Poole on Revelation 6:12: The Sixth Seal, Part 1

Verse 12:[1] And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, (Rev. 16:18) and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and (Joel 2:10, 31; 3:15; Matt. 24:29; Acts 2:20) the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood…

[The sixth Seal] They explain it in a variety of ways (Cluverus, Gravius). Covered is, either, 1. the destruction of the Jews, or, the portends that preceded the war between the Jews and the Romans. Among these are σεισμοὶ κατὰ τόπους, earthquakes in diverse places, Matthew 24:7; Luke 21:11. Just as the judgment of God against the Jews was an image and pledge of the universal Judgment, so they have before them nearly the same portents (Grotius). This does not satisfy; 1. because that Destruction had already happened (Ribera, Pererius, etc.), and was very well known to all; therefore, a Vision was not necessary, by which it might be made known: 2. because the men here chastened recognized that these evils came upon them on account of the wrath of the Lamb, etc. But the Jews imputed their ills, not to Christ, but to their own seditions (Pererius). Or, 2. the last times, or the day of Judgment (Lapide, thus Cotterius, Ribera), and the signs preceding that. This is evident both from the order of the Seals, and from a comparison with Matthew 24, where almost the same things are said (Lapide). Here, all the signs concur by which that day is wont to be distinguished in Scripture (Cotterius). But this is excessive thoughtlessness, since the seventh Seal was not yet opened, which exhibits a history four times fuller with respect to time and events than all six preceding Seals (Forbes). Or, 3. the struggles of the Church, and the confusion of the world, under Antichrist. To this I refer verses 12-14, from which I separate verses 15-17, as it will be asserted. But, consolation for the pious is subjoined in Revelation 7:1-8 (Pareus). Or, 4. the last persecution of the Church under Antichrist, and the last tribulation of men, which is going to be immediately before the second advent of Christ and the end of the World. This is proven, both by the purpose of God in this Vision, which was to reveal beforehand the tribulations of the Church unto the end of the World, and by a comparison with Matthew 24 and Luke 21 (Pererius). Or, 5. that wonderful change and subversion of the Pagan Roman state by Constantine the Great (Mede’s Works 554, thus Durham), and his successors, standard-bearers of the Lamb (Mede’s Works 554), wherein all the gods of the Gentiles were cast out of their heaven, the Pontiffs and Priests deconsecrated, cast down, and stripped of income; the Temple of Demons wasted and torn down; Emperors, Kings, Princes aiding their gods, and declaring war against Christ, cut down by unheard-of slaughter, put to flight, and driven to desperation (Mede’s Works 554, similarly Durham). And this is the prime fulfillment of the Victory of Christ, the foundation of which was laid under the first Seal: the Seals were serviceable to this prime fulfillment, by designating at which stage of the Empire it would happen, with things foresignified of the time that was in the meantime flowing to the turning points, which hitherto preceded. Now, this Seal begins where the fifth left off (Mede’s Works 554), that is, after the year of Christ 311 (Mede, thus Durham), at which that fierce persecution of Ten years came to rest (Mede’s Works 554). Now, many things confirm this interpretation, 1. the manner of the Prophets, who are wont to describe in this way any temporal and most grievous judgment whatever against enemies. 2. That Scripture is wont to speak of the Roman Empire and its affairs as of the whole world, as in Luke 2:1; Revelation 3:10. 3. A change of Religion in the Empire is wont to be expressed by a change in the World, Heaven, Earth, Sun, etc., which is done three times in this Book in a threefold change of Religion, 1. from Paganism to Christianity in this place; 2. from the simplicity of Christianity to the darkness and errors of Antichristianism; 3. in the overturning of Antichrist, Revelation 16. This only is a difference, that those changes under the Trumpets and Vials are made gradually; but this under one Seal, for it was done at once and universally. 