Where the world comes to study the Bible

Revelation: Introduction, Argument and Outline

Related Media

I. Introduction

A. The Author

Although the author identifies himself as “John” (1:9), there is no indication as to which John is meant. It has been assumed traditionally that the author was John the apostle. The evidence, both for and against apostolic authorship, is as follows.

1. External Evidence

a. Against Apostolic Authorship
1) Dionysius

Although most ancient church authorities held to apostolic authorship, some did not, particularly Dionysius of Alexandria. By comparing the Gospel of John with the Revelation, Dionysius came to the conclusion that they could not both be authored by the same man. Since he already embraced apostolic authorship for the Fourth Gospel, he had to deny it for the Apocalypse. What Dionysius is not telling us is the motivation behind the rejection. But as Walvoord has stated, “The arguments for rejecting the apostolic authorship stem largely from the theological climate of the third century. At that time the Alexandrian School of Theology, including Dionysius, opposed the doctrine of the millennial kingdom which is plainly taught in chapter 20 with its reference to the thousand years.”2

But was Dionysius right? Guthrie gives three reasons why Dionysius’ testimony ought to be discounted.

(1) Dionysius’ criticisms “are not based on ancient testimony, but on subjective judgment. They, therefore, derive no value from the fact that a third-century Christian made them, having, indeed, no more value than a twentieth-century critic’s assessment of the differences.”3

(2) “Dionysius’ statements about the Greek tend to be misleading for he seems to have overlooked the Semitic flavoring behind the Greek of the Gospel, and his opinion on the inaccuracies of the Apocalypse does not stand up to modern critical judgment, which generally admits that the grammatical deviations are not due to ignorance.”4

(3) “Dionysius’ alternative suggestion does not inspire confidence, for his ‘second John’ has remarkably flimsy testimony to his existence.”5

On almost every front, Guthrie has overstated his case. We shall take the second point first, then lump the first and third together. It should be noted here, however, that Dionysius has actually based his case (regardless of his motive) on both internal and external evidence. Indeed, his case is so strong that for some time I was persuaded by it!

First, in assessing the linguistic problem, Guthrie is dealing with Dionysius’ statement that whoever wrote the Apocalypse could not have authored the Gospel, because the Greek of the Apocalypse is so different, indeed, so bad (Dionysius calls it “barbarous”), while the Greek of the Fourth Gospel is relatively good Greek. Guthrie paints a uniform picture of modern opinion which is far from uniform: the Greek of the Fourth Gospel is, according to several scholars, very good Greek with almost no trace of Semitisms,6 and the solecistic Greek of the Apocalypse cannot be reduced, at all times, to intention.7

Second, although Dionysius does not state it explicitly, he is basing his opinion on ancient inference. That is, he has more than likely adopted a certain reading of Papias’ famous statement about “the elder John,” inferring that this John is different than the apostle. It is appropriate at this juncture to turn to Papias’ comment, since so much really hinges on it.

2) Papias

Although Papias’ statement says nothing about the authorship of the Revelation, it does seem to open up the possibility that two well-known Johns were living in Ephesus. In the Fragments of Papias 2:3-4 he says this:8

(2:3) But I will not shrink back [from telling] you even as many things as I have already well learned from the elders—and [as many things as] I have ably remembered to arrange systematically by interpretation,9 while [at the same time] confirming the truth concerning them. For I was not pleased with those who say many things (even though such is popular with the masses10), but with those who teach the truth. Nor was I pleased with those who remember the other commandments, but [only] with those who [remember the commandments] from the Lord which have been given in faith and which come from it in truth.

(2:4) But if somewhere someone would come11 who has heeded the elders, [let it be known that] I [too] have often examined the words of the elders—[namely,] what Andrew or Peter or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples had said, even what Aristion and the elder John, the Lord’s disciples, were presently saying. For I did not entertain [the idea that] the words from books would benefit me nearly as much as those from a living and abiding voice.

This famous passage, quoted in Eusebius, HE 3.38.4, has been used a solid proof that John the apostle and John the elder were not the same person, and that John the elder wrote the Apocalypse (cf. HE 3.38.5f.). Although Guthrie very much overstates the case against such “solid proof,” there is some possibility that both mentions of John refer to one and the same individual. The evidence for this is as follows.

