SCENES, JUDGMENT SEQUENCES AND INTERLUDES
IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION
SCENE OF GOD’S THRONE (4:1-11)
The first major scene in The Revelation after the introductory letters is a scene of God’s throne in heaven (4:11). In order to see this vision John is caught up in the Spirit (4:2) to heaven. Among those in the heavenly court whose primary responsibility is to praise God are twenty-four elders (4:4,10; 5:6,8,14; 19:4) and four living creatures (4:6-8). This is the keynote scene of The Revelation. John’s readers, suffering intense persecution, need to know that the God who made all things (4:11) has not lost control. He is on the throne.
SCENE OF BOOK AND THE LAMB (5:1-14)
The next scene (5:1-14) focuses attention on a book in the right hand of God and on the Lamb who is worthy to open the book. The book seems to contain a very extensive outline (5:1) of the future in general or of the judgments which are coming upon mankind. John is very anxious to know what is in the book so that he may bring comfort to the people of God, so anxious that he weeps greatly (5:4) when he contemplates the possibility of not knowing what it contains. However, his anxiety is obviously relieved when the Lamb worthy to open the book appears (5:6). When the Lamb takes the book (5:7-8), the elders and the four living creatures rejoice in song (5:9-10). These elders and living creatures are not to be identified with the redeemed; rather they sing about the redeemed who are reminded of the promise that they will reign upon the earth (5:10). This promise is intended to encourage Christians to be faithful through persecution.
JUDGMENT SEQUENCE OF SIX SEALS (6:1-17)
The first judgment sequence in The Revelation is the sequence of the four seals (6:1-8). The four horses, white (v. 2), red (vv. 3-4), black (vv. 5-6) and ashen (vv. 7-8), represent conquest, war, famine and pestilence respectively, means by which God exercises His judgments upon men in all periods of human history. The fact that probably to the readers of John’s day the bowman on the white horse would have represented a Parthian invader and the black horse represents a famine which could have occurred amidst the luxuries of pagan Rome (6:6) has led some to the conclusion that the judgment of the four seals relates only to the period in which John lived. However, conquest, war, famine and pestilence occur at all periods in human history. Actually, the six seals cover the period of human history from the time of John until what some have called the sign(s) of Christ’s Second Coming.
The fifth seal (6:9-11) shows the primary reason for all the judgments in the judgment sequences in The Revelation: the killing of the martyrs. Just as in the Old Testament period God’s judgment on a particular nation was determined from a human standpoint in large measure by that nation’s treatment of His holy people, the true Jews; so in the New Testament period God’s judgment is determined similarly by the treatment of true Christians. It is my opinion that the Apostle John assumes that one characteristic of any true Christian is that he is prepared to be beheaded for Jesus Christ. Those who argue that the Christians described in the passage dealing with the Millennium (20:4) represent a particular class of Christians have failed to understand what I consider to be one of John’s basic assumptions.
The sixth seal (6:12-17) brings us to the time immediately before the Second Coming of Christ. Will any unprejudiced person deny that there is an obvious parallel between Revelation 6:12-17 and Matthew 24:29-30. Here we have an almost unmistakable chronological frame of reference.
Immediately after the sixth seal, particularly when we have the expressions of fear (6:16-17), we would expect the opening of the seventh seal and some very significant action. Instead we have an interlude. The interludes throughout the Book serve several functions. In some cases they heighten the suspense; often they prepare for subsequent action; and often they serve to give words of warning, instruction, or encouragement primarily to the people of John’s day and secondarily to all subsequent readers.
FIRST INTERLUDE (7:1-12)
The first interlude (7:1-17) is a preparation for the judgment of the seven trumpets (8:6-9:11). The judgment of the seven trumpets is a judgment which comes upon the generation of people, mainly Gentiles, who are living when Jesus comes (6:15-17). This judgment, unlike that of the first four seals, is miraculously cataclysmic, associated in large measure with angels, and has a sealing prior to it. Like the plagues of Egypt these cataclysmic acts of judgment have a sealing prior to them and show the unrepentant nature of man’s hardened heart (9:20-21).
One hundred and forty-four thousand Jews (7:4; 14:1,3) are sealed so that they will not be hurt by these plagues (7:1-8). This specific number, the largest in The Revelation applied to the redeemed, my be symbolic. Are these Jews the same one who are described by Paul (Romans 11:24) as being grafted into their own olive tree, apparently at the end of the Gentile age? Are they also the first fruits of the remnant who repent after the great earthquake which occurs just prior to or simultaneous with the last trumpet (11:13)? I am inclined to think so. Later we see these Jews with the Lamb on Mount Zion (14:1-3).
