David Chilton

Narrated By: Daniel Sorenson
Book: The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of The Book of Revelation


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Chapter Text

Author and Date

Although the author’s identity has been much debated, there is really no reason to doubt that he was the same St. John who wrote the Fourth Gospel, as the virtually unanimous testimony of the early Church affirms. He identifies himself simply as “John” (1:1, 4, 9; 21:2; 22:8), apparently assuming that he will be recognized by his first-century audience on the basis of his name alone; and he writes in an authoritative, “apostolic” style, not to individuals merely, but to the Church. Taking into account the Church’s highly organized government, which existed from its inception, it is unlikely that any but a recognized apostle could have written in this manner.[1] In addition, there are numerous points of resemblance between the Revelation and the Gospel of John. Even a cursory glance reveals several expressions (e.g. Lamb of God, Word, and witness) which are common only to the Gospel of John and the Revelation; no other New Testament writer uses these terms in the same way.[2] Austin Farrer[3] draws attention to a number of stylistic similarities between the Gospel and Revelation: Both books are arranged in series of “sevens”;[4] both are structured in terms of the Biblical/heavenly liturgy and festive calendar; and both books use numbers in a symbolic sense that transcends their literal significance (this is obvious in Revelation; cf. John 2:6, 19-20; 5:2, 5; 6:7, 9, 13; 8:57; 13:38; 19:14, 23; 21:11, 14, 15-17).

There are several Biblical indications that St. John was a priest, and even came from the high priest’s family.[5] His name was probably common in that family (cf. Acts 4:6; contrast Luke 1:61). St. John himself tells us of his close relationship to the high priest: On account of this he was able, on an extremely sensitive occasion, to gain access into the high priest’s Court, using his influence with the guard to achieve entry for St. Peter as well (John 18:15-16). Moreover, numerous references in both the Gospel and Revelation reveal their author’s unusual familiarity with the details of Temple services. As Alfred Edersheim observed, “the other New Testament writers refer to them in their narratives, or else explain their types, in such language as any well-informed worshipper at Jerusalem might have employed. But John writes not like an ordinary Israelite. He has eyes and ears for details which others would have left unnoticed….

“Indeed, the Apocalypse, as a whole, may be likened to the Temple services in its mingling of prophetic services with worship and praise. But it is specially remarkable, that the Temple-references with which the Book of Revelation abounds are generally to minutiae, which a writer who had not been as familiar with such details, as only personal contact and engagement with them could have rendered him, would scarcely have even noticed, certainly not employed as part of his imagery. They come in naturally, spontaneously, and so unexpectedly, that the reader is occasionally in danger of overlooking them altogether; and in language such as a professional man would employ, which would come to him from the previous exercise of his calling. Indeed, some of the most striking of these references could not have been understood at all without the professional treatises of the Rabbis on the Temple and its services. Only the studied minuteness of Rabbinical descriptions, derived from the tradition of eye-witnesses, does not leave the same impression as the unstudied illustrations of St. John.”[6]

“It seems highly improbable that a book so full of liturgical allusions as the Book of Revelation – and these, many of them, not to great or important points, but to minutiae – could have been written by any other than a priest, and one who had at one time been in actual service in the Temple itself, and thus become so intimately conversant with its details, that they came to him naturally, as part of the imagery he employed.”[7]

In this connection Edersheim brings up a point that is more important for our interpretation than the issue of Revelation’s human authorship (for ultimately [see 1:1] it is Jesus Christ’s Revelation). St. John’s intimate acquaintance with the minute details of Temple worship suggests that “the Book of Revelation and the Fourth Gospel must have been written before the Temple services had actually ceased.”[8] Although some scholars have uncritically accepted the statement of St. Irenaeus (A.D. 120-202) that the prophecy appeared “toward the end of Domitian’s reign” (i.e., around A.D. 96),[9] there is considerable room for doubt about his precise meaning (he may have meant that the Apostle John himself “was seen” by others). [10] The language of St. Irenaeus is somewhat ambiguous; and, regardless of what he was talking about, he could have been mistaken.[11] (St. Irenaeus, incidentally, is the only source for this late dating of Revelation; all other “sources” are simply quoting from him. It is thus rather disingenuous for commentators to claim, as Swete does, that “Early Christian tradition is almost unanimous in assigning the Apocalypse to the last years of Domitian.”)[12] Certainly, there are other early writers whose statements indicate that St. John wrote the Revelation much earlier, under Nero’s persecution.[13]

A good deal of the modern presumption in favor of a Domitianic date is based on the belief that a great, sustained period of persecution and slaughter of Christians was carried on under his rule. This belief, as cherished as it is, does not seem to be based on any hard evidence at all. While there is no doubt that Domitian was a cruel and wicked tyrant (I come to bury a myth about Caesar, not to praise him), until the fifth century there is no mention in any historian of a supposedly widespread persecution of Christians by his government. It is true that he did temporarily banish some Christians; but these were eventually recalled. Robinson remarks: “When this limited and selective purge, in which no Christian was for certain put to death, is compared with the massacre of Christians under Nero in what two early and entirely independent witnesses speak of as ‘immense multitudes,’[14] it is astonishing that commentators should have been led by Irenaeus, who himself does not even mention a persecution, to prefer a Domitianic context for the book of Revelation.”[15]

Our safest course, therefore, must be to study the Revelation itself to see what internal evidence it presents regarding its date. As we will see throughout the commentary, the Book of Revelation is primarily a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. This fact alone places St. John’s authorship somewhere before September of A.D. 70. Further, as we shall see, St. John speaks of Nero Caesar as still on the throne – and Nero died in June 68.

More important than any of this, however, we have a priori teaching from Scripture itself that all special revelation ended by A.D. 70. The angel Gabriel told Daniel that the “seventy weeks” were to end with the destruction of Jerusalem (Dan. 9:24-27); and that period would also serve to “seal up the vision and prophecy” (Dan. 9:24). In other words, special revelation would stop – be “sealed up” – by the time Jerusalem was destroyed. The Canon of Holy Scripture was entirely completed before Jerusalem fell.[16] St. Athanasius interpreted Gabriel’s words in the same way: “When did prophet and vision cease from Israel? Was it not when Christ came, the Holy One of holies? It is, in fact, a sign and notable proof of the coming of the Word that Jerusalem no longer stands, neither is prophet raised up nor vision revealed among them. And it is natural that it should be so, for when He that was signified had come, what need was there any longer of any to signify Him? And when the Truth had come, what further need was there of the shadow? On His account only they prophesied continually, until such time as Essential Righteousness had come, Who was made the Ransom for the sins of all. For the same reason Jerusalem stood until the same time, in order that there men might premediate the types before the Truth was known. So, of course, once the Holy One of holies had come, both vision and prophecy were sealed. And the kingdom of Jerusalem ceased at the same time, because kings were to be anointed among them only until the Holy of holies had been anointed….

“The plain fact is, as I say, that there is no longer any king or prophet nor Jerusalem nor sacrifice nor vision among them; yet the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of God,[17] and the Gentiles, forsaking atheism, are now taking refuge with the God of Abraham through the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ.”[18]

The death, resurrection and ascension of Christ marked the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New; the apostles were commissioned to deliver Christ’s message in the form of the New Testament; and when they were finished, God sent the Edomites and the Roman armies to destroy utterly the last remaining symbols of the Old Covenant: the Temple and the Holy City. This fact alone is sufficient to establish the writing of the Revelation as taking place before A.D. 70. The book itself gives abundant testimony regarding its date; but, even more, the nature of the New Testament as God’s Final Word tells us this. Christ’s death at the hands of the apostate children of Israel sealed their fate: The Kingdom would be taken from them (Matt. 21:33-43). While wrath built up “to the utmost” (1 Thess. 2:16), God stayed His hand of judgment until the writing of the New Covenant document was accomplished. With that done, He dramatically terminated the kingdom of Israel, wiping out the persecuting generation (Matt. 23:34-36; 24:34; Luke 11:49-50. Jerusalem’s destruction was the last blast of the trumpet, signalling that the “mystery of God” was finished (Rev. 10:7). There would be no further canonical writings once Israel was gone.


From his exile on the island of Patmos, St. John addressed the Revelation to the churches in seven major cities of Asia Minor. These seven cities, connected by a semicircular road that ran through the interior of the province, served as postal stations for their districts. “So a messenger from Patmos landed at Ephesus, traveled north through Smyrna to Pergamum, and thence southeast through the other four cities, leaving a copy of the book in each for secondary circulation in its district. The number ‘seven’ is of course constantly used in the symbolism of the book of Revelation, but this fact should not be allowed to obscure the circumstance that the book is addressed to seven actual churches in cities ideally placed to serve as the distribution points.”[19]

Asia Minor was a significant destination for two reasons: First, after the fall of Jerusalem the province of Asia would become the most influential center of Christianity in the Roman Empire: “The province of Asia emerged as the area where Christianity was strongest, with Ephesus as its radial point.”[20] Second, Asia was the center of the cult of Caesar-worship. “Inscription after inscription testifies to the loyalty of the cities towards the Empire. At Ephesus, at Smyrna, at Pergamum, and indeed throughout the province the Church was confronted by an imperialism which was popular and patriotic, and bore the character of a religion. Nowhere was the Caesar-cult more popular than in Asia.”[21]

After Julius Caesar died (29 B.C.), a temple honoring him as divus (god) was built in Ephesus. The Caesars who followed him didn’t wait for death to provide such honors, and, beginning with Octavian, they asserted their own divinity, displaying their titles of deity in temples and on coins, particularly in the cities of Asia. Octavian changed his name to Augustus, a title of supreme majesty, dignity and reverence. He was called the Son of God, and as the divine-human mediator between heaven and earth he offered sacrifices to the gods. He was widely proclaimed as the Savior of the world, and the inscriptions on his coins were quite frankly messianic-their message declaring, as Stauffer has written, that “salvation is to be found in none other save Augustus, and there is no other name given to men in which they can be saved.”[22]

This pose was common to all the Caesars. Caesar was God; Caesar was Savior; Caesar was the only Lord. And they claimed not only the titles but the rights of deity as well. They taxed and confiscated property at will, took citizens’ wives (and husbands) for their own pleasure, caused food shortages, exercised the power of life and death over their subjects, and generally attempted to rule every aspect of reality throughout the Empire. The philosophy of the Caesars can be summed up in one phrase which was used increasingly as the age progressed: Caesar is Lord!

