The Second Coming of Christ
Under the opening of the fifth seal, the souls under the altar plead with heaven to bring an end to the suffering and for the judgment of the wicked to begin. They are told to wait patiently, because there was more suffering to come and more martyrs would join them. When the sixth seal is opened, the suffering is over and there would be no more death, because Jesus returns to reward the patience of all the saints ‘under the altar’ [Under the altar being a spiritual reference, to the assurance of salvation that all those have, for taking refuge in Christ].
In the previous chapter we find, that the fifth seal corresponds with the fifth church, Sardis. Therefore, we should expect the opening of the sixth seal to correspond with the sixth church, Philadelphia. And indeed, this is the case. We have already noted that Thyatira, is the first of the seven churches to receive a promise of the second coming – “hold fast till I come” (Rev. 2:25). Jesus warned Sardis, that if they did not watch: “I will come on thee as a thief” (Rev. 3:3). Meaning that He would come unexpectantly. And to Philadelphia Jesus said: “Behold, I come quickly” (Rev. 3:11). There are no more promises of the second coming, in the seven churches, after the last promise to Philadelphia, where Jesus says His return will be quick. This means that, the return of Jesus takes place during the existence of the Philadelphia Church, which is the sixth period of Church history and therefore we should find the return of Christ in the sixth seal and this is exactly what we find.
There is another reason why the second coming takes place under the sixth seal, and that is because the last events in the history of the Church take place under the sixth seal – the seal of God and the 144,000. When these events take place, the temple has been rebuilt, the seed shown in the fields has reached maturity, and it is time for the harvest to take place.
The book of Revelation is about the steady progress of God’s people towards their triumph and deliverance in the last days. We have already been introduced to the triumphant people of God in the sixth church – Philadelphia. Now we are going to be treated again, to a repeat and enlargement of the same people and the same triumph – only this time the people of God are called the 144,000 – and this time it is the sixth seal.
Since the Bible speaks often about the second coming and since the sixth seal is about the second coming, it should be no surprise to find, that it is a repeat and enlargement of the prophecies, that have already been given about the second coming of Christ.
The Olivet Discourse, the Seven Churches and the Seven Seals
Before Jesus departed the temple in Jerusalem for the very last time, His last words addressed to the Pharisees and the leaders of the Jews were:
Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Matt. 23:38, 39.
The disciples were obviously perplexed about His comments – about the temple being abandoned by God. Their hopes and aspirations were very much bound up with the temple and the city of its location – Jerusalem. As they left the temple, they therefore wanted to impress Jesus with the temple’s grandeur: “…and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple” (Matt. 24:1). The response that Jesus gave, to this display of pride, must have caused His disciples even further perplexity:
And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. Matt. 24:2.
Later, when they were all seated on the Mount of Olives, they would have been looking down on Jerusalem. The temple, from this vantage point, with the sun setting behind it, would have been a magnificent sight. The disciples took this opportunity to pursue the matter further. They came to Jesus and asked: “Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming and the end of the world?” (Matt. 24:3). The disciples could not conceive of the destruction of the temple, as anything other than, that which would occur at the end of the world. Therefore, their question about the destruction of the temple is linked [in their minds] with the destruction at the end of the world.
In answering their questions, Jesus operated on the principle of: “there are many things I would like to tell you but you cannot bear them now” (Jn. 16:12). Therefore, He did not attempt to correct their misunderstanding, based on their preconceptions. The imminence of the destruction of Jerusalem was not something that they could “bear now.” Jesus therefore, allowed the disciples to keep their preconceptions and He blended His words about the destruction of Jerusalem, with the general destruction at the end of the world and of His second coming, into one discourse. As a result, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, becomes a symbol [a type], for the events that will occur at the end of the world. The local event typifies, what will take place, on a worldwide scale, at the end of time.
