Juxtaposed against "the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men" is another group: "every slave and every free man" (Revelation 6:15). Who are they? What role do they play in the caves?
To understand, we first need to deal with those repeated words, every: "every slave and every free man." Does John mean that every slave and every free person in the world is addressing "mountains and rocks," asking that they fall on him? Does every free individual and every slave know about the Day of the Lord and about the Lamb at this point? That would be a lot of people.
Revelation 9 clearly indicates that the cave-dwellers represent only a segment—perhaps a small segment—of humanity. Many other people have refused to foreswear idolatry, not yet understanding what the cavemen know about God and His imminent anger:
But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. (Revelation 9:20-21)
So, the occurrences of "every" in Revelation 6:15 do not refer to every slave and every free person in the world. Rather, the phrase "every slave and every free man" is a merism, a rhetorical device wherein a single entity or action is described by opposites, as in "looked high and low" or "on-and-off enthusiasm." "Every slave and every free man" refers to a small subset of people, to a single class of person, one who is both free and bond.
The merism may refer to God's people—who are free and slave concurrently. Christ promises that, if we remain in His Word, we are free: "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). Similarly, the apostle Paul writes:
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2; compare Galatians 5:1)
Yet, the same apostle calls us slaves, bought by God:
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's. (I Corinthians 6:19-20)
Paul also tells the Roman church: "But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life" (Romans 6:22). Peter provides yet further witness to our being God's slaves: "For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God" (I Peter 2:15-16).
In some ways, God's people are free, and in others, slaves.
We could look at this merism a bit differently. "Every slave and every free man" could refer to true Christians, those who know the truth and are therefore free (John 8:32) in God's sight, but who have become enslaved by man through end-time religious persecution. Slaves are expropriated and disenfranchised individuals, having lost personal and property rights. The Jews, taken in the Nazi pogroms, were slaves, told by their masters, "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work makes free").
Currently, chattel slavery is not a legal institution in Western civilization. However, under increased Islamic influence, it could become legalized and widespread as the result of religious persecution. So it might happen that God protects His people in caves, arranging to have them taken there as slaves in service to others.
Unlike the other five seals, the text of the sixth seal is straightforward and uncomplicated. Only a few of the details in the description require more than a brief comment in explanation. Far more important to understanding this seal as a judgment is the effect the signs have on the people of the earth.
The seal opens with "a great earthquake" (Revelation 6:12), a common indicator of God appearing (see Judges 5:4; Psalm 68:8; 77:18; 97:4; Habakkuk 3:10; Haggai 2:6-7), working out His purpose (see Exodus 19:18; Matthew 27:51-54; 28:2; Acts 16:26), and/or striking out in displeasure and judgment. In terms of anger and punishment, God caused an earthquake to open the ground in the wilderness and swallow Korah and his fellow rebels (Numbers 16:31-32). In Psalm 18:7, David writes, "Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken, because He was angry" (see Isaiah 5:25; Nahum 1:2-5). God prophesies in Isaiah 13:11, 13, "I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity. . . . Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts, and in the day of His fierce anger."
Earthquakes occur frequently in Revelation, of which this one is the first. Seismic activity accompanies the seventh seal (Revelation 8:5), the resurrection of the Two Witnesses (11:13), the seventh trumpet (11:19), and the seventh bowl or vial (KJV) of God's wrath (16:18). Evidently, massive earthquakes—the kind that strikes dread and panic into every soul caught in them—will frequently punctuate the Day of the Lord.
Certainly, the heavenly signs that occur in tandem with the great temblor are astounding, especially if all of them should occur within a short span of time. Joel 2:30-31 describes the same event: "And 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 terrible day of the LORD." In the Olivet Prophecy, Jesus repeats the warning: "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; Mark 13:24-25). Luke's rendition adds a few details:
And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. (Luke 21:25-26)
The Sun Darkened: John describes the darkness of the sun as "black as sackcloth of hair" (Revelation 6:12), comparing it to the black goat hair used to make sackcloth and tents in his day. This may depict a solar eclipse or possibly a massive dust storm caused by a volcanic explosion. The Ninth Plague covered Egypt with a "darkness which may even be felt," a "thick darkness" (Exodus 10:21-22), and perhaps God will repeat it on an even grander scale. Whatever the case, visibility will be severely limited, even during the daylight hours.