This was the main issue between Rome and the Christians: Who is Lord? Francis Schaeffer points out: “Let us not forget why the Christians were killed. They were not killed because they worshiped Jesus…. Nobody cared who worshiped whom so long as the worshiper did not disrupt the unity of the state, centered in the formal worship of Caesar. The reason the Christians were killed was because they were rebels…. They worshiped Jesus as God and they worshiped the infinite-personal God only. The Caesars would not tolerate this worshiping of the one God only. It was counted as treason.”[23]

For Rome, the goal of any true morality and piety was the subordination of all things to the State; the religious, pious man was the one who recognized, at every point in life, the centrality of Rome. “The function of Roman religion was pragmatic, to serve as social cement and to buttress the state.”[24] Thus, observes R. J. Rushdoony, “the framework for the religious and familial acts of piety was Rome itself, the central and most sacred community. Rome strictly controlled all rights of corporation, assembly, religious meetings, clubs, and street gatherings, and it brooked no possible rivalry to its centrality…. The state alone could organize; short of conspiracy, the citizens could not. On this ground alone, the highly organized Christian Church was an offense and an affront to the state, and an illegal organization readily suspected of conspiracy.”[25]

The witness of the apostles and the early Church was nothing less than a declaration of war against the pretensions of the Roman State. St. John asserted that Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God (John 3:16); that He is, in fact, “the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20-20. The Apostle Peter declared, shortly after Pentecost: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “The conflict of Christianity with Rome was thus political from the Roman perspective, although religious from the Christian perspective. The Christians were never asked to worship Rome’s pagan gods; they were merely asked to recognize the religious primacy of the state. As Francis Legge observed, ‘The officials of the Roman Empire in time of persecution sought to force the Christians to sacrifice, not to any heathen gods, but to the Genius of the Emperor and the Fortune of the City of Rome; and at all times the Christians’ refusal was looked upon not as a religious but as a political offense….’ The issue, then, was this: should the emperor’s law, state law, govern both the state and the church, or were both state and church, emperor and bishop alike, under God’s law? Who represented true and ultimate order, God or Rome, eternity or time? The Roman answer was Rome and time, and hence Christianity constituted a treasonable faith and a menace to political order.”[26]

The charge brought by the Jewish prosecution in one first-century trial of Christians was that “they are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:7). This was the fundamental accusation against all the Christians of the Empire. The captain of police pleaded with the aged Bishop of Smyrna, St. Polycarp, to renounce this extreme position: “What harm is there in saying Caesar is Lord?” St. Polycarp refused, and was burned at the stake. Thousands suffered martyrdom on just this issue. For them, Jesus was not “God” in some upper-story, irrelevant sense; He was the only God, complete Sovereign in every area. No aspect of reality could be exempt from His demands. Nothing was neutral. The Church confronted Rome with the inflexible claim of Christ’s imperial authority: Jesus is the only-begotten Son; Jesus is God; Jesus is King; Jesus is Savior; Jesus is Lord. Here were two Empires, both attempting absolute world domination; and they were implacably at war.[27]

It was necessary for the churches of Asia to recognize this fully, with all its implications. Faith in Jesus Christ requires absolute submission to His Lordship, at every point, with no compromise. The confession of Christ meant conflict with statism, particularly in the provinces where official worship of Caesar was required for the transaction of everyday affairs. Failure to acknowledge the claims of the State would result in economic hardship and ruin, and often imprisonment, torture, and death.

Some Christians attempted to compromise by drawing an unbiblical distinction between heart and conduct, as if one could have faith without works. But Christ’s Kingdom is universal: Jesus is Lord of all. To acknowledge Him truly as Lord, we must serve Him everywhere. This was the primary message of the Revelation to the Christians in Asia, and one they desperately needed to hear. They lived in the very heart of Satan’s throne, the seat of Emperor-worship; St. John wrote to remind them of their true King, of their position with Him as kings and priests, and of the necessity to persevere in terms of His sovereign Word.

Revelation and the Covenant

The Book of Revelation is part of the Bible. At first glance this may not seem to be a brilliant insight, but it is a point that is both crucially important and almost universally neglected in the actual practice of exposition. For as soon as we recognize that Revelation is a Biblical document, we are forced to ask a central question: What sort of book is the Bible? And the answer is this: The Bible is a book (The Book) about the Covenant. The Bible is not an Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Nor is it a collection of Moral Tales, or a series of personal-psychology studies of Great Heroes of Long Ago. The Bible is God’s written revelation of Himself, the story of His coming to us in the Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ; and it is the story of the Church’s relationship to Him through the Covenant He has established with her.

The Covenant is the meaning of Biblical history (Biblical history is not primarily adventure stories). The Covenant is the meaning of Biblical law (the Bible is not primarily a political treatise about how to set up a Christian Republic). And the Covenant is the meaning of Biblical prophecy as well (thus, Biblical prophecy is not “prediction” in the occult sense of Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, and Jean Dixon). To a man, the prophets were God’s legal emissaries to Israel and the nations, acting as prosecuting attorneys bringing what has become known among recent scholars as the “Covenant Lawsuit.”

That Biblical prophecy is not simply “prediction” is indicated, for example, by God’s statement through Jeremiah:

At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.

Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will repent of the good with which I had promised to bless it. Jer. 18:7-10)

The purpose of prophecy is not “prediction,” but evaluation of man’s ethical response to God’s Word of command and promise. This is why Jonah’s prophecy about Nineveh did not “come true”: Nineveh repented of its wickedness, and the calamity was averted. Like the other Biblical writings, the Book of Revelation is a prophecy, with a specific covenantal orientation and reference. When the covenantal context of the prophecy is ignored, the message St. John sought to communicate is lost, and Revelation becomes nothing more than a vehicle for advancing the alleged expositor’s eschatological theories.

Let us consider a minor example: Revelation 9:16 tells us of a great army of horsemen, numbering “myriads of myriads.” In some Greek texts, this reads two myriads of myriads, and is sometimes translated 200 million. All sorts of fanciful and contrived explanations have been proposed for this. Perhaps the most well-known theory of recent times is Hal Lindsey’s opinion that “these 200 million troops are Red Chinese soldiers accompanied by other Eastern allies. It’s possible that the industrial might of Japan will be united with Red China. For the first time in history there will be a full invasion of the West by the Orient.”[28] Such fortunetelling may or may not be accurate regarding a coming Chinese invasion, but it tells us absolutely nothing about the Bible. To help put Lindsey’s view into historical perspective, we will compare it to that of J. L. Martin, a 19th-century preacher who, while sharing Lindsey’s basic presuppositions about the nature and purpose of prophecy, reached the different, and amusing, conclusion that St. John’s “200 million” represented “the fighting force of the whole world” of 1870. Note Martin’s shrewdly scientific, Lindsey-like reasoning:

We have a few more than one billion inhabitants on the earth…. But of that billion about five hundred millions (one-half) are females, leaving an average population of male inhabitants of about five hundred millions; and of that number about one-half are minors, leaving about two hundred and fifty millions of adult males on the earth at a time. But of that number of adult males about one-fifth are superannuated – too old to fight. These are statistical facts. This leaves exactly John’s two hundred millions of fighting men on earth. And when we prove a matter mathematically, we think it is pretty well done.[29]

But Martin is just hitting his stride. He continues with his exposition, taking up the terrifying description of the soldiers in 9:17-19: “The riders had breastplates of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone; and the heads of the horses are like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone. A third of mankind was killed by these three plagues, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone, which proceeded out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents and have heads; and with them they do harm.” Whereas modern apocalyptists view this in terms of lasers and missile launchers, Martin had a different explanation – one which was in keeping with the state of military art in his day, when Buffalo Bill was fighting Sioux Indians as chief of scouts for General Sheridan’s Fifth Cavalry:

John is pointing to the modern mode of fighting on horseback, with the rider leaning forward, which, to his sight, and to the sight of one looking on at a distance, would appear as the great mane of the lion; the man leaning on his horse’s neck. He would, in fighting with firearms, have to lean forward to discharge his piece, lest he might shoot down his own horse that he was riding. In John’s day the posture was very different…. Now, I want to ask my friendly hearers if it is not as literally fulfilled before our eyes as anything can be? Are not all nations engaged in this mode of warfare? Do they not kill men with fire and smoke and brimstone? … Do you not know that this is just ignited gunpowder? …

Could an uninspired man, in the last of the first century, have told of this matter?[30]

Unless we see the Book of Revelation as a Covenant document – i.e., if we insist on reading it primarily as either a prediction of twentieth-century nuclear weapons or a polemic against first-century Rome – its continuity with the rest of the Bible will be lost. It becomes an eschatological appendix, a view of “last things” that ultimately has little to do with the message, purpose, and concerns of the Bible. Once we understand Revelation’s character as a Covenant Lawsuit, however, it ceases to be a “strange,” “weird” book; it is no longer incomprehensible, or decipherable only with the complete New York Times Index. In its major themes at least, it becomes as accessible to us as Isaiah and Amos. The Book of Revelation must be seen from the outset in its character as Biblical revelation. The grasp of this single point can mean a “quantum leap” for interpretation; for, as Geerhardus Vos made clear in his pathbreaking studies of Biblical Theology, “revelation is connected throughout with the fate of Israel.”[31]

The Covenant Lawsuit

God’s relationship with Israel was always defined in terms of the Covenant, the marriage bond by which He joined her to Himself as His special people. This Covenant was a legal arrangement, a binding “contract” imposed on Israel by her King, stipulating mutual obligations and promises. Meredith Kline has shown that the structure of the Biblical Covenant bears striking similarities to the established form for peace treaties in the ancient Near East.[32] This is how it worked: After a war, the victorious king would make a covenant with his defeated foe, making certain promises and guaranteeing protection on condition that the vassal-king and all under his authority would obey their new lord. Both lord and vassal would swear an oath, and they would thenceforth be united in covenant.

As Kline explains, the standard treaty-form in the ancient world was structured in five parts, all of which appear in the Biblical covenants:

    1. Preamble (identifying the lordship of the Great King, stressing both his transcendence [greatness and power] and his immanence [nearness and presence]);
    2. Historical Prologue (surveying the lord’s previous relationship to the vassal, especially emphasizing the blessings bestowed);
    3. Ethical Stipulations (expounding the vassal’s obligations, his “guide to citizenship” in the covenant);
    4. Sanctions (outlining the blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience);
    5. Succession Arrangements (dealing with the continuity of the covenant relationship over future generations).

One of the best examples of a document written in this treaty-form is the Book of Deuteronomy, which Kline examines in detail in his Treaty of the Great King. (Recently, Kline’s analysis has been considerably augmented in the more theologically oriented work of Ray R. Sutton, That You May Prosper.)[33] Kline’s exposition shows how Deuteronomy naturally divides into the five covenantal sections:


    1. Preamble (1:1-5)
    2. Historical Prologue (1:6-4:49)
    3. Ethical Stipulations (5:1-26:19)
    4. Sanctions (27:1-30:20)
    5. Succession Arrangements (31:1-34:12)

If a vassal kingdom violated the terms of the covenant, the lord would send messengers to the vassal, warning the offenders of coming judgment, in which the curse-sanctions of the covenant would be enforced. This turns out to be the function of the Biblical prophets, as I mentioned above: They were prosecuting attorneys, bringing God’s message of Covenant Lawsuit to the offending nations of Israel and Judah. And the structure of the lawsuit was always patterned after the original structure of the covenant. In other words, just as the Biblical covenants themselves follow the standard five-part treaty structure, the Biblical prophecies follow the treaty form as well.[34] For example, the prophecy of Hosea is ordered according to the following outline:


    1. Preamble (l)
    2. Historical Prologue (2-3)
    3. Ethical Stipulations (4-7)
    4. Sanctions (8-9)
    5. Succession Arrangements (10-14)

Like many other Biblical prophecies, the Book of Revelation is a prophecy of Covenant wrath against apostate Israel, which irrevocably turned away from the Covenant in her rejection of Christ. And, like many other Biblical prophecies, the Book of Revelation is written in the form of the Covenant Lawsuit, with five parts, conforming to the treaty structure of the Covenant. This thesis will be demonstrated in the commentary; by way of introduction, however, it will be helpful to glance at some of the major points that lead to this conclusion. (Also, I have provided an Introduction to each of the five parts of Revelation, correlating the message of each section with the appropriate passage in the Book of Deuteronomy.)