Jesus proceeded to provide the disciples with a list of signs, about the destruction of Jerusalem and subsequent history, that would culminate in the end of the world and His second coming. This list of signs, corresponds to events recorded in the seven seals, especially the sixth seal. They correspond, because the signs given to us by Christ in Matthew chapter 24 (cf. Lu. 21:5-38; Mk. 13:1-27), culminate in the second coming, and the sixth seal also deals with the second coming and some of the events preceding the second coming:
The Olivet Discourse
The Seven Seals
The Spirit of Prophecy
|This gospel shall be preached in all the world||And behold a white horse: and he that sat on him…went forth conquering and to conquer|
|For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time…
And except those days should be shortened, there no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
|And his name was Death and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger…
I saw under the alter the souls of them that were slain for the word of God
|In the Saviour’s conversation with His disciples upon Olivet, after describing the long period of trial for the church, – the 1260 years of papal persecution concerning which He had promised that the tribulation should be shortened, He thus mentioned certain events to precede His coming… GC 306|
|And great earthquakes shall be in divers places… Lu. 21:11.||When he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, a great earthquake;||In fulfillment of this prophecy there occurred, in the year 1755, the most terrible earthquake that has ever been recorded. GC 304.|
|Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened||and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair||On the 19th of May, 1780, this prophecy was fulfilled. GC 306
May 19, 1780, stands in history as “The Dark Day.” GC 308
|And the moon shall not give her light||And the moon became as blood||After midnight the darkness disappeared, and the moon, when first visible, had the appearance of blood. GC 308.|
|And the stars shall fall from heaven||And the stars of heaven fell into the earth||This prophecy received a striking and impressive fulfillment in the great meteoric shower of November 13, 1833. GC 333.|
|And the powers of the heavens shall be shaken||And the heavens departed as a scroll when it is rolled together||After these signs, John beheld, as the great event next impending, the heavens departing as a scroll, while the earth quaked, mountains and islands removed out of their places… GC 334|
|And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven…
…and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory
|…him that sitteth on the throne
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 freeman, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; 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
|Soon there appears in the east a small black cloud… The people of God know this to be the sign of the Son of Man. GC 640.
…and the wicked in terror sought to flee from the presence of the Son of man. GC 334.
The derisive jests have ceased. Lying lips are hushed into silence… Nought now is heard but the voice of prayer and the sound of weeping and lamentation. The cry burst forth from lips so lately scoffing: “The great day of His wrath is com; and who shall be able to stand?” The wicked pray to be buried beneath the rocks of the mountains rather than meet the face of Him whom they have despised and rejected. GC 642.
The Signs of the Times
Some Bible commentators believe that all the events portrayed under the sixth seal are yet future. However, the similarities between the Olivet discourse and the sixth seal are very striking, and Jesus said that the signs concerning the sun, moon and stars etc., would occur “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (Matt. 24:29). “Those days” of tribulation that Christ was referring to were the 1260-year supremacy of the persecuting papal power. This supremacy ended in 1798. It was immediately after this time, that Jesus said, that the signs in sun, moon and stars would begin to occur (cf. Isa. 13:9-13).
These signs were fulfilled as prophesied. The first one occurred on May 19, 1780. People in New England, America, thought that the Day of Judgment had arrived. Strange phenomena began to appear on the 12th – the skies were unusually dark. On the 19th it was so dark during the day that normal business ceased and candles had to be lit. The 19th of May 1780, has passed into history as “the dark day.” There are many contemporary accounts of what happened that day. One should be sufficient to understand the extent of the event, and the effect it had on the general population:
Friday, May 19, 1780, will go down in history as “the dark day…” Fear, anxiety, and awe gradually filled the minds of the people. Women stood at the door looking out at the dark landscape; men returned from their labor in the fields; the carpenter left his tools, the blacksmith his forge, the tradesman his counter. Schools were dismissed, and tremblingly the children fled homeward. Travelers put up at the nearest farmhouse. “What is coming?” queried every lip and heart. It seemed as if a hurricane was about to dash across the land, or as if it was the day of consummation of all things…
Dr. Nathanael Whittaker, pastor of the Tabernacle church in Salem, held religious services in the meeting house, and preached a sermon in which he maintained that the darkness was supernatural. Congregations came together in many other places. Devout fathers gathered their families around them in their homes, and conducted religious services; and for a few hours Christians were stirred to activity, and non-professors earnestly sought for salvation, expecting “to hear the thunder of the wrath of God break from the hollow trumpet of the cloud.” The Essex Antiquarian, Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 53, 54. Salem, Mass., April, 1899. (Boston Public Library).