The Moon Like Blood: This chilling sight presages calamity and death, particularly in war, as in the color of the second horse (Revelation 6:4). Sometimes lunar discoloration occurs naturally when unusual amounts of dust are suspended in the atmosphere, particularly after a volcanic eruption or an earthquake. Incidentally, many manuscripts read "full moon" rather than simply "moon."
The Stars Fall: John's imagery reflects countless late figs blown down by the violent winter wind (verse 13). This seems most likely to predict a meteor shower of immense proportions, possibly containing larger-than-normal meteorites, thus increasing the effect and making it seem as if the stars themselves are falling. Because stars are a biblical symbol of angels, some have suggested that this verse parallels Revelation 12:7-10, the casting out of Satan and his demons from heaven. However, for this to have any credence, the concurrent celestial events must also be taken symbolically.
The Sky Recedes: Of these four wonders, this event is the most puzzling (Revelation 6:14). The apostle compares it to a scroll rolling up, or we might think of it in terms of opening a spring-loaded window blind. Joseph A. Seiss, in his The Apocalypse: Exposition of the Book of Revelation, comments: "Great, massive, rotary motion in the whole visible expanse, is signified, as if it were folding itself up to pass away forever." Perhaps John saw clouds building to thunderheads, roiling, and flying at breakneck speed across the expanse of the sky. Such turbulence could make an observer on the ground think the sky was splitting apart. Isaiah 34:4 describes the Day of the Lord similarly.
The Mountains and Islands Move: As a result of the great convulsion of the earth, massive land transformations occur, shifting mountains on land and undersea. Obviously, such a violent shaking will create unprecedented destruction and loss of life. As the conclusion of the sixth seal's disturbances, this displacement of terra firma is the calamity that most terrifies earth's inhabitants. Suddenly, nothing is stable—not even the earth under their feet!
Finally, God has their attention!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Seal
Mankind has always been fascinated with the heavens: their beauties, their mysteries, their movements, and their surprises. Early on in man's history, after years of observation and record keeping, the learned discovered that—with certain exceptions—the movements of the heavenly bodies could be predicted, as could phenomena like eclipses, comets, and meteor showers. To them, what occurred on the dark canvas of space revealed creation's design, order, and perfection. As David wrote, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork" (Psalm 19:1).
Despite the rational, scientific understanding of most celestial happenings, sudden changes in the normally placid, soothing nighttime sky can cause wonder and even panic. Comets, long thought to portend world-changing events, have been known to ignite terrors in superstitious people. Eclipses of the sun can spur the unenlightened to believe the end of the world has come, as can a "bloody" moon. From the earliest times, men and women perverted even the regular movements of heavenly bodies into astrology, and millions still consult their readings daily. God warns, "Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them" (Jeremiah 10:2).
Yet, God Himself uses heavenly phenomena as signs of momentous events. Perhaps the most famous is the "Star of Bethlehem," which guided the wise men to their audience with the young King of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11). Though this "star" was most likely an angel standing as a beacon for the magi to follow, many have postulated "natural" explanations such as comets and supernovae. The Ninth Plague on Egypt (Exodus 10:21-23), Joshua's Long Day (Joshua 10:12-14), Hezekiah's Sundial (II Kings 20:8-11), and the darkness during Jesus' crucifixion (Matthew 27:45) all involved aberrations of expected solar behavior. All signaled major movements in God's plan.
The sixth seal also involves heavenly bodies doing the unexpected: The sun darkens, the moon turns blood-red, the stars fall, and the sky itself rolls up like a scroll. Not only do these terrifying cosmic wonders signal the beginning of the Day of the Lord, but they, like the previous five seals, also serve as judgments against sinful mankind on planet Earth.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Seal
The effect of these cosmic signs from God is to produce terror in earth's populace, triggering humanity's strong drive to preserve itself. Despite mountains moving, men and women of every origin, status, and creed—from king to slave—flee for the caves under the mountains in a vain attempt to hide themselves from God (Revelation 6:15). This is reminiscent of Isaiah 2:19, a prophecy of the Day of the Lord: "They shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, from the terror of the LORD and the glory of His majesty, when He arises to shake the earth mightily."
