Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Review of Revelations--Part 3--The Sixth Seal

"The Opening Of The Sixth Seal" (Danby) (2013)

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10] [Part 11] [Part 12]

This is the continuation of my series reviewing Revelations as part of my reading of The Book of Revelation: Things Which Must Shortly Come to Pass by G. Erik Brandt. My prior posts took a look at the opening of the first five seals, representing the first five thousand years of history. Now we move into the time of the Sixth Seal, approximately the period of 1,000 A.D. to the present.

This past 1,000 years has been, indeed, momentous times upon the earth. 1201 saw the deadliest earthquake in recorded history. By the 12th and 13th Centuries, Islam's expansion had largely been contained in nearly all directions. The Islamic nations subsequently turned inward, and decided to commit suicide by killing the most productive of its peoples. When the Second Millennium began, Christians still constituted the single largest religion in the Near and Middle-East. By the end of the 13th Century, purges and pogroms had reduced Christianity to all but a small percentage in almost every Middle-Eastern and Near-Eastern nation. At the same time, Medieval European Civilization has reached both an apex of its art and culture, and, from contemporary accounts, was in a steep moral decline. The Mongols spread to create the largest land empire ever seen, capturing China and threatening the Middle-East and Europe.

The next momentous event was the great plague. Starting somewhere in steppes just west of China, an especially virulent form of bubonic plague spread eastward across China, and westward across Asia to the Near East, North Africa, and Europe. (Undoubtedly, it also spread south into India and South East Asia) Although records from most regions are scarce, it is believed to have killed half of the populations in China and the Middle and Near East. So bad was it in many Muslim lands, that even livestock and wild animals succumbed to the plague. Europe did not seem to suffer the great death of animals, but anywhere between a third and half of the population died.

Although old Europe died over the next two centuries, a new (or renewed) culture arose. European art and sciences flourished. There was a renewed interest in religion, including translations of the Bible into common languages, and the Reformation. Although the Byzantine Empire finally succumbed to the Ottoman Turks, Islam was driven from Europe. And, even as the last vestiges of the Byzantine Empire fell to the Turks, Europe was discovering the New World. Unfortunately, for the natives of America, they suffered plagues and sicknesses that were even more deadly to them than the Black Plague had been in the Old World, with upwards of 90 percent of populations succumbing within 150 years of Europe's discovery of the Americas. Whole Indian cultures collapsed and disappeared without having ever been seen by the Europeans. However, the spread of food crops from the New World to the rest of the world was the greatest biological diaspora in earth's existence, immeasurably raising the standard of living for the whole world.

The 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries saw the first truly global empires of the Spanish, French, and, finally, the English. The past 100 years are largely the story of the collapse of these Empires.

Yet John's vision does not appear to focus on any of this. John's record of what he witnessed after the opening of the Sixth Seal is recorded in Revelations 6:12-17:
12 And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;

13 And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.

14 And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.
[However, Joseph Smith indicated that this verse should have indicated that the heavens were opened like a scroll].

15 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens 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 that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:

17 For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
(Compare D&C 88:87: "For not many days hence and the earth shall tremble and reel to and fro as a drunken man; and the sun shall hide his face, and shall refuse to give light; and the moon shall be bathed in blood; and the stars shall become exceedingly angry, and shall cast themselves down as a fig that falleth from off a fig tree.").

Brandt observes that the focus of the Sixth Seal is on (or begins with) a "great earthquake," and writes: "The term great separates this disaster into a class all its own, distinguishing it from other earthquakes that will occur in 'divers places' throughout the world (Matt. 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11; D&C 45:33)." Brandt equates this to the "great earthquake" of Revelations 11:13 (following the death of the two prophets) and 16:18 (following the seventh angel pouring out his vial).

To Brandt, however, this raises somewhat of a quandary as to the timing of these events. He writes:
An interesting characteristic surrounds the signs that symbolize the sixth seal. In truth, many of these cataclysmic events take place within the seventh seal rather than the sixth. For example, John later places the "great earthquake" in the vision of the vials (or bowls) (Rev. 16:18), an event that clearly occurs after the seventh seal is opened (D&C 77:13). The well-known signs of the sun being darkened, the moon turning to blood, and the stars falling (Matt. 24:29; D&C 45:42; Joel 2:31; D&C 88:87), are prophesied events closely associated with the end of the abomination of desolation (JS-M 1:32-33) and the aforementioned great earthquake. Other prophecies portraying the heavens departing, the earth being "rolled together as a scroll" (Isa. 34:4; 3 Ne. 26:3; Morm. 5:23, 9:2), and the mountains and islands being removed ("mountains were not found") all occur within the seventh seal (Rev. 16:20).
Brandt reasons that the placement of these events in the Sixth Seal is that they are more closely associated with the events preparatory to the Second Coming rather than the primary theme of the Seventh Thousand Years which is the peace and prosperity of the Millennium. He opines that "John's symbols of the six[th] seal represent the culmination of the signs, wonders, and upheavals that began in the sixth seal but reach their climatic crescendo at the beginning of the seventh seal."

