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12 October 2017

Linear Chronological Sequence in Revelation?

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Some interpretations assume the visions of Revelation are presented in a strict chronological sequence as they unfold, but this becomes problematic when events and patterns are repeated in different visions.
For example, the “Sixth Seal” culminates in the final day of wrath when “every mountain is removed”; massive upheaval occurs in the terrestrial and celestial segments of the creation (Revelation 6:12-17). Yet the final day also arrives when the “Seventh Trumpet” sounds and this world’s kingdoms become the kingdom of Christ (11:15-19).
Likewise, the “Seventh Vial” results in the proclamation, “It is done.” Babylon falls while “every island and mountain is removed” (16:17-21).
The repetition of terms and imagery across multiple visions raises the question: is Revelation describing multiple “final” judgments, “final” battles and so on, or the same set of events presented from different perspectives?
This does not mean Revelation is an allegory about “timeless truths.” Its visions move forward to inevitable ends; final judgment, the ultimate victory, and the New Creation. Likewise, the visions unveil events progressively; later ones have literary links to previous visions but with additional details.
For example, Revelation 1:4 declares God is “He who Is and who Was and who is Coming.” The clause is repeated in 4:8, 11:17 and 16:5. However, in the last instance the third clause, “He who is coming,” is dropped. The implication is that God has arrived and is no longer “coming.”
Information is revealed in stages. Another example is Ezekiel’s prophecy about “Gog and Magog,” which is used in three separate visions. In the first case language from Ezekiel 38 is brief and allusive (16:12-16), in the second it becomes more extensive and recognizable (19:17-21).
The invading force is identified as “all the kings of the earth and their armies.” The third instance is the most explicit. “Gog and Magog” are named; they represent the “nations of the earth” in a last-ditch attempt to annihilate God’s “saints” (20:8-9).
Does Revelation present a strictly linear chronology from one vision to the next, or does it present events in multiple ways? Put another way, Revelation is more concerned with “how” things develop than “when.” Christ’s absolute and final victory is a foregone conclusion, but how will it unfold in the present age?
A repeated theme is the ascent of a malevolent figure to wreak havoc, in each instance described with similar language.
The sounding of the “Fifth Trumpet” results in the “ascent (anabainō) out of the Abyss” of a horde of locust-like beings that torment men (Revelation 9:1-2). The Abyss is ruled by a destructive creature named “Abaddon” and “Apollyon.”
In Revelation 11:7, a “beast” is seen “ascending (anabainon) out of the Abyss to make war with the Two Witnesses; “to overcome and kill them.” “Ascending” translates the Greek verb anabainō, a participle in the present tense to signify continuing action. The language is from Daniel 7:1-8 and 7:19-21 where he saw four “beasts” ascend from the sea.
The picture from Daniel 7:1-8 is also used in Revelation 13:1; John sees a single beast “ascending” from the sea that is to “wage war” against the saints (13:7). A second beast is seen ascending from the earth” (13:11; Daniel 7:17; [“These great beasts are four kings that ascend out of the earth”]).
In Revelation 17:7-8, the beast is seen again, once more “ascending out of the Abyss” (17:7-8). Finally, in 20:7-9 Satan is “loosed” from the Abyss to deceive the nations and lead them to “ascend over the breadth of the earth” against the saints.
The common theme is the ascent of a malevolent being (demons, beast, false prophet, Satan) from a dark place (Abyss, sea, earth) to wage war (against the Two Witnesses, the Rider on the White Horse, saints).
The downfall and “binding” of Satan is presented twice, each time with the same terms and similar imagery.
In chapter 12 Satan is the great dragon, the old serpent, the Devil and Satan, the one “who deceives the whole habitable earth” (12:9). He is poised to devour a figure called “son” (Greek huios) but finds himself thwarted when this “son,” the one who is “to shepherd all nations with a rod of iron,” is caught up to God’s throne. This alludes to Psalm 2:9-10, a prophecy applied to Jesus elsewhere in Revelation (e.g., 19:15).
Believers who “overcome” in tribulation participate in Christ’s rule over the nations (2:26), which was established when Jesus “overcame” by his sacrificial death; “to him who overcomes I will grant to sit with me in my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 1:4-6; 3:21; 5:6-14).
As a result of Christ’s death, “Michael and his angels” defeat “the dragon” who is “cast” (Greek ballō) out of heaven onto the earth (12:7-9). From this point salvation, God’s kingdom and Christ’s rule are declared; “because the accuser of our brethren is cast down!” Therefore, saints “overcome him by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they loved not their life unto death” (12:10-11). ALL THIS IS BASED ON CHRIST’S PAST DEATH.
Note that Satan is described as the one “who deceives the whole habitable earth” before he is cast to the earth. After his downfall he turns his fury against the woman who gave birth to the “son” and the “remnant of her seed, “they who have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (12:16-17).
In chapter 20, an “angel” lays hold of “the dragon, the old serpent, the Devil and Satan “to cast (ballō) him into the Abyss” for a thousand years. The Devil is not able “to deceive the nations” anymore until this period is completed, after which he will be “loosed for a little time” (20:1-3). 
During the thousand years “judgment is given for” saints who overcame, an allusion to Daniel 7:21-22 (“judgment was given to the saints and the time came that they possessed the kingdom”). Those who suffered for “the testimony of Jesus” reign with Jesus for the thousand years as “priests of God and of Christ.”
Revelation’s prologue previously declared that Jesus by his blood redeemed men to be “priests to his God” (1:6). Likewise, all heaven proclaimed the Lamb worthy because “he redeemed unto God by his blood men from every nation and made them a kingdom, priests to our God, and they reign on the earth” (5:9-10).
At the end of the thousand years, Satan is “loosed from the Abyss” so he can “go out to deceive the nations from the four corners” of the globe and gather them to “ascend over the breadth of the earth to encompass the saints.” All this is to no avail; “fire descends out of heaven to devour them” as they assemble for the final assault (20:7-9).
When John saw a vision of the heavenly throne room he described how “out of the throne proceeded flashes of lightning, voices, and thunders” (4:5). This colorful picture repeats three more times in Revelation.
At the end of the Seven Seals and the start of the Seven Trumpets an angel cast a censer filled with the fire upon the earth; there followed “thunders, and voices, and flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (8:5). Note the addition of an “earthquake.”
When the Seventh Trumpet sounded John saw the temple of God in heaven in which was “the ark of his covenant, and there followed flashes of lightning, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake and great hail” (11:19). Note the addition of “earthquake” and “great hail” to the sequence.
At the end of the Seven Vials of Wrath John again saw “flashes of lightning, voices, and thunders,” along with “a great earthquake, such as was not since there were men upon the earth, so great an earthquake” (16:18-21). Once more men were plagued with hail, “a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, for it was exceeding great.”
The flashes of lightning, voices, and thunders occur four times and are linked with God’s judgments upon rebellious humanity. The phenomena do not just repeat and are not just for literary effect. Each time additional elements are added, earthquakes and hail, and with each new judgment series they intensify. There is both repetition and progress. 
There are too many verbal and conceptual parallels between Revelation’s different visions to be coincidental or simply for literary effect. John expects the astute listener to detect such clues for insight on each vision and how they all fit together (“they who hear” – 1:3).
For example, each of the three series of seven judgments (Seals, Trumpets, Vials) end in the final judgment, though specific details vary each time (6:12-21; 11:15-19; 16:17-21). Will there be three “final” judgments or is Revelation looking at the same event from different aspects; three final battles or one, etc.?
To read Revelation’s visions as if they are laid out in neat linear sequence with events in strictly chronological order is to miss the larger picture and the true significance of the book’s picture.

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