The Shake-up Of The Physical Universe - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
(Revelation 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 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.
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?
The General Meaning Of The Sixth Seal
The fifth and sixth seals belong together. They are closely related although there is also a significant difference between the two. The difference is that while the fifth seal deals with men, particularly with the suffering saints in the world, the sixth seal does not deal directly with the world of men, but with the physical universe. And in as far as it does mention men, it refers only to the effect of the shake-up of the world upon the unrighteous.
But these seals are alike in this respect, that they both will be most fully revealed and realized in the time immediately preceding the end of this age. And the order is that the tribulation of the saints, which is mentioned in the fifth seal, is first; and the shake-up of the physical universe follows. This order is not only apparent in the Book of Revelation but also in the sermons of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There, too, we frequently find the same order in picturing things to come. First there is the great tribulation; immediately thereafter come the signs in the heavens and on earth. For instance, in Matthew 24:29 we read the clear statement: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken." The same order may be observed in Luke 21, where Jesus first speaks of these signs and wonders in heaven (vs. 11), and then continues and says (vs. 12): "But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake."
Thus it is also the order in the chapter we are now discussing. The seals which we have thus far discussed all liberated powers upon the world of men. All the four horses and their riders had their field of action among men in the world. The first horse had reference to their spiritual life and their relation to the kingdom of heaven. The second horse had reference to their political and national life and the attitude of nation over against nation. The third horse had respect to the social life of men in the world and to their relation to things material. And the fourth horse had reference to their physical life and their passing away from the scene of history at the proper time in death. All had this in common, that they applied directly to the world of men only. This, as we have seen, was also true of the fifth seal. For this seal revealed to us the souls under the altar crying out for vengeance upon those that lived on the earth because their blood had been shed for the holiness and truth of the Lord, for the Word of God and for the testimony which they held. The wickedness of the world as such and its rebellion against the Anointed of God must be fully revealed; and this becomes manifest when that world rises against the testimony of His Word and the witness of His name. For this reason the tribulation and persecution of the saints must in the future become still more general; it must become universal in its character, and must involve all the historic world. That world must attack the church of Christ in the full consciousness that it makes an attack upon the holiness and truth of the Master. From all these five seals the sixth differs, as we said, in this respect, that it does not deal with the world of men directly, but rather with the shake-up of the physical universe.
Of this, therefore, we must speak in the present chapter.
The Interpretation Of The Sixth Seal
The text speaks indeed of tremendous and terrible things. In the vision John feels a tremendous earthquake, causing the very foundations of the entire earth to tremble and wiping mountains and islands out of existence. At the same time he beholds wonders in heaven. The sun is darkened as sackcloth of hair, and the moon' spreads a weird light, flooding the earth with a color that speaks of blood, while the stars fall from heaven to the earth, and the firmament seems to pass away and roll together as a book.
The question which arises, in the first place, is, of course: how must all this be interpreted? Must the text be explained in the literal sense of the word, so that it refers here to physical reality? Does heaven refer to the firmament as we see it? And does star refer to a luminous body in heaven? Is a mountain literally a mountain, and an island an island in this passage? Or must all this be understood in the symbolical sense of the word?
There are, indeed, many interpreters who do not understand the text literally, but rather symbolically. They argue that the entire Book of Revelation is symbolic. For instance, in Chapter 1 a star is not one of the luminous bodies in the firmament, but has reference to the angel of the church, as the Lord Himself explains. Besides, the Lord informs us Himself in that same chapter that all things written in the Book of Revelation are "signified," that is, given in signs and symbols. And therefore also the things mentioned in the text we are now discussing must not be understood as representing reality but as being signs and symbols of other events in the history of this present dispensation. Especially those who are of the opinion that in these seven seals we have reference to things which already happened in the past, reference to definite historical periods, are bound to apply this principle also to the sixth seal. All kinds of different interpretations have been presented. We will not tire your attention with all of these explanations of the sixth seal. Just one of them we will mention in this connection, just to give you an idea as to how the Word of God has strangely been interpreted in the past and how it is sometimes interpreted even in the present time. According to the interpretation to which we are now referring, the earth is the Roman Empire. And the shaking of the earth by the earthquake is the shaking up of that empire at the time of Constantine the Great, about the year 313 A.D. The sun, according to this interpretation, is the chief ruler of the empire, the person of the emperor. And the moon represents his fellow ruler on the throne, while the stars are symbols of important personages throughout the provinces of the Roman Empire. Again, according to that interpretation, the eclipse of the sun and moon and the falling of the stars stand for the eclipse of the glory of the rulers of the empire and their falling from office through the conquering power of Constantine the Great. The heaven, according to this explanation, is the place of the Roman deities, which also fell from their place of glory at this time since the Christian religion replaced the pagan worship at the period here referred to. And the mountains and islands represent the territorial divisions of the Roman dominion, while their being moved out of their place symbolizes that they are wrested from the power of Rome. Such is a fair example of the symbolic interpretations, with which we cannot possibly agree.