4. That the event agrees with it in all circumstances. For as the preceding persecution of the Church was by far the most grievous, so this deliverance from that is eminent and glorious: most grievous judgments, and conspicuous to all, were brought upon the persecutors, even indeed through the servants of Christ, and that for their conviction: whence Diocletian and Maximianus in their highest dignity, and in the heat of persecution, because of horror of conscience, on one and the same day, voluntarily resigned the Imperial dignity, which was never previously done, and afterwards were ruined.[2] Maxentius was submerged in the Tiber, into which he fell from the Mylvian bridge, where he had plotted an ambush for Constantine, etc.[3] Maximinus Jovius was struck with a most distasteful and offensive disease, whence both the Doctor said to him, and he himself was in the end forced to profess, that he deserved this illness for his persecutions; which hence he commanded to be ended, and the Churches restored, and prayers made for himself, that he might recover, Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 8:18, 19.[4] Maximinus, who was wont to pluck out the eyes of Christians, lost his own eyes as a result of disease, and confessed that the God of the Christians is God alone. Licinius in the end acknowledged his foolishness, and poured out his fury upon the Idolatrous Priests, who had turned him away from the God of Constantine, etc.[5] In no history will we find so many eminent examples of retribution and illustrious confessions in one time period. Now, Constantine everywhere emerged as the victor by the help of Christ, whose Cross appeared to him, while he was yet hesitating and making his way to Rome, with these letters inscribed on it, in hoc vince, in this, conquer; which Eusebius, in his Concerning the Life of Constantine 1:22, says that he heard from Constantine himself, related and confirmed with an oath. Then the laws obtained against Christians were abrogated, Christianity established publicly, the Temples of Demons pulled down, Churches edified, revenues for Ministers set up, Christians alone admitted to offices. And with one word the World was made entirely different and new. This change was universal, profoundly great, sudden, and completely astonishing, and also a type of the final Judgment, etc. (Durham). [To others this opinion is not satisfying:] For the slayings and fall of certain Emperors, as long as in the successors the former glory and power was continuing for the Empire, the matter was not to such an extent unheard of and stupendous in that state, that it would be thus expressed: For the erection of Christianity and simultaneous abrogation of Paganism by the confession of all cannot be signified by those expressions of the Sun darkened, and the stars fallen, etc. (Forbes). Indeed, under Constantine change was made not only in Religion, but also in the Political situation, in the seat of the Empire, in the divisions of the Provinces and distributions of Offices, etc. (Mede’s Works 734). Or, 6. that remarkable change of the entire Roman-Christian empire, introduced after the times of Constantine the Great, during the diverse times, during the several ages, consummately destructive to the Church of Christ and His members, chiefly by Bishops and Teachers, Kings, Princes and Rulers (Gravius). The barbarian nations, the Goths, Vandals, Alani,[6] Persians,[7] Huns,[8] etc., trampled the glory of (that proud and bloodthirsty [Forbes]) Roman Empire, and completely wasted its strength, and plundered and occupied many and its most noble Provinces (Gravius, similarly Forbes); also they invaded Italy itself and captured Rome, and plundered, and Odoacer named himself King of Italy.[9] Hence also many Princes and Rulers were often forced to seek refuge in forests and caves. Then also a mighty motion of the earth shook nearly the entire world; flooding destroyed Nicea and many islands; great hailstones in Constantinople struck down many men to the ground and removed them from its midst. By which portents without doubt that eminent mutation and shaking of the Roman Empire was signified (Gravius). But to this opinion is objected, 1. the sequence of time: for this Seal immediately follows the persecutions of Pagan Rome; and therefore it is not likely that the greatest change of the Empire, inasmuch as it would be made Christian, would be omitted here; 2. that this judgment in an eminent manner flows forth from the wrath of the One sitting on the Throne, that is, of God, as He rules in the Church, Revelation 4 and 5, and of the Lamb, poured out against His enemies. But that inundation of Barbarians especially afflicted Christians. 3. That this change was both universal and sudden, as contained under one Seal, etc. (Durham).

