“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!’” Revelation 6:15-16
The first four seal-judgments involving four horsemen depicted utter destruction of the world in general from the Lamb in heaven (6:1-8). These first four seals are “the beginning” (Matthew 24:8) of a series of judgments that take during the first half of the seven-year Tribulation period. They will be followed by a period of persecution (6:9-11), after which the earth-shattering judgments of the sixth seal will take place (6:12-17). This is exactly what the Lord Jesus predicted in His Olivet Discourse:
1. Wars, famines, pestilences (Matthew 24:6-8).
2. Persecutions (Matthew 24:9-14a).
3. Then the end will come (Matthew 24:14b). 1
In anticipation of this persecution, John writes, “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.” (Revelation 6:9). When Jesus “opened the fifth seal,” John “saw under the altar” in heaven “the souls of” believers “who had been slain for” their commitment to “the word of God and for the testimony which they held” during the reign of the World Ruler or Beast of Revelation (cf. Revelation 13:1-7; Matthew 24:9-22). This verse makes it clear that people will be saved during the Tribulation period, but many of them will be martyred. More will be said of these martyrs in Revelation 7. 2
“Some Amillennialists believe these martyrs are all Christians who die for their faith during the entire Church Age, which, according to their view, are all the believers who will have died from Christ’s ascension to His Second Coming.” 3 “Preterists view these people as Christians who died in the first century of the church’s history.” 4
But in the context of Revelation 6:9, a literal understanding places these martyrs in the future Tribulation period. Since the church is already pictured in heaven as represented by the twenty-four elders (Revelation 4-5), these people in verse 9 must be those who died after the Rapture, since all Christians living at the time of the Rapture will experience bodily resurrection and go directly into Jesus Christ’s presence to escape the coming wrath of the coming Tribulation (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 4:15-17). The people John describes in verse 9 are those who come to faith in Christ after the Rapture (cf. Matthew 24:9; Luke 21:12). They had become believers during the first half of the Tribulation through the preaching of the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:1-10), and then had suffered martyrdom for their faith. John saw their “souls” in heaven, not their resurrected bodies, because God had not resurrected them yet. The resurrection of Tribulation saints will not occur until the end of that seven-year period of judgments on the earth (cf. Revelation 20:4). 5
“Obviously, then, people will come to faith in Jesus following the rapture because believers of the church age all will have been removed from earth. Notably, this is the first seal in which God’s judgment comes in response to the cries of people.” 6
“In the last three-and-a-half years, as the Beast assumes worldwide authority (cf. 13:3), he will set out to rid the world of the witnesses of Christ who are spreading out all over the earth to share the gospel and will succeed in killing multitudes (cf. Matt 24:9, 14; Rev 12:17).” 7
These martyred Tribulation saints “Cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Revelation 6:10). These believers “cried with a loud voice” asking the Lord Who is “holy and true,” how long they would have to wait until He would “judge” their murderers.
Compare the prayers of Jesus (Luke 23:34) and Stephen (Acts 7:60), in which they asked God to be merciful to their murderers, with the prayers of these Tribulation martyrs. The difference is that, for the martyrs’ murderers, the time of God’s longsuffering had now ended, and He had begun to pour out His wrath on rebellious humanity. 8
“This plea to God for justice and vengeance finds its roots in the Old Testament imprecatory psalms—prayers calling God to take His stand against the enemies of righteousness. Psalm 94:1-5 provides a perfect example of this sentiment.
“O LORD, God of vengeance,
God of vengeance, shine forth!
Rise up, O Judge of the earth,
Render recompense to the proud.
How long shall the wicked, O LORD,
How long shall the wicked exult?
They pour forth words,
they speak arrogantly.
All who do wickedness vaunt themselves.
They crush Your people, O LORD,
And afflict Your heritage.
“This prayer for judgment and vindication acknowledges several important theological truths. God is a God of justice, holiness, and truth who will keep His promises of salvation for His people and retribution against His enemies. But the psalmist, like the saints under the altar in Revelation 6, acknowledges that such vengeance is a strictly divine prerogative. Paul exhorted the Romans, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay’” (Rom. 12:19, quoting Deut. 32:35). Though the martyred saints will have to wait a little longer while their fellow Tribulation martyrs join them (Rev. 6:11), the Lord will keep His promise to avenge the murder of His saints (2 Thes. 1:6-8). In fact, the sixth seal portrays the fulfillment of this promise of vengeance against the enemies of God’s people.” 9
“One important question about the fifth seal is, how will the deaths of believers be a judgment for the world? Remember, the seals are divine judgments. The death of God’s people brings judgment in two ways. First, the removal of God’s people, the salt and light of the world, will allow darkness and corruption to overrun the earth unchecked. It will be a case of the blind leading the blind. Second, as the enemies of God murder His people, they are unknowingly heaping more judgment upon themselves. Also, God will answer these martyrs’ prayers for vindication when He pours out His wrath on His enemies.” 10
Next John writes, “Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” (Revelation 6:11). Each martyr was given “a white robe” and told to “rest a little while longer until” the full number of martyrs “was completed.”
These Tribulation martyrs are reminded that even though God’s justice is delayed at times, it always comes. God misses nothing and eventually He will bring complete justice in response to every wrong committed. 11
The sixth seal will provide God’s answer to the cries of these Tribulation martyrs. “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.” (Revelation 6:12). After Jesus “opened the sixth seal” John saw a “great earthquake” occur as the Beast and his armies gather to make war against Christ (cf. Revelation 19:19). 12 This earthquake resulted in “the sun” becoming “black as sackcloth of hair,” which is likely because of volcanoes erupting and discharging ash that blocks the sunlight. 13 In addition, “the moon” will become red “like blood” (6:12a).
