What does Revelation 6:12 mean?
ESV: 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,
NIV: I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red,
NASB: And I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became as black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood;
CSB: Then I saw him open the sixth seal. A violent earthquake occurred; the sun turned black like sackcloth made of hair; the entire moon became like blood;
NLT: I watched as the Lamb broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake. The sun became as dark as black cloth, and the moon became as red as blood.
KJV: 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;
Verse Commentary:
This verse tells us the first phenomenon John saw and heard when Jesus (Revelation 5:6–8) opened the sixth seal. He said a great shaking occurred, a total eclipse of the sun took place, and the moon turned bloodlike. Since the description of the four horsemen (Revelation 6:1–11) seems more of a metaphor than a prediction of four actual riders, some think this verse represents political, civil, and social chaos.

On the other hand, there are reasons to take John's vision here as a description of literal events, or at least as a reference to actual natural disasters. A horrendous shaking can occur and cause colossal earthquakes and extensive damage-causing tsunamis. Total eclipses of the sun occur regularly, though they're not always easily-visible for most people on earth. Certain natural disasters can cause clouds of dust to block out the sun's light from large regions. Similar conditions might cause the moon to appear various colors, including a bloody red. It is not hard to imagine the panic these events might cause, especially if they occur in close proximity to each other.

In addition, a more-literal interpretation of this particular passage seems to match the words of Jesus. In his Olivet Discourse, Jesus predicted the tribulation calamities that occur when the Lamb opens the seals. He said, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places…Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death…Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light." (Matthew 24:7–9, 29). The events that transpire under the sixth seal seem to echo Jesus' words.
Verse Context:
Revelation 6:12–17 continues the episode of Jesus' opening of the seven seals of God's judgment. The first four opened seals brought devastation at the hands of four horsemen. The fifth opened seal revealed a company of martyrs under the altar in heaven. This sixth opened seal launches horrific terrestrial and celestial disturbances that cause earth's mighty men to hide among the rocks of the mountains. These men call upon rocks to fall on them, hiding from the face of God and from the wrath of the Lamb. They know the day of the wrath of God and the Lamb has arrived.
Chapter Summary:
This chapter typifies the dramatic, heavily symbolic description of end-times events for which Revelation is famous. John sees a series of visions corresponding to Jesus opening the first six seals of the scroll He received in chapter 5. The first four seals unleash four horsemen, respectively symbolizing a world leader, war, famine, and death. The fifth seal reveals the prayers of martyrs pleading with God to avenge their deaths. The sixth seal unleashes massive natural disasters. In response, the people of the world cower in fear, admitting that they are suffering under the wrath of God.
Chapter Context:
The largest section of Revelation extends from chapter 4 to the end and describes events ''that are to take place after this'' (Revelation 1:19). Chapter 5 focused on a scroll containing God's judgment on sin and a search for someone to open it. Only Jesus is worthy to open it. When Jesus took the scroll from God, He received praise from every creature in heaven and on earth. Now, in chapter 6 our attention focuses on the events that transpire when Jesus opens six of the seven seals, one at a time. This process will continue through chapter 8.
Book Summary:
The word ''revelation'' means ''an unveiling or disclosure.'' This writing unveils future events such as the rapture, three series of judgments that will fall on the earth during the tribulation, the emergence of the Antichrist, the persecution of Israel and her amazing revival, as well as Jesus' second coming with His saints to the earth, the judgment of Satan and his followers, and finally, the eternal state. This content, combined with the original Greek term apokalypsis, is why we now refer to an end-of-the-world scenario as ''an apocalypse.''
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