Linear Chronological Sequencing?

SYNOPSIS:  To read Revelation’s visions as if they are laid out in a neat linear sequence with events in strict chronological order is to miss the larger picture and the true significance of the book.

Photo by 泽新 李 on Unsplash
Photo by 泽新 李 on Unsplash
Some interpretations assume the visions of Revelation are presented in chronological sequence as they unfold; however, this view becomes problematic when events and patterns are repeated over several 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. Yet the final day also arrives when the “Seventh Trumpet” sounds and this world’s kingdoms become the kingdom of Christ. Likewise, the “Seventh Vial” results in the proclamation, “It is done.” Babylon falls while “every island and mountain is removed” (Revelation 6:12-17, 11:15-19, 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 that the book is an allegory about “timeless truths.” Its visions move forward to inevitable ends: final judgment, ultimate victory, New Creation. Likewise, the visions unveil events progressively; later ones have literary links to previous visions but 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 in the book; however, in the last instance the third clause is dropped (“He who is coming”). That is, by that time, 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 Chapter 38 is brief and allusive; in the second, the description becomes more extensive and recognizable (Revelation 16:12-16, 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” (Revelation 20:8-9).
Does the book present a strictly linear chronology from one vision to the next, or does it picture events in multiple ways? Put another way, Revelation is more concerned with “how” things develop than it is with “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 that wreaks havoc. In each instance, it is described with similar language. For example, 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. The Abyss is ruled by a destructive creature named “Abaddon” and “Apollyon” (Revelation 9:1-2).
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 signifying continuous action. The language is from Daniel where the prophet saw four “beasts” ascending from the sea.
The same picture is also used when describing a 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 13:1-11, Daniel 7:17; [“These great beasts are four kings that ascend out of the earth”]).
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 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 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.” He is poised to devour a figure called “son” (Greek huios) but finds himself thwarted when this “son” is caught up to God’s throne.
Believers who “overcome” in tribulation participate in Christ’s rule over the nations, 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, 2:26, 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. 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.” ALL THIS IS BASED ON CHRIST’S PAST DEATH (Revelation 12:7-11).
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” (Revelation 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” (Revelation 20:1-3). 
During the thousand years, “Judgment is given for” the 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.” 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” (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 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 (Revelation 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.” This colorful picture is repeated three more times in Revelation. Each time additional elements are added, earthquakes and hail, and with each new judgment series they intensify. 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 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. For example, each of the three series of seven judgments (Seals, Trumpets, Vials) end in the final judgment, though specific details vary each time. Will there be three “final” judgments or is Revelation looking at the same event from different aspects; three final battles or one, etc. (Revelation 6:12-21; 11:15-19; 16:17-21)? To read Revelation’s visions as if they are laid out in a neat linear sequence with events in a strict chronological order is to miss the larger picture and the true significance of the book.


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