After John sees these Jews on the earth being sealed, he sees in heaven an innumerable multitude of people from all nations (7:9-17). They have come out of the great tribulation (7:14). The great tribulation as far as the Christians in the Book of Revelation is concerned is the persecution of Christians in all generations (1:9; 6:9-11). These Christians in heaven do not need to be sealed from a judgment which is coming upon the ungodly on earth. Again Christians are encouraged to be faithful (7:15-17).
SEVENTH SEAL AND SECOND INTERLUDE (8:1-5)
The breaking of the seventh seal (8:1) would open the book. We would expect some significant dramatic action. Instead there is a silence in heaven for about half an hour, an interlude with great dramatic effect on the first readers. The most significant action (11:15-19) must wait for a further sound of seven trumpets with a third interlude between the sixth sounding and the seventh sounding. As part of the second interlude there is a scene (8:2-5) which demonstrates in symbolic fashion the fact that God does hear the prayers of the saints who cry (6:9-11) for the vengeance of God upon their enemies.
JUDGMENT SEQUENCE OF SIX TRUMPETS (8:6-9:21)
The judgments of the seven trumpets and of the seven bowls are cataclysmic judgments which come upon the last generation of people, mainly Gentiles, who are living when Jesus comes.
As previously with the judgment of the seven seals (6:1-8), the judgments of the first four trumpets (8:7-12) are distinguished from the last three, in that the last three trumpet judgment are called woes (8:13; 9:12; 1l:14; 15:1) and in that the first four do not affect people directly but only indirectly (8:11). The next two trumpet judgments (8:13-9:21) are called woes. Though a third of mankind is killed by the second woe (9:18) and though there is still opportunity for repentance right up until the sounding of the last trumpet, the bulk of the people who witness these calamities do not repent (9:20-21). Some understand the judgments of the six trumpets as a recycling of the judgment of the six seals, and the judgment of the bowls as a further recycling. In my opinion this viewpoint overlooks the miraculously cataclysmic phenomena in the judgments of the trumpets and the bowls. This viewpoint also overlooks some significant references to time in the various sequences.
THIRD INTERLUDE (10:1-11:14)
As previously between the sixth seal and the seventh seal (7:1-17), there is an interlude (10:1-11:14) between the sixth trumpet (9:13) and the seventh trumpet (11:15). The seventh trumpet, the last trumpet (1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:16), is the most significant chronological frame of reference in The Book of the Revelation. It is the time when Jesus comes again. It is the point of time which ends the Christian’s opportunity to preach the Gospel and ends the non-Christians opportunity to repent (10:7). So, as John’s attention begins to focus on the last trumpet, his thoughts are centered by God on the urgency of preaching the Gospel. This is the main thrust of the third interlude. The Gospel is symbolized by an open book (10:2) in the hand of a strong angel (10:1).The fact that the strong angel’s feet span sea and land (10:2) demonstrates that the Gospel is to be preached with power in all the world. In seven peals of thunder (10:4) John is given a message which is not for publication. However, he is given a message for proclamation, a message for all of us. The message is that the Gospel, which is both bitter and sweet (10:9-10), which has a savor of life unto those who believe, but a savor of death to those who refuse (2 Cor. 2:16), must be preached faithfully right up until the last trumpet (10:11).
The eleventh chapter of The Revelation is perhaps the most difficult to understand. Yet, because it is part of an interlude covering the period when the Gospel is being preached by John and his descendants in a world under Gentile domination (10:11), its interpretation is vital to an understanding of the entire Book. John is told (11:1) to measure the inner sanctuary of God, including the altar and those who worship in it. What and who are measured represent true Judaism, which is the equivalent of true Christianity (Phil. 3:3). The measuring corresponds to some degree to the sealing described previously (7:1-8). The outer court (11:2), which in the Old Testament was for Gentiles, represents Jews (and Gentiles?) who do not believe (Phil. 3:2). The outer court will be trodden under foot for forty-two months, which is another way of saying three and a half years. Here is a significant chronological key. Jesus told us (Luke 21:24) that Jerusalem would be trodden down during the present period of Gentile world domination until the Age of the Gentiles was completed. This period is also the period for Gospel proclamation. So we read (Rev. 11:3) that Christian witnesses prophesy (speak for God) for these twelve hundred and sixty days. The number “two” symbolizes the strength and veracity of the entire Christian witness, and the clothing in sackcloth symbolizes their concern for people dead in trespasses and in sins (2 Cor. 5:14). Under the control of the Spirit of God (11:4) they have a power more effective than that of Moses or Elijah (11:5-6). They will not die until they have completed their mission (11:7). They will die where they have preached, in the earthly city Jerusalem, which seems to represent the entire world without Christ (11:8). The world will gloat over them and treat them with utter disrespect, here symbolized by refusal to bury (11:9-10). However, this period in which Christians are treated with disrespect, that is the period of Gentile world domination, will only last for three and a half days (11:11). As far as the Gentile world is concerned, the period lasts for three and a half years. However, for the Christian who has died in martyrdom, who is present with the Lord during this time, the same period seems much shorter (2 Peter 3:8). This period when the non-Christian Gentile world seems to have the upper hand will end with the last trumpet (11:15), the resurrection of the saints (11:11), the rapture of the saints (11:12), a great earthquake which kills a large complete number of people in the city (11:13), and the salvation of the remnant (of Jews?) (ll:13) living when Jesus comes. All of these events take place virtually at the same time (11:13). The sequence John gives is topical rather than chronological.