[An earthquake, etc.] The portents are to be understood, either, 1. truly, properly, corporally and visibly (Pererius, the Fathers in Gagnæus). For words are always to be taken in their proper sense, unless perhaps thence something of the absurd would follow, or repugnant to truth, or to piety, or to honesty, which has no place here (Pererius). Or, 2. mystically, or, metaphorically and by hyperbole (certain interpreters in Pererius). By portents of this sort awesome changes are wont to be denoted, whether good or ill, as it appears from Joel 2:28 compared with Acts 2:17, and Haggai 2:7 compared with Hebrews 12:26, 27 (Pareus); or, great judgment from God (Pareus, Durham), and most sorrowful calamities of the peoples (Cluverus, similarly Forbes, Mede); which, since they are examples of the universal Judgment, are figured by the same phrases also, just as conversely heavenly and spiritual goods are often declared in the images of corporal blessings (Cluverus). Thus Isaiah 13:10, etc.; 14:12; 24:19, etc.; 34:4; Ezekiel 32:7, 8 (Forbes, similarly Pareus, Cluverus). These things pertain to the shaking of the Christian world under Antichrist (Pareus), or, unto the defection of the visible Church (certain interpreters in Forbes): which does not satisfy (Forbes, Durham); 1. for that defection in the seventh Seal, and its six Trumpets, is specifically explicated (Forbes); 2. that defection would not at all have instilled so much terror in the Kings and Magnates of the earth, since they do not care for those things, etc. (Durham). And, although in this Prophecy stars are taken for Pastors, and their eclipse for the darkening of spiritual light, and their fall for the apostasy of Pastors; nevertheless, in this place, where it is not treated of that matter, where also the Holy Spirit so evidently attaches an interpretation, we ought not to confuse matters thus distinguished. The sense of the passage: So great motions, such great alterations of matters, are going to be that the state of the world would appear to have been drawn unto ruin, as it were; that men of every lot would be dismayed with horrible desperation and fear, while Kings and great men, who were challenging the Sun, moon, and stars with respect to splendor, were cast down from their places and dignities, and every glory and splendor (compared to heaven) vanishes after the likeness of a scroll rolled up; those that appear to be most securely hedged in, like islands, or most firmly founded, like mountains, are driven from their places, and all with a most acute sense of the wrath of Christ, and will be shaken repeatedly by the awful appearance of divine vengeance, etc. (Forbes). [But now it is to be brought down to the individual members:] The earthquake nearly all explain as a great commotion and tribulation for men abiding on the earth (Gagnæus), or, a great alteration of affairs (Pererius), and of the kingdoms of the world (Mede’s Works 555), as it is evident from Haggai 2:6, 7, 21, 22 and Hebrews 12:26, 27 (Mede, Pererius). Others: It denotes here the siege of Jerusalem (Hammond). But I prefer to take earthquake properly (Ribera). There were earthquakes both in Rome and in Asia (Hammond). But the word σεισμὸς/earthquake, as it plainly is in the following verse, is properly a shaking of heaven and earth,[10] and it denotes the ruin of affairs, and alteration upwards and downwards, as it were (Mede’s Works 555).

[And the sun was made black (that is, obscure and dark [Ribera, Menochius, similarly Drusius, Cluverus], by the interposition of clouds [Menochius, Ribera], or of the moon [Cluverus]: The sun suffered an eclipse of a fourth part of its diameter in the fifth year of Claudius,[11] Dio Cassius’ Roman History 60 [Grotius]) as sackcloth of hair (which is black [Menochius], of black [Ribera, Menochius] hair or fleece or coarse hair woven [Drusius, Ribera, Menochius]: which sort were the garments of the Prophets, 2 Kings 1:8; Zechariah 13:4: Hence we learn that sackcloth was dark, for dark garments are suited for grief, as on the other hand light garments for joy [Drusius]: Σάκκοι τρίχινοι, sackcloth of hair, or δέῤῥαι τρίχιναι, Exodus 26:7;[12] Zechariah 13:4,[13] are cilicia[14] [Grotius] from the hair of he-goats [Grotius, Drusius], or she-goats [Drusius]) and the moon…as blood] That