Linear Chronological Sequence in Revelation?

SYNOPSIS:  To assume Revelation’s visions are laid out in a linear sequence with events in a strict chronological order is to miss the larger picture of the book.

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NeONBRAND on Unsplash
Some interpretations assume the visions of the book of Revelation are presented in chronological sequence as they unfold; however, this view becomes untenable when events and patterns are repeated over several visions. For example, the sixth seal culminates in the final day of wrath when “every mountain is removed” - Massive upheaval occurs throughout the universe. Yet, the final day also arrives when the seventh trumpet sounds and the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of Christ.

Likewise, the seventh bowl of wrath results in the proclamation - “It is done.” Babylon falls while “every island and mountain is removed,” another picture of terrestrial chaos (Revelation 6:12-1711:15-1916:17-21). This repetition of terms and imagery across multiple visions raises the question: Is Revelation describing multiple “final” judgments, “final” battles, and so on, or the same set of events presented from different perspectives?

This does not mean the book is an allegory about “timeless truths.” Its visions move forward to inevitable conclusions: Final judgment, ultimate victory, New Creation. Likewise, the visions unveil events progressively; later ones have literary links to previous visions but, also, provide further details.

For example, God is the one “who Is and who Was and who is Coming.” The clause is repeated three more times in the book; however, in the last instance, the third clause is dropped (“He who is coming”). That is, by that visionary event, God has arrived and is no longer “coming” (Revelation 1:4, 4:8, 11:17, 16:5).

Information is revealed in stages. Another example is the prophecy from the book of Ezekiel about “Gog and Magog.” It is used in three separate visions. In the first case, language from Ezekiel Chapter 38 is brief and allusive; in the second instance, the description becomes more extensive and recognizable (Revelation 16:12-1619:17-21).

The invading force is identified as “all the kings of the earth and their armies.” The third instance is the most explicit. “Gog and Magog” are named; they represent the “nations of the earth” in a last-ditch attempt to annihilate God’s “saints” (Revelation 20:8-9).

Does the book present a strictly linear chronology from one vision to the next, or does it picture events in multiple ways? Put another way, the book of Revelation is more concerned with “how” things develop than it is with “when.” Christ’s absolute and final victory is a foregone conclusion, but how will it unfold in the present age?

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A repeated theme is the ascent of a malevolent figure that wreaks havoc on the earth and persecutes the “saints.” In each instance, it is described with similar terms. For example, the sounding of the fifth Trumpet results in the “ascent (anabainō) out of the Abyss” of a horde of locust-like beings that torment men. The Abyss is ruled by a destructive creature named “Abaddon” and “Apollyon” (Revelation 9:1-2).

In Revelation 11:7, a “beast” is seen ascending (anabainon) out of the Abyss to make war with the Two Witnesses, “to overcome and kill them.” “Ascending” translates the Greek verb anabainō, a participle in the present tense that signifies continuous action (Strong’s - #G305). The language is from the book of Daniel when the prophet saw four “beasts” ascending from the sea.

The same picture from Daniel is also used when describing a single beast that John saw “ascending” from the sea to “wage war” against the “saints.” A second beast is next seen “ascending from the earth” (Revelation 13:1-18Daniel 7:17; [“These great beasts are four kings that ascend out of the earth”]).

The beast is described again as “ascending out of the Abyss” in Chapter 17. Finally, at the end of the thousand years, Satan is “loosed” from the Abyss to deceive the nations and lead them to “ascend over the breadth of the earth” against the saints (Revelation 17:7-820:7-9).
The common theme in the preceding passages is the ascent of a malevolent being (demons, beast, false prophet, Satan) from a dark and deep place (Abyss, sea, earth) who wages war against the Two Witnesses, the Rider on the White Horse, or the “saints.”
The downfall and “binding” of Satan is presented twice, each time with the same terms and similar imagery. In Chapter 12, Satan is the great dragon, the old serpent, the Devil and Satan, the one “who deceives the whole habitable earth.” He is poised to devour a figure called “son” (Greek huios), but he finds himself thwarted when this “son” is caught up to God’s throne.

As a result of the death of Jesus, “Michael and his angels” defeat “the dragon” who is “cast” (Greek ballō) out of heaven and onto the earth. From this point, salvation, God’s kingdom, and Christ’s rule are declared, “Because the accuser of our brethren is cast down!” Therefore, saints “overcome him by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they loved not their life unto death.” ALL THIS IS BASED ON CHRIST’S PAST DEATH (Revelation 12:1-11).

Note that Satan is described as the one “who deceives the whole habitable earth” before he is cast to the earth. After his downfall, he turns his fury against the woman who gave birth to the “son,” and against the “remnant of her seedthey who have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:12-17).

In Chapter 20, an “angel” lays hold of the “dragon, the old serpent, the Devil and Satan to cast (ballō) him into the Abyss,” in this case, for a “thousand years.” The Devil is not able “to deceive the nations” anymore until this period is completed, after which he will be “loosed for a little time” (Revelation 20:1-6).

During the thousand years, “Judgment is given for” the saints who overcame, an allusion to Daniel 7:21-22 (“judgment was given to the saints and the time came that they possessed the kingdom”). Those who suffered for “the testimony of Jesus” reign with him for the thousand years, as “priests of God and of Christ.”

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The prologue of the book declared previously that Jesus, “by his blood,” redeemed men to be “priests to his God.” Likewise, all heaven proclaimed the Lamb worthy because “he redeemed unto God by his blood men from every nation and made them a kingdom, priests to our God, and they reign on the earth” (Revelation 1:65:9-10).

At the end of the thousand years, Satan is “loosed from the Abyss” so he can “go out to deceive the nations from the four corners” of the globe and gather them to “ascend over the breadth of the earth to encompass the saints.” All this is to no avail; “fire descends out of heaven to devour them” as they assemble for the final assault (Revelation 20:7-9).

The verbal parallels between the “casting down” of the Dragon following the victory of the “son,” and the imprisonment of Satan in the “Abyss” are too close to be coincidental; on some level, the same set of events or realities must be in view.  Note the following descriptions of the Devil:

(Revelation 12:9) – “And the great dragon was cast out,—the ancient serpent, he that is called Adversary and the Satan, that deceiveth the whole habitable world,—he was cast to the earth.
(Revelation 20:1-3) – “And he laid hold of the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is Adversary and the Accuser, and bound him for a thousand years,—and cast him into the abyss, and fastened and sealed [it] over him,—that he might not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years should be ended.

Earlier, when John saw a vision of the Throne, he described that “out of the throne proceeded flashes of lightning, voices, and thunders.” This colorful picture is repeated three more times in Revelation. Each time, additional elements are added at the conclusion of each judgment series (e.g., earthquakes and hail). There is both repetition and progress as each new sevenfold series unfolds (Revelation 4:5, 8:5, 11:19, 16:18-21). 

There are too many verbal and conceptual parallels between the different visions of the book to be coincidental or simply for literary effect. John expects the astute listener to detect these many clues for insight on each vision and how they all fit together. For example, each of the three series of seven judgments, the Seals, Trumpets, and Vials end in a final judgment scene. Does this mean there will be three “final” judgments, or is the book of Revelation looking at the same events from different aspects?  Will there be three final battles or one, three final judgments or one, etc. (Revelation 6:12-21, 11:15-19, 16:17-21)?

To read the visions of Revelation as if they are laid out in a neat chronological order is to miss the larger picture and the true significance of the book.

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