Lest Read it here and examine it, 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): In the Bible, celestial disturbances are often connected with the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Zephaniah and Jesus Himself all describe such things.
A passage from Zephaniah is an example: The great day of the LORD is near; it is near and hastens quickly. The noise of the day of the LORD is bitter; there the mighty men shall cry out. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet and alarm against the fortified cities and against the high towers. (Zephaniah 1:14-16)
Or, as in Joel 2:10-11: The sun and moon grow dark, and stars diminish their brightness … for the day of the LORD is great and terrible; who can endure it?
Those who regard these events as history have to spiritualize them. One example is Adam Clarke, who says this great earthquake is "A most stupendous change in the civil and religious constitution of the world. If it refer to Constantine the Great, the change that was made by his conversion to Christianity might be very properly represented under the emblem of an earthquake."
The sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth: It is best to regard these pictures as real, but poetic. John isn't using technically precise scientific language, but he simply describes what he saw.
Point 1) 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: All people are equally brought low by God's wrath. The judgment is all the more profound because it is the wrath of the Lamb.
Point 2) "It is the wrath of love, the wrath of sacrificial love which, having done the absolute utmost for us and our salvation, tells us as nothing else could the certainty with which evil awaits its doom at the hand of God." (Torrance)
P-3) Hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne: They hide not only from the terror of the judgments, but from the face of Him who sits on the throne. "What sinners dread most is not death, but the revealed presence of God." (Swete)
So ? Observations: How do the seals fit in God's prophetic plan?
1. There are many different opinions, but it seems best to say that the seals, trumpets, and bowls that will be described later are not strictly sequential events. Chronologically, the trumpets do not follow the seals and the bowls do not follow the trumpets.
a. The first six seals are "a summary of the judgments distributed over the whole book; a brief summary of what will occur in 'the day of the Lord,' up the time of His actual Apocalypse or Unveiling in chapter 19." (Bullinger)
b. That span begins with the revelation of the Antichrist (the first seal) and it concludes with the revealing of the face of Him who sits on the throne (the seventh seal).
2. Do the seals represent conditions immediately before the end, or more general conditions prevailing over a more extended period, up until the return of Jesus?
a. There is a sense in which we can say that the they represent both - dictators, war, famine, death and persecution have been familiar throughout all history, but not to the magnitude and severity with which they will be present in the Great Tribulation.
b. "The wars and famines predicted in the second and third seals are not unfamiliar events in the history of the world, but never before since the time of Noah has a judgment so devastating been consummated as to destroy one-fourth of the earth's population at one stroke." (Walvoord)
c. As far as the seals are concerned, they will be an intense amplification of "business as usual." God will give mankind over to his fallen nature - and more!
i. This is not the case with some of the trumpet and bowl judgments of later chapters. They are completely unique manifestations of God's judgment.
3. The sixth seal concludes with a valid question: Who is able to stand? Only the believer can stand before this great judgment, the one who is justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
a. Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand. (Romans 5:1-2)
b. I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand. (1 Corinthians 15:1)
c. Testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand. (1 Peter 5:12)
d. The believer can stand in the face of this great wrath of God because Jesus already bore the wrath the believer deserved.