Meditation Mondays: Revelation 6: 12-17: End of the World?
12 I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. 13 And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. 14 Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. 15 And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”
This sounds like the end of the world. We have earthquakes, the sun going black, stars falling from heaven, the sky scurrying up like a scroll, mountains and islands moving out of place- it's all very apocalyptic.
And certainly, if we read this without any sense of the Old Testament and the imagery John is using as he writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we could conclude that John is writing about an event that has yet to occur.
Here's how that sort of interpretation can go. Say you read Revelation 6. Upon finishing you decide to close the book and scratch your head for a moment. When you can't seem to make sense of what you just read you then put on your slippers, go outside, and check on the sun if it's daytime, or the stars if it's nighttime. Maybe you live near the mountains and you walk outside just to make sure that the view you overpaid for didn't scoot out of the way rendering your property value zilch. Once you realize everything seems good, you conclude that John must be talking about a later date (one you hope you're not around for).
I'm using a hyperbolic illustration of course, but my point in doing so is that we need to be more familiar with our Old Testament because it can really help us interpret the New Testament (and vice versa).
Let's take for example the earthquake. In the Old Testament earthquakes symbolized divine visitations.
18 Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. (Ex. 19:18)
5 Then you shall flee through My mountain valley, For the mountain valley shall reach to Azal. Yes, you shall flee As you fled from the earthquake In the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Thus the Lord my God will come, And all the saints with You. (Zec. 14:5)
18 The voice of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; The lightnings lit up the world; The earth trembled and shook. (Ps. 77:18)
What follows this divine visitation in Revelation 6 is what theologians call de-creation language which is the language of destruction. And again, it is totally understandable that this language can be taken as an end of the world type of language, but look again at the Old Testament because John is borrowing language from there.
The colliding of solar systems in this de-creation language were used in the Old Testament to describe the collapsing of a city/nation/state under the judgment of God:
6 Wail, for the day of the Lord is at hand! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. 7 Therefore all hands will be limp, Every man’s heart will melt, 8 And they will be afraid. Pangs and sorrows will take hold of them; They will be in pain as a woman in childbirth; They will be amazed at one another; Their faces will be like flames. 9 Behold, the day of the Lord comes, Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, To lay the land desolate; And He will destroy its sinners from it. 10 For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not give their light; The sun will be darkened in its going forth, And the moon will not cause its light to shine. (Is. 13:6-10)
21 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. 23 They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings. (Ex. 10:21-23)
4 All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; All their host shall fall down As the leaf falls from the vine, And as fruit falling from a fig tree. (Is. 34:4) 7 As for Samaria, her king is cut off Like a twig on the water. 8 Also the high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, Shall be destroyed. The thorn and thistle shall grow on their altars; They shall say to the mountains, “Cover us!” And to the hills, “Fall on us!” (Ho. 10:7-8)
This is all Old Testament language and in the Old Testament, it was always used in reference to God judging a nation. Jesus even uses some of this language in Luke 23:27-30 before he was crucified as he prophesied the coming judgment on Israel.
What we have in this passage is not John predicting the end of the world, but rather an event much closer to the recipients of John's letter. Again, this book had relevance to 1st-century readers. This was not about a future they would not see, it was about a very near future they were to experience in their generation. This is a prophecy referring to the destruction of the temple.
But the significant events of 70 A.D. and the destruction of the temple are lost on us today. It is not just that there was a bloody, horrific war (again, look at the account of the historian, Josephus). The bigger spiritual picture is the deconstruction or decreation of the old way (Judaism) and the ushering in of the new way or new creation (new life in Christ/Christianity). Because of the finished work of Christ, the world was forever transformed. A dead man doesn't come back to life only to have things stay as they were. John in this passage is predicting and describing in apocalyptic detail the events of 70 A.D. He is a warning of judgment. He is warning of a 'change in command' if you will. Things are going to be turned upside down and they were. This was cosmic and it was a sort of ripple effect of Israel's rejection of Christ and the authority of His messiahship.
We aren't looking forward to an event like that of 70 A.D. but we should look back at it and marvel at the precision of the biblical writers. Much more than that, we should grow in our confidence of the historicity, authority and sufficiency of Scripture as we worship the author of it-- our Sovereign Messiah---the one behind the destruction of the temple: Jesus Christ.