SEVENTH TRUMPET AND FOURTH INTERLUDE (11:15-13:18)
The sounding of the seventh trumpet (11:15) with the Second Coming of Christ brings praise to the lips of the elders (11:16-17) but terror to the ungodly nations (11:18-19). We have come to a major climax in the Book.
As previously between the sequence of seals and the sequence of trumpets there was an interlude (8:1-5), so there is an interlude (12:1-13:18) between the sequence of trumpets and that of the bowls (16:1-21). This fourth interlude is in large measure a flashback. Very quickly we move back in time from the Second Coming of Christ (11:15) to a period even before the Birth of Christ (12:5). This flashback explains in dramatic fashion to John’s first readers why they were being persecuted and also gives them hope and encouragement form victory.
A heavenly woman (12:1) is in labor, about to bear a child who is destined to smash to pieces (2:27; 12:5; 19:15) all the nations with an iron club, just as a shepherd does to the enemies of the sheep. The nations are the spheres of activity of the dragon (13: 4, 7); so the dragon desires to eliminate the Child (12:4). This great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns (12:4) sweeps to the a third of the stars of heaven (12:4). After the Child is born on earth, He is caught up to heaven, to the throne of God (12:5), an obvious reference to the Resurrection and/or Ascension of Christ. The woman, now on earth, and now to be identified as the mother of the Church (12:17), escapes to the wilderness where she is nourished by God for 1260 days (12:6), or three and a half years. Again we see that this period of time, variously described (11:2,3,9,11; 12:6,14; 13:5) represents the Church Age, the Gospel Age, the Age of the Gentiles, the relatively short time that the dragon has to persecute the Church (12:12), the relatively short time that non-Christians will be able to gloat over the death of Christians (11:9), the relatively short time before the rapture of the saints at the return of Christ (11:11-12), the relatively short time of tribulation for the Church (6:9-11), and the relatively short time that the first beast who activates the Roman persecutors and their descendants will speak blasphemies.
The dragon, who until the Birth and Resurrection of Christ, had access to heaven, with his angels now wages war with Michael and his angels (12:7). He is defeated (12:8), and is cast out of heaven with his angels (12:9). This brings joy to the inhabitants of heaven (12:10-11), but tribulation for the Church (12:12-13), which in its tribulation has the promise of God’s protection (12:14-17). To say that the Devil is bound (Rev. 20:3) so as to deceive the nations no longer in this present age is to take a spiritual truth which Jesus taught (Matt. 12:29) and to apply it to certain aspects of the Book of Revelation to which it cannot be applied.
The thirteenth chapter describes in more detail the supernatural agencies which Satan uses to persecute the Church. The first beast (11:7; 13:3-8, 12-15; 17:1-18; 19:19-20) is described as coming up out of the sea (13:1) or up out of the abyss (11:7). It has seven heads on which are the names of blasphemy and ten crowned horns (13:1). This beast, empowered by Satan (13:2), has a combination (13:2) of the lion-like characteristics of Babylon (Daniel 7:4), the bear-like characteristics of Medo-Persia (Daniel 7:5), and the leopard-like characteristics of Greece (Daniel 7:6). This alone should suggest to us that later (17:1-8) he will be identified or associated with Rome and her descendants.
The third verse of the thirteenth chapter is an obvious reference to the Nero redivivus idea, the idea that Nero was not dead, but that he was waiting in Parthia to launch an attack in order to take up the imperial power again. John did not necessarily accept this idea, but knew that his readers were aware of it and could use this as another clue to interpretation.