John sees these fearful people speaking to the mountains and rocks, commanding them to hide them from the sight of God the Father and from the "wrath of the Lamb" (verse 16). Their cry, "Fall on us!" is not a death wish or a suicidal means to avoid God's judgment but a hope that the mountains will cover and conceal them. "Fall on us and hide us" is typical Hebrew parallelism, as can be seen from an Old Testament parallel in which Israelites "shall say to the mountains, 'Cover us!' and to the hills, 'Fall on us!'" (Hosea 10:8).
It is somewhat startling that earth's sinners correctly identify these catastrophic events as evidences of God's wrath. We are used to them being termed "natural disasters" and in no way a result of God's intervention in humanity's affairs. Yet, this time, these cataclysmic signs are indeed "acts of God," and men know it. Such a succession of disturbances can be nothing other than divine anger.
Further, people seek to be "out of sight, out of mind" to both the Father—"Him who sits on the throne" (Revelation 6:16)—and the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Often, the phrase "face of Him," "face of God," or "face of the LORD" suggests being in His presence (Genesis 33:10; I Samuel 26:20; II Chronicles 7:14; Lamentations 2:19; Luke 1:76). However, it can also imply being under the judgment of an angry God (see Leviticus 26:17; Psalm 34:16; Jeremiah 44:11; Lamentations 4:16; also Amos 9:4). Obviously, the latter idea fits this instance.
Initially, it seems incongruous to pair "wrath" with "of the Lamb," but it makes perfect sense on two levels. First, "Lamb" is only one title of this complex Individual, Jesus Christ, who is not a cute, cuddly, little lamb. As the Johnny Cash song, "A Boy Named Sue," relates, a person's name cannot describe his entire personality, and one may rue the day he made the assumption it could! The same Jesus Christ who took little children in His arms and blessed them also made a whip of cords and angrily drove the moneychangers from God's Temple.
Second, as it pertains to Christ, the lamb represents a sacrificial Redeemer, One who gave His life to buy back others who had been enslaved. The meaning of the symbol contemplates, not only the force of character it would take to perform such a selfless act, but also the position of mastery to which it elevated Him due to its success. In other words, the imagery of the lamb contains both the Suffering Servant and the Exalted Lord and Judge of all (John 5:22).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Seal
Assuming that "every slave and every free man" refers to true Christians, what might God's people do in these caves? Hopefully, they would be a light to those around them (Matthew 5:14). Armed with far more knowledge about God and His plan than their masters, God's people will be able to put the horrifying events into perspective for the already-humbled cave-dwellers. The caves will be not so much a "place of final training" as a venue to serve others. For example, God's people might
1. Assure others that Christ will soon end the maddening chaos by establishing His rule on earth.
2. Tell them the living can expect to see His return—"every eye will see Him" (Revelation 1:7).
3. Notify them that, at His return, they can expect to see God's people rising in the air to meet Him (I Thessalonians 4:17).
4. Instruct them that, once Christ consolidates His rule, the terror will subside, as the healing waters from His throne take their effect (Ezekiel 47:1-12; Revelation 22:1-2).
5. Enjoin them to make their way to Jerusalem when conditions begin to settle down, where they will be taught by Christ, the Lamb.
Since every eye will see Christ return (Revelation 1:7), we can deduce that the rigors of the Day of the Lord will open the caves, exposing them to the atmosphere, or perhaps events will force their inhabitants out into the open. The cavemen will see Christ return in power and great glory (Matthew 24:30). As the living among God's people rise to meet Christ, will they say to their fellow cave-dwellers, "See you in Jerusalem"?
Though they entered the caves with a degree of resignation, supposing they would eventually perish there, the presence with them of "every slave and every free man" will bring about a change in their thinking, arming them with more complete knowledge about God's plan and will. Once Christ returns, they will be motivated to make their way to Jerusalem as soon as it is feasible.
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Revelation 6:15: