Previously: Christian martyrs of the Roman Empire
The final verses of chapter 6 describe the sixth seal:
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; and the stars in the sky fell to the earth like a fig tree dropping its unripe figs when shaken by a fierce wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved from its place. 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. 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, because the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?”
I have previously described this seal as the earthquake of the fall of paganism. Let me explain why historicists believe this must be so, by first examining the symbolism.
This is the first place in Revelation where the symbol of an earthquake is used. It is not the last, nor is it here or elsewhere explained in the text. In 1 Kings 19:11-12, Isaiah 29:6, Ezekiel 3, and Ezekiel 38:18-20 the earthquake is associated with the presence of the Lord. In Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, Jesus says that earthquakes will occur before the end (of the Temple and of Jerusalem; see The Great Tribulation of Matthew 24 for a fuller explanation). All the other earthquakes in prophecy take place in Revelation.
Of those in Revelation, historicists have traditionally held that those symbols not defined in the text, or elsewhere in Scripture, are defined by the fulfullment of the prophecies themselves. The Revelation earthquakes have been traditionally understood (until recently) to be a complete revolution and overturning of all earthly order: government, religion, society, economy, worldview. Thus earth + quake, or a great shaking of that which is of the earth, or the world. As we progress through Revelation, we will see that every instance of an earthquake is accompanied by historical events which constitute a complete revolution of all earthly order, so let us accept that explanation of the symbolism for now.
To be continued …
Update: continued in Revelation 6, the great earthquake: identity of the sun