Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 16:12-16

Revelation 16:12-16

Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates and dried up its water to prepare the way for the kings from the east. 13 Then I saw three unclean spirits that looked like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 For they are the spirits of the demons performing signs who go out to the kings of the earth to bring them together for the battle that will take place on the great day of God, the All-Powerful.
15 (Look! I will come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays alert and does not lose his clothes so that he will not have to walk around naked and his shameful condition be seen.) 16 Now the spirits gathered the kings and their armies to the place that is called Armageddon in Hebrew.
(NET Bible)

The seven bowls of Gods wrath

We were twenty-five miles from a paved road and even farther from the nearest campground. Our campsite sat in a forest well off the dirt road, near a stream. It was dark and a light rain fell through the rising wind. Lightning punctuated the scene, showing two families camped in a looming forest.

“Where is the fire starter?” they said, and I grinned in the darkness. “Is it on the checklist?” I replied, though I knew it was. They had teased me mercilessly about my four-page checklist, so I always made them use it when they really needed something. In a dark, mountain forest on a stormy night, you want to know you are ready for whatever comes.

Gods great storm is coming at any time. Have you done what is necessary to prepare?

The seven final bowl judgments bring us very close to the end of history. Grant Osborne says, God is now the one who is and who was (16:5; cf. 11:17); there is no is to come for the end has arrived.[1]. But the response is blasphemy and a lack of repentance (16:9, 11).

Considering the kings from the east (16:12), Craig Keener pokes fun at those who have been quite ready to identify the kings as whatever Asian power was ascendant at a given time: in the nineteenth century the Turkish Ottoman Empire was a popular choice; later it was the Japanese; most recently the Chinese are wearing the kingly mantle.[2]

Much more likely is the view expressed by Osborne: It is better to see the kings from the east coalescing into the kings of the whole earth and preparing for Armageddon . . . . Thus, as in Ezek. 3839, the war of Gog and Magog against the people of God (see Rev. 19:17 and 20:8 for the imagery) forms the background.[3] By reading Ezekiel 38-39, it becomes obvious that God will use various means to gather the worlds armies against Israel in the last days. They will never leave there alive!

In fact, 16:13-14 show that the Satanic trio of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet will use demonic spirits, symbolized by frogs coming out of the mouth, to assemble the worlds rulers and their forces for the battle that will take place on the great day of God, the All-Powerful (16:14).

The final warning (16:15)

The parentheses around 16:15 show that this verse is an interjection into the vision; it is addressed to those believers alive at the unknown time of Christs appearing. The one who might be shamefully naked is the one who is not dressed and ready for his Lords return (Luke 12:35-40). The command to be alert appears here because the completed gathering of the armies for the great battle will be the moment of Christs return.

John names Armageddon (16:16) as a strategic location related to the last battle. Osborne says, The natural meaning from the Hebrew would be mountain ([Hebrew] har) of Megiddo, but there is no Mount Megiddo. The town of Megiddo was — and remains today — in the Valley of Jezreel near Mount Carmel. Greg Beale mentions another problem: That Armageddon is not literal is evident from the observation that OT prophecies of the final battle of history place it, without exception, in the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem and Mount Zion or its surrounding mountains.[4] How do we solve these mysteries?

I have my own suggestion about the resolution of these issues. Perhaps interpreters have misunderstood the gathering being mentioned in Rev. 16:16. We have already been told in 14:14 about the gathering of nations for battle, and no doubt that is what the beast thought he was accomplishing. But in 14:16 the demonic spirits were unwittingly gathering the armies for burial!

Ezekiel 39:11 says: On that day I will assign Gog a grave in Israel. It will be the valley of those who travel east of the sea; it will block the way of the travelers. There they will bury Gog and all his horde. Generally, the sea is what we call the Mediterranean Sea, and the Valley of Jezreel, containing Megiddo, extends from Israels central mountains down to the sea. While there is not currently a mountain at Megiddo, a vast burial mound in time to come is not out of the question.

In that scenario, the last battle takes place around Jerusalem, but afterwards God will command the land to be cleansed by burial of the unholy dead. Ezekiel 39:12-13 says:

For seven months Israel will bury them, in order to cleanse the land. All the people of the land will bury them, and it will be a memorial for them on the day I magnify myself, declares the sovereign Lord.

