God will use supernatural heavenly signs to signal the beginning of His intervention to punish humanity for our sins—and to rescue us from self-destruction.
Through the prophet Joel, God spoke of astonishing signs in the heavens before “the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.” God gave this message to Joel for those living in the last days, saying: “I will show 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 coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD” (Joel 2:30-31).
The prophet Isaiah also described these same events: “For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine” (Isaiah 13:10).
The sixth seal in the book of Revelation
The prophecies of Joel and Isaiah match the events described by the apostle John in a vision of the end time: “I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place” (Revelation 6:12-14).
The focus of this article is on the events included in this sixth seal, which is the prelude to God’s wrath on the earth. To learn more about all seven seals of Revelation, be sure to read the article “Seven Seals.”
The reason God will orchestrate these signs in the heavens is to announce that He will now intervene in human affairs in a very visible way. Jesus mentioned that the heavenly signs would follow right on the heels of another prophesied event: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matthew 24:29).
Tribulation precedes the signs in the heavens
What was Jesus referring to when He said, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days”? The Great Tribulation will be a time of terrible trial for the modern-day descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (later renamed Israel). These people will suffer famines and pestilence, military invasion and enslavement.
Additionally, the Tribulation will be a time of widespread persecution against the saints of the true Church of God at the end of the age. This group of people is called “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).
The “tribulation of those days” and “the time of Jacob’s trouble” spoken of by the prophets Jeremiah and Daniel (Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 12:1) also refer to this Tribulation spoken of by Jesus. To learn more about how the Tribulation will affect Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob, we encourage you to read the article “Jacob’s Trouble: What Is It?”
A vivid picture
If one were to look at a combined list of the cosmic events prophesied by the prophets Joel, Isaiah, Jesus and the apostle John, it would look something like this:
- A great earthquake occurs.
- Every mountain and island will move out of its place.
- Blood and fire and pillars of smoke will be seen.
- The sun, moon and stars will have their light blocked, making them appear as dark as night.
- The moon will appear blood red.
- The stars of heaven will appear to be falling to the earth.
- The sky will be seen receding like a scroll when it is rolled up.
Immediately after these stunning cosmic disturbances, a series of great plagues will quickly follow, each accompanied with the sound of a trumpet (Revelation 8 and 9). These plagues will precede the return of Jesus Christ to earth in glory and majesty to establish a kingdom of peace and righteousness.Immediately after these stunning cosmic disturbances, a series of great plagues will quickly follow, each accompanied with the sound of a trumpet (Revelation 8 and 9). These plagues will precede the return of Jesus Christ to earth in glory and majesty to establish a kingdom of peace and righteousness.
Who will control these signs and wonders?
When these signs in the heavens and the earth occur, scientists and weather forecasters may attempt to explain them away as extreme, cyclical events, rather than signs from God. To be sure, God will be the author of them. These signs will constitute the beginning of what the prophet Joel called “the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD” (Joel 2:31).
It is hard to imagine, but large numbers of unconcerned people are likely to dismiss these signs as being random occurrences. But those who are watching and praying will discern the reason for the signs (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4).
Throughout the Bible, God says that He controls all the elements of His physical creation and that He uses them either to bless or to curse mankind. The book of Job reveals God’s authority over nature:
- “He stirs up the sea with His power, and by His understanding He breaks up the storm” (Job 26:12).
- “He covers His hands with lightning, and commands it to strike” (36:32).
- “He scatters His bright clouds. And they swirl about, being turned by His guidance, that they may do whatever He commands them on the face of the whole earth. He causes it to come, whether for correction, or for His land, or for mercy” (37:11-13).
So, we clearly see that God controls all the powers of the heavens and the earth—from climate conditions to earthquakes and volcanoes to the orbits of the planets and the positions of the massive constellations in deep space.
The ancient languages of the Bible didn’t have the modern scientific definitions we give to atmospheric conditions today. Consider the following: God speaks of the sun, moon and stars being darkened; and this has happened at various times on smaller scales. A dense, dark cloud of smoke can certainly block light to the earth over an area of land.
For instance, in June 1991 the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century (in terms of the amount of material spewed out) took place on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. The volume of ash emitted from the June 15 peak eruption was about 1.2 cubic miles (five cubic kilometers). The giant, umbrella-shaped eruption cloud was 250 miles (400 kilometers) in diameter and 21 miles (34 kilometers) high. By mid-afternoon, areas around the volcano were pitch-dark (Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, article, “Volcano/Mount Pinatubo”).
Mount Pinatubo is just one in a series of more than 450 volcanoes along the ring of fire circling the Pacific Ocean. It is certainly possible that a series of simultaneous volcanic eruptions could shut out sunlight for a period of time across large portions of the earth.
For another example, a passage such as Matthew 24:39—“the stars will fall from heaven”—could describe any number of deep space objects plummeting to the earth rather than actual stars colliding with earth. Meteorites, comets and asteroids are among the objects that could collide with earth’s atmosphere causing the appearance of a shower of falling stars.
Astronomers estimate that between 18,000 and 84,000 meteorites 10 grams or larger impact the earth’s surface each year (Cornell University’s “Ask an Astronomer” website, “How Many Meteorites Hit Earth Each Year?”).
If the heavenly signs to come are caused by natural laws of physics, God will orchestrate these events in an extreme and stunning display. If these wonders are supernatural, God can certainly alter the courses of the heavenly bodies and the natural elements from what has been the norm.
God always sends a message of warning first
Not wishing for any to perish, God’s practice has been to send prophets to warn people to repent of their sins prior to inflicting punishment for disobedience (Amos 3:7). God says, “For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies” (Ezekiel 18:32). To understand more about God’s wrath, read the articles “What Is the Day of the Lord?” and “Wrath of God.”
God desires that people repent of their wickedness and acknowledge the one true God and His Son, Jesus Christ, as Lord of all creation before He is pressed to send dreadful woes on the earth. Will God get the attention of the vast population of the earth before that time? Will He find lasting, heartfelt changes in human behavior before He unleashes His anger?
Jesus posed an important question to His disciples and us today: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). He predicted that the latter days would be very evil and that many would simply ignore the signs of the times much like the people in Noah’s day ignored the warning message before the Flood came (Matthew 24:37-39).
After the heavenly signs are witnessed in various parts of the earth, “then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30).
Those who never took heed of these warning signs will be in terror at the appearance of Jesus Christ. But Jesus promised the faithful: “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28).
For those who take heed, God provides a way of escape from His wrath. To understand more about escaping God’s wrath, be sure to read the article “The Wrath of God: How to Survive.”