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THE SIXTH SEAL, PART 1

 

 

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. 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. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. 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, 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! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” Revelation 6:12–17.

 

So far the five seals we have studied reveal an unpleasant picture of the history of the church. The first seal reveals the triumphant body of Christ going out in the Pentecostal power of the Holy Spirit and spreading the gospel throughout the then-known world. Seals 2, 3, and 4 show us the sickening decline from that original glory to a church that is totally apostate, which actually separates people from God. With the fifth seal we find God moving to affect the recovery of the church to the understanding of justification and entire sanctification that cleanses people from sin and enables them to live holy lives. But, the church of the fifth seal progressed only that far and stopped short of the full meaning of the gospel.

With the sixth seal, we see God intervening once again and bringing to light that last aspect of the gospel that is essential to restore the church once again to the church Christ built on the Rock—Himself. The scenes of the sixth seal finish out chapter six of the Revelation and go on to include the entire seventh chapter. There is much to see here, but there is so little about it that has been recorded specifically in history. The fifth seal resulted in the proliferation of Protestant sects and non-conforming sects all of which agreed on the authority of the Word of God and the essentials of gospel salvation. As much as this was a significant move towards the church built by Jesus Christ, it ends up in confusion that leads to the trauma of the sixth seal.

 

A Traumatic Scene

 

The sixth seal opens with a traumatic scene of what appears to be a disaster—and for some people it was indeed a disaster. The sixth seal is called The Great Day of His Wrath. We must ask, “At what is the Wrath of the Lamb directed?” The answer is in the earthquake. You will recall that Death, the rider of the black horse of the fourth seal, had power to kill with the beasts of the earth. This earthquake takes place in the earth of these beasts.

We have seen that Roman Catholicism is spiritually dead and ineffective being no more than an earthly institution committed to the traditions of men that profess to be the vicar of Christ.

The souls under the altar in the fifth seal cried out to God for more light on the gospel. As their new churches began to formalize, they essentially became part of the State so that they were state churches. As such, they stopped with the gospel light they had and went no further. In this they followed suit with Romanism and became earthly institutions rather than the body of Christ.

During the Protestant Reformation, churches came into being that tried to advance the light of the gospel and were in turn persecuted by other Protestants as the Protestants were persecuted by Rome. Those independent churches were the voices of all those under the altar crying out to God for a deeper understanding of the gospel and a deeper experience with God. They did not want to be caught up in the earthly religion of the formalized churches. In answer to their prayers, God now in the sixth seal shakes the foundations of these earthly church systems.

 

An Earthquake

 

As the foundations of these earthly churches were shaken, a voice was heard that changed the Christian landscape. In Hebrews 12:28 the writer of Hebrews tells us there is one place in the world of churches that cannot be shaken.

 

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.

 

So what is this kingdom that cannot be shaken? The writer identifies it in verses 22–24:

 

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

 

It is Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem; both appear later in the Revelation. What are Mt. Zion and this heavenly Jerusalem? It is the church of the firstborn, that which is in Jesus and purchased by His blood. Which church was purchased with the blood of Christ? The answer is given in Acts 20:28.

 

Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

 

The name church of God is not used here as a proper name but a generic name for all that are saved from sin through the blood of Christ. The church of God is far larger than any denomination, church, group, congregation or fellowship as it includes all the redeemed.

In Matthew 16:18 Jesus says that He built His church on the rock, meaning Himself and particularly the atonement for sin He brought about through His death and resurrection. We saw that glorious church going out conquering and to conquer in the first seal. We saw its leadership usurped by men and its fall into apostasy in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th seals. We saw a gradual restoration of part of the gospel under the 5th seal, but in all these seals, the visible church-at-large was earthly and not that which is built on the Rock, Jesus Christ. Yet during those interminable centuries there were those that, according to the letters to the seven churches, were overcomers. These precious souls could not enjoy the visible church as Jesus built it; they were that church existing in exile and obscured by the earthly churches. Under the fifth seal we see the souls under the altar reaching for this kingdom that cannot be shaken but, they are not quite able to attain it. Jesus always has been the head of His church, and now with the souls under the altar praying for gospel light, Jesus, the Lamb, the Glorified Christ, determines it is time to restore HIS church, the church of God in a visible form.

