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The Organization of the Revelation


What you see, write in a book. Revelation 1:11


The Revelation is a book of symbols.


It is an apokalupsis, a mystery given in the language of symbols. Jesus told John to write what he sees in a book. This is a clear indication that, for the most part, the contents of the book are visual, things that John actually saw. John refers to his experience in receiving this book as a vision: “What you SEE, write in a book.” Vision is defined as an act or power of perceiving what is not actually present to the eye, whether by some supernatural endowment or by natural intellectual acuteness. Another definition is a mental view or image.

We cannot be sure of how John actually experienced the vision. John tells us he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, which suggests that what happened to him was supernatural—in the spiritual realm and not the material realm. Was he in a trance and experiencing a dreamlike vision? The word vision in Greek gives the impression of physical sight, so did John see pictures projected in the air or on the wall of his cell? We cannot know and it is best if we do not speculate; but, we accept his testimony that he saw things in the forms of symbols and he recorded those things in a book we call the Book of Revelation that is now part of our Bible.


The Book of Revelation is Organized


The book written by John is not a series of unconnected ramblings; it is organized into a structure that supports the interpretations of the symbols and gives meaning to the overall Revelation. The Revelation is not one continuous sequence from beginning to end; instead, it is a series of distinct visions, each being one division of the overall prophecy. It must always be remembered that the Book of Revelation is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, and, as such, we must always be looking for how and in what connections Christ is revealed in the different divisions of the prophecy. The vision is laid out in groupings of symbols according to topics or subject-matter and not necessarily according to chronological order.


The Book of Revelation is divided into seven basic divisions.


1. Chapters 1–3. In these chapters we see the glorified Christ and the letters to the seven churches of Asia. Christ is revealed as the great head of his church that is symbolized by the seven lampstands. And in this section He sends letters to the angels of each of the seven identified churches of Asia with special messages relevant to each church.

2. Chapters 4–7. Here we have the vision of heaven and the throne of God. Christ appears here, not as the head of His church, but as “a Lamb as though it had been slain”. In thee chapters He ascends to the throne and receives the book sealed with seven seals. We see Christ as the Lord and Redeemer, receiving the Kingdom He earned by His redemptive work. On His throne, he proceeds to exercise His authority by successively opening the seals of the book.

3. Chapters 7–11. These chapters contain the vision of the seven trumpets. The purpose of a trumpet in prophecy is to sound a loud, far-reaching warning to men and nations to take heed to their ways. In this division, Christ appears as a mighty angel, ministering at the golden altar and receiving much incense through the prayers of the saints.

4. Chapters 12–14. These chapters contain the vision of the four animals, which are a great red dragon, the leopard-like beast of the sea, the lamb-like beast of the earth, and the Lamb on Mount Zion. Christ is revealed in His body, the church, first as the woman, the man-child, and the rest of her offspring; and, second, as the Lamb on Mount Zion.

5. Chapters 15–18. In these chapters we find that the rule of rebellious mankind reaches its height under the reign of the woman on the scarlet beast. The outpouring of the seven vials, seven bowls of God’s wrath, overthrows the kingdom of the beast resulting in the fall of Babylon. In this division Christ is seen as One like the Son of Man.

6. Chapters 19–20. Here is seen the marriage of the Lamb and the joys of heaven that follow. Christ is seen under four titles: The Faithful and True, The Word of God, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.

7. Chapters 21–22. Here is the vision of the new heaven and new earth. In this division there is no symbolic representation of Christ. However, we are told that the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of the Holy City, and that the Lamb is the light thereof. Finally, at the very end we hear the voice of Christ affirming once more that He is Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.

In addition to these seven divisions, it can also be seen that the Revelation is made up of five distinct series or groups each containing seven elements. Each group is separate and distinct from the others: The Seven Churches, Chapters 2–3; The Seven Seals, Chapters 4–8; The Seven Trumpets, Chapters 8–11; The Seven Visions of Chapter 14; and, The Seven Vials or Bowls of God’s Wrath, Chapter 16.


