Sixth Seal: Cataclysmic Disturbances: Part 2 of 4 (series: Lessons on Revelations)
by John Lowe
13 And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.
The word “stars” can refer to any celestial body, large or small, and is not limited to normal English usage. There are two ways in which the word “stars” can be translated. It could mean the actual stars in the sky falling, but it more likely refers to meteors falling from the sky to the earth (a meteor shower). While some have interpreted the result of the falling stars as a violent occurrence, like an earthquake, the illustration John actually gives is of ripe figs that could fall when the wind shakes their limbs. The best explanation is a massive asteroid or meteor shower.
“The stars of heaven fell unto the earth” (compare Mark 13:25). As for the stars falling to the earth, Scripture describes natural phenomena as they would appear to the spectator, not in the language of scientific accuracy; and yet, while adapting itself to ordinary men, it drops hints which show that it anticipates the discoveries of modern science. Some Bible scholars believe that what is meant here is the collapse of established authority.
Compare the last part of the verse, “Even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind,” with Mark 13:25— “The stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” And then compare it to Isaiah 34:4— “All the stars in the sky will be dissolved and the heavens rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree”—where on the day of the Lord the host of heaven is compared to “figs” from the “fig tree.” The “untimely figs” (winter “figs”) are the green figs which appear before the leaves, and which readily fall off when the wind blows.
Even though John wrote using symbolic language, these verses described a scene that would frighten even the most courageous person. People will try to hide from the face of God and from the face of the Lamb! Imagine wanting to hide from a lamb!
14 And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.
At the same time that all these “cataclysmic disturbances” were happening, the earthquake caused all the mountains and islands to move from their places. Under the stress created by the global earthquake, great segments of the earth’s plates will begin to slip and shift, realigning whole continents. Here again in the sequence of events, the end had not been reached because there was still another seal. But this was the most dramatic judgment thus far in this time of great distress before the Second Coming. For the first-century believers, the picture of such cosmic disruption would signal the end of the world. Yet they could find comfort in knowing that God still was in control. Peter wrote to persecuted believers, “As you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:12-13; NLT).
The heavens appeared like “a scroll” being “rolled” up; and disappeared. One explanation is that the earth’s atmosphere will be somehow dramatically affected and the sky, as we know it, will disappear (Isaiah 34:4). Some fine Bible scholars add that we have here the picture of the sky opening up so that the atmosphere, the blue canopy that is over the earth, will split open and form a hole.
Many teachers of the Word of God have attempted to see a figurative fulfillment to this prophecy. They hold that the earth shaking convulsions are to be viewed figuratively, that is, they are moral and political upheavals. For example:
• Ford C. Ottman says: “The description is figurative, for the heavens do not literally pass away until after the millennial reign of Christ. The great earthquake speaks of the upheaval of human government. Anarchy and riot-rule followed in the path of war, and stable forms of governments are overthrown.”
• Dr. Ironside wrote: “It is therefore not a world-wide, but literal earthquake that the sixth seal introduces, but rather the destruction of the present order—political, social, and ecclesiastical—reduced to chaos; the breaking down of all authority, and the breaking up of all established and apparently permanent institutions.”
I think, however, that this passage is to be taken quite literally. The trumpet and bowl judgments, to be revealed later in Revelation, also include great disturbances in the heavens and on the earth before Christ’s second coming. We see the same thing in Nahum 1:5 and again in chapter 20, verse 11. Such bold figurative descriptions of great changes abound in the prophecies of Scripture; for these events are symbols, and declare the end of the world and the day of judgment. The total disruption described here shall be the precursor of the new earth, just as the pre-Adamic convulsions prepared it for its present occupants. Earthquakes have occurred in the past when God acted in judgment. Mount Sinai quaked when God descended upon it in the fire (Exodus 19:18), and the people recognized the quake for what it was (Exodus 20:18-19). In the days of Elijah there was an earthquake which broke rocks in pieces (1 Kings 19:11). When Christ died on the cross of Calvary there was an earthquake— “At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead” (Matthew 27:51-52). Dare we suggest that these recorded incidents were not literal? By what principle of Biblical interpretation may we explain away these historical incidents? I know of none. But to properly understand these events, we must go beyond the literal meaning. These word pictures were common to many of John’s readers and stood for the coming “day of the Lord” or “day of judgment.” The earthquake in Scripture always pictures God’s presence (see Exodus 19:18; Isaiah 2:19-21; Haggai 2:6—when He visits, the earth shakes).
The disturbances under this sixth seal judgment were foretold by our Lord when He said, “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26). These words of our blessed Lord mean precisely what they say. The people who will be living on the earth at that time will actually see the fulfillment of the astrological signs in connection with the heavenly bodies. Christ then added the time element of these happenings, “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27).
15 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;
“The kings of the earth . . . hid themselves in the dens (caves) and in the rocks of the mountains” sounds like an echo of Isaiah 2:10, 19, where men flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground, from dread of the Lord. This is a picture of the blind panic of the last days. Men’s hearts are now failing with fear as they look at what is coming on the earth. They feel that the day of wrath has come. In this they are wrong, for these things are only “the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:8).
As the earthquake moved the mountains and the sky was filled with terrifying signs, everyone on the earth—from the rich and powerful to the “middle-class” citizens to the slayings—all hid from God they recognized that the end of the world had come and they hoped to hide . . . But from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the lamb. The people were so terrified of the one seated on the throne that they would prefer that an avalanche fall on them rather than have to face God. The evil people on the earth dread God more than they dreaded death. They do not realize that even death cannot help them to escape their judgment by God.
On that day, all people will be made equal before the Lamb, for all will bow before Him (Philippians 2:10). The kings and magistrates who had ultimate authority, the generals who were used to warfare and being in command, the rich and the powerful who felt secure in their possessions—they, like Adam and Eve in the garden, ran and hid from God (see Genesis 3:8). Everyone else, slave and free, also attempted to hide from God’s wrath, for they knew that these signs could mean nothing else (see also Zephaniah 1:14-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3).