(1) First, it should be noted that only two titles are given here—elder and disciple (not apostle). Both mentions of John, indirectly or directly, ascribe such a title to the man. Thus, ‘elder John’ is not a title of inferior rank, because Papias does not here refer to ‘apostle Peter,’ etc.

(2) The second mention of John is the only name in the list to have the definite article (ὁ πρεσβύτερος  ᾿Ιωάννης). The article could well be anaphoric. (Although one would expect the article with πρεσβύτερος, if Papias were introducing him for the first time the most natural way to do so would be with the third attributive position: jΙωάννης ὁ πρεσβύτερος). Still, in all fairness, the article is not obviously anaphoric and one might naturally expect some kind of qualifier if Papias wished to identify clearly one John with the other.

(3) As I. T. Beckwith states, the elder John “has quite commonly been identified with John the apostle, because he is here called, as the text stands, the disciple of the Lord, and no other John is known among the Lord’s personal disciples in the New Testament, or, apart from this fragment of Papias, in the tradition of the first three centuries” (Apocalypse, 363). Of course, no one by the name of Aristion is listed among the personal disciples of the Lord, except here, so this argument may not be as compelling as it at first appears. (Further, as Beckwith admits, the second group can hardly be said to be personal disciples of the Lord, for Papias speaks of them as still speaking [λέγουσω] in c. AD 125—that is, assuming that εἶπεν and λέγουσω are not verbs retained in indirect discourse (which is precisely how we have translated them).

(4) There is the possibility that Papias meant to treat the first group collectively as Gospel writers (even though only Matthew and John technically belonged in this group, and the second group as disciples of the Lord whom he had known personally. He seems to imply this in the sentence which follows. If so, then in a sense Papias is dealing not only with two different ‘Johns,’ but two different kinds of ‘John’— the Gospel (written voice) and the person (living voice). There would therefore be no need for him to tighten the link (even though the Fourth Gospel would have been written by the ‘living voice’—especially if the ‘living voice’ were more precious.

(5) Finally, Larfield (Die beiden Johannes von Ephesus [1914], 113-36) has argued for a textual emendation (see Beckwith, 365, for a summary) which may also resolve the tension.

It is not our intention here to interact with these arguments, nor even to present them in full detail; we simply wanted to sketch a framework of how Papias’ statement might be taken in a different way. Nevertheless, it should be here pointed out that (1) there is some doubt that Papias actually mentions two men by the name of John, even though Dionysius probably took his starting point from this statement. (2) Even if Papias did speak of two by the name of John, this proves nothing as to the authorship of the Apocalypse. The case ultimately must be settled on other grounds.

b. For Apostolic Authorship

The list of patristic writers who accepted apostolic authorship is impressive and early: Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Hippolytus. That Origen is in the list is especially significant, since he, like Dionysius, was from the Alexandrian school. As Guthrie has pointed out, “there are few books in the New Testament with stronger early attestation.”12 Still, it should be mentioned here that the Revelation, even with all this support, struggled for canonicity longer than virtually any other NT book. It was resisted, however, not primarily over questions of authorship, but over questions of theological perspective—viz., its chiliasm.

2. Internal Evidence

Internally, the evidence is not so strong for apostolic authorship. This is, quite frankly, what tips the scales for most scholars today.

a. For Apostolic Authorship

There are essentially three internal arguments for apostolicity.

1) From within the Apocalypse. First, he is known by name alone to the seven churches to which he writes. Such would be more believable if the work were written by the apostle. Second, he expects the churches to respond favorably and obediently to his writing, for he speaks with authority (cf. 1:3; 22:9, 18ff.).13 Third, although he writes in the genre of ancient Jewish apocalypses, there is one thing unique about his work: while the Jewish apocalypses were ascribed to great men of an age long ago (e.g., Enoch, Ezra, Baruch), this author simply identifies himself as “John your brother.”14

2) From Synoptic Descriptions of John. Known as one of the “Sons of Thunder,” it is possible to see his real character coming out in this work. Guthrie makes much of this, though he makes little or no comment that much in the Revelation is due to the very nature of apocalyptic.