Even though you may not be able to point out the fundamental error of such modes of interpreting Scripture, and particularly the Book of Revelation, you must nevertheless spontaneously feel that there is something radically wrong with such explanations. The very fact that those explanations are so numerous and that in detail they all differ from one another would, at the very best, leave the church fundamentally in doubt, wondering whether perhaps they cannot add many interpretations to those already offered. Besides, you all would realize that if such were the true meaning of this particular passage, the church of today would have no interest in this entire portion, except in as far as it would show how in the past prophecy has been fulfilled. But the fundamental mistake of such a way of interpreting Scripture, and particularly the passage now under discussion, can also very easily be pointed out, so that you can all see what is its error. The trouble with such interpreters is that they do not and cannot distinguish symbolism from reality.
When, for instance, we explained the four horses as being symbols of different forces in history, no one can possibly question the truth of this interpretation. And why not? Simply because the very representation of these horses immediately left you with the impression that they could not possibly be explained literally, but that the interpretation must be symbolical. When, for instance, we read of the fourth horse, we feel immediately that the power of death does not ride upon a real horse, and that real hell, or hades, does not follow such a horse. Hence, the whole is clearly symbolical. The same is true of the fifth seal. When we interpreted the souls under the altar as being symbolical of a higher historical reality, no one of us could possibly object. Why not? Because we realized at once that spiritual souls and material altars do not belong together, except in a symbolical way. The same is true of other portions of the Book of Revelation. When we read in the first chapter of stars, no one thinks at all that they are real bodies in the universe or in the firmament of heaven. Why not? Because of the simple fact that these stars are found in the hand of Jesus, and therefore, if we would take the term literally, we would run into impossibilities. When we read in 8:8 of a great mountain cast into the sea, we certainly do not think of a real mountain. Why not? In the first place, because the text there does not say "a mountain," but "as it were a great mountain." Not only this, but that we cannot think of a literal mountain is also evident from the effect that this mountain has upon the sea into which it is cast. When in the thirteenth verse of the same chapter we read of an eagle in mid-air, we do not think of that mighty bird in the literal sense of the word, and there is no danger at all of such an interpretation. Why not? Simply because it cries with a human voice, "Woe, woe, woe!" The locusts out of the abyss, the beast with the horns, the woman with the moon on her head, and many other things are all immediately conceived as symbolical, simply because the connection in which they all occur makes a literal explanation an impossibility.
But how is this in the portion now under discussion?
The answer is: it is just the opposite. Here the literal interpretation is the only explanation possible.
In the first place, let me call your attention to the fact that the whole text is very natural from this viewpoint and that no symbolical interpretation is necessary whatsoever. It is very evident that in the text the earth is the earth as we see it and know it, and nothing else. And when it quakes, real mountains and real islands are removed out of their place. The stars fall from heaven, that is, from the firmament; and in the firmament they are. And therefore, also in regard to this there is nothing inconceivable or impossible. The sun mentioned in the text is evidently the luminary in the firmament as we know it; and there is nothing in the context or in the text itself to indicate the contrary. The same may be said of the moon: also it is simply the luminary in the firmament as we see it at night. In a word, it can only be by a method of putting our own thoughts into the text that we can possibly conceive of this part of the Book of Revelation as symbolical.