is, of a bloody color (Piscator, similarly Drusius, Mede, Ribera), which denotes death and the punishments of the impious (Ribera). There was an unnatural eclipse of the Moon in the seventh year of Claudius. By blood understand that it was dark, as also in Joel 2:31. The Poets compare such eclipses to the color of dusk (Grotius). [This is] a Periphrasis of the eclipse of Luminaries, in which the Sun is wont to appear dark (Mede’s Works 555), but the Moon ruddy (Mede’s Works 555, similarly Menochius). Compare Isaiah 13:10; 24:21, 23; Matthew 24:29 (Mede’s Works 555). The sense: So great will be the fear and anguish of men that to them the Sun, Moon, and Stars appear to be shaken and disturbed, and to be deprived of their own light and virtue, for they do not shine upon them for consolation, etc. (certain interpreters in Pererius). But I reckon that these are indeed future things at the end of the world, as predicted in Matthew 24 (Pererius, similarly Ribera). Others: Sun and Moon are here able to denote the Civil and Ecclesiastical State of the Jews; but the Stars, the people, etc. (Hammond). Others: The Sun of righteousness, that is, Christ, will appear vile, inglorious, and obscure (Zegers, similarly Camerarius), that is, to the wicked (Camerarius), with that iniquitous one exalting himself above all Divinity, etc., 2 Thessalonians 2:4 (Zegers); and the Moon, that is, the Church, on account of the multitude of those killed, shall appear as if blood-stained (Zegers, similarly Camerarius). Others: The object of this change is the Roman Empire; but not as governed politically by the Cæsars, but as subject to Demons. But what is this concerning the Sun, etc., to the Roman Demonarchy? I would say that in the Prophets the World refers to the entire Kingdom and Body of the Empire; so that the parts also, Heaven, Earth, Stars, might be according to that image. This is evident from Isaiah 51:15, I am the Lord thy God who divided the sea…and put my words in thy mouth (that is, I gave to thee my Law), and…protected thee; so that I might plant the heavens and found the earth (that is, establish thee as a kingdom, or political world), and say to Zion, Thou art my people. Hence you will understand the new heaven and new earth, namely, a new world of the same order. According to this image, therefore, Heaven will denote whatever in the Kingdom, or political world, is high; Earth, whatever is lowest; but the Stars, those that obtain a place in that Height and then fall. Therefore, the Sun denotes the first and greatest majesty of the kingdom; the Moon, the closest to the first. Therefore, let the Sun in the Roman kingdom of Idols be the Dragon himself, or Satan, concerning whom see Revelation 12; the Moon, the highest Pontificate annexed to the Imperial Majesty, or if you prefer, the Emperor-Pontiff of Satan with the entire college of Pontiffs, who with the Emperor were constituting one body, and were in charge of the the religion of the gods, and of the welfare of the State. Now, these luminaries suffered the eclipse of their Majesty when Christians were made Emperors, and the Pontificate was at last abrogated, etc. (Mede’s Works 556). Achmet, in his Oneirocritica 167, from the monuments of the Indians, Persians, and Egyptians: The Sun is referred by interpretation unto the person of the King, and the Moon to the person of the prince, second to the King; Venus, to the person of Augusta;[15] likewise, the other greatest stars, to the most distinguished men of the King. To this I refer that saying in Genesis 37:10, where Jacob, as not at all ignorant of the parables of the East, interprets the Sun and Moon of himself and his wife, as King and Queen, the Stars of his sons, the nobles, as it were, of the Family. Indeed, our college of priests, in announcing the honors of Emperors and Kings, employ the names of Sun, Moon, and the rest of the Planets. But let us return to Achmet, who thus proceeds, If to any King the Sun should appear covered by a cloud, or devoid of light, or to be eclipsed, it portends calamity, distresses, ἀδοξίαν, ill repute, war. Achmet, in his Oneirocritica 168: If anyone should seem to see stars dispersed and darkened, this is referred to the calamity of the Nobles and wealthy, and to the procurators of the King (Mede’s Works 561).