3) From a Comparison with Other Johannine Literature. This really is the strongest argument for common authorship. There are very strong similarities between this work and the Fourth Gospel especially. Both have common ideas, common theological motifs, common terms. For example, only in the Fourth Gospel and in Revelation is λόγος used of Christ. Further, the symbolic use of seven repeated in this work is found in John as part of his argument (seven signs, seven “I AM” statements, etc.). Indeed, one could well say that the Revelation is closer in thought and verbiage to the Fourth Gospel than it is to any other book in the NT canon.

b. Against Apostolic Authorship

There are likewise three arguments against apostolic authorship.

1) Historical Difficulties. There are conflicting reports in the ancient world about the apostle John’s death. Further, if this work is to be dated toward the end of the first century—and even if the apostle were still alive at that time—could such an old man have written in such a vivid way? Not much weight should really be given to this consideration, however, because the tradition of John’s early death is rather soft, and since we do not know how old he was when called as a disciple (he may have been in his early 20s, perhaps even younger), we cannot comment on his virility in the 90s.

2) Theological Difficulties. Much stronger than the historical problem is the theological one. The trinitarian emphases of the Seer of Patmos are quite different than those of the evangelist. God is Creator, Christ is a warrior, and the Spirit is not one, but seven (1:4). These differences are not that significant when one considers the genre and purpose of the book. But there is one theological difference which is very significant.

Whereas the Fourth Gospel embraces virtually a realized eschatology, the Apocalypse is quite adamant for a futuristic eschatology. It would, in fact, be difficult to find two more extreme eschatological perspectives in the canon. The eschatology of the evangelist is “already,” that of the apocalyptist, “not yet,” while most of the rest of the NT authors held the tension of “already, not yet.” This consideration, coupled with the linguistic argument, admittedly persuaded me for a time. I found it almost inconceivable that the author of the Gospel could ever show any interest in a futuristic eschatology. But once it is established that the evangelist also probably wrote the three Johannine epistles, one can see how he could evolve in his eschatological statements. Indeed, in our historical reconstruction, we suggested that the Gospel of John was written just prior to the outbreak of the Jewish War, the three epistles of John were written during the War, and the Revelation was written quite a bit after the War. The Jewish War surely had an impact on John’s perception and presentation, and if he wrote the Revelation 30 years later, he would have time to reflect on this (for him) new theological motif. Further, if this work was written during Domitian’s reign of terror, the writer could easily envision at least an earnest fulfillment, if not the end times, taking place before his eyes. In the last analysis, the theological differences cannot be taken to be opposed to one another, although they strongly suggest a different time frame. The apostle may well be the author, therefore, of both works.

3) Linguistic Difficulties. Grammatical solecisms in Revelation abound! “The writer seems on the surface to be unacquainted with the elementary laws of concord. He places nominatives in opposition [sic] to other cases, irregularly uses participles, constructs broken sentences, adds unnecessary pronouns, mixes up genders, numbers and cases and introduces several unusual constructions. That the grammatical usages of this book differ from those of the Gospel would seem to be demonstrated beyond doubt. But the real problem is whether one mind could adopt these different usages.”15

Regarding the linguistic problem, it would seem virtually impossible for the same mind to have composed both the Gospel and the Apocalypse within a few years of each other. It is not just the linguistic difference, but also the difference in the use of scripture. Most scholars who adopt apostolic authorship of both books would argue that Revelation was written first, then several years later, John. Their argument is that it took time for the apostle to clean up his Greek. But this kind of reasoning is fallacious on two counts: (1) it ignores the psychological problem: would not a man in, say, his 50s already have a fixed way of speaking and thinking? Is it likely that he would clean up his language over the next thirty years, if he had spoken and written in a certain way for over half a century? (2) This view assumes that the Greek of the Apocalypse is due to the author’s ignorance of Greek syntax, when in fact other factors might be involved.

We agree that there is extreme improbability of John having written both books at relatively the same time. The linguistic evidence (as well as use of scripture) compels us in this direction. But we would like to posit another view: as the apostle aged, the language of the OT scriptures became part of the warp and woof of his vocabulary. We believe he wrote the Gospel in the 60s. Thirty years later, after shepherding the flocks in Asia Minor, John’s very language could easily have been strongly impacted by the scriptures he proclaimed. This would be akin to an old preacher using the King James Version all his life. By the time he is old he hardly knows the modern idioms! In the Revelation there are as many as 460 allusions to the OT, though not one direct, formal quotation. It is, in fact, our conviction that these very allusions often, if not normally, picked up the original syntax of the OT passage he was employing, even though such syntax would now be discordant with the context of his own writing (cf. 1:4-5, etc.). Much of this was intentional; much of it was not. But as John aged, biblical language became part of the very fabric of his own linguistic structure.