In order to grasp the five-part structure of Revelation, we must first consider how St. John’s prophecy is related to the message of Leviticus 26. Like Deuteronomy 28, Leviticus 26 sets forth the sanctions of the Covenant: If Israel obeys God, she will be blessed in every area of life (Lev. 26:1-13; Deut. 28:1-14); if she disobeys, however, she will be visited with the Curse, spelled out in horrifying detail (Lev. 26:14-39; Deut. 28:15-68). (These curses were most fully poured out in the progressive desolation of Israel during the Last Days, culminating in the Great Tribulation of A.D. 67-70, as punishment for her apostasy and rejection of her True Husband, the Lord Jesus Christ.)[35] One of the striking features of the Leviticus passage is that the curses are arranged in a special pattern: Four times in this chapter God says, “I will punish you seven times for your sins” (Lev. 26:18, 21, 24, 28). The number seven, as we will see abundantly throughout Revelation, is a Biblical number for completeness or fullness (taken from the seven-day pattern laid down at the creation in Genesis 1).[36] The number four is used in Scripture in connection with the earth, especially the Land of Israel; thus four rivers flowed out of Eden to water the whole earth (Gen. 2:10); the Land, like the Altar, is pictured as having four corners (Isa. 11:12; cf. Ex. 27:1-2), from which the four winds blow (Jer. 49:36); the camp of Israel was arranged in four groups around the sides of the Tabernacle (Num. 2); and so on (see your concordance and Bible dictionary). So by speaking of four sevenfold judgments in Leviticus 26, God is saying that a full, complete judgment will come upon the Land of Israel for its sins. This theme is taken up by the prophets in their warnings to Israel:

And I shall appoint over them four kinds of doom, declares the LORD: the sword to slay, the dogs to drag off, and the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. (Jer. 15:3)

Thus says the Lord GOD: I shall send My four evil judgments against Jerusalem: sword, famine, wild beasts, and plague to cut off man and beast from it! (Ezek. 14:21)

The imagery of a sevenfold judgment coming four times is most fully developed in the Book of Revelation, which is explicitly divided into four sets of seven: the Letters to the Seven Churches, the opening of the Seven Seals, the sounding of the Seven Trumpets, and the outpouring of the Seven Chalices.[37] In thus following the formal structure of the covenantal curse in Leviticus, St. John underscores the nature of his prophecy as a declaration of covenant wrath against Jerusalem.

The four judgments are preceded by an introductory vision, which serves to highlight the transcendence and immanence of the Lord – precisely the function of the Preamble in the covenantal treaties. As we read through the four series of judgments, we find that they also conform to the treaty outline: The Seven Letters survey the history of the covenant; the Seven Seals have to do with the specific stipulations set forth in the corresponding section of the covenantal treaty; the Seven Trumpets invoke the covenant sanctions; and the angels of the Seven Chalices are involved in both the disinheritance of Israel and the Church’s succession in the New Covenant. Thus:


    1. Preamble: Vision of the Son of Man (1)
    2. Historical Prologue: The Seven Letters (2-3)
    3. Ethical Stipulations: The Seven Seals (4-7)
    4. Sanctions: The Seven Trumpets (8-14)
    5. Succession Arrangements: The Seven Chalices (15-22)

St. John has thus combined the four-part Curse outline of Leviticus 26 with the familiar five-part outline of the Covenant Lawsuit. The intersection of a fourfold and fivefold curse is related to another dimension of Biblical imagery, relating to the laws of multiple restitution. Exodus 22:1 commands: “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.” James B. Jordan explains the symbolic aspects of this case law: “These are the animals which particularly symbolize humanity in the sacrificial system. They are, thus, repeatedly set forth as preeminent analogies for men (cf. e.g., Lev. 22:27, with Lev. 12).

“We should note here that the verb used in Exodus 22:1, ‘slaughter,’ is used almost always with reference to men. Ralph H. Alexander comments, ‘The central meaning of the root occurs only three times (Gen. 43:16; Ex. 22:1; 1 Sam. 25:11). The root is predominantly used metaphorically, portraying the Lord’s judgment upon Israel and upon Babylon as a slaughter.’[38] This again points to a basic symbolic meaning of this law.”[39]

Jordan goes on to show that in Scripture the ox primarily represents the office-bearer in Israel, while the sheep represents the ordinary citizen, and especially the poor man. Fourfold restitution is thus required for the crime of oppressing the poor, and fivefold restitution is required for the penalty of rebellion against authority.[40] The Covenant Lawsuit is structured in terms of the penalty of fivefold restitution, since the rebels against the covenant are revolting against their divinely ordained authority; and St. John brings the lawsuit against Israel because she has rebelled against Jesus Christ, her Lord and High Priest (Heb. 2:17; 7:22-8:6).

But Christ was also a sheep, the sacrificial Lamb of God (John 1:29; Rev. 5:6, 9). He was wrongfully sold (Matt. 26:14-15), and was treated “like a lamb that is led to slaughter” (Isa. 53:7). Moreover, the early Christians were largely poor, and were persecuted, oppressed, and slaughtered by the wealthy and powerful of apostate Israel (Matt. 5:10-12; Luke 6:20-26; James 5:1-6). Unbelieving Israel thus brought upon herself all the penalties and curses of the covenant, including fourfold and fivefold as well as double restitution (Rev. 18:6). (It is also worth repeating what Ralph Alexander said about the word slaughter in Exodus 22:1: “The root is predominantly used metaphorically, portraying the Lord’s judgment upon Israel and upon Babylon as a slaughter.” As we will see, St. John brings these ideas together, metaphorically calling the apostate Jerusalem of his day Babylon the Great,) The Great Tribulation, culminating in the holocaust of A.D. 70, was the restitution demanded for its theft and slaughter of the Old Testament prophets, of the New Testament martyrs, and of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 21:33-45; 23:29-38; 1 Thess. 2:14-16); and these motifs are built into the very structure of Revelation, the final Covenant Lawsuit.

All this is further emphasized by St. John’s use of the prophetic Lawsuit terminology: the accusation of harlotry. Throughout Scripture, Israel is regarded as God’s Wife; the covenant is a marriage bond, and she is expected to be faithful to it. Her apostasy from God is called adultery, and she is identified as a harlot. There are numerous examples of this in the prophets:

How the faithful city has become a harlot,
She who was full of justice!
Righteousness once lodged in her,
But now murderers. (Isa. 1:21)

For long ago I broke your yoke
And tore off your bonds;
But you said: I will not serve!
For on every high hill

And under every green tree
You have lain down as a harlot. (Jer. 2:20)

Your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you, declares the Lord GOD. But you trusted in your beauty and played the harlot because of your fame, and you poured out your harlotries on every passerby who might be willing. (Ezek. 16:14-15)

Do not rejoice, O Israel, with exultation like the nations! For you have played the harlot, forsaking your God. You have loved harlots’ earnings on every threshing floor. (Hos. 9:1)

Throughout Scripture, it is Israel whom the prophets characteristically condemn as a harlot.[41] Accordingly, when St. John brings lawsuit against Israel for her rejection of Christ, the greatest apostasy of all time (cf. Matt. 21:33-45), he appropriately calls her “the Great Harlot… the Mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the Land” (Rev. 17:1, 5).

There are other indications within the structure of Revelation that it is a Covenant Lawsuit against Israel. The four seven-fold judgments are arranged in general conformity to the order of Jesus’ prophecy against Jerusalem in Matthew 24.[42] Thus the Seven Letters (Rev. 2-3) deal with false apostles, persecution, lawlessness, love grown cold, and the duty of perseverance (cf. Matt. 24:3-5, 9-13); the Seven Seals (Rev. 4-7) are concerned with wars, famines, and earthquakes (cf. Matt. 24:6-8); the Seven Trumpets (Rev. 8-14) tell of the Church’s witness to the world, her flight into the wilderness, the Great Tribulation, and the False Prophet (cf. Matt. 24:14-27); and the Seven Chalices (Rev. 15-22) describe the darkening of the Beast’s kingdom, the destruction of the Harlot, the gathering of eagles over Jerusalem’s corpse, and the gathering of the Church into the Kingdom (cf. Matt. 24:28-30.)

Revelation, Ezekiel, and the Lectionary

But there is at least one other factor that has greatly influenced the outline of the Revelation. It is constructed with strict adherence to one of the most famous Covenant Lawsuits of all time: the prophecy of Ezekiel. Revelation’s dependence upon the language and imagery of Ezekiel has long been recognized;[43] one scholar has found in Revelation no less than 130 separate references to Ezekiel.[44] But St. John does more than merely make literary allusions to Ezekiel. He follows him, step by step – so much so that Philip Carrington could say, with only mild hyperbole: “The Revelation is a Christian rewriting of Ezekiel. Its fundamental structure is the same. Its interpretation depends upon Ezekiel. The first half of both books leads up to the destruction of the earthly Jerusalem; in the second they describe a new and holy Jerusalem. There is one significant difference. Ezekiel’s lament over Tyre is transformed into a lament over Jerusalem, the reason being that St. John wishes to transfer to Jerusalem the note of irrevocable doom found in the lament over Tyre. Here lies the real difference in the messages of the two books. Jerusalem, like Tyre, is to go forever.”[45] Consider the more obvious parallels:[46]

    1. The Throne-Vision (Rev. 4/Ezek. 1)
    2. The Book (Rev. 5/Ezek. 2-3)
    3. The Four Plagues (Rev. 6:1-8/Ezek. 5)
    4. The Slain under the Altar (Rev. 6:9-11/Ezek. 6)
    5. The Wrath of God (Rev. 6:12-l7/Ezek. 7)
    6. The Seal on the Saint’s Foreheads (Rev. 7/Ezek. 9)
    7. The Coals from the Altar (Rev. 8/Ezek. 10)
    8. No More Delay (Rev. 10:1-7/Ezek. 12)
    9. The Eating of the Book (Rev. 10:8-11/Ezek. 2)
    10. The Measuring of the Temple (Rev. 11:I-21Ezek. 40-43)
    11. Jerusalem and Sodom (Rev. 11:8/Ezek. 16)
    12. The Cup of Wrath (Rev. 14/Ezek. 23)
    13. The Vine of the Land (Rev. 14:18-20/Ezek. 15)
    14. The Great Harlot (Rev. 17-18/Ezek. 16, 23)
    15. The Lament over the City (Rev. 18/Ezek. 27)
    16. The Scavengers’ Feast (Rev. 19/Ezek. 39)
    17. The First Resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6/Ezek. 37)
    18. The Battle with Gog and Magog (Rev. 20:7-9/Ezek. 38-39)
    19. The New Jerusalem (Rev. 21/Ezek. 40-48)
    20. The River of Life (Rev. 22/Ezek. 47)

