Chronological Sequence

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

Timepiece - Photo by Alexey Savchenko on Unsplash
Are
Revelation’s visions presented in a neat chronological sequence as they unfold in each chapter? If we assume this to be true, things quickly become untenable as key events are repeated in multiple visions. For example, the sixth seal culminates in the final day of wrath accompanied by celestial and terrestrial upheaval, yet the “day of the Lord” and the judgment of the wicked occur also when the seventh trumpet sounds - [Photo by Alexey Savchenko on Unsplash].

Likewise, the outpouring of the “seventh bowl of wrath” produces the proclamation “It is done,” which refers to the “wrath of God” that is completed by the “seven bowls of wrath.” In the “seventh bowl,” Babylon falls, and “every island and mountain is removed,” another picture of terrestrial upheaval.

REPETITION

Key terms and images are repeated across multiple visions, and that raises the question - Is Revelation describing multiple “final” judgments, multiple “days of the Lord,” etc., or are the same events pictured 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 more details.

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

Information is revealed in stages. For example, the prophecy from Ezekiel about “Gog and Magog” is used in three separate visions. In the first instance, the language is brief and allusive. In the second case, the source of the description becomes more recognizable, though the invading force is identified as “all the kings of the earth and their armies.”

And in the third instance, the language is explicit. “Gog and Magog” are named, but they represent the “nations of the earth” in their final 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 in 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 was ruled by the destructive creature named “Abaddon” and “Apollyon” - (Revelation 9:1-2).

ABYSS AND ASCENT

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

The same language is also used when describing the single “beast” that “ascends” from the sea to “wage war” against the “saints.” This is followed by a second beast that “ascended from the earth” - (Revelation 13:1-18, Daniel 7:17).

The “beast” is described again “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.”

The common theme is the ascent of a malevolent being (demons, beast, false prophet, Satan) from a dark and deep place (Abyss, sea, earth) to wage war against the “saints.”

LAMB’S VICTORY

The downfall and “binding” of Satan are presented twice, each time with the same terms and imagery. In chapter 12, Satan is the “great dragon, the old serpent, the Devil and Satan,” the one “who deceives the whole habitable earth” who was poised to devour the “son,” but instead, he is thwarted when the “son” is caught up to the throne.

As a result of Christ’s death, “Michael and his angels” defeat “the dragon” who is “cast” (Greek ballō) to the earth. From that 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 WAS BASED ON CHRIST’S DEATH - (Revelation 12:1-11).

Satan is the one “who deceives the whole habitable earthbefore he is cast to the earth. After his downfall, he turns his fury against the woman who gave birth to the “son,” and then against the “remnant of her seed, they who have the testimony of Jesus Christ” - (Revelation 12:12-17).

Storm and Rainbow - Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash
[Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash]

In chapter 20, the “
angel” lays hold of the “dragon, the old serpent, the Devil and Satan to cast (ballō) him into the Abyss” the “thousand years.” The Devil is unable “to deceive the nations” until that period is completed, after which, he is “loosed for a little time” - (Revelation 20:1-6).

At the end of the “thousand years,” Satan is “loosed from the Abyss” to “deceive the nations from the four corners” of the globe, and to gather them to “ascend over the breadth of the earth to encompass the camp of the saints.” All this is of no avail for “fire descends out of heaven and devours them” as they assemble for their final assault against the church - (Revelation 20:7-9).

TOO MANY PARALLELS

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 are in view.  Note the following descriptions of the Devil and their verbal parallels:
  • (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 world, he 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 anymore until the thousand years should be ended.

In the vision of the heavenly Throne, John saw that “out of the throne proceeded flashes of lightning, voices, and thunders.” The picture is repeated three more times, and each time, additional elements are added, including earthquakes and hail. And 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 its visions.



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