In conclusion, we think that the balance of evidence is still for apostolic authorship, though the time when the apostle wrote the Fourth Gospel must almost surely precede the time of his writing the Apocalypse by several years. It is fitting that John the apostle would be the author of the Apocalypse. Adolph Schlatter, “who accepted apostolic authorship for all the Johannine writings, pointed out that no other apostle has given so complete a presentation—faith in the Gospel, love in the Epistles, hope in the Apocalypse.”16 We might add here that since John apparently knew the Lord more intimately than the other disciples in Christ’s first coming, it seems appropriate that he would also be chosen to see him in his second coming in a most intimate way. In fact, on the analogy of Jesus’ words in Matt 16:28, which were fulfilled in the Transfiguration (17:1ff.), it may well be that John’s Revelation of Jesus Christ is a kind of fulfillment of John 21:21-23.

B. Date

Rather than get into all the details of date, we believe that this book was written during the reign of Domitian (c. 95-96 CE), rather than during Nero’s reign. Although a good case could be made for a Neronic date (so Robinson), in light of our discussion about apostolic authorship coupled with the linguistic differences from the Fourth Gospel, we would much prefer the traditional dating (since we are already convinced of a 60s date for the Gospel).17

C. Destination

The Apocalypse was written to seven churches on the mainland of Asia Minor. Though some scholars would like to see these seven churches as representative of seven different ages in church history, there is no justification for this view arising either from the text itself, or from church history. These seven churches, however, may have been selected because they represent the types of churches and Christians which John knew and ministered to.

D. Occasion and Purpose

1. Occasion

The occasion for this work was most certainly the heating up of the state persecution against Christians (1:9). If this is Domitianic persecution, the Seer of Patmos may well be wondering how far off the final eschaton was. Most likely, he believed that the persecutions he was presently undergoing indicated that the end of the age was just around the corner. As it turned out, they were a second wave of earnest fulfillments (just as Hadrian’s leveling of Jerusalem in 135 CE would be a third wave, etc.). But the eschatological hope was always present with the writers of the NT—particularly during troubled times, just as the need for perseverance was always present.

2. Purpose

The Revelation was intended to encourage believers in the midst of Roman persecution, by revealing that their Messiah was in control and would be the ultimate victor. In light of the present circumstances, even though I adopt a futuristic reading of this work, there is much to be said for the preterist view. In the least, John is using his present circumstances as a backdrop for the interpretation of the text, and at most, he himself might have written his tome in the way he did because he thought that the final days had dawned. In light of this purpose, one who interprets the book of Revelation according to the narrow blinders of one school of thought misses much of the intended wealth of this book.18

E. Schools of Interpretation19

There are four schools of interpretation (in terms of the chronological scheme seen in the book, not in terms of eschatological schools per se): preterist, historicist, futurist, and idealist.

(1) The preterist approach believes that “Revelation is simply a sketch of the conditions of the empire in the first century.”20 Although, as we have mentioned, one cannot divorce the interpretation of this book from its occasion (hence, justifying certain elements of this approach), this view cannot adequately handle all the data of Revelation, for the author makes plain that this work is a work describing the future (cf. 4:1).

(2) The historicist view (or continuous-historicist view) “contends that Revelation is a symbolic presentation of the entire course of the history of the church from the close of the first century to the end of time.”21 But there are several problems with this view. “First, the exact identification of the events of history with successive symbols has never been finally achieved, even after the events occurred. ... Second, historical interpreters have not satisfactorily explained why a general prophecy should be confined to the fortunes of the western Roman empire.... Third, if the continuous-historical method is valid, its predictions would have been sufficiently plain at the outset to give the [original] reader some inkling of what they meant [cf. 22:10].”22

