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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 6 - Verse 12

Verse 12. And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal.

 See Barnes "Re 5:1; Re 6:1 ".

 

And, lo, there was a great earthquake. Before endeavouring to ascertain to what the sixth seal was designed to refer, it is proper, as in the previous cases, to furnish a particular explanation of the meaning of the symbols. See Barnes "Re 6:13, seq. All the symbols represented in the opening of this seal denote consternation, commotion, changes; but still they are all significant, and we are to suppose that something would occur corresponding with each one of them. It cannot be supposed that the things here described were represented on the part of the roll or volume that was now unfolded in any other way than that they were pictures, or that the whole was a species of panoramic representation made to pass before the eyes. Thus understood, it would not be difficult to represent each one of these things in a painting: as the heaving ground—the agitated forests—the trembling hills—the falling cities and houses—the sun blackened, and the moon turned to blood.

(a) The earthquake: There was a great earthquake. Re 6:12. The word here used denotes a shaking or agitation of the earth. The effect, when violent, is to produce important changes—opening chasms in the earth; throwing down houses and temples; sinking hills, and elevating plains; causing ponds and lakes to dry up, or forming them where none existed; elevating the ocean from its bed, rending rocks, etc. As all that occurs in the opening of the other seals is symbolical, it is to be presumed that this is also, and that for the fulfilment of this we are not to look for a literal earthquake, but for such agitations and changes in the world as would be properly symbolized by this. The earthquake, as a symbol, would merely denote great agitations or overturnings on the earth. The particular character of those changes must be determined by other circumstances in the symbol that would limit and explain it. There are, it is said, but three literal earthquakes referred to in the Scripture: that mentioned in 1 Ki 19:11; that in Uzziah's time, Am 1:1; Zec 14:5. and that which took place at the Saviour's death. All the rest are emblematical or symbolical—referring mostly to civil commotions and changes. Then in Hag 2:6-7: "Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land, and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come; and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts." That is, there would be great agitations in the world before he came. See Barnes on "Heb 12:26-28".

So also great changes and commotions are referred to in Isa 24:19-20: "The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage." An earthquake, if there were no other circumstances limiting and explaining the symbol, would merely denote great agitation and commotion—as if states and empires were tumbling to ruin. As this is here a mere symbol, it is not necessary to look for a literal fulfilment, or to expect to find in history actual earthquakes to which this had reference, any more than when it is said that "the heavens departed as a scroll" we are to expect that they will be literally rolled up; but if, in the course of history, earthquakes preceded remarkable political convulsions and revolutions, it would be proper to represent such events in this way.

The darkening of the sun: And the sun became black as sackcloth of hair. Sackcloth was a coarse black cloth, commonly, though not always, made of hair. It was used for sacks, for strainers, and for mourning garments; and as thus worn it was not an improper emblem of sadness and distress. The idea here is, that the sun put on a dark, dingy, doleful appearance, as if it were in mourning. The general image, then, in this emblem, is that of calamity—as if the very sun should put on the robes of mourning. We are by no means to suppose that this was literally to occur, but that some great calamity would happen of which this would be an appropriate emblem. See Barnes "Isa 13:10, See Barnes "Mt 24:29".

Compare Isa 24:23; 34:4. Isa 50:3; 60:19-20; Eze 32:7-8; Joe 2:10; 3:15-16

Am 8:9. What is the particular nature of the calamity is to be learned from other parts of the symbol.

The discolouration of the moon: And the moon became as blood. Red like blood—either from the smoke and vapour that usually precedes an earthquake, or as a mere emblem. This also would betoken calamity, and perhaps the symbol may be so far limited and modified by this as to denote war, for that would be most naturally suggested by the colour—red. See Barnes on "Re 6:4".

But any great calamity would be appropriately represented by this—as the change of the moon to such a colour would be a natural emblem of distress.

See also:

 See Barnes "Re 6:13, seq.

{a} "earthquake" Re 16:18 {b} "sun" Joe 2:10,31; 3:15; Mt 24:29

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