The earthquake rattles Rome, its ilk and Protestantism to set the church of God free from the spiritual bondage it has been in for a millennium-and-a-half.

 

The Effects of the Earthquake

 

Three things happen from this earthquake.

The first is that the sun is darkened as black as sackcloth. We earlier learned that the sun in the Revelation represents the gospel. We know that in Rome there was no light of the sun, no true gospel teaching. The gospel was taught in Protestantism, although it was mixed with sacramentalism. Sackcloth is a garment of mourning and because Protestantism would only go so far in teaching the gospel, it caused the devout and sincere to go into mourning because they could not find all the gospel had for them.

The moon became like blood. The light of the moon is a reflection of the sun’s light; in that sense, we understand that the Old Testament reflects the light of the New Testament. Salvation under the Old Testament was by means of faith placed in the sacrificial rites of the Law of Moses. Those sacrifices could not take away sin according to Hebrews 10:4; verse 1 tells us those sacrifices were “only a shadow of good things to come” and in verse 10 we are told those shadows reflected the atonement in Christ; “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” In this we see that the prophetic utterances of the Old Testament relating to the complete work of salvation, which includes the building of the church by Christ, became like blood. The implication is in association with the sackcloth, the garment of mourning, the blood is like the blood of the dead—no life in it.

The third thing is that the stars of heaven fell to the earth. There are three lights in the heavens that can be seen from the earth: the sun, the moon, and the stars. There is only one sun and one moon, but there are countless stars, each having only a sparkle of light. From this we suggest that stars are a metaphor for the ministry of the church. As the earthquake shakes the earthly churches, the gospel light is darkened and because of that the ministry of the earthly churches find themselves crashing down to the earth along with their churches. With the Reformation, ministers delighted in preaching from the word of God, but as the Reformation cooled, the churches became formalized and it soon came to pass that preaching followed the models of their creeds or confessions, rather than from the word of God on its own.

 

The Sky

 

In response to the earthquake and the darkening of the teachings of the churches, the sky itself receded as a scroll that is rolled up. What is this sky? Before answering that question, what is described in this sixth seal sounds very much like what Jesus prophesied in the Olivet Discourse as recorded in Matthew 24:29–31.

 

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

 

After the hardship God’s people experience during the apostasy and even during the Reformation, the sign of the Son of Man appears in heaven. At the revelation of this sign, the New Testament, Old Testament, and ministry of the visible church-at-large lose their light and fall to the earth—they become earthly in their practice of religion rather than spiritual. Jesus also says that He will come in the clouds of heaven with His angels who will blow trumpets and gather His elect from one end of the earth to the other. So, it seems from what Jesus prophesied that the sky has something to do with the church.

Matthew 3:16 shows the Trinity revealed from the sky at the baptism of Jesus. “So Jesus was baptized. And as soon as he came out of the water, the sky opened, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down on him like a dove.” (CEV)

After His resurrection, Acts 1:10 records that Jesus went up into the sky, “but as he went up, they kept looking up into the sky. Suddenly two men dressed in white clothes were standing there beside them. They said, ‘Why are you men from Galilee standing here and looking up into the sky? Jesus has been taken to heaven. But he will come back in the same way that you have seen him go.’” (CEV) Not only did Jesus go up into the sky, He will return the same way.

Saul of Tarsus was struck down by light while on his way to Damascus. From where did this light come? Acts 26:13 answers the question, “right in the middle of the day a blaze of light, light outshining the sun, poured out of the sky on me and my companions.” (MSG).

At the end of time, the resurrection of the dead will be prompted by a trumpet blast when Christ returns. 1 Corinthians 15:52, “It will all happen in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For there will be a trumpet blast from the sky, and all the Christians who have died will suddenly become alive, with new bodies that will never, never die; and then we who are still alive shall suddenly have new bodies too.” (TLB)

These passages suggest a close relationship between the Glorified Christ and the sky. Therefore we understand that the sky that recedes as a scroll under this seal is none other than the body of Christ the church Christ built through the atonement. Colossians 1:18, “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.”

At the opening of the sixth seal, an inconvenient truth was revealed from the Scriptures: Christ built His church, which contains all the redeemed regardless of their affiliation with Rome, its cohorts, or the Protestant Churches. 1 Corinthians 12:12 makes this truth abundantly clear.

 

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.