(3) The futurist approach usually argues that “all of the visions from Revelation 4:1 to the end of the book are yet to be fulfilled in the period immediately preceding and following the second advent of Christ.”23 There is much to warrant this approach as the primary one, especially (1) the probability that 1:19 is intended to give the outline to the book; (2) the terminus ad quem of Christ’s second coming virtually demands this, since “as the events lead up to this terminus in close succession, one may reason backward and say that the bulk of these events must still be future since the consummation with which they are associated has not yet been attained and since the symbols seem to call for a rapid succession of acts rather than for a protracted process”;24 and (3) “the more literal an interpretation that one adopts, the more strongly will he be construed to be a futurist.”25

(4) In the idealist approach, “the Revelation represents the eternal conflict of good and evil which persists in every age, although here it may have particular application to the period of the church.”26 But like the preterist view, this approach does not do justice to the predictive elements in the book. At bottom, “the idealist view does contain much that is true. Its flaw is not so much in what it affirms as in what it denies.”27

Our approach to the Revelation is basically from the futurist perspective, though the preterist and idealist schools cannot be fully discounted since this seems also to have been part of the author’s purpose.

E. Theme

The theme of this book is stated in the first verse: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” It is a revelation both from him and about him, and it is principally a revelation of him as the coming warrior and king. In essence, this book says: “Jesus is going to win!”

II. Argument

John begins this seven-fold apocalyptic letter by declaring the source of the revelation of this book (1:1-3), followed by a salutation to seven churches in Asia Minor (1:4-8).

This is immediately followed by a vision of the glorified Christ (1:9-20) in which an outline of the book is uttered (1:19), viz., things past (1:1-20), things present (2:1–3:22), and things to come (4:1–22:21). After establishing the setting (1:9-11), John discloses a magnificent and terrifying sense of the resurrected and glorified Christ (1:12-16). Like Isaiah of old (cf. Isa 6), because John had a clear vision of God he gained a deep sense of sin (cf. 1:17). The glorified Lord then commissioned him to write this book (1:19-20).

The second section is occupied with the Lord’s messages to seven churches—the things present (2:1–3:22). A brief message, usually containing a rebuke and a promise, and always containing a self-description of the glorified Lord, was sent to: Ephesus (2:1-7), Smyrna (2:8-11), Pergamum (2:12-17), Thyatira (2:8-29), Sardis (3:1-6), Philadelphia (3:7-13), and Laodicea (3:14-22).

The largest section of the book deals with things future, or the consummation of all things (4:1–22:21). John begins with an introductory scene in heaven (4:1–5:14), revealing both the holy glory of God (4:1-11) and the redemptive work of the Lamb, the Lion from the tribe of Judah (5:1-14). Since the visions to follow will be horrific in their disclosure both of man’s depravity and God’s judgment, these twin themes needed to be shown to the apostle in a different light first. Thus John is introduced to the tribulation period (4:1–18:24) by first getting a dose of God’s holiness and the cost of redemption. Only in this light could he see the following visions properly.

Then follows a series of judgments, all grouped in sevens. The first group of judgments is the seven seal judgments (6:1–8:1), though they come in two waves. The first six are detailed (6:1-17), followed by a parenthetical section (7:1-17). In this parenthesis the sealing of 144,000 Israelites (7:1-8) and the worship of an innumerable number of (presumably Gentile) converts, tribulation martyrs (7:9-17), is revealed. In the midst of the outpouring of God’s wrath in the form of seven seals, this vision of hope and salvation emerges. Once again, the motifs of God’s holiness (7:15-16) and Christ’s redemption (7:17) are never far from the foreground. Immediately after this glorious sight, the seventh seal is poured out (8:1).

The next series of judgments is the seven trumpets (8:2–11:19), which are designed largely after the plagues on Egypt. These trumpet judgments are more drastic, definite, and final than the seal judgments, but not as universal as the bowl judgments to follow. Once again, after a graphic description of six judgments (8:2–9:21), there follows another parenthesis (10:1–11:14), dealing with the little book (10:1-11) and the two witnesses (11:1-14). As a sort of interlude or calm before the storm, a parenthesis just before the final judgment is given to the Seer. And as with the first parenthesis, this one should remind him of the glory of God (10:6a), the necessity to carry out his own commission—in spite of the pain (10:6b-11), and the impenitence of men, even though they have witnesses (11:1-14). The seventh trumpet follows (11:15-19), although no specific content of this judgment is given (as with the seventh seal).28

