Linear Chronological Sequence?

OVERVIEW - Are Revelation’s visions presented in chronological sequence? If so, how do we explain the many parallel descriptions that link them

Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash
Are the visions recorded in the book of Revelation presented in chronological sequence as they unfold? If we begin assuming this to be the case, it soon becomes untenable as certain events are repeated in two or more visions. For example, the opening of the sixth
 seal culminates in the final day of wrath accompanied by celestial and terrestrial upheaval, yet the final “day of the Lord” and the judgment of the wicked occur also when the seventh trumpet sounds - [Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash].


Likewise, the outpouring of the seventh bowl of wrath results in the proclamation - “It is done.” Babylon falls and “every island and mountain is removed,” another picture of terrestrial chaos. The repetition of terms and imagery across multiple visions raises the question: Is Revelation describing multiple “final” judgments or the same set of events from different perspectives?

This does not mean the book is an allegory about “timeless truths.” Its visions move forward to inevitable conclusions: Final judgment, ultimate victory, New Creation. Likewise, the visions unveil events progressively; later ones have literary links to previous visions, but also provide further details.

For example, God is the one “who is and who was and who is coming.” The clause is repeated three more times; however, in the last instance, the third clause is dropped (“He who is coming”). That is, in that visionary event, God has arrived and is no longer “coming” - (Revelation 1:4, 4:8, 11:17, 16:5).

Information is revealed in stages. Another example is the prophecy from Ezekiel about “Gog and Magog.” It is used in three separate visions. In the first case, language from Ezekiel is brief and allusive. In the second instance, the description becomes more recognizable. 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” is named; the image represents the “nations of the earth” as they attempt to annihilate the “saints” - (Revelation 16:12-16, 19:17-21, 20:8-9).

A repeated theme is the ascent of a malevolent figure that persecutes the “saints.” In each instance, it is described with similar terms. For example, the sounding of the fifth Trumpet causes a horde of locust-like beings to “ascend (anabainō) out of the Abyss” to torment men. The Abyss is ruled by a destructive creature named “Abaddon” and “Apollyon” - (Revelation 9:1-2).

In the vision of the two witnesses, the “beast” is seen ascending (anabainon) out of the Abyss to make war with the witnesses. The language is from the book of Daniel where the prophet saw four “beasts” ascending from the sea.

The same picture is also used when describing the single beast that John saw “ascending” from the sea to “wage war” against the “saints.” A second beast is next seen “ascending from the earth” - (Revelation 13:1-18, Daniel 7:17 - [“These great beasts are four kings that ascend out of the earth”]).

Once again, the beast is described again as “ascending out of the Abyss” in chapter 17. Finally, at the end of the thousand years, Satan is “loosed” from the Abyss to deceive the nations and lead them to “ascend over the breadth of the earth” against the “saints” - (Revelation 17:7-8, 20:7-9).

The common theme in the preceding passages is the ascent of a malevolent being (demons, beast, false prophet, Satan) from a dark and deep place (Abyssseaearth) to wage war against the two witnesses, the rider on the White Horse, the “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.” He is poised to devour a figure called “son,” but instead finds himself thwarted when the “son” is caught up to God’s throne.

As a result of the death of Jesus, “Michael and his angels” defeat “the dragon” who is then “cast” (Greek ballō) out of heaven and onto the earth. From this point, salvation, God’s kingdom, and Christ’s rule are declared “because the accuser of our brethren is cast down!” Therefore, saints “overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they loved not their life unto death.” ALL THIS IS BASED ON CHRIST’S PAST DEATH - (Revelation 12:1-11).

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,” then against the “remnant of her seedthey who have the testimony of Jesus Christ” - (Revelation 12:12-17).

In chapter 20, an “angel” lays hold of the “dragon, the old serpent, the Devil and Satan to cast (ballō) him into the Abyss,” in this case, for the “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” - (Revelation 20:1-6).

During the thousand years, “judgment is given for” the saints who overcame, an allusion to Daniel 7:21-22 (“judgment was given for the saints and the time came that they possessed the kingdom”). Those who suffered for “the testimony of Jesus” reign with him for the thousand years, as “priests of God and of Christ.”

Previously, the prologue declared that Jesus, “by his blood,” redeemed men to be “priests to his God.” Likewise, all heaven proclaimed him worthy because “he redeemed for God by his blood men from every nation and made them a kingdom, priests to our God, and they reign on the earth” - (Revelation 1:6, 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 to 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 - (Revelation 20:7-9).

The verbal parallels between the “casting down” of the “Dragon” following the victory of the “son,” and his imprisonment in the “Abyss” and later release are too close to be coincidental; on some level, the same realities must be in view.  Note the following descriptions of the Devil:

  • (Revelation 12:9) – “And the great dragon was cast out, the ancient serpent, he that is called Adversary and the Satan, that deceives the whole habitable worldhe was cast to the earth.
  • (Revelation 20:1-3) – “And he laid hold of the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is Adversary and the Accuser, and bound him for a thousand years, and cast him into the abyss, and fastened and sealed it over him, that he might not deceive the nations any more, until the thousand years should be ended.

In the vision of the heavenly Throne, John saw “out of the throne proceeded flashes of lightning, voices, and thunders.” This picture is repeated three more times. Each time, additional elements are added, such as earthquakes and hail. Each time, there is both repetition and progress - (Revelation 4:5, 8:5, 11:19, 16:18-21).

There are too many verbal and conceptual parallels between the different visions to be coincidental. John expects us to detect these clues for insight into each vision and how they all fit together.

To read the visions of Revelation as if they are laid out in a neat chronological order is to miss the larger picture and the true significance of the John’s visions.

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