As M. D. Goulder points out, the closeness of the two books’ structure – the step-by-step “pegging” of Revelation with Ezekiel-implies something more than a merely literary relationship. “Level pegging is not usually a feature of literary borrowing: the Chronicler’s work, for example, is far from pegging level with Samuel-Kings, with his massive expansion of the Temple material, and his excision of the northern traditions. Level pegging is a feature rather of lectionary use, as when the Church sets (set) Genesis to be read alongside Romans, or Deuteronomy alongside Acts…. Furthermore, it is plain that John expected his prophecies to be read aloud in worship, for he says, ‘Blessed is he who reads the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear’ (1:3) – RSV correctly glosses ‘reads aloud.’ Indeed, the very fact that he repeatedly calls his book ‘the prophecy’ aligns it with the OT prophecies, which were familiar from their public reading in worship.”[47] In other words, the Book of Revelation was intended from the beginning as a series of readings in worship throughout the Church Year, to be read in tandem with the prophecy of Ezekiel (as well as other Old Testament readings). As Austin Farrer wrote in his first study of Revelation, St. John “certainly did not think it was going to be read once to the congregations and then used to wrap up fish, like a pastoral letter.”[48]

Goulder’s thesis on Revelation is supported by the findings in his recent work on the Gospels, The Evangelists’ Calendar, which has revolutionized New Testament studies by setting the Gospels in their proper liturgical context.[49] As Goulder shows, the Gospels were originally written, not as “books,” but as serial readings in worship, to accompany the readings in the synagogues (the first New Testament churches). In fact, he argues, “Luke developed his Gospel in preaching to his congregation, as a series of fulfillments of the O.T.; and this development in liturgical series explains the basic structure of his Gospel, which has been a riddle so long.”[50]

The structures of both Ezekiel and Revelation lend themselves readily to serialized lectionary usage, as Goulder observes: “In the division of the Apocalypse and of Ezekiel into prophecies or visions, units for the successive Sundays, the interpreter has little discretion; a happy feature, since we are looking for clear, uncontroversial dividing lines. Most commentaries divide the Apocalypse into about fifty units, and they do not diverge greatly. Ezekiel is divided in the Bible into forty-eight chapters, many of which are self-evidently single prophecies standing on their own. Further, the length of Ezekiel’s chapters is on the whole level. The book covers a little over 53 pages of text in the RV, and many chapters are about two columns (a page) long. Some of the divisions are perhaps questionable. For example, Ezekiel’s call extends beyond the very brief ch. 2 to a clear end at 3:15, and the short ch. 9 could be taken with 8; whereas there are some enormous chapters, 16, 23, and 40, which are more than four columns in length, and which sub-divide naturally. But one encouraging feature will have become obvious to the reader already: both books divide into about fifty units, and the Jewish(-Christian) year consists of fifty or fifty-one sabbaths/Sundays. So we have what looks like material for an annual cycle of Ezekiel inspiring a year’s cycle of visions, which could then be read in the Asian churches alongside Ezekiel, and expounded in sermons in its light.”[51] Goulder goes on to provide a lengthy table showing consecutive readings through Ezekiel and Revelation, set out alongside the Christian year from Easter to Easter; the correlations are amazing.[52]

The Paschal (Easter) emphasis of Revelation was also brought out in a study by Massey Shepherd, almost twenty years before Goulder wrote.[53] Shepherd demonstrated another striking aspect of the architecture of Revelation, showing that St. John’s prophecy is laid out according to the structure of the early Church’s worship – in fact, that both his Gospel and the Revelation “give their testimony from the vantage point of experience of the Paschal liturgy of the Asian churches.”[54]

The lectionary nature of Revelation helps explain the wealth of liturgical material in the prophecy. Revelation is not, of course, a manual about how to “do” a worship service; rather, it is a worship service, a liturgy conducted in heaven as a model for those on earth (and incidentally instructing us that the Throneroom of God is the only proper vantage point for viewing the earthly conflict between the Seed of the Woman and the seed of the Serpent): “The worship of the Church has traditionally, quite consciously, been patterned after the divine and eternal realities revealed in [Revelation]’ The prayer of the Church and its mystical celebration are one with the prayer and celebration of the kingdom of heaven. Thus, in Church, with the angels and saints, through Christ the Word and the Lamb, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the faithful believers of the assembly of the saved offer perpetual adoration to God the Father Almighty.”[55]

The failure to recognize the significance of Revelation for Christian worship has greatly impoverished many modern churches. To take only one example: How many sermons have been preached on Revelation 3:20 – “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me” – with-out recognizing the very obvious sacramental reference? Of course Jesus is speaking about the Lord’s Supper, inviting us to dine with Him; why didn’t we see it before? The reason has much to do with a puritanical notion of worship that comes, not from the Bible, but from pagan philosophers.

Dom Gregory Dix, in his massive study of Christian worship, hit it right on the head: Liturgical puritanism is not “Protestant”; it is not even Christian. It is, instead, “a general theory about worship, not specifically protestant nor indeed confined to Christians of any kind. It is the working theory upon which all Mohammedan worship is based. It was put as well as anybody by the Roman poet Persius or the pagan philosopher Seneca in the first century, and they are only elaborating a thesis from Greek philosophical authors going back to the seventh century B.C. Briefly, the puritan theory is that worship is a purely mental activity, to be exercised by a strictly psychological ‘attention’ to a subjective emotional or spiritual experience…. Over against this puritan theory of worship stands another – the ‘ceremonious’ conception of worship, whose foundation principle is that worship as such is not a purely intellectual and affective exercise, but one in which the whole man – body as well as soul, his aesthetic and volitional as well as his intellectual powers – must take full part. It regards worship as an ‘act’ just as much as an ‘experience.’[56] It is this “ceremonious” view of worship that is taught by the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. Since all the action of Revelation is seen from the viewpoint of a worship service, this commentary will assume that the prophecy’s liturgical structure is basic to its proper interpretation.

The Nature of Revelation: Apocalyptic?

The Book of Revelation is often treated as an example of the “apocalyptic” genre of writings which flourished among the Jews between 200 B.C. and A.D. 100. There is no basis for this opinion whatsoever, and it is unfortunate that the word apocalyptic is used at all to describe this literature. (The writers of “apocalyptic” themselves never used the term in this sense; rather, scholars have stolen the term from St. John, who called his book “The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ.”) There are, in fact, many major differences between the “apocalyptic” writings and the Book of Revelation.

The “apocalyptists” expressed themselves in unexplained and unintelligible symbols, and generally had no intention of making themselves really understood. Their writings abound in pessimism: no real progress is possible, no; will there be any victory for God and His people in history. We cannot even see God acting in history. All we know is that the world is getting worse and worse. The best we can do is hope for the End – soon.[57] Ferrell Jenkins writes: “To them the forces of evil apparently had control in the present age and God would act only in the End Time.”[58] (This should have a familiar ring.) Feeling impotent in the face of inexorable evil, the apocalyptist “could accordingly indulge in the wildest speculation…. he had written off this world and its activities, so there was no question of his trying seriously to provide workable solutions to its problems.”[59] The practical result was that the apocalyptists rarely concerned themselves with ethical behavior: “In the last resort their interest is in eschatology, not ethics.”[60]

St. John’s approach in the Revelation is vastly different. His symbols are not obscure ravings hatched from a fevered imagination; they are rooted firmly in the Old Testament (and the reason for their seeming obscurity is that very fact: We have trouble understanding them only because we don’t know our Bibles). In contrast to the apocalyptists, who had given up on history, “John presents history as the scene of divine redemption.”[61] Leon Morris describes St. John’s worldview: “For him history is the sphere in which God has wrought out redemption. The really critical thing in the history of mankind has already taken place, and it took place here, on this earth, in the affairs of men. The Lamb ‘as it had been slain’ dominates the entire book. John sees Christ as victorious and as having won the victory through His death, an event in history. His people share in His triumph, but they have conquered Satan ‘by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony’ (Rev. 12:11). The pessimism which defers God’s saving activity until the End is absent. Though John depicts evil realistically, his book is fundamentally optimistic.”[62]

The apocalyptists said: The world is coming to an end: Give up! The Biblical prophets said: The world is coming to a beginning: Get to work!

Thus, the Book of Revelation is not an apocalyptic tract; it is instead, as St. John himself reminds us repeatedly, a prophecy 0:3; 10:11; 22:7, 10, 18-19), completely in keeping with the writings of the other Biblical prophets. And – again in stark contrast to the apocalyptists – if there was one major concern among the Biblical prophets, it was ethical conduct. No Biblical writer ever revealed the future merely for the sake of satisfying curiosity: The goal was always to direct God’s people toward right action in the present. The overwhelming majority of Biblical prophecy had nothing to do with the common misconception of “prophecy” as foretelling the future. The prophets told of the future only in order to stimulate godly living. As Benjamin Warfield wrote: “We must try to keep fresh in our minds the great principle that all prophecy is ethical in its purpose, and that this ethical end controls not only what shall be revealed in general, but also the details of it, and the very form which it takes.”[63]

The fact that many who study the prophetic writings today are interested in finding possible references to space travel and nuclear weapons, rather than in discovering God’s commandments for living, is a sickening tribute to a shallow and immature faith. “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10); to ignore Jesus in favor of atomic blasts is a perversion of Scripture, a blasphemous twisting of God’s holy Word. From beginning to end, St. John is intensely interested in the ethical conduct of his readers:

Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written in it. (1:3)

Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his garments. (16:15)

Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book. (22:7)

Blessed are those who do His commandments. (22:14)

The Symbolism of Revelation

Prophecy has often been called “history written in advance.”[64] As we have already seen, however, prophecy is primarily a message from God’s emissaries within the framework of the Covenant, addressed in terms of the stipulations and sanctions set forth in Biblical law. It is not simply “prediction.” Certainly, the prophets did predict future events in history, but not in the form of historical writing. Instead, the prophets used symbols and figures borrowed from history, from the surrounding culture, and from creation. Most errors in interpreting the prophets stem from the neglect of this principle. I once heard a pastor deliver a very earnest and thrilling lecture on space stations and interplanetary voyages, using Revelation 21:10 as his text. Only in the modern age of space travel, he observed, could the prophecy of the New Jerusalem be fulfilled. It was, on the whole, a very enjoyable speech, and a marvelous demonstration of the pastor’s wealth of learning in the field of science fiction; but the enchanted audience left the meeting at least as ignorant of Scripture as they had been when it began.

The Bible is literature: It is divinely-inspired and inerrant literature, but it is literature all the same. This means that we must read it as literature. Some parts are meant to be literally understood, and they are written accordingly – as history, or theological propositions, or whatever. But one would not expect to read the Psalms or the Song of Solomon by the same literary standards used for the Book of Romans. It would be like reading Hamlet’s soliloquy “literally”: “The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune… to take arms against a sea of troubles.…” We cannot understand what the Bible really (literally) means unless we appreciate its use of literary styles. Would we understand the Twenty-third Psalm properly if we were to take it “literally”? Would it not, instead, look somewhat silly? In fact, if taken literally, it would not be true: for I daresay that the Lord doesn’t make every Christian to lie down in literal, green pastures. But we don’t usually make such crude mistakes in reading Biblical poetry. We know it is written in a style that often makes use of symbolic imagery. But we must realize that the same is true of the prophets: They, also, spoke in figures and symbols, drawing on a rich heritage of Biblical images that began in the Garden of Eden.[65]

Indeed, Paradise is where prophecy began. It is worth noting that the very first promise of the coming Redeemer was stated in highly symbolic terms. God said to the Serpent:

I will put enmity
Between you and the woman
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall crush your head,
And you shall strike His heel. (Gen. 3:15)

Obviously, this is not simply “history written in advance.” It is a symbolic statement, very much of a piece with the evocative, poetic language used throughout the Bible, and especially in Revelation. In fact, St. John plainly tells us in his opening sentence that the Revelation is written in signs, in symbols. He did not intend it to be read like a newspaper or a stock market analysis. He expected his audience to respond to his prophecy in terms of the Bible’s own system of symbolism.

I repeat: the Bible’s own system of symbolism. The meaning of a symbol is not whatever we choose to make it; nor did St. John create the images of the Book of Revelation out of his own imagination. He presents Christ to his readers as a Lion and a Lamb, not because he thinks those are pretty pictures, but because of the connotations of lions and lambs already established in the Bible. The Book of Revelation thus tells us from the outset that its standard of interpretation is the Bible itself. The book is crammed with allusions to the Old Testament. Merrill Tenney says: “It is filled with references to events and characters of the Old Testament, and a great deal of its phraseology is taken directly from the Old Testament books. Oddly enough, there is not one direct citation in Revelation from the Old Testament with a statement that it is quoted from a given passage; but a count of the significant allusions which are traceable both by verbal resemblance and by contextual connection to the Hebrew canon number three hundred and forty-eight. Of these approximately ninety-five are repeated, so that the actual number of different Old Testament passages that are mentioned are nearly two hundred and fifty, or an average of more than ten for each chapter in Revelation.”[66] Tenney’s count of 348 clear Old Testament references breaks down as follows: 57 from the Pentateuch, 235 from the Prophets, and 56 more from the historical and poetical books.[67]

Tenney admits that his figures are conservative; one might even say hidebound. Nevertheless, even using his figures, it is obvious that the Book of Revelation depends on the Old Testament much more than does any other New Testament book. This fact alone should warn us that we cannot begin to fathom its meaning apart from a solid grasp of the Bible as a whole. The early churches had such an understanding. The Gospel had been preached first to the Jews and Gentile proselytes; often churches had been formed by worshipers at synagogues, and this was true even of the churches of Asia Minor (Acts 2:9; 13:14; 14:1; 16:4; 17:1-4, 10-12, 17; 18:4, 8, 19, 24-28; 19:1-10, 17). Moreover, it is clear from Galatians 2:9 that the Apostle John’s ministry was to Jews in particular. Therefore, the first readers of the Revelation were steeped in the Old Testament to a degree that most of us today are not. The symbolism of the Revelation is saturated with Biblical allusions which were commonly understood by the early Church. Even in those rare congregations that did not have some Hebrew members, the Scriptures used in teaching and worship were primarily from the Old Testament. The early Christians possessed the authoritative and infallible key to the meaning of St. John’s prophecies. Our modern failure to appreciate this crucial fact is the main cause of our inability to understand what he was talking about.

For instance, let’s take a much-abused symbol from Revelation and apply this principle. In Rev. 7, 9, 14 and 22, St. John sees God’s people sealed on their foreheads with His name; and in Rev. 13 he writes of the worshipers of the Beast, who are designated on their right hands and foreheads with his mark. Many fanciful interpretations have been made regarding these marks – ranging from tattoos and amusement-park validations to credit cards and Social Security numbers – and all without the slightest notice of the clear Biblical allusions. But what would the first readers of these passages have thought? The symbols would have made them think immediately of several Biblical references: the “mark” of sweat on Adam’s forehead, signifying God’s Curse on his disobedience (Gen. 3:19); the forehead of the High Priest, marked with gold letters proclaiming that he was now HOLY TO THE LORD (Ex. 28:36); Deuteronomy 6:6-8 and Ezekiel 9:4-6, in which the servants of God are “marked” on the hand and forehead with the law of God, and thus receive blessing and protection in His name. The followers of the Beast, on the other hand, receive his mark of ownership: submission to ungodly, statist, antichristian law. The mark in Revelation is not meant to be taken literally. It is an allusion to an Old Testament symbol that spoke of a man’s total obedience to God, and it stands as a warning that our god – whether it be the true God or the self-deified State – demands complete obedience to his lordship.

That will be the principle of interpretation followed in this commentary. The Revelation is a revelation: It was meant to be understood. Benjamin Warfield wrote: “John’s Apocalypse need not be other than easy: all its symbols are either obvious natural ones, or else have their roots planted in the Old Testament poets and prophets and the figurative language of Jesus and his apostles. No one who knows his Bible need despair of reading this book with profit. Above all, he who can understand our Lord’s great discourse concerning the last things (Matt. 24), cannot fail to understand the Apocalypse, which is founded on that discourse and scarcely advances beyond it.”[68]

The Primacy of Symbolism

How important is symbolism in the Bible? The great Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck deals with the subject extensively in his book The Doctrine of God.[69] Speaking of the Bible’s “symbolic” names for God, he says: “Scripture does not merely contain a few anthropomorphisms; on the contrary, all Scripture is anthropomorphic…. Hence, all the names with which God names himself and by means of which he allows us to address him are derived from earthly and human relations.”[70] “In order to give us an idea of the majesty and exalted character of God names are derived from every kind of creature, living and lifeless, organic and inorganic.”[71] In fact, “it is altogether impossible to say anything about God apart from the use of anthropomorphisms. We do not see God as he is in himself. We behold him in his works. We name him according to the manner in which he has revealed himself in his works. To see God face to face is for us impossible, at least here on earth…. Whosoever, therefore, objects to anthropomorphisms, thereby in principle denies the possibility of a revelation of God in his creatures.”[72] “For man there are only two alternatives: absolute silence with reference to God, or speaking about him in a human way; either agnosticism, i.e., theoretical atheism, or anthropomorphism.”[73]

Symbolism is thus inescapable: “Therefore, though we call God by names derived from the creature, God himself first established these names for the creature. Indeed, although we first apply to the creature the names which designate God because of the fact that we know the creature before we know God; essentially they apply first of all to God, then to the creature. All virtues pertain first to God, then to the creature: God possesses these virtues ‘in essence,’ the creature ‘through participation.’ As the temple was made ‘according to the pattern shown to Moses in the mount,’ Heb. 8:5, even so every creature was first conceived and afterward (in time) created. ‘Every fatherhood’ is named from ‘the Father’ who created all things-Eph. 3:15; cf. Matt. 23:9.”[74]

Bavinck is making two very significant points: First, all creation is primarily symbolic. All creatures reflect the glory of God, and are images of some aspect or other of His nature. God’s personality is imprinted on everything He has made. The central value of anything is that it is a symbol of God. All other values and relationships are secondary. And, since man is God’s primary symbol, being His very “image” (both individually and corporately), everything is symbolic of man as well; thus everything reveals God and man.[75]

Second, symbolism is analogical, not realistic. In this the imagery used in the Bible contrasts markedly with the imagery of paganism. For example, the Bible speaks of the marriage covenant as analogous to the covenant between God and His people (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:22-33; Rev. 19:7-9; 21:9-10. The Church has always seen the Song of Solomon as, in part, an analogy of her own romance with the heavenly Bridegroom. But this is far from implying that sex is a sacrament; nor is this a doctrine of salvation through marriage. The symbolism is analogical, not metaphysical. We do not have a sexual relationship with God. There is a one-and-many complex of images involved in the Biblical picture. The theology of the Bible is analogical, not realistic. In Biblical salvation, man becomes remade in the image of God by a judicial sentence and an ethical transformation – not by a metaphysical participation in the divine essence.[76]

This means that Biblical symbolism is not a “code.” It is not given in a flat “this-means-that” style: “Biblical symbols are fluid, not stereotyped.”[77] A Biblical symbol is a collectivity, referring to several ideas at once. Biblical symbolism, like poetry, is evocative language, used when discursive, specific language is insufficient. The Bible uses evocative imagery to call up to our minds various associations which have been established by the Bible’s own literary art.

Austin Farrer pointed out a distinction we must always keep in mind – the difference between sense and referent. While the sense of a symbol remains the same (the words “white house” always mean “white house”), it can have numerous referents (The White House in Washington, D.C.; the white house across the street; the green house that belongs to Fred White; etc.). “St. John’s images do not mean anything you like; their sense can be determined. But they still have an astonishing multiplicity of reference. Otherwise, why write in images rather than in cold factual prose? It has been said that the purpose of scientific statement is the elimination of ambiguity, and the purpose of symbol the inclusion of it. We write in symbol when we wish our words to present, rather than analyze or prove, their subject-matter. (Not every subject-matter; some can be more directly presented without symbol.) Symbol endeavours, as it were, to be that of which it speaks, and imitates reality by the multiplicity of its significance. Exact statement isolates a single aspect of fact: a theologian, for example, endeavours to isolate the relation in which the atoning death of Christ stands to the idea of forensic justice. But we who believe that the atoning death took place, must see in it a fact related to everything human or divine, with as many significances as there are things to which it can be variously related. The mere physical appearance of that death, to one who stood by then, would by no means express what the Christian thinks it, in itself, to be; it took many years for the Cross to gather round itself the force of a symbol in its own right. St. John writes ‘a Lamb standing as slaughtered’ and significances of indefinite scope and variety awake in the scripture-reading mind. There is a current and exceedingly stupid doctrine that symbol evokes emotion, and exact prose states reality. Nothing could be further from the truth: exact prose abstracts from reality, symbol presents it. And for that very reason, symbols have some of the many-sidedness of wild nature.”[78]

For example, the symbolic number 666 (Rev. 13:18) clearly refers to Nero Caesar; but if St. John had merely intended that his readers should understand “Nero Caesar,” he would have written “Nero Caesar,” not “666.”[79] He used the number 666 because of an already established system of Biblical imagery that allowed him to say a great many things about Nero simply by using that number. As Philip Carrington says: “Many people ‘interpret’ the Revelation… as if each detail of each vision had a definable meaning which could be explained in so many words. These commentators are rationalizers, deficient in the mystical sense. Symbolism is a way of suggesting the truth about those great spiritual realities which exclude exact definition or complete systematization; that is why it is so much employed in worship…. The symbol is much richer in meaning than any meaning we can draw from it. The same is true of the parables and symbolic teaching of Jesus. The same is true of the sacraments and symbolic acts of the church, or even of society. Many logical systems can be made up to explain the ‘meaning’ of shaking hands or making the sign of the cross; but because of their simplicity and universality these actions mean more than words can explain.”[80]

Further, “the prophets in general use a great deal of hyperbole and picturesque exaggeration in the manner of Oriental poetry. As the days of a tree shall be the days of my people (Isa. 65:22). Yet destroyed I the Amorite whose height was like the height of the cedars (Amos 2:9): statements which mean respectively ‘very old’ and ‘very tall.’ It goes right back to primitive poetry: The mountains skipped like rams…. The earth trembled and shook (Ps. 114). Poets, even Western poets, will always continue to use it. It includes the use of huge figures; a reign of forty years means a good long reign, and a kingdom of a thousand years means a good long kingdom. The poetry of Jesus has it to a superlative degree; camels are swallowed or passed through needles’ eyes; mountains are thrown into the depths of the sea; a man gets a tree-trunk stuck in his eye.

