12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
Quite an intense passage today, isn’t it; all kinds of people hiding in caves and among rocks, calling out to those very rocks to fall on them because of the coming wrath of the Lamb which nobody can stand. Quite an intense start!
In the Bible, we often read of events like this in the heavens/sky/above us in relation to the coming of the Messiah. They occur in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, and in Zephaniah. The last two are here to read;
The earth quakes before them; the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The LORD utters his voice before his army, for his camp is exceedingly great; he who executes his word is powerful. For the day of the LORD is great and very awesome; who can endure it?
The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements.
So, do we take these events literally, as we generally do with the Word of God which we carry around in our Bibles? Or do we allegorise (take them as representative of a deeper meaning, a story about something else)? If we take them as allegory, we have nothing to base our story on; it could refer to this… it could mean that… it could represent… This takes much more work than reading the Bible literally (unless a literal reading leaves us with something that contradicts who God is or what He is about, or an absurdity). It’s best to understand these events as “…real, but poetic.” (Guzik).
So what did John see? He saw what appeared to be the sun becoming black, black as sackcloth, the moon appeared to be a different colour, too, the moon became like blood. Rather than throw around then-unknown-21st century-scientific words for these celestial events, John simply described what he saw with the words he had.
The people, then, are hiding from God, hiding from the wrath of the Lamb, hiding from the great day of their wrath. Why are they hiding?
Deep down, what people fear most – and it would be a rare person indeed who would admit this – is the judgement of a holy, righteous, and pure God. Maybe I should clarify, what unbelievers fear most is the judgement of a holy, righteous, and pure God. They are hiding from Him because, deep down, they know they are far from His standards of morality, of love, of righteousness, and they think that hiding among rocks, or even being killed by those rocks, will spare them the judgement that is coming.
How do we escape this judgement? Everyone stands before God at the end of their earthly lives, and we determine how. We either stand before Him guilty of rejecting His will, His ways, His word, or we stand before Him with Jesus at our side, standing between God and us and saying, no, this one is with me, they are alright, look at them through me, no, they are not perfect, but they believe in me, they have confessed me, they have loved me, they have sought me…they are with me.
Back to Joel, further into chapter two we read The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.(2.31), but, in the very next verse, our hope, And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.
So, yes, judgement is coming, celestial events and all, but, despite this, Jesus is more than enough for us to be on the right side of it all. We call on His name and He calls us out of the darkness. Amen!