The purpose of this article is to explain the sixth and seventh seals.
After He arrived in heaven after His ascension, Jesus received a book that was sealed up with seven seals (Rev 5:1, 7). Consequently, He breaks the seals over the church age.
Each time that He breaks a seal, something happens on earth. The sixth seal consists of two parts:
The natural catastrophes of Revelation 6:12-14 include:
- A great earthquake that moves all mountains and islands from their places, and
- Signs in the sun, moon, stars, and heaven. Jesus said that these are the signs of His return (Matt 24:29-30).
Revelation 6:15-17 describes the response of the people who refused to repent. Apparently, Christ has already returned because the people of the world were more scared of Him than of this earthquake, for they attempted to hide from Him in the rocks and caves of the mountains (Rev 6:15-17). They cried out:
“The great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”
To be able to stand means to be right with God when Christ returns (Luke 21:36; 1 John 2:28).
After an interruption describing the sealing of God’s end-time people (the 144000 - Rev 7:1-8), the sixth seal continues in Revelation 7:9 with a description of the people who will be “able to stand.” In other words, part 2 of the sixth seal describes the people of the world divided into these two great multitudes:
- Those who refused to repent attempt to hide from Him (Rev 6:17) and
- The innumerable multitude who is able to stand before Him (Rev 7:9).
Literally interpreted, in the sixth seal, everything in heaven and on earth is destroyed. But we should not interpret these things literally. For example, even after the stars have fallen on the earth, and all mountains have been moved out of their places, the unrepentant people are still alive and able to hide in the mountains.
In other words, it is not a real earthquake and the sun is not literally darkened. These are all symbols. The great earthquake, moving the mountains and islands out of their places symbolizes some great upheaval on earth, which may include some natural catastrophes, such as an acceleration of climate change.
Overview of the End-Time Events
The purpose of the next section is to show where the sixth and seventh seals fit in the end-time events. To serve as basis for that discussion, this section provides an overview of the end-time events in Revelation 13 to 20:
The end-time persecution is described in Revelation 13. An image of the beast will attempt to force all people, with threats of violence, to receive the mark of the beast “on their right hand or on their forehead” (Rev 13:14-17). But God’s people, symbolized as 144,000, will refuse. In place of the mark of the beast, “on their foreheads” (Rev 7:3), they will receive “the seal of the living God” (Rev 7:2), which is “His name (Jesus’ name) and the name of His Father written on their foreheads” (Rev 14:1).
The description of that end-time persecution ends in 14:13 and goes over to the return of Christ (Rev 14:14-20), when blood will flow “out from the wine press, up to the horses' bridles, for a distance of two hundred” (Rev 14:20).
The Seven Last Plagues
The seven last plagues, as described in Revelation 16, jump back to the time before Christ’s return because it describes the people with the mark of the beast (Rev 16:2) as still refusing to repent (Rev 16:9, 11, 21). The plagues begin to fall at a point in time during the end-time persecution when all people have been marked either with the mark of the beast or the seal of God.
In the sixth plague, demon spirits gather the kings of the world together at Armageddon for "the war of the great day of God" (Rev 16:14, 16). This is not the war of Armageddon itself; only the preparation for it.
The seventh and final plague is the destruction of Babylon (Rev 16:19). After Revelation 17 and 18 interrupted the seventh plague, it continues in Revelation 19 where “a great multitude in heaven” praises God because “He has judged the great harlot” (Rev 19:1-2; cf. Rev 16:19).
Revelation 19 ends with Christ’s return (Rev 19:11-20:6). The seventh plague, therefore, is followed by or continues into the return of Christ.
In summary, Revelation 13 to 19 represents the end-time events as consisting of three broad phases:
- The end-time persecution (Rev 13-14),
- The seven last plagues (Rev 16), and
- Christ returns (Rev 14:14-20; 19:11-20:6).
The Sixth Seal is Christ’s Return.
So, where does the sixth seal fit in this sequence of events? Under the following headings, it is argued below that the sixth seal is Christ’s return:
- The sixth seal is later than the seven last plagues.
- The sixth seal separates the Living from the Dead (which will happen when Christ returns).
- Matthew 24:29-30 explains the sixth seal (and states that they will "see the Son of man coming”).
- The sixth seal is the Day of the Lord, and the Day of the Lord is Christ’s return.
- The sixth seal is “the great day” and that “great day” is described by Revelation 19:19 – during Christ’s return.
1) Later than the Seven Last Plagues
The sixth seal is later than the sixth plague because in both we find the phrase "the great day" but, while the sixth plague is the PREPARATION for "the war of the great day" (Rev 16:14), in the sixth seal, that "great day … has (ALREADY) come” (Rev 6:17).
The sixth seal is also later than the seventh plague because, in the seventh plague, the people still refuse to repent (Rev 16:21; cf. Rev 16:9, 11). The sixth seal must be later because, in it, they attempt to hide in the mountains from "the wrath of the Lamb" (Rev 6:15-17).