Throughout this chapter we have obvious references to Caesar worship. The first beast will be punished at the end of the Church Age or the Age of the Gentiles (13:5; 19:19-20). One of the beast’s basic purposes is to persecute Christians (13:7). A true Christian is one who, unlike the rest of the world around him (13:8), refuses to worship the beast. The ninth verse is a warning to John’s first readers to pay particular attention to what is said at this point, for the point made here, that no Christian will engage in Caesar worship, as far as John’s first readers are concerned, is the practical crux of the whole Book. The tenth verse seems to say that this beast or what he represents will eventually be treated as he has treated others, an encouragement for Christians to resist him by faith full of patience.
The second beast (13:11-18), whose number is 666 (13:18), the number of a man, seems to represent in symbolic terms relating to the supernatural the human forces responsible for enforcing Caesar worship by religious, political and economic means. He is later (19:20) called the false prophet. This description of the second beast ends with a warning (13:18) similar to the warning (13:9) at the end of the description of the first beast.
FURTHER SCENES PRIOR TO THE JUDGMENT SEQUENCE OF THE SEVEN BOWLS (14:1-15:8)
The first scene (14:1-13) in preparation for the judgment sequence of the bowls (16:1-21) focuses on the Lamb standing on Mount Zion with the 144,000 redeemed people (14:1-5), apparently the same group described previously (7:3-8). They are called the firstfuits of the remnant (of Jews) who seem to be saved at the time of the Second Coming (11:3). It is important to note that the flying angel with the everlasting Gospel does not (14:6), as previously (10:11), encourage the preaching of the Gospel. The last trumpet has sounded (11:15). There is no further opportunity to preach the Gospel (10:7). The hour of God’s judgment has come (14:7). A second angel informs us that Babylon has fallen. Babylon is obviously a code name for Rome (17:9). It is significant that the fall of Rome is not part of the judgment sequences, even though the announcement that Rome has fallen is. The fall of Rome takes place long before, not during, the battle of Armageddon. The battle of Armageddon serves as a reminder of Rome’s previous fall (16:19). The fall of Rome takes place in the period of human history prior to the Second Coming of Christ. The fall of Rome is covered in considerable detail by some of the interludes (17:15-18:24).
A third angel repeats the warning (14:9-11) and the encouragement (14:12) which we have had previously (13:9-10, 18)). A voice from heaven echoes the encouragement (14:13).
The next scenes (14:14-15:8) continue the preparation for the judgment of the bowls (16:1-21). It is significant to note that there is no redemptive sealing before this judgment and no saving repentance during and after it (16:9,21). How could there be saving repentance after the last trumpet? This judgment, like the judgment of the trumpets, but unlike the judgment of the seals, has angels associated with it. This is true because the judgment of the seals takes place in the normal affairs of human history; the judgment of the trumpets and the judgment of the bowls take place after the cataclysmic signs associated with the signs of the appearing of Jesus Christ (Rev. 6:12-17; Matt. 24:29-30).
JUDGMENT SEQUENCE OF THE SEVEN BOWLS (16:1-21)
Although it is not specifically stated in the Book of Revelation, it seems to me that the judgment of the seven bowls is a cataclysmic judgment upon the last generation of people, Jews and Gentiles. Living on the earth when Jesus comes. The Roman Empire, as John’s readers knew it, has fallen; yet the remnants of the empire continue to exist until the Second Coming of Christ (Daniel 2:40-43). There are still those who have the mark of the beast and worship his image (16:1). The sixth bowl (16:12-16) prepares the way directly for the battle of Armageddon which is later described.
FIFTH INTERLUDE (17:1-19:5)
This interlude is not part of the judgment sequence of the seven bowls. It is significant that the judgment of Rome takes place in a wilderness setting (17:1-3) removed from the judgment of the seven bowls. This suggests to me that the judgment of Rome takes place in human history prior to the Second Coming of Christ. The judgment of the seven bowls serves as a reminder (16:19) of the previous judgment on Rome which would have occurred centuries before. If we study carefully the descriptions in this interlude we shall see in symbolic language when the fall of Rome takes place.
See my essay on the Warp and the Woof of the Book of Revelation.
