Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 6:12–15

Revelation 6:12–15
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. 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.
(NET Bible)

The Day of the Lord

It may seem astonishing, but there are people who would not surrender to God even if miracles were performed before their eyes. Ah, I hear that you might not be convinced of that.

I offer Jesus as proof. The religious leaders saw him give sight to the blind, heal the sick and the crippled, even raise the dead. Some believed, but others simply resolved the more intently to kill him!

This puzzling rejection of what is obvious will be repeated in the end times. Just when things look their worst — and they will know who is sending judgment — many world leaders will cower in fear of the Lamb, but they will not submit to him!

Grant Osborne provides the following description of the events in 6:12–14: “The imminent end of all history is pictured first in the traditional shaking of the heavens that so often in Scripture initiates the day of the Lord.”[1] Look up the Scriptures listed next, especially the first two, to see the many forewarnings of these same events: “day of the Lord”  Isa. 34:4; Joel 2:30-31; Isa. 13:10–13; 24:1–6; 24:19–23; Ezek. 32:6–8; Joel 2:10; 3:15–16; Hab. 3:6–11.

The changes in appearance for the sun and moon could occur due to smoke from fires as well as dust thrown into the atmosphere due to the titanic earthquake. But there is certainly no need to find natural causes for all these God-caused events.

Commentators are uncertain whether the events described in 6:12–15 are literal, figurative, or some mix of the two. Jesus says similar things in Matthew 24:27–30. Concerning those verses, NT scholar Craig Blomberg says:

Jesus portrays his return with typical apocalyptic imagery of cosmic upheaval. He does not intend his language to be taken as a literal, scientific description of events but as a vivid metaphor . . . . From this moment on, the universe can no longer continue as it had been (cf. Rev. 6:12–17; 8:12). Jesus’ imagery may well also point to the overthrow of the cosmic and demonic powers often associated in paganism with the sun, moon, and stars.[2]

OT scholar Bruce Waltke says that the description in Matt. 24:29 (“Immediately after the suffering of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken”) refers to the overthrow of political powers.[3] This comment, if correct, clearly applies to Rev. 6:12–14 as well.

However, none of these comments limit the description in Revelation 6 to the realm of metaphor alone. Clearly the shaking and simultaneous cataclysms inspire terror in the inhabitants of the earth (6:15). Behind the metaphors stand terrifying realities that upend the power structures of this world (6:16). Further, the world’s peoples understand that these judgments come from “the one who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb” (6:16), and they realize that their own survival is unlikely (6:17).

Keep in mind that the seventh seal, yet to be opened, encompasses the trumpets and bowls.

Choosing concealment over repentance

Did you notice that not one of those mentioned in 6:15–17 repents and falls down before God in worship? Instead, they sought what sinners starting with Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:8) have sought — concealment!

Knowing these things must occur, Jesus said, “Therefore you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matt. 24:44). Are you ready?

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 290-291.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 362.

[3] Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007) 568, citing R.T. France.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!