One last word: there is a town overlooking Megiddo and the Valley of Jezreel, the town in which Jesus grew to manhood — Nazareth!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. 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) 576.

[2] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 398.

[3] Osborne, Revelation, 590-591.

[4] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 838.


Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 15:1–4

Revelation 15:1–4
Then I saw another great and astounding sign in heaven: seven angels who have seven final plagues (they are final because in them God’s anger is completed).
2 Then I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and his image and the number of his name. They were standing by the sea of glass, holding harps given to them by God. 3 They sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: “Great and astounding are your deeds, Lord God, the All-Powerful! Just and true are your ways, King over the nations! 4 Who will not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name, because you alone are holy? All nations will come and worship before you for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
(NET Bible)

The demonstration of righteousness is just beginning!

I was never fond of getting a spanking, and my guess is that some of you feel the same way. Such experiences, however, may cloud our emotions in relation to understanding and accepting God’s acts of judgment. The conquering saints pour out praise to God for his “righteous acts” (15:4), which are his acts of crushing judgment against his enemies.

Why do we not respond with worship and praise when God judges rebellion? Have we been so blinded by contemporary culture that we think we can sit in judgment of God?

Revelation 15:1 serves as a summary for the whole of 15:1–16:21.[1] The avenging angels do not enter the scene until 15:8, and the bowls of judgment do not start until 16:1 (my next post).

When John says, “I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire” (15:2), try to imagine the flickering of flames within the crystal before the throne of God — an ominous symbol of what is coming!

Grant Osborne describes the song sung by the conquering saints (15:3b–4): “The whole celebrates the saving deeds of God and the worship that results from it. No details of victorious deeds are mentioned here because they have been recounted in chapter 14. . . . To the wonder of his judgments in line one [15:3b] is added the justice and truth behind those judgments in line two [15:3b].”[2]

The second part of the song (15:4) emphasizes both God’s holiness and the theme of the nations coming to Zion to worship God (Isa. 2:2–4; 45:23; 60:1–3; Jer. 16:19; Zech. 8:20–23; Rev. 15:4; 21:24, 26). Osborne ably summarizes the latter theme: “For the OT the coming of the nations to Zion was final proof of the glory and might of Yahweh [God], and this theme is central to the Apocalypse as well. Of course, this does not imply universalism [universal salvation] for most among the nations will refuse to repent (Rev. 9:20–21; 16:9, 11).”[3]

John next sees seven angels, dressed as priests, emerging from the temple “holding the seven plagues” (15:6, NLT), which they have clearly received from God. The word translated “plague” can refer to a blow which one receives (Luke 10:30; 12:48) or to the figurative extension of that idea: “a sudden calamity that causes severe distress . . . plague.”[4] The latter meaning is the one used in the Book of Revelation.

Next, the seven angels each receive a golden bowl from one of the four living creatures, and the bowl is filled with God’s wrath (15:7). Any ruler could be wrathful and yet his enemies could always hope he will die before inflicting harm, but those who oppose “God who lives forever and ever” (15:7) have no such hope! They can run, but not forever.

John’s final glimpse shows a temple so filled with God’s glory and power that no one can enter it[5] (15:8). No one dares to try!

We must get our heads straight!

Those whom God struck in Revelation 8, 9, and 14 have not only rebelled against God, but they have also killed multitudes of Christians in obedience to the commands of the beast. By judging them, God vindicates his own reputation for holiness and justice and he vindicates the obedient behavior of the believers who have fallen before the rage of the beast. When God behaves in a manner consistent with his character, we should each stand up and shout praise, because that means God will also do for us just what he promised in Christ.

Osborne tells us, “The righteous justice of God in judging his enemies is a time for joy, not sorrow.”[6] After recovering from his own severe experience of God’s judgment, the mighty Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar (634 – 562 B.C.) said: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, for all his deeds are right and his ways are just” (Dan. 4:37). He got the point!

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) 560.

[2] Osborne, Revelation, 564-565.

[3] Osborne, Revelation, 568.

[4] BDAG-3, pl?g?, plague, q.v.

[5] Similar incidents may be found in Exod. 40:34–35; 1 Kings 8:10–12; Isa. 6:1–4 and Ezek. 10:2–4..