“People without sufficient imagination to understand this and to enjoy it ought to steer clear of the Apocalypse. Just as a witness has to understand ‘the nature of an oath,’ so a commentator ought to understand the nature of a poem, or even of a joke. Many who are deficient in a sense of poetry and a sense of humor have tried their hands on the Apocalypse, and made a mess of it.”[81]

Interpretive Maximalism

James Jordan once observed that most conservative evangelicals unintentionally pursue a “liberal” approach toward Scripture in their sermons and commentaries. Liberals have held for years that the Bible is not revelation itself; rather, they maintain, it is a [flawed] record of revelation. While conservative evangelicals profess to believe that the Bible itself is revelation (and as such is inspired, authoritative, and inerrant), their expository methods deny this. In practice, conservatives themselves often treat the Bible as only a “record” of revelation. Evangelical commentaries tend not to deal with the actual text of the Bible, treating only of the events related in the text and paying scant attention to the wording and literary architecture of God’s revelation. (Ironically, since liberals don’t believe the events really happened, they sometimes tend to pay closer attention to the text itself. That’s all they’ve got left.)

The mark of a good Bible teacher is that he is constantly asking: Why is the story told in this particular way? Why is this particular word or phrase repeated several times? (How many times?) What does this story have in common with other stories? How is it different? Why does the text draw our attention to seemingly unimportant details? How do the minor incidents fit into the argument of the book as a whole? What literary devices (metaphor, satire, drama, comedy, allegory, poetry, etc.) does the author use? Why does the book sometimes depart from a strict chronological account (e.g., placing some stories “out of order”)? How are these stories related to the larger Story that the Bible tells? What does this story tell us about Jesus Christ? What does this story have to do with our salvation? Why did God bother to give us this particular information?

In his inaugural address as Professor of Biblical Theology in Princeton Theological Seminary in 1894, Geerhardus Vos spoke of the advantages of the Biblical-Theology approach to the study of Scripture; among these, he said, is “the new life and freshness which it gives to the old truth, showing it in all its historic vividness and reality with the dew of the morning of revelation upon its opening leaves. It is certainly not without significance that God has embodied the contents of revelation, not in a dogmatic system, but in a book of history, the parallel to which in dramatic interest and simple eloquence is nowhere to be found. It is this that makes the Scriptures speak and appeal to and touch the hearts and lead the minds of men captive to the truth everywhere. No one will be able to handle the Word of God more effectually than he to whom the treasure-chambers of its historic meaning have been opened up.”[82]

One of the most important discoveries that can be made by any Bible teacher is an understanding of the basic imagery laid down in the early chapters of Genesis-light and darkness, water and land, sky and clouds, mountains and gardens, beasts and dragons, gold and jewels, trees and thorns, cherubs and flaming swords-all of which form a grand and glorious Story, the true “fairy tale,” one which can be grasped and delighted in even by very young children.[83] Everything in Scripture is “symbolic.” Jordan calls this “interpretive maximalism,” an approach that harmonizes with the interpretive method used by the Church Fathers, as opposed to the “minimalism” that has characterized fundamentalist-evangelical commentaries since the rise of rationalism.[84]

A good example of this is Jordan’s discussion of Judges 9:53: “But a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head, crushing his skull.” (Note: The text does not simply say that “Abimelech got killed.” The details are there for a reason.) It is important, for symbolic reasons, that a woman crushed the tyrant’s head (see, e.g., Gen. 3:15; cf. Jud. 5:24-27); that he was destroyed by a stone (cf. Deut. 13:10; Jud. 9:5; 1 Sam. 17:49; Dan. 2:34; Matt. 21:44); and that it was a millstone, an implement of work to overcome tyranny (cf. Zech. 1:18-21).[85]

But are there any controls on the “maximalist”? How does he evade the accusation that he is merely being speculative, interpreting the text according to his personal prejudice or the whim of the moment? Of course, the charge that an interpreter is being “speculative” can be, as often as not, little more than a smokescreen to disguise the accuser’s ignorance of what the interpreter is talking about. The appropriate question, therefore, is whether or not the interpreter is proceeding in his investigations along Biblical lines of thought. Does this mean that he must stick to the so-called “plain sense” of the text? It might be answered that one man’s “plain sense” is another man’s “speculation.” A hyper-literalist would object to any level of symbolism at all. (For example, one popular preacher actually does teach, on the basis of the “plain sense” of Revelation 12, that there is a real, live, fire-breathing, seven-headed dragon flying around in outer space!) The more usual, run-of-the-mill literalist rejects all symbolism not explicitly explained as such in Scripture. But neither of these positions is countenanced by the Bible. God has given us principles of interpreting His Word, and He expects us to use them. Our goal in Bible teaching is, to put it plainly, Bible teaching, according to the Bible’s own standards of exegesis – whether or not those fit everyone’s notions of “plainness.”

There are at least two things that can keep an interpreter on a Biblical track, avoiding the pitfalls of willy-nilly speculation. First, he must be faithful to the system of doctrine taught in the Bible. Reading the Bible with theological eyes, in terms of systematic and historical theology, is an effective check on unbridled speculation. Second, the interpreter must keep in mind that the symbols in the Bible are not isolated; rather, they are part of a system of symbolism given in the Bible, an architecture of images in which all the parts fit together. If we honestly and carefully read the Bible theologically and with respect to the Bible’s own literary structure, we will not go very far astray.[86]

The Contemporary Focus of Revelation

The purpose of the Revelation was to reveal Christ as Lord to a suffering Church. Because they were being persecuted, the early Christians could be tempted to fear that the world was getting out of hand – that Jesus, who had claimed “all authority… in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18), was not really in control at all. The apostles often warned against this man-centered error, reminding the people that God’s sovereignty is over all of history (including our particular tribulations). This was the basis for some of the most beautiful passages of comfort in the New Testament (e.g. Rom. 8:28-39; 2 Cor. 1:3-7; 4:7-15).

St. John’s primary concern in writing the Book of Revelation was just this very thing: to strengthen the Christian community in the faith of Jesus Christ’s Lordship, to make them aware that the persecutions they suffered were integrally involved in the great war of history. The Lord of glory had ascended to His throne, and the ungodly rulers were now resisting His authority by persecuting His brethren. The suffering of Christians was not a sign that Jesus had abandoned this world to the devil; rather, it revealed that He was King. If Jesus’ Lordship were historically meaningless, the ungodly would have had no reason whatsoever to trouble the Christians. But instead, they persecuted Jesus’ followers, showing their unwilling recognition of His supremacy over their rule. The Book of Revelation presents Jesus seated on a white horse as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (19:16), doing battle with the nations, judging and making war in righteousness. The persecuted Christians were not at all forsaken by God. In reality they were on the front lines of the conflict of the ages, a conflict in which Jesus Christ had already won the decisive battle. Since His resurrection, all of history has been a “mopping up” operation, wherein the implications of His work are gradually being implemented throughout the world. St. John is realistic: The battles will not be easy, nor will Christians emerge unscathed. The war will often be bloody, and much of the blood will be our own. But Jesus is King, Jesus is Lord, and (as Luther says) “He must win the battle.” The Son of God goes forth to war, conquering and to conquer, until He has put all enemies under His feet.

The subject of the Revelation thus was contemporary; that is, it was written to and for Christians who were living at the time it was first delivered. We are wrong to interpret it futuristically, as if its message were primarily intended for a time 2000 years after St. John wrote it. (It is interesting – but not surprising – that those who interpret the book “futuristically” always seem to focus on their own era as the subject of the prophecies. Convinced of their own importance, they are unable to think of themselves as living at any other time than the climax of history.) Of course, the events St. John foretold were “in the future” to St. John and his readers; but they occurred soon after he wrote of them. To interpret the book otherwise is to contradict both the scope of the work as a whole, and the particular passages which indicate its subject. For us, the great majority of the Revelation is history: It has already happened.

The greatest enemy of the early Church was apostate Israel, which used the power of the pagan Roman Empire to try to stamp out Christianity, just as it had used Rome in the crucifixion of the Lord Himself. St. John’s message in Revelation was that this great obstacle to the Church’s victory over the world would soon be judged and destroyed. His message was contemporary, not futuristic.

Some will complain that this interpretation makes the Revelation “irrelevant” for our age. A more wrong-headed idea is scarcely imaginable. Are the books of Romans and Ephesians “irrelevant” just because they were written to believers in the first century? Should 1 Corinthians and Galatians be dismissed because they dealt with first-century problems? Is not all Scripture profitable for believers in every age (2 Tim. 3:16-17)? Actually, it is the futurists who have made the Revelation irrelevant – for on the futurist hypothesis the book has been inapplicable from the time it was written until the twentieth century! Only if we see the Revelation in terms of its contemporary relevance is it anything but a dead letter. From the outset, St. John stated that his book was intended for “the seven churches which are in Asia” (1:4), and we must assume that he meant what he said. He clearly expected that even the most difficult symbols in the prophecy could be understood by his first-century readers (13:18). Not once did he imply that his book was written with the twentieth century in mind, and that Christians would be wasting their time attempting to decipher it until the Scofield Reference Bible would become a best-selling novel. The primary relevance of the Book of Revelation was for its first-century readers. It still has relevance for us today as we understand its message and apply its principles to our lives and our culture. Jesus Christ still demands of us what He demanded of the early Church: absolute faithfulness to Him.

The contemporary nature of the Revelation will be defended throughout the commentary, but we may consider several lines of evidence here. First, there is the general tone of the book, which is taken up with the martyrs (see, e.g., 6:9; 7:14; 12:11).[87] The subject is clearly the present situation of the churches: The Revelation was written to a suffering Church in order to comfort believers during their time of testing (which took place, as we have seen, under Nero, not Domitian). J. Stuart Russell’s remarks on this point are particularly apt: “Was a book sent by an apostle to the churches of Asia Minor, with a benediction on its readers, a mere unintelligible jargon, an inexplicable enigma, to them? That can hardly be. Yet if the book were meant to unveil the secrets of distant times, must it not of necessity have been unintelligible to its first readers – and not only unintelligible, but even irrelevant and useless? If it spake, as some would have us believe, of Huns and Goths and Saracens, of medieval emperors and popes, of the Protestant Reformation and the French Revolution, what possible interest or meaning could it have for the Christian churches of Ephesus, and Smyrna, and Philadelphia, and Laodicea? Especially when we consider the actual circumstances of those early Christians – many of them enduring cruel sufferings and grievous persecutions, and all of them eagerly looking for an approaching hour of deliverance which was now close at hand – what purpose could it have answered to send them a document which they were urged to read and ponder, which was yet mainly occupied with historical events so distant as to be beyond the range of their sympathies, and so obscure that even at this day the shrewdest critics are hardly agreed on anyone point?