Then, in rapid succession, are three more parentheses. First, the woman and the war (12:1-18) are described. The dragon who wages war on the woman is Satan; his hostility against the woman, Israel, and her child, the Messiah, are pictured quite vividly. This first parenthesis is describing the same events as are taking place in chapters 6-11, though from a different angle. Whereas in the earlier chapters God’s viewpoint was seen, now Satan’s is portrayed. The next parenthesis concerns two beasts (13:1-18). After Satan’s plans to consume the woman and her child had failed, he now contemplates his next move. Chapter 13 is the result of meditation. Now the beasts go after the saints (13:7), as well as the rest of the world (13:8).

A fifth parenthesis reverts back to the divine perspective (14:1-20), viz., the judgment by the lamb. The scene first depicts the 144,000 worshipping him (14:1-5), followed by announcements of doom on the earth by three angels (14:6-12). In the midst of this prediction of coming judgment a blessing is pronounced on the saints who are martyred during it (14:13). The lamb is then pictured as a reaper (14:14-16) who reaps a global judgment resulting in a blood bath for the earth-dwellers (14:17-20).

The final series of judgments is the seven bowl judgments (15:1–18:24). There is a lengthy prelude to the judgments (15:1–16:1), which points to decisive results to be obtained during the judgments (15:5–16:1), though prefaced by a note of hope and perseverance seen in a new batch of martyrs singing in heaven (15:1-4). Then come the judgments (16:2-21). Six out of seven of them are the same as the plagues on Egypt, only these are more climactic and universal.

Immediately after the seven great bowl judgments is the judgment of the great harlot (17:1-18). Her name is called “Mystery, Babylon” (17:5), thus indicating that this is not the literal city, as can be seen in the interpretation given (17:18). The spirit of Babylon lives on in the secular city: in John’s day, it was Rome; in our day, Washington. The fall of the great city is then described in 18:1-24. But rather than being a political and religious entity as in chapter 17, this city is commercial, as can be seen by those who lament over her demise (18:9-19). Though merchants and sea captains lament her fall, there is rejoicing by the godly (18:20).

The last major portion of this third section deals with seven last things (19:1–22:5). A transition is made to the millennial kingdom (19:1–20:15), but focusing on two women: the harlot and the bride (19:1-10). Once again, judgment is placed against a backdrop of blessing. Then, in rapid succession, come the seven last things (19:11–22:5)—the first six of which are in chronological sequence covering the millennial kingdom.

First, the second coming of Christ is disclosed (19:11-16). Second, the battle at the end of the age is envisioned, with an ensuing feast for birds (19:17-21). Third, Satan is bound for one thousand years (20:1-3). Fourth, the millennial kingdom is described (20:4-6). Fifth, at the end of the one thousand years, Satan is again unleashed and destroyed (20:7-10). Sixth, the great white throne judgment which takes place at the end of the millennium is recorded (20:11-15).

The seventh last thing (21:1–22:5) is the eternal state. That God has created a new heaven and new earth is taken by faith, for it is declared from the throne (21:3-8). John then tells us what he sees, viz., the new Jerusalem (21:9–22:5). It is a totally rebuilt and dazzling city (21:9-21), in which there is no temple because God and the Lamb are its temple (21:22-27). Out of its midst is flowing the river of life (22:1-3a), and God and the Lamb provide its light (22:3b-5).

After this splendid finale to a vision of the future, John concludes his book with an appeal to the readers (22:6-21). Three give their testimony of the veracity of this book: an angel (22:6-11), Jesus himself (22:12-17), and John (22:18-21).


III. Outline29

I. The Things Past: Christ (1:1-20)

A. Introduction (1:1-8)

1. Prologue (1:1-3)

2. Salutation (1:4-8)

B. The Vision of Christ (1:9-20)

1. The Setting (1:9-11)

2. The Scene (1:12-16)

3. The Subsequent Response and Commission (1:17-20)

II. The Things Present: The Churches (2:1–3:22)

A. The Message to Ephesus (2:1-7)

B. The Message to Smyrna (2:8-11)

C. The Message to Pergamum (2:12-17)

D. The Message to Thyatira (2:18-29)

E. The Message to Sardis (3:1-6)

F. The Message to Philadelphia (3:7-13)

G. The Message to Laodicea (3:14-22)

III. The Things Future: The Consummation (4:1–22:21)

The Tribulation Period (4:1–18:24)