2) Separates the Living from the Dead
As discussed above, the sixth seal divides the people of the world between the living and the dead:
- Those who refused to repent hide from Him (Rev 6:17) and
- The innumerable multitude stands before Him (Rev 7:9).
This is what Jesus said He will do when He returns, "as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats" (Matt 25:31-32).
3) Matthew 24:29-30 explains the sixth seal.
Fourthly, Matthew 24:29-30 bears a striking resemblance to the two parts of the sixth seal. While verse 29 is parallel to the first part of the sixth seal, describing the signs in the sun, moon, stars, and heavens, verse 30 is parallel to the second part of the sixth seal because it describes the response of “all the tribes of the earth” as mourning. But verse 30 explicitly states that they will mourn when they "see the Son of man coming” (cf. Luke 21:25-28; Mark 13).
4) The sixth seal is the Day of the Lord.
Fifthly, the many similarities between the sixth seal and the Old Testament Day of the Lord identify the sixth seal as that great day. The similarities include:
- The darkening of the sun, moon, and stars (Isaiah 13:10; Zeph 1:15; Joel 2:1-2, 31; 3:14-15);
- A huge earthquake (Isaiah 13:13);
- People hiding “in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains” (Rev 6:15-16; Isa 2:19).
So, the sixth seal is the Old Testament Day of the Lord but, in the New Testament, that day becomes Christ’s return. For example:
After Paul describes what will happen when Christ returns, he refers
to it as “the day of the Lord” (1 Thess 4:15-17; 5:2).
Elsewhere, Paul equates “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” to “the
day of the Lord” (2 Thess 2:1-2).
Paul also describes the day of judgment as “the day of our Lord Jesus
Christ” (1 Cor 1:7-8), “the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor 5:5), and
“the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6, 10).
Consequently, the sixth seal is the Day of the Lord, and the Day of the Lord is Christ’s return.
5) The sixth seal is "the great day."
Since the seventh plague continues in Revelation 19 and since all 'sinners' are killed by the end of that chapter (Rev 19:21), the sixth seal must describe an event somewhere in Revelation 19. Beginning in Revelation 19:11, that chapter describes Christ’s return. As part of that, John saw:
“The kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against
Him who sat on the horse” (Rev 19:19).
For the following reasons, I propose that this (19:19) and the multitude hiding in the mountains in the sixth seal (Rev 6:15-17) describe the same event and the same people:
Both describe all the people of the world as gathered. Revelation
19:18 describes them as “all men.”
Both are “the great day.” In the sixth seal, the people are hiding
because "the great day of their wrath has come" (Rev 6:17). The only
other place in Revelation where we find the phrase “great day” is in
the sixth plague, where demons gather “the kings of the whole world”
at Armageddon (Rev 16:14, 16) to prepare them for “the war of the
great day of God.” Since 19:19 describes the kings of the earth and
their armies as gathered together (assembled) “to make war,” that is
the “great day” for which the demons gathered the kings (Rev 16:14)
and which “has come” in the sixth seal.
The First Part of the Sixth Seal
So, the sixth seal describes a moment during Christ's return when the people who refused to repent realize that there is no escape from a dreadful fate (Rev 19:17-19). However, as discussed, the sixth seal consists of two parts. Do both parts describe Christ’s return?
For the following reasons, it is proposed that the first part of the sixth seal is the seven last plagues that precede Christ’s return:
Firstly, since the second part of the seal is the response of
unrepentant humanity to the massive natural catastrophes in the first
part, they may describe two different events.
Secondly, both the natural catastrophes and the seven last plagues are
the revenge promised to the souls in the fifth seal (Rev 6:10-11). To
The natural catastrophes in the first part of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-14) may be understood as that promised revenge because they
follow immediately after the fifth seal.
However, Revelation 19:2 indicates that God will fulfill that promise of revenge through the judgment on Babylon, and that judgment
is the seventh plague (Rev 16:19). Furthermore, Revelation 16:5-6
indicates that the third plague is also part of that revenge.
Therefore, all seven plagues are that revenge.
Thirdly, both the seventh plague and the natural catastrophes begin
with "a great earthquake" (Rev 6:12; 16:18) and conclude with the
destruction of "every mountain and island" (Rev 6:12; 16: 20).
For these reasons, it is proposed that the first part of the sixth seal is the seven last plagues and the second part is the subsequent return of Christ.
The Seventh Seal
So, what is the seventh seal? The seventh seal is very brief. It is only a single verse and says “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (Rev 8:1). Therefore, it must be understood relative to the context. Since the second part of the sixth seal describes a point in time during Christ’s return, when the people realize that they are doomed (Rev 19:17-19), another article interprets the silence of the seventh seal as the sorrow in God’s heart and in the hearts of His people when God’s enemies are put to death in Revelation 19:20-21.
For the full article, of which the above is a summary, see - The sixth seal describes the seven last plagues and Christ's return.