[6] Osborne, Revelation, 574.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 14:6–10

Revelation 14:6–10
Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, and he had an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth– to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 He declared in a loud voice: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has arrived, and worship the one who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water!”
8 A second angel followed the first, declaring: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great city! She made all the nations drink of the wine of her immoral passion.”
9 A third angel followed the first two, declaring in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and takes the mark on his forehead or his hand, 10 that person will also drink of the wine of God’s anger that has been mixed undiluted in the cup of his wrath, and he will be tortured with fire and sulfur in front of the holy angels and in front of the Lamb.”
(NET Bible)

The Tale of Two Cities

Revelation 14 reminds us not to become victims of divided interests. We cannot serve both God and the things offered by this world. Those who try to have it both ways always find in the end that the powerful tug of sexual immorality, power and wealth are too great to resist.

And we all know how that works out, do we not?

If Revelation 13 presented the conquest of the saints, Revelation 14 shows that the beast’s victory will not last. Revelation 14 begins the “Tale of Two Cities,” a contrast between the city of God (Zion, 14:1) and the city of the world (Babylon, 14:8).

This helps explain the otherwise difficult 14:4, which says of the 144,000 that they “have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins.” That is a figurative statement, which Craig Keener explains by saying: “These 144,000 have refused to commit immorality with Babylon, the prostitute (cf. 18:3). The symbolism thus makes a strong point: Christians must be pure and faithful to Christ if they wish to be prepared for and engage in the Lamb’s holy war. Unlike the world (13:17), believers cannot indulge in divided interests.”[1]

Revelation 14:6 marks a signal moment in human history: the very last offer of the gospel to lost humanity. Grant Osborne says: “Everywhere that [Greek] euangelion [“gospel”] is found in the NT, it implies the gracious offer of salvation.”[2] When you consider how the people dwelling on the earth have helped the beast kill Christians, and probably Jews as well, this final extension of grace speaks of God’s preference for mercy over judgment (James 2:13).

A second angel follows (14:8) with a momentous announcement: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great city!” The angel speaks of a future event (see 16:19 and 18:2–4) as if it had already taken place. God’s promised future actions are so certain that they may be stated in the same manner as completed history!

Concerning the name Babylon, Keener informs us:

There can be no question that this text [14:8] implies especially Rome. Early Jews often used Babylon as a code name for Rome, as did early Christians (1 Peter 5:13). Such allusions made sense; as Israel once experienced exile under the evil empire Babylon, now they are experiencing the captivity of a new evil empire in Rome. Both Babylon and Rome destroyed the temple.[3]

Both Babylon and Rome were known for three things that resonate with the end of history: power, wealth and sexual depravity (Isa. 13:19–22; 14:20–23; Jer. 25:12–14; 50:35–40; 51:24–26.). The added metaphor in 14:8 of drinking someone’s wine means to participate in their lifestyle. Like Babylon and Rome, the beast’s empire will force others to participate in “the wine of her passionate immorality” (BDAG-3, the standard lexicon for New Testament Greek).

A third angel ( 14:9–11) warns the world that those who have a taste for the beast’s wine will “also drink of the wine of God’s anger that has been mixed undiluted in the cup of his wrath” (14:10). Keener explains: “Ancients normally diluted wine with two parts water to every part wine, except when they wished to get drunk. But God will administer this wine of his anger ‘full strength’ (14:10).”[4] Those who drink with the beast will be made sloshing drunk with the wine of God’s wrath!

The final interpretation-issues for chapter 14 involve 14:14–20. The key issue is to determine the nature of the two harvests (14:16 and 14:19). For brevity, I will give my conclusions. Osborne says, “It is likely that 14:15 describes the harvest of the redeemed and 14:17–20 of the unsaved.”[5] Presumably the redeemed are those who responded to the final offer of grace (14:6–7).

Through an angel, God speaks from the temple to Christ, who reaps the redeemed before the harvest of others for the “great winepress of the wrath of God” (14:19). God makes no apology for dealing finally and effectively with the wicked rebels who refuse his mercy (14:17–20).

The output of the great winepress will be blood (14:20) — a very great deal of blood!

Two roads and a winepress

The discerning reader will realize that in the end times there will be no neutral parties. There will be those who are marked as the beast’s own and those who belong to the Lamb, who are mostly killed for their faith. The wide road that leads to destruction will have plenty of worldly reward, while the narrow way that leads to life “requires the steadfast endurance of the saints” (14:12).

