Having received the scroll, which contains the decrees of God, the Lord Jesus begins to open the scroll one seal at a time. In the opening of the first four seals in chapter six, we saw each apocalyptic horseman go forth to carry out certain judgments on the earth, by way of wars, internal strife and bloodshed, famines, pestilence, and widespread death.
As He opens the fifth seal, our focus is shifted to an altar in heaven, where we hear the souls of the martyrs crying out from under the altar for the Lord to avenge their blood on those who dwell on the earth. Their cry is an earnest plea for the Lord, who is “sovereign, holy and true,” to vindicate his great name; so that the evil done against Him and His church by those in the world would be justly dealt with. The response to their cry essentially makes up the remainder of the book of Revelation. God brings judgment on this world’s system and puts an end to the very source of evil, by casting Satan himself into the lake of fire, and then glorifying His saints.
The Lord gives us a preview of this final judgment to come with the opening of the sixth seal. The scene is most terrifying to behold. First there is a great earthquake that is unlike anything that the world has ever known. This earthquake will cause mountains and islands to move from their place. There will also be disturbances in the heavens. The sun and moon will cease to shine and the sky will vanish away, and objects from out of space will fall on the earth. Everything that we think cannot be shaken, will be shaken (cf Heb 12:26). It is at this point that the Lord will be “revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, to inflict vengeance on those who know not God and do not obey the gospel” (cf 2 Thess 1:7ff).
The inhabitants of the earth, who lived their lives in rebellion against God, both small and great, will be horrified at this judgment scene. We’re told that they will “hide themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 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” (Rev 6:15-16; cf Is 13:6). But of course rocks cannot hide us from God’s wrath, because they are His subjects. There is only one way to escape God’s wrath, and that is to run to Christ, who bore that wrath on our behalf.
This then, brethren, is a call for us to be faithful in proclaiming the gospel, and to urge our fellow sinners to run to Christ for refuge before it is too late; and secondly, it is a call to live with judgment day readiness, “looking for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). Maranatha!