 

The Opening of the Sixth Seal

 

The Church of God Reformation Movement with which we are familiar likes to think of itself as this church pictured in the sixth seal. Their interpreting the time symbols in the Revelation produced the date 1880 as the opening of the sixth seal, which conveniently happens to be the year D. S. Warner published his book Bible Proofs of the Second Work of Grace. However, the truth of the Biblical church had been rediscovered 80 years  before Warner’s book. This truth was reintroduced into the church-at-large in 1801. The movement that grew out of this truth did influence Warner leading to the Church of God Reformation Movement in his time.

In 1801, the Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky planted the seed of what became known as the Restoration Movement, sometimes called the Primitive Church Movement. Barton W. Stone and five other Presbyterian ministers publish a book titled Last Will in which they announced their withdrawal from Presbyterianism and their intention to be solely part of the body of Christ. They appealed for the unity of all who follow Jesus, the independence of local churches, and proclaimed the Bible as the source for understanding the will of God. They denounced the Westminster Confession and adopted the word Christian as the name of their group. Two other groups emerged along the same lines and joined together in 1810 calling themselves the Christian Connection or the Christian Church.

Thomas Campbell was suspended from the Presbyterian Church in 1809, and organized the Christian Association of Washington, Washington County, PA. This was not intended to be a church, but rather an association of persons seeking to grow in faith. In 1811 the association reconstituted itself as a church that became known as Bush Run Church.

The Stone and Campbell movements merged in 1832. The Stone movement was characterized by strict freedom from denominationalism and the loathing of creeds. The Campbell movement was characterized by what they called systematic and rational reconstruction of the church. Both movements saw adhering to apostolic Christianity as a means of bringing on the millennium. Both saw restoring the early church as the way to Christian freedom. And both believed that unity among Christians could be achieved by using apostolic Christianity as a model. Eventually the movement divided into the Disciples of Christ and the Churches of Christ in 1906.

John Winebrenner was a minister of the German Reformed Church. Winebrenner was an ardent revivalist and was criticized by many in the church. For this he was suspended in 1828. He abandoned Calvinism theology for Arminianism and was rebaptized in 1830. In that year he and some co-laborers organized the General Eldership of the Church of God, which also included people from several different denominations, demonstrating the diversity and inclusiveness of the Biblical church.

Daniel Sidney Warner was converted in February 1865 and was licensed by the West Ohio Eldership of the Church of God (Winebrennarian). Having entered into the experience of entire sanctification and ardently teaching holiness, he was finally excommunicated in 1881. Warner was Editor and Publisher of the holiness paper, The Gospel Trumpet, and through this paper and his extensive revival tours a movement was born that held to the principles of the Restoration Movement but eschewing the organizational governances that had come into being in those churches. Warner and his associates believed the sixth seal opened in 1880 and saw themselves as the initial movement under that seal—the tip of the iceberg.

 

The Sky Is Rolled Up

 

In the sixth seal we see the sky recede as a scroll when it is rolled up. When smoothed out and let go, a scroll will automatically roll itself up to be carried off. This pictures the snatching of God’s church out of the clutches of the visible and earthly church-at-large While we do not apply a specific date to the opening of the sixth seal, we do see the Biblical truth of the church coming to light again at the beginning of the 1800s.

The rediscovery of the biblical teaching of the church sends a shockwave through the world of the church-at-large that results in two things. The mountains and islands are moved out of their place. That is, some people begin to see that the churches and denominations that make up the visible church-at-large are not in fact the church built by Jesus Christ. Other people hide themselves in the rocks and caves. The people mentioned are those that hold to their churches even though they are proved not to be the church Jesus built, but instead are manmade earthly organizations.

These people seek safety in their churches from Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. You will recall that we saw the throne and the Lamb in chapter 5. There we also saw the attributes and graces of the redeemed in relation to the throne. As the sixth seal opens, we find people not advancing in the light of God’s word but thinking they are obeying God by disobeying God.

The great day of His wrath has come. The Glorified Christ does not take lightly the false representation of His church that has gone on for over 1500 years. The sixth seal continues in chapter 7. We will find that the church of God is once again revealed. We will also see that the church of God is not limited to any particular movement or group. There is indeed a visible component to the church of God just as there is a visible component to that which is now obviously the false church-at-large.