But there is more. If we attempt to impose the symbolical interpretation upon the text, we run into serious difficulties. For in the second part of this passage we are told that because of this shake-up of the physical universe, kings and princes and chiefs and free men and bondmen are struck with fear and consternation. Now it stands to reason that if you take the first part of this passage as being symbolical and as referring to kings and princes and emperors and great men in the earth, you are obliged also to apply the symbolical interpretation to this second part of the text. However, this is never done even by those who wish to apply the symbolical interpretation to the passage. They interpret kings as referring to real kings in the world; and the same is true of the rest of the great men mentioned in the text, and even of free men and bondmen. They are all interpreted as referring to real men, and to nothing else. Such an interpretation, however, is completely arbitrary. And even if we would grant that such arbitrariness of interpretation is allowable, which it certainly is not, the result is a strange contradiction. For then you come to the conclusion that the text pictures the effect of kings and chiefs and princes upon themselves, which, of course, is impossible.
Finally, we must remember that it would be an impossibility to describe things which happen in the physical universe in terms of symbolism. The physical universe and elements of it may be used as symbols of things spiritual and historical, but how shall the shake-up of the physical universe be symbolized?
The Signs In The Physical Universe
Hence, there is nothing strange in the fact that, though heretofore we have had nothing but symbolism in this part of the Book of Revelation, John beholds in vision physical realities here. Thus, at least, we understand the passage. Just as in the second part of the text real kings and real princes and captains and bondmen and free men are indicated, so in the first part nothing but real stars and real sun and moon and real mountains and islands are beheld by John in the vision as all being shaken up. What we have in the sixth seal is very plainly the shake-up of the physical universe. When that seal is opened, the stars fall from heaven, the sun is black as sackcloth of hair, the moon is weird with a color as of blood, the mountains tremble, and the islands are removed out of their place. Nothing in all the physical world remains stable and secure. All seems to turn to chaos. The whole world is passing away.
Perhaps we raise the objection that the literal interpretation of this passage does not fit in with the interpretation of the other seals. Concerning the other seals we explained that they have occurred in the past, that they still occur, and will occur in the future. But can this also be said of the sixth seal? In my opinion this is very well possible. Limited realizations of the sixth seal have frequently occurred in the past, although the complete realization of this seal carries us to the time immediately before the coming of the Lord. This latter fact is but natural. The effects of the coming of Christ upon the physical universe are naturally last. Just as in our individual redemption the spiritual precedes the physical, so also in the redemption of the universe all the spiritual factors must first be ready and prepared. After that the physical universe will begin to show the full signs of its coming redemption. Nevertheless, also the sixth seal has been opened ever since the time that John received this revelation.
Earthquakes have occurred very frequently in the past, as we all know. Of them we read already in Holy Writ. Just after Christ had been crucified and killed, the earth quaked. Also when Paul and Silas were about to be delivered from prison, an earthquake occurred. Innumerable earthquakes have occurred ever since, some of them in alarming force and proportions. In the year 1875, so we are told by the science of seismology, as many as ninety-seven earthquakes occurred; and in the following year one hundred four. The same science informs us of the fact that between the years 1600 and 1850 there were as many as six thousand or seven thousand earthquakes in various parts of the earth. Surely, this is sufficient proof that in this respect also the sixth seal is opened throughout this dispensation in a limited way.
