For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?
Last week’s column studied the vision commonly described as “the four horsemen of the Apocalypse” (Revelation 6:1-8). We continue our study of chapter 6 of Revelation by seeing Christ open the fifth seal (6:9-11), revealing a vision that gives another perspective to the severe persecution that takes the lives of some Christians as shown by the opening of the fourth seal. That seal revealed the vision of a pale horse, with the rider of the horse being Death with Hades, the place of the dead, following him, symbolizing that Christians at times will be persecuted to the point of martyrdom (cf. Revelation 2:10). Now with the opening of the fifth seal, John saw souls under the altar which Revelation 8:3 would place near to God’s throne. These are the souls of those all Christians willing and required to die if necessary to confess their faith in Christ.
They ask God to avenge their blood on those who had persecuted them (v. 10). Admittedly, my first reaction to reading this is to ask why they would want vengeance. Jesus did tell us to love our enemies, after all (Matthew 5:44). Yet the Bible also shows that it is right to ask God to bring to justice those who wrong you (Psalm 7:6). We should want the unsaved to be saved, even those who wrong us; yet if they refuse to obey Jesus we should also want justice to be brought to them.
Each of these martyrs is given a white robe (v. 11), symbolizing their righteous deeds (Revelation 19:8); God was recognizing they had lived righteous lives and had overcome. They were told to rest until the number of their brethren who were to be martyred as they had been were complete. Since there has never been a time when Christians somewhere on this planet have not been killed for their faith (2 Timothy 3:12), this “little season” refers to the entire Christian age, the rest of time ending when Christ comes again.
At that time God will avenge their blood, as shown by the opening of the sixth seal (6:12-17). This seal shows the end of all physical things as we know them. The events described in these verses – the earthquake, the sun becoming black, the moon becoming like blood, the stars falling, the sky being rolled up, the mountains and islands being removed – could be taken literally since the Bible does describe the literal destruction of this world and universe on Judgment Day (2 Peter. 3:10-12).
Yet there could also be a figurative meaning to them. Since God’s kingdom, the church (Matthew 16:18-19), “cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28), the earthquake could symbolize how the church will be the only thing left standing on Judgment Day. Elsewhere in Scripture heavenly bodies which give light symbolize people who give direction to others (cf. Jeremiah 4:22-23); thus what happens to the sun, moon, and stars could symbolize how great leaders will no longer have power when Christ comes back. Likewise, mountains sometimes symbolize governments hostile to God (Jeremiah 51:24-25; Amos 4:1), while islands also sometimes symbolize leaders (Isaiah 41:1; 59:18); perhaps them being removed from their place symbolizes how all kingdoms and leaders will fall from power when Christ comes back.
Verses 15-16 show this even more. Seven different kinds of people are listed, ranging from the greatest to least of men according to their social status in this life. Since “7” symbolizes completeness, this is basically saying everyone from all walks of life unprepared to meet Christ when He returns will try to hide to escape His wrath. They will either literally be begging to be crushed by the rocks and the mountains being removed from their places, or this is a symbolic way of saying that they are asking the mountains and rocks which symbolize their leaders and mentors to keep them from God’s wrath.
Sadly, they will not have this choice. As verse 17 says, the day of God’s wrath has come. Who can stand?
Are you prepared to meet Christ when He comes back? I’d love to study the Bible with you to show you how to be prepared. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.