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We now come to the sixth seal, which speaks of divine judgment upon the Roman Empire, which began in 310 A.D. when Constantine became Emperor.Revelation 6:12 says,
12 And I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood;
As usual, this section begins with the Hebrew connector, “and,” which shows a progressive revelation built upon the previous section. This seal opens with “a great earthquake,” which, in prophecy, can represent either a literal quake or an event which emotionally or politically shakes the people and nations. Natural disasters, when they occur, may also foreshadow great political changes. This may be the way we are to interpret the great shaking prophesied in Haggai 2:6, 7.
When such natural phenomena are interpreted as political and social events, the sun represents the king, and the moon the political establishment who “reflect” (or carry out) the decrees of the king. After the change in government, the moon represented (or included) church leaders who reflected the will of the new emperor.
The blackened sun describes a solar eclipse. The red moon becoming “like blood” describes a lunar eclipse. Certainly, this is how any reader in John’s day would have understood his metaphor.
This change in the political order of Rome also brought about a change in the church. This is reflected in the change from the persecuted "Smyrna" church to the church of Pergamum that runs parallel to the Old Testament "Balaam" church.
The Great Change (313 A.D.)
As I showed earlier, the final ten “days” (303-313 A.D.) leading to Constantine’s Edict of Milan were characterized by the most intense persecution in the history of the Empire. Hence, the fifth seal portrays the persecuted ones as “souls under the altar,” just before the fall of the pagan empire in the sixth seal.
However, persecution was not uniformly carried out in the empire during these ten years, because Constantius and his son, Constantine, carried out the edicts of the Emperor only minimally in Britain, Spain, and Gaul. As their power increased—and especially after the death of Constantius—his son aggressively forced his fellow caesars to adopt a spirit of tolerance. First the Edict of Toleration (311 A.D.) and then the Edict of Milan (313 A.D.) granted religious freedom especially to Christians. Here are the pertinent paragraphs of those edicts:
In the great shaking that took place in the early fourth century, the Empire itself did not disintegrate; rather, the new Emperor (Constantine) changed it into a different sort of Empire. For a few years Christianity and other religions were given relative freedom of religion. But the sun of paganism was setting, and it would only be a matter of time before the Christian emperors would restrict and finally abolish the practice of paganism, closing their temples and converting them into Christian houses of worship.
The sun being darkened depicts Constantine’s conquest of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the end of the pagan gods, particularly the god of the sun. It is of interest to note that Constantine himself had earlier considered himself to be under the special protection of the sun god, although this changed after his vision of the cross just before the crucial battle before he took Rome.
Previous emperors beginning with Julius Caesar had used the pagan title of Pontifex Maximus (Latin for “High Priest”). Constantine at first assumed that title, then later abandoned it. Constantine also threw out the heathen standards of the Roman army and substituted the Cross in their place. Pagan temples were closed and heathen sacrifices banned. The great “earthquake” hit the entire political structure of the Roman Empire, and the pagan rulers fell from their positions of authority and were replaced by Christians. This was an unprecedented revolution in Roman history.
The Moon Turns to Blood (325 A.D.)
The moon became as blood. An eclipse blots out the sun or moon for a short time, but afterward they emerge as seemingly new entities. Hence, eclipses were viewed as omens of change. Kings, nations, or powers were in danger of being overthrown and replaced by new ones. In this case, the church bishops emerged as the new power brokers of New Rome. The moon is a symbol of the Church. This phase of prophecy began in 325 A.D. when the Church held its first Council at Nicea. The Emperor himself called for this Council in order to establish unity in the Church and in the empire in regard to the nature of God and the trinity.
It is not our purpose to discuss these doctrinal disputes here, but rather to show that this Council set a precedent in how the Church would deal with those who might deviate ever so slightly from the official decisions of the majority of bishops. Some men believed that Jesus Christ was of the same essence to the Father while some said He was of like essence. Each side seemed more than willing to spill the blood of the other side over theoretical minutiae that really made no practical difference in one’s Christian walk.
In the bloody dispute over precise terminology that might define God and Christ, they only splintered all the more with the introduction of other terms that seemed more suitable. The arrogance of men thinking that their carnal minds could precisely define an infinite God is truly astounding. But that is precisely the pride of the carnal mind and the religious spirit. And the fact that they were willing to shed blood over the use of a single word shows the fanaticism of the carnally-minded rulers of the Church.
