Revelation Chapter 6 (Part 2)


REVELATION 6 (Part 2)

Adam Maarschalk: September 3, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 6:1-17 (Part 2 covers verses 9-17)

This is now the second part of our study on Revelation 6. It is recommended that one refer to the first part before reading what is to follow:

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E. Fifth Seal: The Cry of the Martyrs (6:9-11)

Rhetorical questions (open for further discussion): [1] In what sense did John see “the souls” of the martyrs (i.e. How can souls be seen)? [2] The martyrs had already passed on from this life and were safe in God’s presence, so why were they still concerned about vengeance? [3] If they hadn’t yet received their redeemed bodies, what were they to do with the white robes they were given? Were these literal robes?

Sam Storms says,

The fifth seal focuses on the oppression and martyrdom of God’s people. Unlike the first four seals, the fifth says nothing of an angelic decree of judgment or suffering but rather a human response to it… John’s language indicates that there is a specified number of God’s people who are destined to be martyred (the verb translated ‘should be completed’ in v. 11 can mean ‘to make something total or complete, to complete the number of’” (Aune, 2:412). Only when all have been killed in accordance with God’s plan will he act in judgment (http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/the-seven-seals-part-ii/).

Dr. Thomas Constable remarks (p. 71), “‘Those who dwell on the earth’ is almost a technical expression in Revelation describing unbelievers who are hostile to God (cf. 3:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 12; 17:2, 8).” I would agree, and would again add that the term “earth,” as considered earlier, refers specifically to the land of Israel and Palestine. [In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subjectbeginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.]

The hostile unbelievers were primarily the apostate Jews of John’s day. Steve Gregg, editor of “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” remarks (p. 118):

As the blood of sacrificial animals was poured out at the foot of the altar (Lev. 4:7), so the souls of the martyrs (slain like animals by the Jewish priests) are seen under the altar (v. 9). “The soul [Heb. nephesh] of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11). Their blood cries out for vindication, as did the blood of Abel (Gen. 4:10). The fact that the martyrs are asking for the avenging of their blood upon those who dwell on the earth [or land] (v. 10) suggests that their persecutors were still alive on earth at the time John saw the vision. Prior to A.D. 70, the main persecutors of the righteous Jews and Christians were the leaders of the Jewish nation, headquartered in Jerusalem (Luke 13:33).

These thoughts are brought together by Jesus when He predicted: “that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah…whom you murdered between the temple and the altar… All these things will come upon this generation” (Matt. 23:35f). The destruction of Jerusalem in that generation was the sentence of the divine Judge in response to the cries of the blood (souls) of the righteous slain by her leaders.

Indeed, Jesus couldn’t have been more clear that His own generation in Israel would be held responsible for the shedding of the blood of the saints, prophets, and Himself (Matthew 21:33-45, 23:29-38). We will also see in our study of Revelation 18 that the “saints and apostles and prophets” (verse 20) will be invited to rejoice over the destruction of Babylon the Great, i.e. Jerusalem (18:18, 21; cf. 11:8), because in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on the earth” (18:24; cf. 16:5-6). Their time of waiting (6:11) will have ended at that point. Babylon the Great, then, cannot be a city in the 21st century or beyond, because Jesus stated explicitly that the generation which crucified Him would be the one held responsible for the shedding of righteous blood and justly judged as a result. The generation which heard Jesus speak these things also saw them happen, just as He said they would, in 70 AD. Steve Gregg quotes J. Stewart Russell, who, writing in 1887, said:

[I]t is impossible not to be struck with the marked resemblance between the vision of the fifth seal and our Lord’s parable of the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8): ‘And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith in the land?’ This is more than resemblance: it is identity.

One more note: These martyrs simply asked God to do what He had said long ago that He would do. This was not a brand new request. It was not a question of “if” this judgment would happen but “when” it would happen.

F. Sixth Seal: Cosmic Disturbances (6:12-17)

Verses 12-14: Sam Storms agrees with Preterists when he remarks,

“These verses and their vivid portrayal of disruptions in the heavens echo several OT texts: Isa. 13:10-13 (the defeat of Babylon); 24:1-6,19-23; 34:4 (the defeat of Edom); Ezek. 32:6-8 (the defeat of Egypt); Joel 2:10, 30-31 (judgment on Israel itself); 3:15-16; Hab. 3:6-11 (the defeat of the Chaldeans and other enemies of Israel). In particular, compare Isaiah 34:4 and God’s judgment against historical Edom with Rev. 6:13-14a.

‘and the powers of the heaven will melt, and the heaven will be rolled up like a scroll; and all the stars will fall . . . as leaves fall from a fig tree’ (Isa. 34:4).

‘and the stars of the heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind, and the heaven was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up’ (Rev. 6:13-14a).

The point is this: all these celestial (heavenly) and terrestrial (earthly) phenomena are prophetic hyperbole for national catastrophe. God’s judgment of earthly unbelief and idolatry is described in terms of heavenly disasters.

N. T. Wright is surely correct in contending that “it is crass literalism, in view of the many prophetic passages in which this language denotes socio-political and military catastrophe, to insist that this time the words must refer to the physical collapse of the space-time world. This is simply the way regular Jewish imagery is able to refer to major socio-political events and bring out their full significance” (Victory, 361)… In summary, Revelation 6:12-14 is stock-in-trade OT prophetic language for national disaster.”