“Is it conceivable that an apostle would mock the suffering and persecuted Christians of his time with dark parables about distant ages? If this book were really intended to minister faith and comfort to the very persons to whom it was sent, it must unquestionably deal with matters in which they were practically and personally interested. And does not this very obvious consideration suggest the true key to the Apocalypse? Must it not of necessity refer to matters of contemporary history? The only tenable, the only reasonable, hypothesis is that it was intended to be understood by its original readers; but this is as much as to say that it must be occupied with the events and transactions of their own day, and these comprised within a comparatively brief space of time.”[88]

Second, St. John writes that the book concerns “the things which must shortly take place” (1:1), and warns that “the time is near” (1:3). In case we might miss it, he says again, at the close of the book, that “the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must shortly take place” (22:6). Given the fact that one important proof of a true prophet lay in the fact that his predictions came true (Deut. 18:21-22), St. John’s first-century readers had every reason to expect his book to have immediate significance. The words shortly and near simply cannot be made to mean anything but what they say. Some will object to this on the basis of 2 Peter 3:8, that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” But the context there is entirely different: Peter is exhorting his first-century readers to have patience with respect to God’s promises, assuring them that God’s faithfulness to His holy Word will not wear out or diminish.

The Book of Revelation is not about the Second Coming of Christ. It is about the destruction of Israel and Christ’s victory over His enemies in the establishment of the New Covenant Temple. In fact, as we shall see, the word coming as used in the Book of Revelation never refers to the Second Coming. Revelation prophesies the judgment of God on apostate Israel; and while it does briefly point to events beyond its immediate concerns, that is done merely as a “wrap-up,” to show that the ungodly will never prevail against Christ’s Kingdom. But the main focus of Revelation is upon events which were soon to take place.

Third, St. John identifies certain situations as contemporary: In 13:18, he clearly encourages his contemporary readers to calculate the “number of the Beast” and decipher its meaning; in 17:10, one of the seven kings is currently on the throne; and St. John tells us that the great Harlot “is [present tense] the Great City, which reigns [present tense] over the kings of the earth” (17:18). Again, the Revelation was meant to be understood in terms of its contemporary significance. A futuristic interpretation is completely opposed to the way St. John himself interprets his own prophecy.

Fourth, we should notice carefully the words of the angel in 22:10: “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” Again, of course, we are told explicitly that the prophecy is contemporary in nature; but there is more. The angel’s statement is in contrast to the command Daniel received at the end of his book: “Conceal the words and seal up the book until the time of the end” (Dan. 12:4). Daniel was specifically ordered to seal up his prophecy, because it referred to “the end,” in the distant future. But St. John is told not to seal up his prophecy, because the time of which it speaks is near.

Thus, the focus of the Book of Revelation is upon the contemporary situation of St. John and his first-century readers. It was written to show those early Christians that Jesus is Lord, “ruler over the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5). It shows that Jesus is the key to world history – that nothing can occur apart from His sovereign will, that He will be glorified in all things, and that His enemies will lick the dust. The Christians of that day were tempted to compromise with the statism and false religions of their day, and they needed this message of Christ’s absolute dominion over all, that they might be strengthened in the warfare to which they were called.

And we need this message also. We too are subjected daily to the threats and seductions of Christ’s enemies. We too are asked – even by fellow Christians – to compromise with modern Beasts and Harlots in order to save ourselves (or our jobs or property or tax exemptions). And we too are faced with a choice: surrender to Jesus Christ or surrender to Satan. The Revelation speaks powerfully today, and its message to us is the same as it was to the early Church: that “there is not a square inch of ground in heaven or on earth or under the earth in which there is peace between Christ and Satan”;[89] that our Lord demands universal submission to His rule; and that He has predestined His people to victorious conquest and dominion over all things in His name. We must make no compromise and give no quarter in the great battle of history. We are commanded to win.

A Note on the Text

I do not profess to be a textual critic. Nevertheless, in order to produce a detailed commentary, it was necessary to decide one way or another about which New Testament textual tradition to follow. The translation in this commentary is based largely on the recommendations of Hodges and Farstad in their “Majority Text” Greek New Testament.[90]  The basic arguments for the Majority Text position have been presented in the works of Jakob van Bruggen,[91] Wilbur N. Pickering,[92] Harry A. Sturz,[93] and others;[94] they do not need to be rehearsed here. I do wish to stress, however, that the issue is not really one of majority (i.e., simply counting manuscripts) but catholicity: The point of the “Majority Text” is that it is the Catholic Text, the New Testament used by the universal Church of all ages[95] – in contrast to the so-called “critical text” of most modern translations, representing a tiny, variant tradition produced in Egypt.

Overview of Revelation

The following outline is simply a more detailed version of the covenantal structure mentioned above. The Revelation is so complex that one is tempted to indulge in endless structural analyses (some will be noted as we proceed through the commentary). There is one further point that should not be missed at the outset, however. Overlaying the whole book is the theme of the Bridegroom and the Bride, and the prophecy is divided right in the middle between these two motifs. Thus:

I. The Bridegroom, Chapters 1-11: This section begins (1:9-20) and ends (10:1-7) with visions of the Son of Man, clothed in glory.

II. The Bride, Chapters 12-22: This section begins (12:1-2) and ends (21:9-27) with visions of the Church, clothed in glory.

Outline of Revelation

I. Preamble: St. John’s Vision of the Son of Man (1:1-20)

II. Historical Prologue: Letters to the Seven Churches (2:1-3:22)

A. Ephesus (2:1-7)

B. Smyrna (2:8-11)

C. Pergamum (2:12-17)

D. Thyatira (2:18-29)

E. Sardis (3:1-6)

F. Philadelphia (3:7-13)

G. Laodicea (3:14-22)

III. Stipulations: The Seven Seals (4:1-7:17)

A. The Throne (4:1-11)

B. The Sealed Book (5:1-5)

C. The Lamb Standing as Slain (5:6-14)

D. The First Four Seals: Horsemen (6:1-8)

E. The Fifth Seal: Martyrs (6:9-11)

F. The Sixth Seal: de-Creation (6:12-17)

G. The 144,000 Sealed (7:1-8)

H. The Innumerable Multitude (7:9-17)

IV. Sanctions: The Seven Trumpets (8:1-14:20)

A. The Seventh Seal: The Incense Altar (8:1-5)

B. The First Four Trumpets (8:6-13)

C. The Fifth Trumpet: Locust from the Abyss (9:1-12)

D. The Sixth Trumpet: The Army of Myriads (9:13-20)

E. The Angel of the Oath (10:1-7)

F. The Little Book (10:8-10)

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

H. The Seventh Trumpet: The Kingdom Comes (11:15-19)

I. The Woman, the Seed, and the Dragon (12:1-6)

J. Michael and the Dragon (12:7-12)

K. The Flight of the Woman (12:13-17)

L. The Beast from the Sea (13:1-10)

M. The Beast from the Land (13:11-18)

N. The Lamb and the 144,000 on Mount Zion (14:1-5)

O. The Gospel and the Poisoned Cups (14:6-13)

P. The Harvest and the Vintage of the Land (14:14-20)

V. Succession Arrangements: The Seven Chalices (15:1-22:21)

A. The Song of Victory (15:1-4)

B. The Sanctuary is Opened (15:5-8)

C. The First Four Chalices: God’s Creation Takes D. Vengeance (16:1-9)

D. The Last Three Chalices: It Is Finished! (16:10-20)

E. Babylon: The Great Harlot (17:1-5)

F. Babylon: The Mystery Explained (17:6-18)

G. Babylon Is Fallen! (18:1-8)

H. Reactions to Babylon’s Fall (18:9-20)

I. Babylon Is Thrown Down (18:20-24)

J. The Marriage Supper of the Lamb (19:1-10)

K. The Rider on the White Horse (19:11-16)

L. The Feast of the Scavengers (19:17-18)

M. The Destruction of the Beasts (19:19-20)

N. The Binding of Satan (20:1-3)

O. The First Resurrection and the Last Battle (20:4-10)

P. The Final Judgment (20:11-15)

Q. The New Creation (21:1-8)

R. The New Jerusalem (21:9-27)

S. The River of Life (22:1-5)

T. Come, Lord Jesus! (22:6-20)

[1] Contrast this with the tone of St. Clement’s letter to the Corinthians. As J. B. Lightfoot says in his edition of The Apostolic Fathers (Vol. 1, p. 352): ”Authority indeed is claimed for the utterances of the letter in no faltering tone, but it is the authority of the brotherhood declaring the mind of Christ by the Spirit, not the authority of one man, whether bishop or pope.” Cited in John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 328.

[2] 2. See William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1939), pp. 17ff., for a list of such similarities. For example, he cites John 7:37 and Rev. 22:17; John 10:18 and Rev. 2:27; John 20:12 and Rev. 3:4; John 1:1 and Rev. 19:13; John 1:29 and Rev. 5:6.

[3] Austin Farrer, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1964), pp. 41ff.

[4] One minor example of this in John is 1:9-2:11, which follows a seven-day structure patterned after the creation week; see David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1985), pp. 62f.

[5] This is, to some extent, substantiated in the tradition recorded in Eusebius that as Bishop of Ephesus St. John “was a priest, and wore the sacerdotal plate” – i.e., the petalon, insignia of the high priest worn on the forehead (Ecclesiastical History, v.xxiv). It is likely, of course, that St. John and the other “ministers of the New Covenant” wore a distinctive “uniform” corresponding to their official status, and it is possible that their garments and “badge of office” were similar to those worn by the Israelite priesthood.

[6] Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services as They Were at the Time of Christ (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), pp. 141f.

[7] Ibid., p. 142.

[8] Ibid., p. 141.

[9] St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies,; Quoted by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History, iii.xviii.2-3; v.viii.6.

[10] See Arthur Stapylton Barnes, Christianity at Rome in the Apostolic Age (London: Methuen Publishers, 1938), pp. 167ff.

[11] See the discussion in John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), pp. 221ff.

[12] H. B. Swete, Commentary on Revelation (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, [1911] 1977), p. xcix.

[13] See the detailed discussion in Moses Stuart, Commentary on the Apocalypse (Andover: Allen, Morrill and Wardwell, 1845), Vol. I, pp. 263-84; see also James M. MacDonald, The Life and Writings of St. John (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1877), pp. 151-77.

[14] Robinson has in mind the statements of the Christian pastor St. Clement (I Clement 6) and the heathen historian Tacitus (Annals xv.44).

[15] Robinson, p. 233; cf. pp. 236ff.

[16] While he does not base his case on theological considerations, this is J. A. T. Robinson’s thesis in Redating the New Testament. He arrives at this conclusion through a careful study of both the internal and external evidence regarding each New Testament book. Support from archeological findings for an early New Testament is presented in David Estrada and William White Jr., The First New Testament (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1978). See also Ernest L. Martin, The Original Bible Restored (Pasadena: Foundation for Biblical Research, 1984), for his interesting thesis that the New Testament was canonized by St. Peter and St. John.

[17] St. Athanasius, the “patron saint of postmillennialism,” thus applies the “millennial” promise of Isaiah 11:9 to the triumphs of the New Covenant era.

[18] St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, Sister Penelope Lawson, Trans. (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1946), pp. 61ff. Rousas John Rushdoony makes the same point in his exposition of Dan. 9:24: “‘Vision and prophet’ will be sealed up or ended, the New Testament revelation of Christ summing up and concluding the Scriptures.” Thy Kingdom Come: Studies in Daniel and Revelation (Tyler, TX: Thoburn Press, [1970] 1978), p. 66.

[19] C. J. Herner, “Seven Cities of Asia Minor,” in R. K. Harrison, ed., Major Cities of the Biblical World (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985), p. 235.