Not a single Church Council truly met to pray about their doctrinal differences. Not a single Church Council apparently had the ability to hear God’s voice and to receive a true revelation of truth in the spirit of the prophets and apostles. They came to argue, to make deals behind the scenes, even to threaten or bribe the votes of fellow bishops. This was how “truth” was established.
Hence, the Church came to be ruled by religious politics, and the Church Councils established “traditions of men” in the same way that the Jews had done in previous centuries.
And so the year 325 A.D. and the Council of Nicea marks the beginning of the time where the moon would begin to turn to blood. The light of revelation in the Church dimmed with each new tradition of men that they established with the sword and the bribe.
The Stars of Heaven
Revelation 6:13 says,
13 and the stars of the sky [ouranou, “heaven”] fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind.
The stars were called metaphorically “the sons of God” (Job 38:7). Many religions taught that the stars were literally the gods or great men and women who took their place among the stars in the afterlife. Today we know that stars are not people, but yet they represent the saints, or overcomers. John saw that the stars “fell to the earth.” Among the casualties of the newly-empowered Church religion were the overcomers. These were men and women who, like Christ, had no personal ambitions and did not value wealth. Overcomers seldom, if ever, became bishops, because it required too much political ambition to hold such a position.
When the Church came to be ruled by the traditions of men, anyone having a genuine revelation from God was likely to find himself differing with official Church leaders both in doctrines and methods. This was certainly the case with Jesus Himself, who was always at odds with the religious hierarchy of His day. The overcomers, in following His example, could not help but be among the “heretics” from that moment to the present day. And so the Church took the sword from pagan Rome and continued the persecutions—but now in the name of Jesus Christ.
The overcomers—the stars of heaven—fell as unripe figs, for they died at an unripe age. The “stars” of Revelation 6:13 are “the host of heaven” in Isaiah 34:4, where we read,
4 And all the host of heaven will wear away [Heb. mawkak, “to melt away, dwindle, dissolve”], and the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; all their hosts will also wither away as a leaf withers from the vine, or as one withers from the fig tree.
The stars in Revelation 6 fall to the earth (in death), while Isaiah sees them melting away, or dwindling in numbers. This is mentioned again in Daniel 7:25, where the “little horn” wears down the saints. Daniel uses the Chaldean word bela, which the KJV translates as “wear out.” Strong’s Concordance tells us that it means “to afflict” and is from the root word balah, “to fail; by impl., to wear out, decay.” To wear down or decay means to diminish the size of the body or object.
Daniel tells us that this little horn (power) comes as an extension of the fourth kingdom (Rome) and succeeds in overpowering the saints for a season (Dan. 7:21). Thus, we see the Church—the new Roman power—afflicting the saints, persecuting them, and diminishing their numbers, either by forcing them to recant their views of the Word or by executing them as heretics.
Heavenly Revelation Closes
Revelation 6:14 says,
14 And the sky [ouranos, “heaven”] was split apart [“parted asunder”] like a scroll when it is rolled up; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.
This is not talking about literal mountains, islands, or the literal sky splitting apart. Men used to write things on scrolls until about 360 A.D., when they began to bind together smaller sheets as books. Heaven being rolled up as a scroll speaks of the revelation of God being rolled up like a scroll. In other words, it is like closing a book. This is what happens when church leaders—like an eclipsed moon—become red like blood. When men prefer the traditions of men to the revelation of God, the Spirit of Truth departs, and divine revelation diminishes or ceases altogether.
And so, as time passed, the Church stopped teaching the Bible to the average Christians. In 663-664 Pope Vitalian of Rome mandated that the Church liturgy itself be spoken only in Latin, depriving more and more people from understanding anything other than to remain subservient to the Church leaders.
Any real understanding of the Word of God dropped to a very low level for more than a thousand years. The Bible became a closed book, and did not begin to reopen until Gutenberg’s use of the printing press in 1452 A.D. His first project was the Bible. This began to bring the Scriptures back to the common people. We will have more to say about this when we study the “little book” that is opened in Revelation 10.