The same is true of the darkening of the sun and moon. They also have occurred more than once. We do not now refer to the regular eclipses of sun and moon, as are recorded in our calendars, but to extraordinary obscurations of the heavenly bodies. Thus, we are told that in the year 1780 a strangely dark day has been witnessed in the northeastern part of America, so strange that it has gone down in the annals of history as supernatural, at least as unaccountable. Also the red appearances of the moon have been frequently witnessed. When the text speaks of the falling of the stars, we must not think of those bodies in the heavens that are larger than our earth: for then it were impossible that they should fall on the earth. Rather do we think of those atmospheric phenomena which are called meteors, or shooting stars. One of these shooting stars, a large ball of fire, thus we are told, is able to light up an entire landscape in the night. It is very bright and light for a moment; then suddenly it is extinguished and disappears. And soon after its disappearance a loud detonation is heard in all the surrounding region. These meteors have frequently fallen in such large numbers as to strike fear and consternation into the hearts of all who were witnesses. In some instances they have fallen very thickly. In 1872 some observers counted as many as ten thousand of these shooting stars falling within two hours' time. In regard to such a shower of stars happening in the tenth century one witness testifies that it had lasted "from midnight until morning; flaming stars struck one against another violently, while being borne eastward and westward, northward and southward, and no one could bear to look toward the heavens on account of this phenomenon." One of these showers we have on record with the testimony of a witness who informs us that people were thrown into consternation and cried out to God the Most High with confused clamor. From the year 900 to about 1850 there occurred as many as sixteen of such extraordinary star showers, in as far as we have them on record. Hence, also this element has occurred time and again in the present dispensation. The same is true, as we know, of the removal of the mountains and the islands. It is a well-known fact that mountains have been blown to pieces or entirely wiped out, and that many an island that has once existed can be found no more. In a word, it cannot be said that this seal has not become manifest throughout the history of the present dispensation.
All these phenomena, however, must increase in force and generalness of manifestation. The sixth seal will not be completely realized till all these natural phenomena have become completely universal, so that all men will be able to witness them. Earthquakes will occur which affect the entire surface of the earth. Darkening of the sun and a bloody appearance of the moon will be seen which will be lasting and not again be changed to normal conditions. And a universal storm of these fiery balls will occur which will affect the whole earthly world. To be sure, the world laughs at this; and the people of God are called fools to believe this coming catastrophe. But the wisdom of the world is foolishness; and the louder their laughter and mockery now, the wilder will be their consternation when all this shall appear. For the time will surely come when, according to the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the earth and the heavens shall shake, and when the sun shall be darkened and shall refuse to shed her comforting light upon the scene of wickedness, so that men shall move about in darkness, only horrified all the more by the deluge of bloody light shed by the moon, and when the stars shall fall to the earth without ceasing and the heavens shall appear to be rolled together as a scroll. Our Lord Jesus Christ is King, King also over the physical universe. He is mighty to fulfill all His Word. Hence, fools may laugh at all this; the children of God look forward in earnest expectation to the time when all these things will come to pass. To be sure, the time is not yet. First the great tribulation must come. First the number of the souls under the altar must become full. But after this, surely, also this sixth seal shall reach its full reality and spread horror and consternation upon all who have trampled under foot the blood of Christ.
Even before we answer the question as to the significance of these occurrences, we must first of all refer you to Scripture. For the Word of God is full of assurances that these things will actually come to pass. When Joel pictures the coming of the Lord for judgment, he says (2: 10, 11): "The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining: And the Lord shall utter his voice before his army: for his camp is very great: for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?" Again, he speaks of that terrible day of Jehovah when he says (2:30, 3 1): "And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come." Thus also, in the prophecy of Haggai we read (2:6, 7): "For thus saith the Lord of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts."
Of the same shake-up of the physical universe we read in the New Testament also. In Matthew 24:29 we read, in connection with the coming of the Lord for judgment: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 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." The same we read in the Gospel according to Luke, 21:9-11: 1: "But when ye shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not by and by. Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven." And in verses 25 and 26 the Lord speaks of the same things: "And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken."
All these portions of Scripture speak evidently of the same events which are coming in the future, and that too, in the same connection, in connection with the coming of the Lord for judgment. In general, therefore, we may say that the sixth seal brings upon the earth the signs which immediately precede the coming of the Lord. Then these signs shall be realized in all their fulness.
In order that you may be able fully to understand the meaning of these signs and their connection with the coming of the Lord, it is probably expedient for me to employ an illustration. Imagine that you stand at a railroad station, waiting for the train. At first all is quiet: nothing tells you that in the next half hour a train will come roaring into the station. Only now and then a passenger arrives at the station to purchase a ticket. But gradually the scene changes. More passengers arrive, and the environment becomes a busy scene. The employees in the station begin to hustle. Baggage, trunks, and suitcases are piled up and put in a convenient place for loading them in the baggage car attached to the coming train. People begin to be restless. All these are signs to you that the train is coming. But other signs presently appear. The block signal changes, and reveals that the train is approaching. Smoke from the locomotive is seen in the distance. The shrill yell of the whistle is presently heard. And you are certain that the train is coming. These last signs are inevitable manifestations, the unavoidable signs, of the coming train.