And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal; the sixth of those seals with which the book was sealed, mentioned Revelation 5:1: this signifieth the revelation of some things which should happen in some certain period of time, but what period is the question, as to which interpreters differ. Some think, the time when Jerusalem was taken; but this was a time past twenty-six or twenty-seven years before John was in Patmos, where he had this vision about things that shall be, Revelation 1:1; 22:6. Some think, that period of time which shall be immediately before the day of judgment; but that guess seemeth worse, for after this there was a seventh seal to be opened. Some think, the period of the church’s conflict with antichrist. But Mr. Mede’s judgment (followed by many other famous men) seems best, that it denotes that period when Constantine, the first Christian emperor, restored peace to the church, by overturning the whole pagan state, and making Christianity the religion of the greatest part of the world. This was about the year AD 311, and perfected upon his victory over Licinius, AD 325. In this I acquiesce. Let us now see how what is said in this and the following verses about this period will agree to that time. And, lo, there was a great earthquake: the great question is here, what is meant by this great earthquake, the darkening of the sun, the moon becoming as blood, etc. No history recording any such prodigies, hath made many (taking these things in the natural, literal sense) to say the period under the first seal signifies either the time when Jerusalem was taken, or the day of judgment; but there is a metaphorical sense of these expressions, very usual in the prophetical writings, to show great changes in states; and in this sense it is to be taken here. Thus the prophet describeth the great change God would make in Jerusalem, Isaiah 29:6, Thou shalt be visited of the Lord of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire: and Jeremiah 15:9, Her sun is gone down while it was yet day. And, Ezekiel 32:7, the change God would work in the ruin of Egypt, is thus expressed: When I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee. So Joel 2:10, 31, and 3:15. What is an earthquake, but the shaking of the earth? And under this notion God expresseth the changes he makes in states and kingdoms, Isaiah 2:19, 21; 24:18; Haggai 2:6, 7. Thus by earthquake here is to be understood a great change in the Roman empire. And the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood: the sun signifies those that are in the highest power; the moon, those that are next to them in place and dignity.

[1] Greek: Καὶ εἶδον ὅτε ἤνοιξε τὴν σφραγῖδα τὴν ἕκτην, καὶ ἰδού, σεισμὸς μέγας ἐγένετο, καὶ ὁ ἥλιος ἐγένετο μέλας ὡς σάκκος τρίχινος, καὶ ἡ σελήνη ἐγένετο ὡς αἷμα. [2] Diocletian and Maximianus both abdicated on May 1, 305. Maximianus rebelled against Constantine in 310, but his rebellion was put down; he committed suicide in 310 under pressure by Constantine. Diocletian died in 311, despairing over the fall of Maximianus; his death is attributed to suicide by some. [3] The Battle of Mylvian Bridge occurred at Ponte Milvia, Rome, in 312, between the armies of Constantine and Maxentius. It is said that, before this battle, Constantine had a vision in which God promised him victory, if he fought under the sign of the cross of Christ. He marked the shields of his soldiers with the cross. Maxentius died in the river Tiber. [4] Maximinus Jovius, or Galerius, who reigned as Cæsar under Diocletian (293-305) and as Augustus with Constantius (305-306), with Severus (306-307), with Constantine (307-308), and with Licinius (308-311), is said to have died a horrible death, possibly from some form of bowel cancer or gangrene. [5] Before his death, Licinius issued an edict granting toleration to Christians whom he had formerly persecuted, and ordered the execution of the pagan priests upon whom he had relied. [6] The Alani were a nomadic group among the Sarmatians (Iranians). They conducted incursions into the Danubian and Caucasian provinces of the Roman Empire in the second and third centuries. [7] There were a series wars between the Persians and the Romans from 92 BC to 627 AD. [8] The Huns were a Eurasian, nomadic people who invaded Europe around 370 AD. [9] Odoacer (435-493) was an Arian Christian and a Germanic general who, by conquest, became the ruler of Italy (476). [10] Revelation 6:12, 13: “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake (σεισμὸς); 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 (σειομένη) of a mighty wind.” [11] Claudius (10 BC-54 AD) reigned from 41 to 54. [12] Exodus 26:7a: “And thou shalt make curtains of goats’ hair (יְרִיעֹ֣ת עִזִּ֔ים; δέρρεις τριχίνας, curtains of hair, in the Septuagint) to be a covering upon the tabernacle…” [13] Zechariah 13:4: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the prophets shall be ashamed every one of his vision, when he hath prophesied; neither shall they wear a rough garment (אַדֶּ֥רֶת שֵׂעָ֖ר, a hairy garment; δέρριν τριχίνην, a garment of hair, in the Septuagint) to deceive.” [14]Cilicia are garments of goat’s hair. [15] Augusta was the title of the Emperor’s wife.


Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.




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