Did I mention that the wide road leads to a great winepress?

Craig Keener, whose insights we frequently enjoy, says that many today try to avoid scaring people into the kingdom. Then he reveals that as a young atheist he decided the doctrine of hell made the stakes too high to ignore. He gave his life to Christ and has no regrets. [6]

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

[1] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 371.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 535.

[3] Keener, Revelation, 373.

[4] Keener, Revelation, 374.

[5] Osborne, Revelation, 552.

[6] Keener, Revelation, 382.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 9:15–16, 9:20–21

Revelation 9:15–16
Then the four angels who had been prepared for this hour, day, month, and year were set free to kill a third of humanity. 16 The number of soldiers on horseback was two hundred million; I heard their number.
Revelation 9:20–21
The rest of humanity, who had not been killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so that they did not stop worshiping demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood – idols that cannot see or hear or walk about. 21 Furthermore, they did not repent of their murders, of their magic spells, of their sexual immorality, or of their stealing.(NET Bible)

The sixth angel

Denial is a regular feature of human psychology. The young think they are immortal; the beautiful think they will turn heads forever; the rich think nothing can touch them. Fools all!

The reconnaissance pilot who personally laid the aerial photograph on Adolf Hitler’s desk was a repeat winner of the Iron Cross. He had risked his life to show the Führer the long rows of Russian tanks and artillery poised for battle on the Eastern Front. Hitler wrote one word across the face of the offending photograph: “Lies!”

We learn in 9:14 that these four angels have been bound at the River Euphrates waiting for this very moment. Since there are examples of demonic angels being bound (Rev. 20:2; Mark 3:27) and no examples of good angels being bound, there is little doubt the four angels in 9:14–15 are demonic. Indeed, another divine passive lets us know that God prepared them for this very moment.

As with many parts of Revelation, there is a historical background that would have been understood by the churches who originally received this book. Few peoples ever defeated the Romans during the earlier periods of the empire, but the Parthians, who lived east of the Euphrates River, were among them. Their arrow-firing cavalry had defeated Roman legions in 53 B.C. and again in A.D. 62, and the dread of a Parthian invasion hung over the Roman provinces in the east. These threats are the ancient fear from which John’s visions borrow.

Verse 16a is based on the Parthian cavalry, and if NET’s translation sounds a bit modern, try this more literal translation: “The number of mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand; I heard their number” (ESV). The demonic cavalry is heavily armed and highly mobile. By the time their authorized quota has been met, one-third of humanity will have been exterminated (9:18).

In light of the astounding number of mounted troops in John’s vision, Grant Osborne points out: “John adds, ‘I heard the number,’ pointing to prophetic activity on his part. . . . This is important in responding to those who say this is merely a literary work, John’s own creation; he claims he specifically ‘saw’ and ‘heard’ these things. He is not making up the details.”[1]

In ably summarizing Rev. 9:20-21, Robert Mounce says:

Nowhere will you find a more accurate picture of sinful humanity pressed to the extreme. One would think that the terrors of God’s wrath would bring rebels to their knees. Not so. Past the point of no return, they respond to greater punishment with increased rebellion. Such is sinful nature untouched and unmoved by the mercies of God.[2]

The relationship of denial to repentance

In theological terms, the opposite of denial is repentance. While repentance is often explained as changing your mind — the first-listed meaning in the standard lexicon for the Greek verb metanoe? — not a single verse of the NT is listed under that meaning! Instead, all the instances in the NT are listed under the secondary meaning “feel remorse, repent, be converted.”[3] This meaning puts greater emphasis on a change in our lives rather than just our ideas; the OT metaphor is to get off the wrong road and walk on the right road.

The people said: “The Lord has abandoned the land, and the Lord does not see!” (Ezek. 9:9)

The Lord said: “But as for me, my eye will not pity them nor will I spare them; I hereby repay them for what they have done.” (Ezek. 9:10).

Let those words fall on someone else!


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) 381.

[2] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Rev. Ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997) 193.