Thus it is also with respect to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and the signs which are connected with this coming. These signs are not arbitrary, not signs which might just as well have been omitted. But they are signs which are inevitably connected with the final coming of the Lord itself. Jesus is coming! That is the message of the Book of Revelation in brief. It reveals the coming of the Lord. He is coming into a sinful and miserable world, into a world which has fallen into the power of sin and death and which is subjected to the dominion of Satan. Man and beast and all creation is subject to this bondage. The Lord, however, is coming to redeem that entire world, with His elect people at the center, from the dominion of sin and death and hell, and to establish the reign of righteousness and everlasting perfection in glory, to subject that entire world again to His God. He is coming, coming throughout this dispensation, coming all through the present history of the world. All through this dispensation, therefore, the signs and signals of that coming, signs which are inevitably connected with that coming, are plainly visible.
When He comes on the white horse, He appears in the spiritual world, and you can see His signs in repentance and faith and confession and obedience and a walk in newness of life. When He comes on the red horse, you can see Him in war and in nation rising against nation, as a sign of His coming for judgment in the end. When you see the black horse, you see the signs of His coming in the social world and in all the struggles of that world. And when the power of death mows away thousands upon thousands at the proper time and place, you see the signs of His coming in the physical world of man. So it is also with the blood of the martyrs. And thus it is also with the signs in the physical universe. You see Him come in the earthquakes and volcanic outbursts, in storms and floods, in the signs which appear in the heavens throughout the history of this present time. For also the physical universe is in. the power of sin and death, in the bondage of corruption. And therefore you must not be surprised that the coming of Jesus causes strange signs also in this physical world. They are signs that our redemption and also the redemption of the universe is nigh. But the redemption of that physical universe is last of all. And therefore, the full reality of these signs will be seen only toward the last of the present dispensation. They are the changing of the block signals, the rising of the smoke from the engine in the distance, the blowing of the whistle. When these signs shall occur, -and they surely shall occur, as the Scriptures everywhere testify, -then lift up your head! For then your redemption draweth nigh! The Lord cometh, and all the universe will be affected by His coming! Hence, all the universe will also reveal the signs of that coming.
The Effect Of These Signs Upon The World
The effect of these signs upon the world is most terrible. To be sure, it will also have its effect upon the people of God that these signs shall appear in the heavens and upon the earth. From a mere natural point of view these signs will also be terrible and alarming for them. I cannot understand how expositors of Holy Writ, particularly on prophecy, can deny that during these days the church, at least part of the church of God, will still be on earth. I fail to understand how they can deny that they shall experience at least the great tribulation in full. For Scripture testifies of this very plainly and emphatically. Whenever the Lord speaks of these things, He speaks of them as signs of His coming, as signs of comfort to His people in the midst of the world, and especially in the midst of the great tribulation of the last times. He speaks to them of the fact that they shall be in great tribulation especially when the fifth seal shall be fully realized. And He also declares that after this great tribulation the signs which are pictured in this sixth seal shall reach their fulfillment. And in connection with this, He tells His disciples and all His people: "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh" (Luke 21:28). And it stands to reason that also for the people of God the beginning of these signs shall be dreadful from a mere natural point of view. But it does not fill them with fear and consternation. This will be impossible. They have suffered persecution. They have been in awful tribulation. Such is undoubtedly the course of events in the future, shortly before the coming of the Lord. The fear of the people of God, their suffering, their anxiety, their persecution, has been terrible, most terrible indeed. Thousands of them have been killed and tortured because of the Word of God and the testimony which they held. And the spiritual result of all this was, naturally, that they longed for the coming of Christ and for their final redemption. Now these signs appear. And though these signs will also fill them with horror from a natural point of view, yet they fill them at the same time with a great hope. They begin to see in them that Jesus draweth nigh when these things begin to come to pass. Thus the Lord had told them: "Then lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh."
