The Structure of Revelation

As we look over the book of Revelation, one thing is quite clear; it is divided into two major sections:

Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.

Revelation 1:19

We know that there are two sections, the first of which comprising “what is now” and the second “what will take place later”. It should be obvious that when Jesus is quoted here as referring to “what is now” He is referring to “now” when He said it to John and not when you read it today. I marvel at how many scholars miss this simple, elementary and blatantly obvious fact of grammar. Thus, “what will take place later” means any time after He said it; this could be in a few hours, a few days, or a few centuries or millennia; it is an indefinite period of time.

The textual break between these two comes between 3:22 and 4:1. The seven churches that John is directed to write to exist as this scene unfolds; John knows these churches himself. He writes down the message for each and sends them off to their destinations: Present action.

So far, then, we have two sections in the book: chapters 1-3 being “what is now” and 4-22 “what will come later”.

As we look through the book, we also notice something else; it is comprised of a series of visions, and not one long continuous vision. I’ll point out the distinctions as we go along, but for now we should note that there are seven visions in total. Seven… what and interesting number! Seven is the number of completeness; The Revelation is comprised of seven visions, thus it is the complete revelation of Jesus Christ to the seven churches, thus we can say it is the complete revelation to the whole church.

The break points of the seven visions are as follows:

  1. Christ in the midst of the lampstands (1:9-3:22)
  2. The throne in heaven and the seven seals (4:1- 7:17)
  3. The seven trumpets (8:1-11:19)
  4. The persecuting dragon (12:1-14:20)
  5. The seven bowls (15:1-16:21)
  6. The fall of Babylon (17:1-19:21)
  7. The great consummation (20:1-22:21)

Before I wind up this relatively short post, you might find it interesting to note how many times the number “seven” appears in this list of seven visions. Since seven is the number of completeness, what do you think we can glean from its being here so often?

As at least one person has commented already, numbers in Revelation are very important. I’ll put together a Bonus Post on the symbolic significance of numbers in this book just as soon as I have an extra few minutes; be looking for it soon. Our next post will begin our investigation of the Revelation text; see you then!

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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12 Responses to The Structure of Revelation

  1. g says:

    In Revelations 1:19, does ‘seen’ refer to the vision in1:12ff? how does ‘seen’ relate to ‘the things which are’?

    • Don Merritt says:

      “does ‘seen’ refer to the vision in1:12ff?”

      Yes, he was seeing them at the time Jesus spoke to these words to him.

      “how does ‘seen’ relate to ‘the things which are’?”

      The things that “are” are in chs. 2 and 3 which are a continuation of what Jesus is telling him in 1:19. Here’s the timeline: John sees an amazing vision of Jesus (1:12-16). John immediately falls down (1:17a) and Jesus, in the vision still, begins to speak (1:17b-1:20). Still speaking in the vision, Jesus dictates letters to the 7 churches (2:1-3:21). In 4:1 a new vision opens… 1:12-3:21 is what “is” and the rest is what will come.

      I hope that helps!

  2. John says:

    Hi Don,

    When looking at the Greek, it seems Rev 1:19 conveys more of a meaning of “things that are about to take place after these” according to the references here and here. This also seems to align with the bookend “soon” terminology of chapters 1 and 22:

    1:1—things which must happen soon
    1:3—the time is at hand

    22:7—Behold, I come quickly
    22:12—Behold, I come quickly
    22:20—Yes, I come quickly

    John’s Revelation seems to be an expansion of the Olivet Discourse in Matt, Mark, and Luke. These all seem to point to a specific time frame that Jesus also appears to have affirmed earlier both in the discourse and throughout the Gospels (ex Matt 16:27-28; Matt 23:35-39; Matt 24:1-3, 34). As well, it seems the apostles’ letters were pointing to this soon timing also (ex 1 Thess 5:2, 4; 2 Tim 1:12, 18, 4:8; 1 Cor 1:8, 5:5; Phil 2:11; 2 Peter 2:9, 3:7, 12; Acts 2:20, Jude 1:6, 16:14; Rom 2:5; 1 John 4:17; Eph 4:30).

    It seems that the 1st century Christians were all looking for an imminent “Lord’s Day” as also seems intimated in Rev 1:10. This appears to reference the “Great and Terrible Day of the Lord” as listed out in the above references, but not Sunday.

    This is what I’ve come to understand as I’ve studied these scriptures. I understand this can be quite a heretical view, but I felt compelled to share this as it was critical to my personal view of how much of the Biblical prophecies unfolded. The soon terminology seems to be specific as to when the symbolic events would take place. Based on the internal evidence, this leads me to believe that Revelations was written during, if not before, Nero’s reign. The 90’s AD theory doesn’t seem to have enough evidence as it was third/fourth hand (Eusebius reporting on Ireneaus reporting on Polycarp who may have known John).

    Additionally, I don’t really hold to a “soon and not yet” view as this stretches the meaning of otherwise direct scriptures in an unnatural way. If soon/quickly doesn’t mean just that, then we have a hard time reconciling any scripture as it can have quite a wide girth to its’ interpretation.

    I’ve learned a lot from reading your commentaries. While this may be one small point we disagree on, I look forward to your views on the rest of Revelation. I’m sorry this was kinda long. I tried to get to my main points as directly as possible :).

     

    With much love and respect,
    John

     

    • Don Merritt says:

      Thank you so much John for taking the time to comment thoughtfully on these points. Yep, we might disagree on one or two of them… and that is fine. I’m sure that those who read and consider them will be blessed.

      I look forward to hearing more as we continue on our adventure!

  3. Don, thank you again for the breaking points. Very helpful. Oh, and you’ll be getting into the parallels in Daniel as they come, won’t you?

  4. With all due respect to ‘John’, I believe that a more complete date-check will reveal that “Johns Revelation of Jesus Christ” was written prior to Nero’s reign. Just a minor thing to know, so no foul, no pain!
    My memory is telling me that John was released from Patmos in AD 86 and Nero’s reign started in AD 97.
    I stand to be corrected if anyone else has a better date.
    Looking forward to more !

    • Don Merritt says:

      I’m confident that if you double check your dates that you’ll discover that old Nero was assassinated on June 9, 68 AD and that John was on Patmos in the 90’s

  5. Please excuse my error. Perhaps my memory, along with my body, is aging.
    We can place the date of the beginning of The Great Fire of Rome at July 19, 64 AD. I cannot find any date of Nero’s assassination. However we all know that Roman Emperor’s didn’t last very long. So your June 9, 68 AD has legs !

  6. Please excuse my error. Perhaps my memory is fading. We can place the beginning of the Great Fire of Rome as starting on July 19, 64 AD. (Frederic William Farrar. Aug 7 1831-M<aR

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