A. Introduction: The Vision of Heaven (4:1–5:14)

1. The Throne of the Lord God Almighty (4:1-11)

2. The Book of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (5:1-14)

B. The Seven Seal Judgments (6:1–8:1)

1. The First Seal (6:1-2)

2. The Second Seal (6:3-4)

3. The Third Seal (6:5-6)

4. The Fourth Seal (6:7-8)

5. The Fifth Seal (6:9-11)

6. The Sixth Seal (6:12-17)

(First Parenthesis: The 144,000 Israelites and the Innumerable Multitude [7:1-17])

a. The Sealing of the 144,000 (7:1-8)

b. The Worship  of the Tribulation Saints (7:9-17)

7. The Seventh Seal (8:1)

C. The Seven Trumpet Judgments (8:2–11:19)

1. The First Trumpet (8:2-7)

2. The Second Trumpet (8:8-9)

3. The Third Trumpet (8:10-11)

4. The Fourth Trumpet (8:12-13)

5. The Fifth Trumpet (9:1-12)

6. The Sixth Trumpet (9:13-21)

(Second Parenthesis: The Little Book and the Two Witnesses [10:1–11:14])

a. The Little Book (10:1-11)

b. The Two Witnesses (11:1-14)

7. The Seventh Trumpet (11:15-19)

(Third Parenthesis: The Woman and the War [12:1-18])

a. The Birth of the Male Child (12:1-6)

b. The War in Heaven (12:7-12)

c. The Persecution of the Woman (12:13-18)

(Fourth Parenthesis: The Two Beasts [13:1-18])

a. The Beast out of the Sea (13:2-10)

b. The Beast out of the Land (13:11-18)

(Fifth Parenthesis: The Judgment by the Lamb [14:1-20])

a. The 144,000 Worshippers of the Lamb (14:1-5)

b. The Three Angelic Announcements of Judgment (14:6-12)

1) Against the Whole Earth (14:6-7)

2) Against Babylon (14:8)

3) Against Worshippers of the Beast (14:9-12)

c. Blessing for Martyrs (14:13)

d. The Reaper of Judgment (14:14-16)

e. The Vintage of Judgment (14:17-20)

D. The Seven Bowl Judgments (15:1–18:24)

1. The Great Judgments Announced (15:1–16:21)

a. Introduction to the Bowl Judgments (15:1–16:1)

1) The Song of Moses Sung by Martyrs (15:1-4)

2) The Scene in Heaven of Seven Angels (15:5–16:1)

b. The First Bowl (16:2)

c. The Second Bowl (16:3)

d. The Third Bowl (16:4-7)

e. The Fourth Bowl (16:8-9)

f. The Fifth Bowl (16:10-11)

g. The Sixth Bowl (16:12-16)

h. The Seventh Bowl (16:17-21)

2. The Great Harlot Judged (17:1-18)

a. The Vision of the Harlot (17:1-6)

b. The Interpretation of the Vision (17:7-18)

1) The Present Status (17:7-8)

2) The Future Judgment (17:9-18)

a) The Seven Heads (17:9-11)

b) The Ten Horns (17:12-14)

c) The Harlot (17:15-18)

3. The Great City Fallen (18:1-24)

a. Announcement of Babylon’s Fall (18:1-3)

b. The Cause of the Fall (18:4-8)

c. The Lamentation over the Fall (18:9-19)

1) By Kings (18:9-10)

2) By Merchants (18:11-17)

3) By Sea Captains (18:18-19)

d. The Rejoicing Over the Fall (18:20)

e. The Results of the Fall (18:21-24)

E. The Seven Last Things (19:1–22:5)

The Millennial Kingdom (19:1–20:15)

1. Introduction: Praise for Judgment of the Harlot and Wedding of the Bride (19:1-10)

a. The Harlot’s Judgment (19:1-5)

b. The Bride’s Wedding (19:6-10)