Now He is still tarrying, but only for a little while. Already they see His signs. Already they hear Him come for Whom their soul longeth. And lifting up their heads in expectation, they look for the sign of the Son of man in the heavens.
But of this we must speak in a later connection.
Our text speaks now of the effect of these natural phenomena, or rather, of these supernatural phenomena, upon the wicked world. And what is the effect? Of this we are told in the last part of the passage we are now discussing, in verses 15 to 17: "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; 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: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?"
Notice here, in the first place, that all classes of men are included, but that the strong and mighty and rich are emphatically mentioned first and are predominating. to a large degree. They are predominating, not necessarily in number, -for that is probably not the case, -but because it is exactly in their capacity as strong and rich according to the standard of the world that here they reveal their consternation. All classes, from kings and princes to bondmen and servants, are included in this crowd struck with fear. What they have all in common is that they hated the Lord Jesus Christ. They certainly have never loved Him, as is evident in their fear. For according to the apostle John, love driveth out fear. They hated Him. They have rebelled against Him and against His Word. They have opposed Him. They have persecuted Him and His flock. And as such they were the kings and the mighty ones of the world, those who were rich in money, who dominated the social world, the strong in physical power and strong in authority, who dominated the political world. They are the ones who used to win victories in battle in the earth. They are also the strong in wisdom and learning, who denied the Christ in their worldly philosophy and who in their imagined strength have always laughed at the folly of the people of the Lord, who believed the gospel. These all, -the mighty and the wise and the rich according to the measure of this world, -are now filled with terror. They are filled with a terror so strong that they seek death. They are filled with consternation. They know not what they are doing. They flee to the caves; but there is no help and no protection there. They flee to the mountains and to the rocks; but behold, they find no refuge in them. Wherever they flee they see the signs of the Lord Who is coming. And these signs do not cause them to repent. There is no forgiveness for them any more. The measure of their iniquity is full. They call to the rocks and to the mountains, "Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb." The day of wrath and judgment has come, and they realize it. And because they have not kissed the Son, but continued in their wild rebellion, they are now struck with terror, and they seek death, but find it not. Terrible in that day is the position of the ungodly! Terrible indeed is the day of the Lord for them who have not feared His name!
How is it to be explained, you ask perhaps, that now they are so completely struck with consternation and fear?
The answer is: because the stability of the material universe was the presupposition of the kingdom of the world which they intended to establish. They were to build up an imitation kingdom, a kingdom of bliss and righteousness and justice and peace and of material blessedness. That was their purpose, and that was their striving. And they attempted to accomplish all this without Christ Jesus. They never believed that Christ was King. They never knew that He had the principle of His spiritual kingdom already realized in the world and in the hearts of His people. They laughed at the idea that this world was principally wicked and that heaven and earth would pass away. And therefore the supposed eternal stability of the material universe was the basis of their hope. This hope was now frustrated completely and in a moment. The whole universe seems to pass away. The heavens and the earth are shaking. They cannot account for it. Human wisdom is too small, and human science cannot explain the shake-up of the physical universe. It is beyond their comprehension. Human strength now avails nothing. They have been able to do great things. They ruled over the elements, and they were in power over the sea and the land and the air. But all these things are beyond them now. Nothing can avail. They are overcome. And therefore, two facts are now powerfully impressed upon their unbelieving minds, namely: that the very basis of their imitation kingdom is going to destruction, and, secondly, that the kingdom of Christ shall prevail. And therefore, they realize that their bitterest enemy, the King of heaven and earth, He Whom they have pierced, is about to have the complete victory. Therefore they fear. In their folly and impotence they pray to the rocks and mountains, and the Word of God is literally fulfilled: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will bring to nought the discernment of the discerner."
Blessed are they who in that day belong to the Lord and are in Zion! For Joel, after he has finished his description of that day, says: "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall there be those that escape, as the Lord hath said, and among the remnant whom the Lord shall call." It is in full harmony with this that the Lord our Savior has foretold us: "When these things begin to come to pass, lift up your head; for your redemption draweth nigh. In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."