Revelation Overview

The Revelation of Jesus Christ given to Saint John has confused readers for centuries, to the point that many dismiss it as indecipherable, or the ramblings of a lunatic hopped-up on hallucinogens.

I don’t pretend to have it all worked out (and Daniel 12:4 leads me to believe nobody will until the End), but I do have enough of a grasp on this fascinating book to help some readers assimilate the information a little better.

Once you understand how the book is organized, it is much easier to put in perspective. In Revelation 1:19, John recounts how he was instructed to write the book: “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” Here is our first clue as to structure–John wrote 1) what he saw; 2) the state of things in his 1st Century existence; and 3) history which would play out in the future.

WHAT JOHN SAW

“What you have seen” may refer only to his vision of the 7 golden lampstands (1:12) and of Jesus prior to this verse, but perhaps it also refers to visions John has seen prior to his exile on Patmos… then shares throughout this book. Not his glimpses of future events, of course–those fall under #3: “What will take place later”. Remember, for instance, that John witnessed the transfiguration (Mark 9:2-7)–an incredible event in which he and two other disciples saw Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah. (Not only is it provocative to note that these men Jesus was seen conversing with hadn’t walked the earth for centuries, it bears some consideration how the 3 priveleged disciples even knew who they were! I’m guessing they’d never seen photographs or video footage of Moses or Elijah.) Combine that instance with Revelation 1:10 where John reveals that he was “in the spirit” on the day he was commanded to write this book. This was not the first time John had seen and understood what escapes normal human perception.

John describes his glimpses into the literal Kingdom of Heaven, including his vision of Heaven’s throne room. Sometimes beings in these visions show him further visions. These visions are scattered throughout the narrative of Revelation (specifically, they interrupt #3 repeatedly) and can throw the reader for a loop if not recognized for what they are. Often they are used for what we would call “flashbacks” and sometimes “flash-forwards.” When John writes, “I saw” or “I looked,” chances are a new vision is being introduced.

WHAT IS

The first part of Revelation is a dictation of 7 letters to 7 churches. On the surface, we can say this is John describing “what is” from his 1st Century perspective. They are literal letters to literal churches, but even these have a deeper meaning. Symbolically, each of the 7 congregations, as addressed, also represent types of churches, types of individual believers, and periods in church history.

WHAT WILL TAKE PLACE

The bulk of Revelation–and the most famous part–is John’s account of “what will take place later.” It is also important to understand the substructure of this portion.

In describing God’s format for His revealing (or apocalypse), I’m going to use terms usually associated with fiction, film or theater. By doing this, I am NOT implying that Revelation is a work of fiction or in any way untrue. I’m merely using familiar phraseology to draw attention to the format, which should alleviate much confusion for the reader.

The prophecy here is organized, roughly, into 3 groups of 7–the seals, trumpets and bowls. I say roughly because this narrative structure is interrupted with flashbacks, flash-forwards, symbolic analogies and visions.

Some theologians have assumed that the events prophesied in the seals, trumpets and bowls happen sequentially–Seal 1-7, Trumpet 1-7, then bowl 1-7; 21 judgements in all. But if you compare the prophecies, you’ll realize that the 6th and 7th seal, 7th trumpet and 7th bowl all describe the same cataclysm, though with slightly different emphasis.

Are the seals, trumpets and bowls all parallel, then? Is Seal 3 describing the same events as Trumpet 3 and Bowl 3?

The trumpet judgements and bowl judgements do seem to be in perfect synch in numbers 2-4. EXCEPT for the fact that the bowl judgments are complete, and the trumpet judgments are in thirds. Perhaps this is a matter of perspective–if a third of the sun is blotted out (8:12), for instance, and that third covers Europe, and you live in Europe, then it might as well be completely blotted out so far as you’re concerned (16:10). If you’re on a boat sailing on the third of the sea afflicted with the curse announced by the second trumpet (8:8-9), then so far as you can tell (in your last moments of life), every living thing in the sea is dying, as described in 16:3 (the second bowl).

Trouble is, every time I read the Revelation, I flip-flop between that explanation, and the recognition that our God works in distinguishable patterns: He employs the same strategies more than once. In fact, He is rather fond of certain “templates” if you will, of both judgement and redemption.

Abraham offered his son in sacrifice on Mount Moriah. Some 2,000 years later, the Lord God offered His son in sacrifice on (possibly that same mountain, known by then as Golgotha). The latter has far more impact on our eternal souls than the former, but you see the pattern, right? Pharoah ordered all the male Hebrew children be killed, yet God preserved Moses. Herod ordered all the male Hebrew children be killed, yet God preserved Jesus. Joshua led the army of Israel to reclaim the Holy Land from powerful, intimidating interlopers. Yeshua (“Jesus” is the Greek form of “Joshua”) will lead the armies of Heaven to reclaim Planet Earth from seemingly invincible interlopers. Antiochus “Epiphanies” sacrificed a pig on the brazen alter of the temple, and set a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies to be worshiped, roughly a century and a half before Jesus (Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14) revealed that the “abomination which causes desolation” prophesied by Daniel (Daniel 9:27; 11;31; 12:11) has a second, more sinister, fulfillment in a yet future dictator who will establish an image of himself in the next temple.

So I now seriously consider the possibility that trumpets 2-4 aren’t describing the same exact plagues as bowls 2-4, but maybe just third-scale precursors.

In any case, the seals, trumpets and bowls are synchronized by the time #7 is reached in each grouping.

Next up, I’ll examine the 7 seals.

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