2. The First Last Thing: The Second Coming of Christ (19:11-16)

3. The Second Last Thing: The Supper and the Slaughter (19:17-21)

4. The Third Last Thing: The Binding of Satan (20:1-3)

5. The Fourth Last Thing: The Kingdom of the Messiah (20:4-6)

6. The Fifth Last Thing: The Loosing of Satan (20:7-10)

7. The Sixth Last Thing: The Great White Throne (20:11-15)

The Eternal State (21:1–22:5)

8. The Seventh Last Thing: The New Heaven and the New Earth (21:1–22:5)

a. The Visions Declared (21:1-2)

b. The New Heaven and Earth: Declared from the Throne (21:1-8)

c. The New Jerusalem: Seen by John (21:9–22:5)

1) The New City (21:9-21)

2) The “Non-Temple” (21:22-27)

3) The River of Life (22:1-3a)

4) The Light of the Lamb (22:3b-5)

F. Epilogue (22:6-21)

1. The Testimony of the Angel (22:6-11)

2. The Testimony of Jesus (22:12-17)

3. The Testimony of John (22:18-21)


1 Originally written in January 1992. Only slight modifications have been made.

2J. F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, 12.

3Guthrie, 936. All references to Guthrie for this book are to his first edition (1970), rather than to the revised edition.

4Ibid.

5Ibid.

6See E. C. Colwell, The Character of the Greek of the Fourth Gospel (University of Chicago Doctor’s Dissertation, 1930; published in 1931).

7We will deal with the linguistic problem later in more detail, under internal evidence.

8The following is my translation.

9συγκατατάξαι ταῖς ἑρμηνείαις—or, perhaps, ‘to organize with supplemental explanations.’

10ὥσπερ οἱ πολλοί—lit., ‘just as the many [are].’ There is an obvious word-play between ‘many things’ (τὰ πολλά) and ‘many people’ (οἱ πολλοί).

11εἰ...ἔλθοι—protasis of fourth class condition.

12Guthrie, 933.

13A point made by Guthrie, though it should be pointed out that these statements are normal in apocalyptic literature and would be expected from any author choosing to convey his message in such a genre. At the same time, such literature usually invokes an authoritative name, often if not usually pseudepigraphically. This actually argues for apostolic authorship because the author of Revelation does not feel compelled to make explicit his identity, any more than a simple name.

14Guthrie points out that the Apocalypse of Peter is not a good parallel to this work since it “seems to have arisen in competition with it” (937).

15Guthrie, 940.

16Guthrie, 949, n. 1.

17See Guthrie for arguments for both sides, 949-61. Also, see the master’s thesis by Ragan Ewing (Dallas Theological Seminary, 2002) for excellent arguments for a pre-70 date.

18Indeed, something could be said for the idealist view as well, for in the final eschaton, the struggle between good and evil will simply be a fleshing out, a concrete example, of what that struggle, in principle, has always entailed.

19For some of the best treatment on this, see M. C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation, 136-46. Our comments here will necessarily be briefer than his.

20Tenney, ibid., 136.

21Ibid., 137.

22Ibid., 138-39.

23Ibid., 139.

24Ibid., 142.

25Ibid.

26Ibid., 143.

27Ibid.

28It is considerations of this sort, as well as several others, which lead me to believe that neither the successive nor the recapitulation view of the judgments is fully correct. In our approach, the first six seal judgments take place during the first half of Daniel’s 70th week. The seventh seal is the second half of the week. During the second half, the seven trumpet judgments occur, though six of them take place during the third quarter of the tribulation. The seventh trumpet is the fourth quarter. Finally, the seven bowl judgments are all poured out during the final quarter of the tribulation. Not only is this view quite symmetrical (as is the book of Revelation itself), but it reveals a certain intensity to the judgments as time goes on.

29The book of Revelation virtually outlines itself, provided that one sees 1:19 as a key to the book (as those of the futurist school would). The outline employed in this paper is a modification of what was learned from S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., in the course “The Book of Revelation” (Dallas Seminary, 1976). Once one gets into the main section of the book (chapters 4–22) there is some discrepancy in how to outline the material, viz., either chronologically (tribulation, millennial kingdom, eternal state), or by the arrangement of “sevens.” As we have contended all along concerning the outline of the various NT books, a prioritized linear approach only sees half a picture. To compensate for this, we will highlight the secondary outline in italics (as we did Paul’s missionary journeys in Acts), even though it will not constitute a formal part of the outline.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines