their blood. Verses 12-14 combine stock  images for the dissolution of the cosmos (Isa 13:10-13; 24:1-6, 19-23; 34:4; Ezek 32:6-8; Joel 2:10, 30-31; 3:15-16; Hab 3:6-11; Mt 24:29; Mk 13:24-25; Acts 2:19-20). “Those who first read John’s description would not have bothered to debate whether or not the details were to be taken literally. They were part of a well-established tradition that went back through contemporary apocalyptic literature to the earlier prophetic portrayals of the day of the Lord” (Mounce loc. 3014-3017). The sun black like sackcloth and the blood red moon may symbolize that creation is in mourning over the events occurring on earth.  “The idea of heaven ‘receding like a scroll’ pictures the universe like a massive scroll that is unrolled; thus at the end of this world the scroll will be released and will roll back up upon itself. In that sense the sky will ‘split apart’ or ‘recede'” (Osborne 293). The Greek could mean either that the mountains and islands moved from their places or were removed from their places. The description in 16:20 may favor the latter option.

G. K. Beale argues that the judgment in this passage is the final judgment of the world:

  1. The saints in 6:9-11 were told to wait until the full number of martyrs was reached. As a direct response to that passage, this passage implies that the full number of martyrs has been reached.
  2. The cries of the judged in 6:17 indicate that they expected an imminent judgment and thus best fit the final judgment.
  3. Some of the language used in this passage is used elsewhere in Revelation of the final judgment (11:13; 16:17-21; 20:11).
  4. The whole of the sun, moon, and stars are destroyed in this passage whereas they are only partially destroyed in passages describing temporal affliction (8:10, 12; 9:1; 12:4).

15 Then the kings of the earth, the very important people, the generals, the rich, the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 because the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?”

The people listed in verse 15 are persecutors of God’s people and/or idolators (6:9-12; 13:15-16; 19:18-19). People from all socioeconomic classes are judged equally by God.

That they are also judged because of idolatry is evident from the fact they “hide themselves in the caves and the rocks of the mountains … from the presence of the one sitting on the throne and from the wrath” (vv 15b, 16b), which is based on a typological understanding of God’s judgment of Israelite idolaters in Isa. 2:10, 18–21: “You enter into the rocks and hide yourselves in the earth from the presence of the terror of the LORD.… But the idols will completely vanish. And they will go into caves of the rocks and into holes of the ground before the terror of the LORD.… In that day they will cast away to the moles and bats their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship, in order to go into the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs before the terror of the LORD … when he arises to make the earth tremble” (a similar description from Jer. 4:29 may be included in this typological inference; cf. Jer. 4:23–28; 5:7). (Beale 399–400)

Their plea for the mountains and rocks to fall on them alludes to Hosea 10:8. Of course physical death will not keep them from judgment (20:11-14). They want to hide from the face of God just as Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3:8-10. Their final question about who can withstand God’s wrath parallels Joel 2:10-11 (cf. Nah 1:6; Mal 3:2). It is only the followers of the Lamb who can withstand his judgment.

Bibliography

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

Boxall, Ian. Revelation of Saint John, The. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Baker Academic, 2009.

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Kindle ed. New Covenant Commentary Series. Cascade Books, 2010.

Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Osborne, G. R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

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One thought on “Commentary on Revelation 6:12-17

  1. While the list of Rev. 6:15 finally includes everyone (that does not follow the Lamb), the identification of certain ones singles them out for special recognition (and judgment). Already in 1:5 the risen Jesus is called the ruler of the kings of the earth; now in 6:15 his rule is shown to include his final judgment against them. Later on, the kings of the earth are especially associated with the beast from the sea and the scarlet harlot.

    Listed after these kings in 6:15 also are the “great men” (mentioned again only in 18:23 as the great merchants who were behind the luxury businesses of the great city, symbolized by the harlot). Thus the mention in 6:15 also of generals, the rich, and the strong all show a special place of judgment for the rich and powerful leaders of the earth. Revelation reveals they are beastly and bloodthirsty.

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