The scarlet beast (17:3) we can identify with the first beast of the thirteenth chapter (13:1-10). The seven heads of the beast represent the mountains of the city of Rome (17:9) and at the same time the symbolically total or complete number (seven) of the emperors of Rome (17:10). Again we have a strong reminder to John’s first readers to pay particular attention (17:9-10) to the code. John is living at the time of the sixth king (17:10). The remaining Roman emperors are represented by a seventh king (17:10) whose reign will be brief, and an eighth who is the beast and who is of the seventh (17:11). The ten horns seem to represent the descendants of the Roman Empire (17:12) and to correspond to the twelve toes of the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2:42-43). These ten horns will last a relatively short time, symbolically represented by one hour (17:12). They, like the emperors of the Roman Empire, will be under the sway of the beast (17:13). These descendants of the Roman Empire, acting in this instance as instruments of God’s wrath (17:16-17) will be responsible in part for Rome’s destruction. Such a description of this judgment again suggests to me that it is chronologically distinct from the judgment of the seven bowls which are primarily cataclysmic rather than primarily of human endeavor. This suggestion is borne out further by the indication in the eighteenth chapter that the destruction of Rome will be by methods which God has used throughout human history (18:8), and by indications in the same chapter that human history will continue after the destruction of Rome (18:9-24).
This interlude ends with rejoicing in heaven (19:1-5) at the judgment upon Rome.
Revelation 17:1 – 19:5
MARRIAGE SUPPER OF THE LAMB AND THE BATTLE OF ARMAGEDDON (19:6-21)
The sequence continues with the preparation in heaven (19:6-16) for the marriage supper of the Lamb and for the battle of Armageddon. We are not told what the redeemed will eat at the supper. We are told that birds, assembled from all over the sky, will come to eat the flesh of those slain in the battle of Armageddon (19:17-21). In this battle, at the end of human history, at the end of the period described as three and one half years or its equivalent (13:5), the earthly influences of the first beast and the second beast (the false prophet) are brought to an end (19:20). All those evil people who take part in the battle of Armageddon are slain (19:21). However, it should be pointed out that there seem to be people who do not come to the battle of Armageddon (16:14; 19:18; 20:8).
There follows the battle of Armageddon the Millennium in which Satan is bound. This period is symbolically represented by one thousand years. This is an indication that compared with the period of Gentile world power (three and a half years) the Millennium is much longer. The Millennium in my opinion cannot be equated with anything that happens either in heaven or on earth contemporaneously with the Age of Gentile world power.
SATAN LOOSED AND FINAL BATTLE (20:7-10)
After the Millennium Satan is loosed for a season, and then brings together apparently an even greater number of people (20:8) than those at the battle of Armageddon. All the enemies of God receive a similar fate as those in the battle of Armageddon (20:7-10).
GREAT WHITE THRONE JUDGMENT AND NEW HEAVEN AND NEW EARTH (20:11-22:5)
There follows the great white throne judgment (2011-15) and the new heaven and the new earth (21:1-22:5).
SUMMARY REGARDING THE INTERLUDES
There are several significant points to notice concerning the interludes.
1. The interludes always occur either between the sixth and seventh parts of one particular sequence, or after the seventh part of one sequence before the first of the next.
2. It is only in these interludes that we have any reference to three and a half years or its equivalent. The phrase or its equivalent is never used to refer to any aspect of those events which are in sequence.
3. The interludes are often used to give flashbacks concerning matters which take place in human history, in the Gentile Age or Age of the Gospel.
4. It is only in the interludes of a flashback nature that there is any reference directly to Rome except by way of remembrance (16:19). If I understand my Bible correctly (Daniel 2:40-43), there will not be a revived Roman Empire which will participate as an entity in the affairs which transpire at the Second Coming of Christ and the Battle of Armageddon.
CHART OF SCENES, SEQUENCES AND INTERLUDES
1. SCENE OF GOD’S THRONE (4:1-11)
2. SCENE OF BOOK AND LAMB (5:1-14)
3. JUDGMENT SEQUENCE OF SIX SEALS (6:1-17)
4. FIRST INTERLUDE (7:1-17)
5. SEVENTH SEAL (8:1-5)
6. SECOND INTERLUDE
7. JUDGMENT SEQUENCE OF SIX TRUMPETS (8:6-9:21)
8. THIRD INTERLUDE (10:1-11:14)
9. SEVENTH TRUMPET AND RELATED EVENTS (11:15-19)
10. FOURTH INTERLUDE (12:1-13:18)
11. FURTHER SCENES (14:1-15:8)
12. JUDGMENT SEQUENCE OF SEVEN BOWLS (16:1-21)
13. FIFTH INTERLUDE (17:1-19:5)
14. MARRIAGE SUPPER OF THE LAMB; THE BATTLE OF ARMAGEDDON (19:6-21)
15. THE MILLENNIUM (20:1-6)
16. FINAL EVENTS (20:7-22:5)