Linear Chronological Sequence?

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

Big Ben - Photo by Jurica Koletić on Unsplash
Are
Revelation’s visions presented in chronological sequence as they unfold? If we assume this to be the case, 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 same events also occur when the seventh trumpet sounds - [Photo by Jurica Koletić on Unsplash].

Likewise, the outpouring of the “seventh bowl of wrath” results in the proclamation, “It is done,” referring to the “wrath of God” that is completed by the “seven bowls of wrath.” And in the “seventh bowl,” Babylon falls, and “every island and mountain was removed,” another picture of terrestrial upheaval.

The repetition of terms and imagery across multiple visions raises the question: Is Revelation describing multiple “final” judgments, multiple “days of the Lord,” or is the same set of events pictured from different perspectives?

PROGRESSIVE REVELATION

This does not mean the book is an allegory about “timeless truths.” Its visions move forward to inevitable conclusions: Final judgment, ultimate victory, and New Creation. Likewise, the visions unveil events progressively. Later ones have literary links to previous visions, but also provide more 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 stanza is dropped (“He who is coming”). That is, God has arrived, and therefore, 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 from Ezekiel is brief and allusive. In the second, the description becomes more recognizable. The invading force is identified as “all the kings of the earth and their armies.” And, in the third instance, the language becomes 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 from a dark place 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.” The Abyss is ruled by the destructive creature named “Abaddon” and “Apollyon” - (Revelation 9:1-2).

In the vision of the “two witnesses,” the “beastascends (anabainon) out of the Abyss to make war with the witnesses. The language is from Daniel when the prophet saw four “beastsascending from the sea. The same language is also used to describe the single “beast” that John sees “ascending” from the sea to “wage war” against the “saints.” This is followed by the second beast that “ascends from the earth” - (Revelation 13:1-18, Daniel 7:17).

The “beast” is described again as it is 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 forbidding place (Abyss, sea, earth) to wage war against the “saints.”

DOWNFALL OF SATAN

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 the death of Jesus, “Michael and his angels” defeat “the dragon” who is “cast” (Greek ballō) out of heaven 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, the 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 WAS BASED ON CHRIST’S DEATH - (Revelation 12:1-11).

Satan is described as the one “who deceives the whole habitable earthbefore he was 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).

In chapter 20, the “angel” lays hold of the “dragon, the old serpent, the Devil and Satan to cast (ballō) him into the Abyss” for 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 go out and “deceive the nations from the four corners” of the globe and gather them to “ascend over the breadth of the earth to encompass the camp of the saints.” All this is to no avail for “fire descends out of heaven and devours them” as they assemble for the final assault against the church - (Revelation 20:7-9).

VERBAL 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 must be 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 sees that “out of the throne proceeds flashes of lightning, voices, and thunders.” The picture is repeated three more times, and each time, additional elements are added, including 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 of Revelation to be coincidental. John expects us to detect these clues for insight into each vision and how they all fit together. To read these visions as if they are laid out in a neat chronological order is to miss the larger picture and their true significance.



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