[20] W. H. C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), p. 127.

[21] H. B. Swete, Commentary on Revelation (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, [1911] 1977), p. lxxxix.

[22] Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), p. 88.

[23] Francis A. Schaeffer, How Shall We Then Live? (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1976), p. 24.

[24] Rousas John Rushdoony, The One and the Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy (Tyler, TX: Thoburn Press, [1971] 1978), p. 92.

[25] Ibid., pp. 92f.

[26] Ibid.,p.93.Rushdoony cites Francis Legge, Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity: From 330 B.C. to 330 A.D. (New Hyde Park, NY: University Books, [1915], 1964), vol. I, pp. xxivf.

[27] Cf. Swete, p. Ixxxi.

[28] Hal Lindsey, There’s a New World Coming (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1973), p. 140.

[29] J. L. Martin, The Voice of the Seven Thunders: or, Lectures on the Apocalypse (Bedford, IN: James M. Mathes, Publisher, sixth ed., 1873), pp. 149f.

[30] Ibid., pp. 151f.

[31] Richard B. Gaffin Jr., ed., Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980), p. 10.

[32] Meredith G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1963); idem., The Structure of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., second ed., 1975).

[33] Ray R. Sutton, That You May Prosper: Dominion by Covenant (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987).

[34] Incidentally, the point is not that Scripture is modeled after pagan treaties; rather. as Sutton argues, the pagan treaty-forms were ultimately derived from God’s Covenant.

[35] The Biblical expression Last Days properly refers to the period from the Advent of Christ until the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the “last days” of Israel during the transition period from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant (Heb. 1:1-2; 8:13; James 5:1-9; 1 Pet. 1:20; 1 John 2:18). See David Chilton, Paradise Restored, pp. 77-122, 237-90; cf. my series of studies on this subject, published in the Geneva Review, P.O. Box 131300, Tyler, TX 75713.

[36] The number seven alone is used fifty-four times in Revelation; and there are many examples (more than I have attempted to count) of words and phrases mentioned seven times, or clustered together in groups of sevens.

[37] Most commentaries, it is true, seek to find seven or more sets of seven, but in doing so they are not adhering to St. John’s formal outline. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with attempting to discover the many subtle structures of the book; but we must at least begin with the author’s explicit arrangement before making refinements.

[38] R. Laird Harris, Gleason Archer, and Bruce Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), p. 341.

[39] James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21-23 (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), p. 266.

[40] Ibid., pp. 266-71.

[41] The figurative image of harlotry is consistently used for apostasy from the covenant. There are, in fact, only two cases in all of Scripture in which the term is applied to other nations. In both cases (Tyre, Isa. 23:15-17; and Nineveh, Nah. 3:4), they were nations that had been in covenant with God through Israel.

[42] See J. P. M. Sweet, Revelation (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1979), pp. 52-54.

[43] See, e.g., Ferrell Jenkins, The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, [1972]1976), pp. 54ff.

[44] Albert Vanhoye, “L’utilisation du Livre d’Ezechiel dans l’Apocalypse,” Biblica 43 (1962), pp. 436-76 (see esp. pp. 473-76).

[45] Philip Carrington, The Meaning of the Revelation (London: SPCK, 1931), p. 65.

[46] This list is based on Carrington (p. 64) and on M. D. Goulder, “The Apocalypse as an Annual Cycle of Prophecies,” New Testament Studies 27, No.3 (April 1981), pp. 342-67.

[47] M. D. Goulder, “The Apocalypse as an Annual Cycle of Prophecies,” p.350.

[48] Austin Farrer, A Rebirth of Images: The Making of St. John’s Apocalypse (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, [1949] 1970), p. 22.

[49] M. D. Goulder, The Evangelists’ Calendar: A Lectionary Explanation of the Development of Scripture (London: SPCK, 1978).

[50] Ibid., p. 7. Goulder suggests that the Book of Revelation was written in the same way, as St. John’s meditations on the lectionary readings in his church.

[51] M. D. Goulder, ”The Apocalypse as an Annual Cycle of Prophecies,” pp. 350f.

[52] Ibid., pp. 353-54. James B. Jordan has written a very helpful series of studies on “Christianity and the Calendar,” published over a three-year period in The Geneva Papers (first series), available from Geneva Ministries, P.O. Box 131300, Tyler, TX 75713. See esp. No. 27 (January 1984): “Is the Church Year Desirable?”

[53] Massey H. Shepherd Jr., The Paschal Liturgy and the Apocalypse (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1960).

[54] Ibid., p. 82.

[55] Thomas Hopko, The Orthodox Faith, Vol. 4: The Bible and Church History (Orthodox Church in America, 1973), pp. 64f.; cited in George Cronk, The Message Of the Bible: An Orthodox Christian Perspective (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982), p. 259.

[56] Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (New York: The Seabury Press. [1945) 1983), p. 312.

[57] See Leon Morris, Apocalyptic (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972).

[58] Ferrell Jenkins, The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976), p. 41. Jenkins’ book is an excellent brief introduction to the Biblical background and symbolism of the Revelation.

[59] Morris, p. 71.

[60] Ibid., p. 60.

[61] Jenkins, p. 41.

[62] Morris, p. 79.

[63] Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Prophecies of St. Paul,” in Biblical and Theological Studies (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1968), p. 470.

[64] One of the greatest popularizers of this view was the rationalistic Christian apologist Joseph Butler, who claimed that “prophecy is nothing but the history of events before they come to pass.” The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed. to the Constitution and Course of Nature (Oxford: At the University Press, [1736] 1835), p. 310.

[65] See Chilton, Paradise Restored, pp. 15-63.

[66] Merrill C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957), p. 101.

[67] Ibid, p. 104.

[68] Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Apocalypse,” in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1973), vol. 11, pp. 652f.

[69] Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, William Hendriksen, trans. (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, [1951] 1977).

[70] Ibid., p. 86.

[71] Ibid., p. 88.

[72] Ibid., p. 91.

[73] Ibid., p. 92.

[74] Ibid., p. 94.

[75] For an extended discussion of the primary significance of symbolism, see James B. Jordan, “Symbolism: A Manifesto,” in The Sociology of the Church (Tyler, TX: Geneva Ministries, 1986).

[76] Thus, we should not be frightened when we find the Bible using certain symbols that are also used in pagan religions – for example, the Biblical references to stars or to the constellations of the Zodiac. (By the way, “Zodiac” is not an occult word; it simply refers to the apparent path of the sun across the heavens, passing “through” the twelve major constellations, the way God intended that it should.) Some forms of paganism teach that water is inhabited by spirits, and that (with the proper incantations) its application can confer magical powers. Christians do not believe this. Should we therefore (in order not to be confused with pagans) abandon the use of baptism? Or, should we give up the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, on the grounds that mythological gods have impregnated earthly maidens? Such examples can be multiplied many times over. Paganism, being a perversion of the truth, has a myriad of doctrines which bear a certain superficial similarity to Christianity. This does not mean that we should be afraid of symbolism; it means, instead, that we should reclaim the stolen symbols for the Lord Jesus Christ.

[77] Rousas J. Rushdoony, Thy Kingdom Come, p. 174.

[78] Austin Farrer, A Rebirth of Images, pp. 19f. For those readers who truly wish to pursue the serious study of Scripture, I suggest the following as an absolutely necessary first step: Pack all your books on hermeneutics in a trunk until you have read Laurence Perrine, Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, sixth ed., 1982), and John Ciardi and Miller Williams, How Does a Poem Mean (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., second ed., 1975). More courageous souls may wish to continue further with two books by Northrop Frye: Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957) and (with caution) The Great Code: The Bible and Literature (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982).

[79] The idea that he wrote it in “code” because he was afraid of being arrested for treason is obviously false: The prophets were not timid men; and anyway, the Book of Revelation is “treasonous” long before St. John gets around to talking about Nero. Christians could be killed for saying simply what St. John says in Chapter 1 – that Jesus Christ is “the Ruler of the kings of the earth.”

[80] Philip Carrington, The Meaning of the Revelation, pp. 84f.

[81] Ibid., pp. 136f.

[82] 82. Geerhardus Vos, “The Idea of Biblical Theology,” in Richard B. Gaffin, ed., Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980), p. 23.

[83] A good introduction to the literary motifs of Scripture is Leland Ryken’s How to Read the Bible as Literature (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984).

[84] James B. Jordan, Judges: God’s War Against Humanism (Tyler, TX: Geneva Ministries, 1985), p. xii.

[85] Ibid, pp. 175f.

[86] For more on Biblical interpretation, see Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948); Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980); Vern S. Poythress. The Stained-Glass Kaleidoscope: Using Perspectives in Theology (privately printed syllabus, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, 1985); Richard L. Pratt, Jr., “Pictures, Windows, and Mirrors in Old Testament Exegesis,” Westminster Theological Journal 45 (1983), pp. 156-67. James B. Jordan’s three lectures on “How to Interpret Prophecy” are an excellent introduction to the understanding of Biblical symbolism. The three tapes are available from Geneva Ministries, P.O. Box 131300, Tyler, TX 75713.

[87] See Louis Bouyer, The Spirituality of the New Testament and the Fathers, trans. Mary P. Ryan (Minneapolis: The Seabury Press, 1963), pp. 120f.

[88] J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, [1887] 1983), p. 366.

[89] Cornelius Van Til, Essays on Christian Education (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1977), p. 27.

[90] Zane C. Hodges and Arthur L. Farstad, The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982). That is to say, where the evidence presented by Hodges and Farstad seems unequivocal, I have followed it; where it is less clear, I have felt free to disagree.

[91] Jakob van Bruggen, The Ancient Text of the New Testament (Winnipeg: Premier Printing Ltd., 1976); idem, The Future of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1978).

[92] Wilbur N. Pickering, The Identity of the New Testament Text (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1977).

[93] Harry A. Sturz, The Byzantine Text-Type in New Testament Textual Criticism (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984). Sturz takes a much more moderate position than do Hodges, Pickering, and the other defenders of the Majority Text. His valuable study demonstrates that the so-called “Byzantine” (i.e. Majority Text) readings are both early and independent. Thus, while he does not believe that the Byzantine text is “primary,” he shows that it cannot be regarded as “secondary” either.

[94] Cf. David Otis Fuller, ed., Which Bible? (Grand Rapids: International Publishers, fifth ed., 1975); True or False? The Westcott-Hort Textual Theory Examined (Grand Rapids: International Publishers, 1973); Counterfeit or Genuine? – Mark 16? John 8? (Grand Rapids: International Publishers, 1975); Edward F. Hills, The King James Version Defended! (Des Moines: Christian Research Press, 1956, 1973). It is important to note, however, that the position of the Majority-Text advocates is not quite the same as that of the defenders of the King James Version (or of the Textus Receptus). The argument of this latter group is that the true text has been providentially preserved in the Textus Receptus readings, even in those cases (e.g., 1 John 5:7; Rev. 22:19) where the actual Greek manuscript evidence is either slim or nonexistent. It is interesting that (in contrast to the rest of the New Testament) the Majority Text readings for the Book of Revelation are more often in agreement with the “critical text” than with the Textus Receptus.

[95] For this reason, it is most unfortunate that Hodges and Farstad chose to ignore the readings of the traditional lectionaries in collating their edition (The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text, p. xviii).