Other reports published at the time denied that an eclipse could have caused the dark day. Some speculated that forest fires could have caused it others dismissed this as a credible cause. Noah Webster’s Dictionary (1869 edition) says: “The true cause of this remarkable phenomenon is not known.”
“And the moon shall not give her light.” This prophecy was fulfilled on the evening of the same day. The night of May 19th 1780, caused as much consternation as the day and contemporaries compared it to the plague of darkness, that occurred in Egypt at the time of the Exodus:
The darkness of the following evening was probably as gross as ever has been observed since the Almighty fiat gave birth to light. It wanted only palpability to render it as extraordinary as that, which overspread the land of Egypt in the days of Moses… I could not help conceiving at the time, that if every luminous body in the universe had been shrouded in impenetrable shades, or struck out of existence, the darkness could not have been more complete. A sheet of white paper held within a few inches of the eyes was equally invisible with the blackest velvet. Letter of Dr. Samuel Tenney, dated Exeter, N.H., December, 1785; cited in “Collections of Massachusetts Historical Society,” Vol. 1, 1792.
This intense blackness began to dissipate around midnight. When the moon finally became visible it was blood red. The prophet Joel told us, two thousand five hundred years before the event: “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come” (Joel 2:31).
On November 13, 1833 the stars fell from heaven, fulfilling the next event in the prophetic picture. Seen all over North America and its environs and even further afield:
Scientific study of the orbits of shooting stars began after the occurrence of the most brilliant meteoric shower on record, – that of November 13, 1833. This spectacle, which excited the greatest interest among all beholders, and was looked upon with consternation by the ignorant, many of whom thought that the end of the world had come, was witnessed generally throughout North America, which happened to be the part of the earth facing the meteoric storm. Hundreds of thousands of shooting stars fell in the course of two or three hours. Some observers comparing their number to the flakes of a snowstorm, or to the raindrops in a shower. The Encyclopedia Americana, art. “Meteors or Shooting Stars.”
There does appear to be at least two discrepancies, in the chronological fulfillment of these prophecies. The sixth seal mentions a “great earthquake” before the signs in the sun, the moon and the stars. This is generally understood to have been fulfilled by the Lisbon earthquake in 1755 – which was indeed a “great” earthquake (see GC 304, 305). However, in His Olivet discourse, Jesus chose to speak about signs in the heavens that would occur “immediately after the tribulation of those days.” Those days of tribulation ceased in 1798 when the persecuting beast received its “deadly wound.” In other words, He was limiting His list of atmospheric signs to those that would occur after 1798. The Lisbon earthquake occurred in 1755, and it was not an “atmospheric” sign, so Jesus left it out of His list.
Nevertheless, this does not explain the other apparent discrepancy. The first atmospheric signs: “the dark day” and the “the blood colored moon,” occurred in the year 1780 [prior to 1798]. This problem can be cleared up when we understand, that Jesus said, the days of tribulation would be shortened. If they were not shortened none of God’s people would have survived:
For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. Matt. 24:21, 22.
Papal power would therefore reign until 1798 – but the prophecy of Jesus, stated that the persecution perpetrated by this power would be cut short. The intense persecution of the Middle Ages, became “politically incorrect” by the middle of the sixteenth century, under the influence of the ‘Enlightenment’ and other religious and political forces. The last martyrdom of a ‘heretic‘ took place, in France, in 1762. And in 1773, the pope himself, Pope Clement XIV, abolished the order of the Society of Jesus [the Jesuits], one of the main perpetrators of the persecutions.
Therefore, the signs that started to occur from 1755-1780 onwards came as per prophetic schedule. They came in their correct order and in places where people were actively studying their Bibles and therefore could recognize the signs, and make correct applications. It was the fulfillment of these signs that gave considerable impetus to Bible study and to the obvious conclusion that Christ’s second coming must be imminent – and thus the Advent movement was born – born of prophetic parentage.