Verses 15-17: “What sinners dread most is not death, but having to stand before a holy and righteous God” (Dr. Thomas Constable, quoting from Robert Thomas, ibid).

FUTURIST VIEWPOINT: “Next God will send a tremendous earthquake that will rock the whole world (cf. Luke 21:11). The darkening of the sun (cf. Isa. 13:10; Ezek. 32:7-8; Joel 2:10, 31; Amos 8:9; Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:24-25; Luke 21:25), the reddening of the moon (cf. Joel 2:31; Acts 2:20), and the falling of the stars to earth (a meteor-like shower?) appear from the context to be consequences of this judgment… Many commentators have taken this description as picturing a metaphorical convulsion among the nations, not a literal shaking of the earth and the heavens. We should probably take them literally for at least two reasons. First, Jesus used the same language in the Olivet Discourse and gave no indication that it was symbolic[1] (cf. Matt. 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11). Second, a shaking of the nations follows in verses 15-17” (Dr. Thomas Constable, p. 72, ibid).

As J. Stuart Russell pointed out, though, the “gorgeous symbolical imagery” used in this passage is fitting for the destruction of Jerusalem because “[t]hat event is not simply a tragical historical incident; it is not to be looked at as in the same category with the siege of Troy or of Carthage. It was a grand providential epoch; the close of an aeon; the winding up of a great period in the divine government of the world” (Steve Gregg, p. 124). Gregg clarifies, “The vision depicts the end of the Jewish state and the fall of its leaders” (p. 122).

In verse 17, John’s readers are told that the great day of God’s wrath has come. J. Stewart Russell says of this day (Gregg, pp. 120, 122), “This is… ‘the great and terrible day of the Lord‘ predicted by Malachi, by John the Baptist, by St. Paul, by St. Peter, and, above all, by our Lord in His apocalyptic discourse on the Mount of Olives. … It is impossible to overlook the connection between the seventeenth verse and the language of Malachi 3:2, ‘But who may abide the day of his coming?’ ” Revelation 6 ends with the question, “and who can stand?” We will see the answer to this question in our study on chapter 7.

Verse 16: It is said that those who would not repent called “to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb…’” F.F. Bruce said the following in 1986 regarding this verse: “The best commentary on the present passage is found in our Lord’s words to the ‘daughters of Jerusalem’ on the Via Dolorosa (Lk. 23:30)…” (“Revelation” in International Bible Commentary, p. 1608). This is what Luke 23:27-30 says:

And there followed Him [Jesus] a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for Him. But turning to them Jesus said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us,” and to the hills, “Cover us.” For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?

Jesus spoke these things to the “daughters of Jerusalem,” concerning themselves and their children. If these things were to take place centuries later in judgment upon Gentile nations, why would He have directed these remarks in this way to the present generation of Jews among whom He lived?

The same prophecy was given by the prophet Hosea concerning Israel: “The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed. Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars, and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us, and to the hills, Fall on us” (Hosea 10:8). This is yet another indication that the judgments of the book of Revelation were directed toward apostate 1st-century Israel (Source).

On July 31, 70 AD, after a five month siege, the Romans succeeded in penetrating the final wall around Jerusalem and burned the temple to the ground. Tens of thousands of Jews were killed, but the surviving Jews retreated to the Upper City of Jerusalem, where many continued to plunder, ambush, and assault their fellow Jews. The victims were too weakened by famine to resist, and quite a few were killed senselessly. Josephus tried to persuade them to surrender to the Romans and spare what was left of the city, but he was only laughed at. Josephus also records that when the temple was burned in August 70 AD, many survivors retreated to Upper Jerusalem and longed for death. Josephus said in Wars 6.7.2 that “as they saw the city on fire, they appeared cheerful, and put on joyful countenances, in expectation, as they said, of death to end their miseries.” Many Jews sought refuge in the caves and underground caverns, hoping to remain hidden once the Romans would reach the Upper City, as Josephus records (Steve Gregg, pp. 124, 126):

So now the last hope which supported the tyrants and that crew of robbers who were with them, was in the caves and caverns underground; whither, if they could once fly, they did not expect to be searched for; but endeavored, that after the whole city should be destroyed, and the Romans gone away, they might come out again, and escape from them. This was no better than a dream of theirs; for they were not able to lie hid either from God or from the Romans (Wars, 6:7:3).

The Romans not only ravaged and leveled Jerusalem, but during the next three years they rooted out the Jews who had fled Jerusalem and attempted to hide out in various pockets of resistance in the Dead Sea areas. The famous hill fortress of Masada was the last to be taken by the Romans in April 73 AD, where 960 Jews committed mass suicide.

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Our study of Revelation 7 can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] It can be said, though, that this language is indicated to be symbolic by the fact that the same type of language was used symbolically many other times in Scripture to refer to localized judgments.

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5 thoughts on “Revelation Chapter 6 (Part 2)

  1. I guess the question wasn’t addressed how there deaths were avenged. I see you say who was on earth. I would think this would have to be the Romans who killed them. Could you please expand? In reference to 6:9-10

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