THE SIXTH SEAL IS OPENED
Rev 6:12-17 And I beheld when He had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
The vision John beheld with the opening of the sixth seal was that of a great earthquake. The agitation, shaking, and destruction of this natural calamity were well known to Romans and Greeks. History tells us that the cities of Sardis, Philadelphia, and other lesser known cities of Asia Minor were almost completely destroyed by earthquakes. However, due to the additional symbolism given in these scriptures, we are to understand that the physical destruction of an earthquake was not meant. Rather it was used symbolically to mean a governmental upheaval and disruption due to extreme moral debasement.
To whom, and to what extreme degree this would take place can be found in the representations of John's visions of the sun, moon, and stars. The sun is known to represent strong, dominating earthly governors. When stars are symbolically used with the sun, they always represent the immediate underlings of such emperors and monarchs. These would be titles and officers such as princes, counselors, and other governmental advisors and aides. It is said that these "stars" would fall just as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. The earthquake represents God's future wrathful revenge against the Roman persecutors of the church of Christ, and especially its preachers and leaders. The degree of His vengeance is depicted by the blackness that seemed to cover the sun, and the blood-red appearance of the moon. These symbols foretell extreme mournful sorrow and grief due to death and destruction that is to come upon the cruel, oppressive enemies of New Testament Christianity.
Verse fourteen assures us that this vision is biblical symbolism of earthquakes will not literally occur. To say that the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together depicts disruptive events brought about by the hand of God that, would take place on earth, and destroy every mountain and island. This symbolically depicts the demise of many exalted governmental leaders and their followers. His vengeance would cause them to disappear from sight, just as the heavens would be hidden from sight if it were a scroll, which was rolled up to secret its contents. In Barnes' commentary notes on these verses, he described the symbolism depicted here in this manner: "If thrones and dynasties long established were overthrown; if institutions that seemed to be fixed and permanent were abolished; if a new order of things should rise in the political world, the meaning of the symbol, so far as the language is concerned, would be fulfilled."
Realizing God's vengeful retribution for the evil persecution of His church, John saw, understood, and wrote that the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? Justice would be served against all that oppose the New Testament church of Christ. Although some contend that final judgment is depicted here, the majority of biblical scholars have the opinion that the symbolism, used here, foretells a temporal judgment of God carried out to allow the gospel of salvation to continue to be spread to people of every tribe and nation. God would intercede, at this time in history, in order to protect His church in its infancy, allowing it to grow and carry out His will.
When one continues to review the history of the Roman Empire, as depicted by the opening of the first five seals, the symbolic significance found under the sixth seal can be traced, without any doubt, to the events that followed the great persecution, which was indicated by what John saw and recorded when the fifth seal was opened. God intervened, and the enemies of the Lamb, Christ Jesus, were doomed to be deposed, and destroyed, by His mighty hand that guided governmental leaders such as Constantine and his mighty warriors. Constantine was a man of valor and adventure, that came out of Britain around the year 312, marched through Gaul, and invaded the Roman Empire with his armies. It is well to note that his mother, Helena had become, and, at this time, remained a member of Christ's church. Although Constantine had not become a Christian, it was well known that he demonstrated great favor to the faith of his mother.
Great detail could be noted about the complete history of Constantine, but only a few events will be noted to affirm the fulfillment of the symbolism found when the sixth seal was opened. Maxentius, the emperor of Rome at the time of Constantine's invasion, was paganistic in his beliefs, and had continued the same persecution of the church of Christ that was begun under the emperorship of Diocletian. Three great battles ensued in which the Roman armies were defeated. During the final battle, Maxentius was slain, and Constantine ascended into the throne he vacated, and became the ruler of the Roman Empire. The eastern part of Asia Minor was ruled by a pagan dictator named Licinius, who also mercilessly persecuted the church of Christ to the same extreme as the anti-Christian Roman emperors had done. A period of conflict raged for about sixteen years between the Roman army, under the more lenient Constantine, and Licinius' pagan army. After much conflict, the pagans were defeated by Constantine's Roman forces, and Licinius was put to death.
More significantly, during these wars, Constantine decreed, throughout the Roman Empire, that his mother's Christian religion was to be recognized as the acknowledged faith throughout the nation. Soon after this edict, Constantine, through the Christian influence of his mother, declared that Sunday, the first day of each week, would be observed, and celebrated as a religious day, in which all manner of trade and labor would cease. He also abolished the popular sport of bloody, human combat, designed to amuse the population, and which had existed for a thousand years. He brought together a group of Christian leaders to give guidance to the New Testament church. He also decreed that paganistic religions were to be abolished and all heathen temples were to be destroyed, or converted into Christian sanctuaries. Finally, Constantine removed the capital of the Roman Empire from the city of Rome, built a new city on the banks of the Hellespont tributary, and gave it the name of Constantinople
Without any doubt, the fulfillment of these symbolic revolutionary events, revealed with the opening of the sixth seal, put to rest, for many years, the extreme persecution of the New Testament church of Christ. It paved the way to the greatest expansion of God's gospel of salvation ever known to mankind. During the years that followed this revolution within Roman Empire, carried out under the leadership of Constantine, the gospel of Christ multiplied dramatically and was literally preached throughout the known world.