The Seventh Seal
If we understand and accept, that the sixth seal is the second coming of Christ, then the seventh seal must be opened after the second coming of Christ. If we also understand and accept, that the book cannot be opened and read, until all the seals are broken, then we must also accept, that the last seal must be broken, after the redeemed saints are in heaven. Therefore, we must also conclude, that the opening of the seventh seal does not refer to events on earth, but must be dealing with events in heaven.
Furthermore, we must also conclude, that the pattern followed by the seven churches and seven seals is now broken. Up until now each church and each seal has corresponded with each other. But the seventh church does not correspond with the seventh seal. This is because the seventh church, Laodicea, is an anomaly. It was never meant to be. Laodicea occupies the same place, in the church’s history, that the generation that left Egypt does. As they approached the border of the promised land their faith wavered and they were unable to go in and possess the land. God had to wait, for that faithless generation, to die out, before He was able to bring them in. In the same manner, Laodicea is wandering in the wilderness and the result will be the same. Laodicea will perish at the border of the heavenly promised land and Philadelphia will go in. This is why Laodicea cannot correspond with the seventh seal, because the seventh seal is broken in heaven and Laodicea are not admitted into heaven.
When is the Sixth Seal Broken?
If we review what we already know, about the book and its seals, we should be able to discover when the last seal is broken and the book opened, with a relative degree of certainty.
Firstly, what is the contents of the book? Answer: the history of the world from beginning to end (see Chapter 8).
Secondly, if the book contains the history of the world from beginning to end, and even if it was all written in advance (see Chapter 8), it is reasonable to assume, that it would only be opened after the history of the world has been completed.
Thirdly, since the book with its seals, is presented in the context of judgment (see previous chapter) it is reasonable to assume, that the book has something to do with the heavenly judicial system.
Fourthly, we are specifically told, that the religious leaders who crucified Jesus would have justice served upon them, when the book with seven seals is opened before them (see Chapter 8 or below). This means that they are alive, to witness the last seal being broken and the book opened. This can only occur at the last judgment, when the wicked are resurrected and this is exactly what we find recorded in Scripture. The only record we have, of books being opened, is for the purposes of the last judgment, at the end of the millennium:
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. Rev. 20:12.
Therefore, we can conclude that the book is opened at the end of the millennium. The contents of the book are revealed at this time, because it contains the evidence, for everyone assembled, to understand why they have not been saved and why they need to suffer punishment for their deeds.
Silence in Heaven
The only thing we are told about the seventh seal, in Revelation, is that when it was broken, there was: “silence in heaven about the space of half an hour” (Rev. 8:1). Would it not be possible that, when the last seal is broken and the book is now opened, that there is silence in heaven because, all of heaven is now able to read the contents and they are transfixed by what they are reading? They are possibly in awe of what God has done. They can now clearly see, that God truly could see the consequences of sin from the very beginning to the end. They now understand, that God was right in every instance and Satan was exposed as a liar and a deceiver.
When Jesus left the temple for the last time saying that, God had abandoned it. He added these enigmatic words:
For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Matt. 23:39.
Ellen White tells us that these words will be dragged from reluctant lips in that day that Jesus returns to earth for the third time, the wicked dead are raised and the books are opened and the last judgment begins:
Every eye in that vast multitude is turned to behold the glory of the Son of God. With one voice the wicked hosts exclaim: “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord!” It is not love to Jesus that inspires this utterance. The force of truth urges the words from unwilling lips. Maranatha 336.
In addition, we are informed, that the religious leaders who were responsible for the death of Christ, would be present when the book with seven seals was unsealed:
Thus the Jewish leaders made their choice. Their decision was registered in the book which John saw in the hand of Him that sat upon the throne, the book which no man could open. In all its vindictiveness this decision will appear before them in the day when this book is unsealed by the Lion of the tribe of Judah. COL 294.
In other words, Ellen White is asserting, that the book with seven seals, is not unsealed until the guilty religious leaders are present, to witness it. This can only be possible after the wicked are raised, at the end of the millennium.
Therefore, in all probability, it is the unsealing of the book, that creates the silence in heaven. It is because the whole universe is in awe of what is in the book, especially the assembled wicked ones:
As soon as the books of record are opened, and the eye of Jesus looks upon the wicked, they are conscious of every sin which they have ever committed. Maranatha 339.