In Mick Smith's Book of Revelations: Plain, Pure, and Simple, Smith notes that the Greek word used earthquake, seismos, represents a "commotion" or "tempest." It can be of the earth or the air.  (See here). For instance, the same seismos is used in Mathew 8:24, where it is rendered in English as "tempest." Smith observes that seismos could be either a figurative or literal, and can imply any experience that causes one to fear or tremble. Nevertheless, Smith also seems to accept that it refers to a literal earthquake.

I would suggest that, at least in this instance, and considering that we are discussing the Sixth Seal--the preparatory time to the Second Coming--that the "great earthquake" of Revelations 6:15 should, instead, be read more broadly as "great commotion," encompassing not just physical storms, tempests, and earthquakes, but spiritual, political and social commotion as well.

There is scriptural support for this broad of a reading. For instance, in Daniel 2:34, we read of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, wherein he saw "a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces." The image, of course, is the image of man with different materials (gold, silver, brass, iron and iron mixed with clay) representing various earthly empires. In verse 44, Daniel explains that in the days of the kings represented by the feet and toes of iron mixed with clay, "shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever." This stone cut out of the mountain we know to be the restored Gospel. Brandt summarizes many of the political and religious historic events that led to the restoration of the Gospel--all within the period of time of the Sixth Seal. This stone--the restored Church--shall shatter the kingdoms of men.

With the restoration of the Church comes a duty on the Saints to warn others through the preaching of the Gospel. Brandt writes:
The mercy and justice of God require that the inhabitants of the earth be warned of impending judgments and that due process be fulfilled. A time must be provided for men to repent and prepare for that which is to come.
In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord commanded the elders of the Church to teach one another the Gospel, including the signs of the last days, to strengthen one another and increase in knowledge, for the purpose of preaching the Gospel to the world. (D&C 88:78-80). The Lord then stated:
81 Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor.

82 Therefore, they are left without excuse, and their sins are upon their own heads.

83 He that seeketh me early shall find me, and shall not be forsaken.

84 Therefore, tarry ye, and labor diligently, that you may be perfected in your ministry to go forth among the Gentiles for the last time, as many as the mouth of the Lord shall name, to bind up the law and seal up the testimony, and to prepare the saints for the hour of judgment which is to come;

85 That their souls may escape the wrath of God, the desolation of abomination which awaits the wicked, both in this world and in the world to come. Verily, I say unto you, let those who are not the first elders continue in the vineyard until the mouth of the Lord shall call them, for their time is not yet come; their garments are not clean from the blood of this generation.
* * *
89 For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand.

90 And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds.

91 And all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people.
(See also D&C 43:23-26, where the Lord describes providing warnings through both the mouth of his servants and ministering of angels, but also through tempests and disasters). As Brandt writes,
The initial intent of these catastrophic events will be to stir or shake the people of the earth to repentance. Calamities help to prepare individuals and to open the doors of nations for the preaching of the gospel. As the elect are gathered in and wickedness increases, the purpose of these calamities will broaden to warn, and in some measure punish, the earth with His wrath. Scourges will intensify until they crescendo and the chastening hand of the Almighty is unmistakably felt.
In short, the "great earthquake" of the Sixth Seal need not be the "great earthquake" of the Seventh Seal as Brandt supposes, but could more broadly be disasters and political/social commotion that generally proceeds the Second Coming. Certainly, the restoration of the Gospel is one of the signs of the End Times.

It is notable that Smith, in his book, reminds his readers that the Hebrew number seven connoted completeness. Thus, citing Richard Draper, Smith observes that there seven consequences to the wickedness of mankind (1. the earthquake or commotion; 2. the darkened sun; 3. the reddening of the moon; 4. the falling stars; 5. the heavens rolled up (or opened up, per the JST); 6. the mountains and islands moving out of their place; and 7. the universal consternation of mankind). Similarly, Draper had noted seven classes of men who will be affected (1. kings; 2. great men; 3. rich men; 4. chief captains (i.e., generals); 5. mighty men (i.e., soldiers/military); 6. bondmen (i.e., slaves); and 7. free men).

Thus, by the completion of the Sixth Seal, as Smith writes, "[a]t this point in the Revelation, the Lord has done all things possible to entice men on earth to take advantage of the things of God. Their time is now past." Brandt similarly writes: "Unfortunately, in the day when the 'great earthquake' and the signs in the cosmos are fulfilled, mankind's long day of grace will be past and the night will come, with many unprepared for the tremendous upheavals and convulsions that will shake the nations and cause great fear among the wicked."

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