Next, John observes, “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.” (Revelation 6:13-14). Meteor-like “stars of heaven” will fall “to the earth” and “the sky” will recede “as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island” will be moved “out of its place” perhaps due to the great earthquake and meteorites (6:13-14). The universe will seem to be imploding before the eyes of all who dwell on the earth. 14
All kinds of people all over the world without Jesus will panic and seek to protect themselves instead of turning to the Lord for mercy and deliverance. “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!’” (Revelation 6:15-16). Without Jesus as their Savior, they would rather have “the mountains and rocks” fall on them and kill them than face “the wrath of the Lamb.” This indicates that the unbelieving people’s perception of God (“Him who sits on the throne”), and the “wrath of the Lamb,” in heaven, will be far more terrifying to them than the physical consequences of this judgment. Whereas the martyrs cry, “Avenge us!” (6:10), these unbelievers cry, “Hide us!” 15
“What sinners dread most is not death but having to stand before a holy and righteous God.” 16
Those who refuse to trust in Jesus during this unprecedented time of worldwide suffering will say, “For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:17). “The splitting of the sky and shaking of the earth that is occurring is so unprecedented that the followers of the Beast clearly recognize their guilt and culpability before God and His Son. They have not one ounce of hope.” 16
This sixth seal “reveals the horror of unbelievers who must face the full wrath of God and His appointed Judge, Jesus Christ. The absolute panic experienced by these wicked people doesn’t grip them because God is unjust, but because they know He will give them exactly what they deserve!” 17
Oh, my dear friends, as you read this portion of the Word of God, please understand that this is not some science fiction novel or symbolic description of various troubles that have already taken place on earth. This is a literal description of an unprecedented time of worldwide suffering that will take place in the future on earth. Everyone on earth at that time will not only know it is God’s judgment, but they will act like it by seeking death to escape from God’s wrath. You do not have to go through this terrible period of unprecedented suffering. God has provided a way of escape.
Jesus Christ said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24). Have you heard Jesus’ promise of eternal life?Do you believe or trust Him alone for eternal life?
If you heard and believed Jesus’ promise, Christ guarantees that you now have everlasting life which is a forever personal relationship with the true God (John 17:3) which can never be lost (John 6:37; 10:28-29). If you could lose eternal life, Jesus just told a lie in John 5:24. Jesus is qualified to give you eternal life because He is God (John 1:1; I John 5:20) and He paid for this free gift (Romans 6:23b) when He died on the Cross for all of our sins and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-8).
Jesus promises that you “shall not come into judgment.” You will not be judged for your sins because you have everlasting life. You have complete forgiveness (Colossians 2:13-14). You are now God’s child forever (John 1:12). You are completely covered by His love without a single fault (Ephesians 1:4; cf. Romans 8:31-34).
You have “passed from death into life.” You never have to be afraid of dying because you now have everlasting life which means you will live with Jesus forever in His Father’s house in heaven (cf. Matthew 6:9; John 14:1-3; Revelation 21-22) after you die or are raptured from the earth (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-23; I Thessalonians 4:15-17), whichever takes place first.
Those who refuse to believe in Jesus for eternal life are promised not to “see life, but the wrath of God abides on” them both now (John 3:36), during the Tribulation on earth if they are alive then (Revelation 6), and in the lake of fire for eternity (Revelation 20:15).
The Bible promises to remove believers in Jesus from the earth to live with Him in heaven forever in the third heaven or Paradise before this great outpouring of God’s wrath takes place on the earth (2 Corinthians 12:1-4; I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-18). Knowing this should comfort and encourage us to live for Christ until we see Him face to face (I Thessalonians 5:6-11).
As believers in Jesus, it is important for us to have Christ’s love for those who are lost, who will one day face this horrific future on earth and do what we can to tell the good news of the gospel of grace to those in need of Christ’s salvation and eternal life. Let us speak of the joy that could be theirs through faith alone in Jesus and His atoning sacrifice and warn of the wrath to come and the eternal suffering that awaits those who refuse to believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God for His gift of everlasting life. 18
Prayer: Holy and true God, thank You for revealing the horrific judgments which will take place in the future during the seven-year Tribulation on earth. Because You are holy, You cannot let any sin go unpunished. Millions of believers throughout history have suffered and died at the hands of Your enemies. Your message today underscores that You will severely repay those who have persecuted Your people. Thank You also for reminding us that those who believe in Jesus for eternal life are not appointed to this coming wrath on earth. Our future is free from Your wrath. Please give us Your heart for the lost so we may boldly and lovingly warn them of Your wrath to come on the earth and in eternity, so they may believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life and forgiveness of all their sins and escape Your wrath to come. In the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1523.
2. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 164.
3. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 89 cites as an example Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and Carlisle, England: Paternoster Press, 1999) pg. 39.
4. Ibid., cites as an example Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John 2nd ed., (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1907), pg. 92.
6. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2382.
7. Vacendak, pp. 1523-1524.
8. Constable, pg. 89.
9. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation, (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pp. 153-154.
10. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 284.
11. Evans, pg. 2382.
12. Vacendak, pg. 1524.
13. Evans, pg 2382.
14. Vacendak, pg. 1524.
15. Constable, pg. 91.
16. Ibid., cites Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1—7: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 456; cf. Swete, pg. 94.
17. Swindoll, pg. 154.
18. Adapted from Elizabeth Haworth’s daily verse entitled, “What Does Revelation 6:8 Mean?” at knowing-jesus.com.