Other Visions


In addition to these five series or groups there are other visions introduced along the way that have a special bearing upon what follows the appearance of each vision.

The vision of Christ in the midst of the seven lampstands in Chapter 1 introduces the letters to the seven churches.

The vision of the throne in heaven, Chapters 4 and 5, introduces the seven seals.

The vision of the sealing of the 144,000 in Chapter 7 pertains to the day of wrath (6th seal) and the restraining of the four winds while the elect are gathered out.

The vision of the angel at the golden altar introduces the seven trumpets.

The vision of the mighty Angel whose face was like the sun, Chapter 10, introduces the era of the Seventh Trumpet.

The vision of the measuring of the temple of God, Chapter 11, precedes the sounding of the seventh trumpet.

The vision of the sun-clothed woman in Chapter 12 leads to the vision of the ten-horned beast that rose up out of the sea and the two-horned beast that rose up out of the earth in Chapter 13.

The vision of the company standing on the sea of glass in Chapter 15 introduces the seven vials.

The vision of the woman on the ten-horned beast in Chapter 17 gives further details on the reign of the beast.

The vision of the fall of Babylon in Chapter 17 helps us to know more about the day of wrath.

The vision of the marriage of the Lamb in Chapter 19 introduces the coming of Christ in judgment to execute vengeance on His enemies and then to reign with His saints for 1000 years.

And, finally, the vision of the New Jerusalem appears in Chapter 21.


The five groups of seven series deal with two different realms


The five groups of seven series deal with two different realms: the church and the unregenerate world. The church is symbolized by heaven and the unregenerate world is symbolized by the earth.

The first series, the letters to the seven churches concerns spiritual matters pertaining to the church. The letters are not visions as are the other four groups. Instead they are given in ordinary language and not in symbols, although they do contain many figurative expressions.

The seven seals is actually an all-inclusive series as the three remaining series are contained within the scope of the seven seals. The seals extend from the time Christ ascended into heaven and occupied the throne of God down to the sabbath-silence in heaven at the opening of the seventh seal. The seals are differentiated from the other series by the fact that each seal is introduced by an action of the Lamb whereas the progressive stages of the other series are introduced through the intervention of angels.

The trumpet series is characterized by warnings in the form of catastrophic events. God’s intended goal in this series is to bring men to repentance.

The visions of Chapter 14 give us a look into the spiritual side of creation as it approaches the time of the end.

The vials are an expression of God’s wrath occurring during the days of the angel that comes out from the altar in Chapter 14.

The organization of the Book of Revelation as discussed here will be the outline or pattern for our study. We will follow a chapter by chapter and verse by verse methodology in this study. There may be incidents where we will refer to something in a later chapter of the book, but that will be for the purpose of clarifying a particular point we are considering at the moment.


The date of the Revelation


In closing this lecture, I want to take just a moment to comment on the date of the writing of the Revelation. There are essentially two schools of thought among Revelation theorists as to when John wrote the book. The Preterists believe the Revelation is a vialed commentary on the persecution of the Church prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened in 70 a.d. Of necessity, the Preterits date the Revelation to some time prior to 70 a.d. Historicists and Millennialists agree that the date of the Revelation had to be some time close to the end of the First Century a.d.

We know from Revelation 1:9 that the Apostle John was a prisoner on the Isle of Patmos. Patmos is a small, rocky island of about 50 square miles in the Aegean Sea lying off the coast of Asia Minor SW of Ephesus and almost 50 miles due west of Miletus. Christians were considered criminals during the reign of Emperor Domitian, who reigned from a.d. 81–96. It is believed that John was banished to Patmos in a.d. 95 and was probably held prisoner there for 18 months.

When Jesus told John to write the things he has “seen, the things which ARE, and the things which will take place after this”, the “ARE” indicates the present time in which John was on Patmos and it identifies the date for the Book of Revelation and the commencement of the visions as near the end of the First Century a.d.