[3] W. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3d ed. Revised and edited by F. W. Danker, translated by W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich and F. W. Danker (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2000) metanoe?, repent, q.v.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 9:1–6

Revelation 9:1–6
Then the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the abyss. 2 He opened the shaft of the abyss and smoke rose out of it like smoke from a giant furnace. The sun and the air were darkened with smoke from the shaft. 3 Then out of the smoke came locusts onto the earth, and they were given power like that of the scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to damage the grass of the earth, or any green plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their forehead. 5 The locusts were not given permission to kill them, but only to torture them for five months, and their torture was like that of a scorpion when it stings a person. 6 In those days people will seek death, but will not be able to find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.(NET Bible)

The opening of the seventh seal

If there is one thing Revelation accomplishes, it is to make each of us feel insignificant in comparison to the awesome forces God unleashes on the world. The effect is to remove any sense of controlling our environment or future.

In truth, God is no less sovereign at this moment than during the visions John presents. But, for the moment, God is withholding his hand of judgment and power to allow time for repentance. Be careful not to let God’s forbearance lull you into believing you are in charge!

Previously I have said that the seventh seal encapsulates the increasingly severe judgments pictured by the seven trumpets and seven bowls. The escalating severity is building to a crescendo of violence. Many commentators have noted the numerous parallels between the plagues God brought on Egypt (Exod. 7–10), and the trumpet and bowl judgments.

Keener describes the surprising effect of Rev. 8:1: “After six thunderous seals of judgment (6:1–17) and a dramatic interlude in 7:1–17, the reader may be pardoned for a sense of anticlimax when reaching the final seal and hearing — silence.”[1]

After the seven angels are given trumpets (8:2), another angel offers burning incense along with “the prayers of all the saints” (8:3) before God. Then the same censer (a brass container or fire-pan) used for the incense is used to scoop coals of fire from the altar that are then hurled onto the earth. Osborne says: “The thrust of the first coals was to lift incense and prayers to God [8:3-4], but now the coals become the ‘fire’ of judgment [8:5]. . . . As we have seen, worship and judgment are interconnected throughout this book.”[2]

The first four trumpets affect one-third of the earth in a deadly way (8:6–12). But these hard blows are nothing to the coming three trumpets, as we are told in 8:13: “Woe! Woe! Woe to those who live on the earth because of the remaining sounds of the trumpets of the three angels who are about to blow them!”

Beale explains why the last three trumpets are worse than the first four: “The woes are worse than the initial four in that they directly strike the wicked.”[3] Even while judgment is falling, repentance is what God desires.

The identity and allegiance of the angel described in 9:1 is disputed. Though there are good arguments on each side, I am inclined to agree with the ESV Study Bible, which says, “The star fallen from heaven to earth is Satan, whom Jesus saw fall like lightning as a result of his disciples’ ministry (Luke 10:18).”[4] Note that “he was given the key to the shaft of the abyss” (9:1), which is a divine passive. Beale says, “Christ is ultimately the one who bestows this key, since he has overcome Satan and now ‘possesses the keys of death and Hades’ (1:18).”[5]

The abyss (NET, NIV, HCSB) is also translated as pit (ESV, KJV, NLT); in fact, it is the common Greek word phrear, meaning “well.” However, the word well is modified by the Greek noun abyssos, meaning “an immensely deep space.”[6] So, the “well of the abyss” has been rendered by NET as “the shaft of the abyss” (9:1). Of greater importance is what the Bible says about this place. In the NT it appears as a prison for evil spirits (Luke 8:31, 2 Pet. 2:4, Jude 6) where the beast (11:7) and Satan (20:1–3) are confined for a time.

The locusts of Revelation 9 are demonic spirits from the abyss whose mission is to torment the unbelieving peoples of the earth, but not the believers who have the seal of God (9:4).

There are many ironies in Revelation. These who are seeking death find that it runs away from them by God’s command!

All the important things in life come from one person

It is hard to imagine a long period of time when one’s highest aspiration would be to die! Of course, these who desire death are the ones who have killed every Christian they can find. Only God can grant them what they want.

“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth.
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn; Truth has gone from my mouth, a word that will not be revoked:
Every knee will bow to me, every tongue will swear allegiance.”
(Isa. 45:2223, Christian Standard Bible).

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

[1] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 253.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 346-347.

[3] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 489.

[4] ESV Study Bible, notes for Revelation 9:1.

[5] Beale, Revelation, 493.

[6] W. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3d ed. Revised and edited by F. W. Danker, translated by W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich and F. W. Danker (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2000) abyssos, abyss, q.v.

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.