Summary: An overview of the seals, trumpets and bowls and how they are related.
Just for the fun of it this week, I decided to use Google to search for images using the search term “seals, trumpets and bowls”. Among the nearly 29,000 hits were these charts that very neatly depict the chronology of the seals, trumpets and bowls in the Book of Revelation. [Show charts on PowerPoint]. These are all well and good, but perhaps you noted that there is a major problem with these charts – no two of them are the same.
What this illustrates to me is that perhaps God never intended for us to be able to chart out these events in that kind of manner. However, before we begin looking at these events in great detail next week, I do think that it is crucial for us to look at these three series of seven events and see if we can’t determine their overall purpose and how they might relate to each other. As always, we’ll limit our conclusions to those which can reasonably be reached and supported by looking strictly at the underlying text and patterns that we find in the rest of the Bible.
At first glance, it appears that the seals, trumpets and bowls could occur in a chronological manner that might look something like this:
Seals 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Trumpets 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Bowls 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
However, what I think that I can demonstrate to us this morning is that while there may be some sequential elements in these three sets of seven, there is also evidence in the text that there is at least some overlap among these events and that each set of seven may very well be describing the same or similar events from different perspectives.
Throughout the book of Revelation, the action is moved along as John sees various visions with phrases like these:
“…now I watched…”
“After this I saw…”
“After this I looked…”
“Then I saw…” [Most common – used 13 times in Revelation]
But as we’ve already seen, even though these phrases may indicate the order in which these visions were revealed to John, they do not necessarily indicate the chronology of the events in those visions.
Since John, with his finite human mind, is only capable of seeing one perspective at a time, it seems like God chooses to reveal multiple visions of the same event one at a time rather than overwhelming John by forcing him to see the visions all at once and then trying to sort everything out. Perhaps this brief film trailer illustrates what is happening here.
[Show trailer from “Vantage Point]
In this movie, a single set of events is shown from the perspective of eight different people involved in those events. But in the movie, each perspective has to be shown one at a time. If somehow the screen was split into eight different parts with each of the eight perspectives being shown all at the same time, we would be so overwhelmed there is no way we could make sense of anything. In much the same way, John sees one vision at a time, both for his own sanity, and so that he is able to write down what he is seeing.
The technical name for this technique is “recapitulation”, or it is also sometimes termed “parallelism’. The whole concept of recapitulation or parallelism is actually quite common in Hebrew literature and therefore, not surprisingly, we see quite a few examples in our Bible. A few that quickly come to mind include:
• The creation account in Genesis 1 and 2. In chapter 1, we have an overall account of the creation and then chapter 2 goes back and views some of the details of that process from another vantage point focusing primarily on the creation of Adam and Eve.
• In the Book of Daniel there are two distinct visions that cover the same events. In Daniel 2 we find the account of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a statue and then approximately 50-60 years later, Daniel 7 records Daniel’s vision of four beasts that shows the exact same events from another perspective.
• In discussing the end times in the Olivet discourse in Matthew 24, Jesus describes a period of tribulation in verses 9-14 and then beginning in verse 15 He provides some more detail about some of the specific events that will occur during that period.
So far, all I’ve done is to share with you my conclusion that there is some degree of recapitulation in the seals, trumpets and bowls and to show you that there are some other Biblical examples of that technique. What I’d like to do the rest of the time this morning is to share with you the evidence from the text that leads me to that conclusion. We’ll explore some of these issues more or less randomly and then see if we can’t draw them all together.