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In Revelation 6:12 we read that a "great earthquake" occurs. The Greek word here translated "earthquake" is seismos (G4578), and it appears 14 times in 12 verses in the NT. In all but one of these times it is translated "earthquake(s)", but in one verse, Matthew 8:24, it is translated "tempest", in this case, a tempest of the sea. According to Strong, seismos can refer to a tempest, or commotion (of the air). In Rev 6:12 the "great earthquake" seems unrelated to what immediately follows; the sun becoming black and the moon becoming blood. In Rev 8:5 the "earthquake" seems unrelated to "voices, thundering and lightnings". In Rev 11:13 the "great earthquake" looks related to "the tenth part of the city fell". In Rev 11:19 the "earthquake" again seems unrelated to "lightnings, voices, thundering and great hail". Lastly, in Rev 16:18 we see an "earthquake" with "voices, thunders and lightnings", as we read in Rev 8:5, but also "such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great". So this definitely looks to be an earthquake.

  1. Is Rev 16:18 simply restating Rev 8:5 and Rev 11:13 with more details? And should seismos in Rev 6:12 have been better translated "tempest" or "commotion"?

  2. Exactly how many "great earthquakes" are in view here?

[Sorry for the shortcomings in my style of presentation here, if anyone would like to modify, please do.]

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3 Answers 3

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The word σεισμός (seismos) occurs 14 times in the NT. Its meaning is (BDAG):

a violent shaking or commotion, shock, agitation in our literature, only of natural phenomena with the specific type qualified by context

  • on a sea it means a storm, Matt 8:25
  • Jesus predicted earthquakes before He returned, Matt 24:7, Mark 13:8, Luke 21:11
  • earthquakes sometimes accompanied direct divine intervention and presence, Matt 27:54, 28:2, Acts 16:26

In the book of Revelation, the word occurs seven times, describing five earthquakes as follows:

  1. Rev 6:12 - a great earthquake as part of the cosmic events of the sixth seal
  2. Rev 8:5 - an earthquake (and other cosmic signs) occurs as part of the theophany at the introduction to the seven trumpets when the angel throws his censor to the earth
  3. Rev 11:13 (twice) - a great earthquake occurs as part of the cosmic events under the sixth trumpet when the two witnesses are taken to heaven
  4. Rev 11:19 - a great earthquake accompanies the cosmic events associated with the opening of the temple of God in heaven
  5. Rev 16:18 (twice) a great earthquake accompanied by other cosmic events, destroys the city of Babylon the Great

It is certainly possible that all these refer to the same earthquake as all appear to be eschatological. It is also possible that they are all symbolic of great upheaval. The final answer to this depends greatly upon one's eschatology and theology which is beyond the scope of this site.

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  • Thanks for the feedback!
    – moron
    Jul 30, 2023 at 17:48
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Seven times in the book of the Revelation the word for 'earthquake' occurs (seismos, σεισμός).

Revelation 6:12 - "...when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake..."

Revelation 8:5 - "And when he had opened the seventh seal [vs. 1] ...the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices and thunderings, and lightnings and an earthquake."

Revelation 11:13 - [The mighty angel of Rev.10:1 told John of God's two prophets being resurrected and taken to heaven] ..."And the same hour there was a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven."

Revelation 11:19 - [When the time of judging the dead, and God destroying them which destroy the earth arrives] "...the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail."

Revelation 16:18 - [At Armageddon when the seventh angel pours out his vial] "And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great." (All taken from the A.V.)

It seems as if the last mention of 'earthquake' depicts something unique, only happening in connection with the end-time battle of Armageddon. This earthquake is so tremendous that it is the worst earthquake men have ever experienced. Further, in Rev.11:19, that earthquake is due to happen around the time of judging the dead, which is still future, as is Armageddon. But the last mention of that earthquake seems to build upon the information provided in 11:19. Likewise with the details in 11:13 and 8:5. They could all be put together to give a gradual build-up of information about the end-time earthquake that surpasses all others in human history.

However, with 6:12, there seems to be a difference, insofar as that great earthquake occurs after the sixth angel had opened the sixth seal, yet the 8:5 one happens after the seventh seal is opened. Of significance is that the opening of the seventh seal brings with it seven trumpet sounds and seven angels, angels one to five heralding a particular aspect of judgment on the earth and its peoples, but the last three angels pour out the last three woes on earth, including this phenomenal earthquake, just before Christ returns.

All that fits in with the view that there are seven sections in the Revelation, parallel, yet building up upon the previous ones, till - like ascending a mountain which have seven routes all going to the summit - the reader has got a higher, clearer view, finally getting heaven's view looking down from above onto the chaotic world below.

Not everyone agrees with that way of viewing the Revelation, and Hermeneutics is not for personal interpretations. This is just offered in order to answer the OPs question, "Is Rev 16:18 simply restating Rev 8:5 and Rev 11:13 with more details?" That would make sense.

As for the other question, "And should seismos in Rev 6:12 have been better translated "tempest" or "commotion"? there is consistency in sticking to the one translation for that one Greek word. It could incorporate the idea of tempests and commotions upon earth as the various plagues and vials are consecutively poured out from heaven after Christ's ascension upon an increasingly godless world. After all, every earthquake brings with it turmoil and commotion, even tempests at sea if you consider tsunami disasters triggered by under-sea earthquakes. Further, Isaiah 57:20 says "the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt", Jude adding a warning about ungodly, condemned men creeping into the church. He described them as "Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever." (verse 13)

Finally, the Revelation warns of a satanic agent of the dragon arising out of the sea - 13:1. Just as that is a symbolic seven-headed beast with ten crowns, and the 'sea' is also symbolic (not literal), the earthquakes are symbolic and not meant to be counted as we would literal earthquakes. So, my answer to the main question is that 'earthquake' is mentioned seven times in the Revelation, with the final one superseding all previous ones in the God-given plagues suffered by people on earth prior to it.

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  • Thanks for the feedback!
    – moron
    Jul 30, 2023 at 17:48
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Based on analysis of the verses you cited, it seems there are likely only two distinct major "earthquake" events being referenced in Revelation:

  • Revelation 6:12 - The use of "seismos" here does seem to imply more of a general commotion or upheaval rather than a literal seismic earthquake. This appears distinct from the other quakes.

  • Revelation 8:5 - This earthquake is associated with thundering, lightning, and voices, but not specific destructive effects.

  • Revelation 11:13 - A major earthquake impacts a tenth of the city, implying a literal seismic event.

  • Revelation 11:19 - Similar to 8:5, earthquake accompanies storm theophany but no damage described. Likely the same event as 8:5.

  • Revelation 16:18 - The massive, unprecedented earthquake that levels cities. This is likely referring back to the devastating seismic event already described in 11:13, but in more hyperbolic language to emphasize its severity.

So in summary, Revelation likely only describes two distinct major earthquakes:

  1. The symbolic "shaking" in 6:12

  2. The destructive literal earthquake in 11:13/16:18 that severely impacts a city.

The repetition of storm theophany language in the midst of the two appears to be a literary device, not a separate earthquake event. Just the two main "shakings" seem intended.

1
  • Thanks for the feedback!
    – moron
    Jul 30, 2023 at 17:49

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