When the Judgment shall sit, and the books shall be opened, there will be many astonishing disclosures. Men will not then appear as they appear to the human eyes and finite judgments. Secret sins will then be laid open to the view of all. Motives and intentions which have been hidden in the dark chambers of the heart will be revealed. All will appear as a real life-picture.
In that solemn and awful hour the unfaithfulness of the husband will be opened to the wife, and the unfaithfulness of the wife, to the husband. Parents will then learn, for the first time, what was the real character of their children, and children will see the errors and mistakes that marked the lives of their parents. The man who robbed his neighbor through false representations, is not to escape with his ill-gotten gains. God has an exact record in His books, of every unjust account and every unfair dealing. Memory will be true and vivid in condemnation of the guilty one, who in that day is found wanting. The mind will recall all the thoughts and acts of the past; the whole life will come in review like the scenes in a panorama. Maranatha 340.
In addition to seeing their own sins and the sins of others, in panoramic vividness, and therefore being made cognizant of why they are lost, they are also shown, the effort that heaven made in order to make their salvation possible. They are shown the plan of salvation with a special emphasis on the life of Christ – all of which they despised and rejected:
Above the throne is revealed the cross; and like a panoramic view appear the scenes of Adam’s temptation and fall, and the successive steps in the great plan of redemption. The Saviour’s lowly birth; His early life of simplicity and obedience; His baptism in Jordan; the fast and temptation in the wilderness; His public ministry, unfolding to men heaven’s most precious blessings; the days crowded with deeds of love and mercy, the nights of prayer and watching in the solitude of the mountains; the plottings of envy, hate, and malice which repaid His benefits; the awful, mysterious agony in Gethsemane beneath the crushing weight of the sins of the whole world; His betrayal into the hands of the murderous mob; the fearful events of that night of horror—the unresisting prisoner, forsaken by His best-loved disciples, rudely hurried through the streets of Jerusalem; the Son of God exultingly displayed before Annas, arraigned in the high priest’s palace, in the judgment hall of Pilate, before the cowardly and cruel Herod, mocked, insulted, tortured, and condemned to die—all are vividly portrayed.
And now before the swaying multitude are revealed the final scenes—the patient Sufferer treading the path to Calvary; the Prince of heaven hanging upon the cross; the haughty priests and the jeering rabble deriding His expiring agony; the supernatural darkness; the heaving earth, the rent rocks, the open graves, marking the moment when the world’s Redeemer yielded up His life. The awful spectacle appears just as it was. Satan, his angels, and his subjects have no power to turn from the picture of their own work. Each actor recalls the part which he performed. Herod, who slew the innocent children of Bethlehem that he might destroy the King of Israel; the base Herodias, upon whose guilty soul rests the blood of John the Baptist; the weak, timeserving Pilate; the mocking soldiers; the priests and rulers and the maddened throng who cried, “His blood be on us, and on our children!”—all behold the enormity of their guilt. GC 666, 667.
The assembled wicked are transfixed, they are unable to turn away from the spectacle in the sky. Ellen White tells us that the wicked host, at this time, act as if they are entranced (see GC 668). She also says, that Satan himself “seems paralysed” (see GC 668). When the spectacle is over, all bow and acknowledge the justice of God – all confess the righteousness of God, including Satan:
Satan sees that his voluntary rebellion has unfitted him for heaven. He has trained his powers to war against God; the purity, peace, and harmony of heaven would be to him supreme torture. His accusations against the mercy and justice of God are now silenced. The reproach which he has endeavored to cast upon Jehovah rests wholly upon himself. And now Satan bows down and confesses the justice of his sentence. GC 670.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil. 2:9-11.
…for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. Rom. 14:10, 11; cf. Isa. 45:23.
The evidence that God has produced, must be extremely compelling, to make the whole wicked multitude, including their leader, bow down and accept the judgments of heaven. The fact that, God has revealed the history of the world in advance, and every one’s personal role in It, is the best explanation for the silence in heaven. This is why it the book cannot be unsealed, until the last judgment, when the whole of humanity is present to witness the just dealings of God with both sinners and saints. It brings the history of this present world to an end and ushers in the new earth and the new heavens.