Are Revelation’s visions presented in chronological sequence? If so, how do we explain the many parallel descriptions that link them?
Are Revelation’s visions presented in chronological sequence as they unfold? If we assume that to be the case, things quickly become untenable as key events are repeated in multiple visions. For example, the sixth seal culminated in the final day of wrath accompanied by celestial and terrestrial upheaval, yet the “day of the Lord” and the judgment of the wicked occur also when the seventh trumpet sounds.
Likewise, the outpouring of the “seventh bowl of wrath” resulted in the proclamation, “It is done,” referring to the “wrath of God” that was completed by the “seven bowls of wrath.” In the “seventh bowl,” Babylon fell, and “every island and mountain was removed,” another picture of terrestrial upheaval.
The repetition of terms and imagery across multiple visions raises the question: Is Revelation describing multiple “final” judgments, multiple “days of the Lord,” or is the same set of events pictured 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 more details.
For example, God is the one “who is and who was and who is coming.” The clause is repeated three more times; however, in the last instance, the third stanza is dropped (“He who is coming”). That is, in the third instance, God had arrived, and therefore, was no longer “coming” – (Revelation 1:4, 4:8, 11:17, 16:5).
In the book, information is revealed in stages. For example, the prophecy from Ezekiel about “Gog and Magog” is used in three separate visions. In the first instance, the language from Ezekiel is brief and allusive. In the second case, the description becomes more recognizable. The invading force is identified as “all the kings of the earth and their armies.” And, in the third instance, the language is explicit. “Gog and Magog” are named, but they represent the “nations of the earth” in their final attempt to annihilate the “saints” – (Revelation 16:12-16, 19:17-21, 20:8-9).
A repeated theme is the ascent of a malevolent figure that persecutes the “saints.” In each instance, it is described in similar terms. For example, the sounding of the fifth Trumpet caused a horde of locust-like beings to “ascend (anabainō) out of the Abyss” to torment men. The Abyss was ruled by the destructive creature named “Abaddon” and “Apollyon” – (Revelation 9:1-2).
In the vision of the “two witnesses,”the “beast” was seen ascending (anabainon) out of the Abyss to make war with the witnesses. The language used was from the book of Daniel when the prophet saw four “beasts” ascending from the sea. The same language was also used when describing the single “beast” that was “ascending” from the sea to “wage war” against the “saints.” This was followed by a second beast that “ascended from the earth” – (Revelation 13:1-18, Daniel 7:17).
The “beast” is described again “ascending out of the Abyss” in chapter 17. Finally, at the end of the thousand years, Satan was “loosed” from the Abyss to deceive the nations and lead them to “ascend over the breadth of the earth” against the “saints.” The common theme is the ascent of a malevolent being (demons, beast, false prophet, Satan) from a dark and deep place (Abyss, sea, earth) to wage war against the “saints.”
The downfall and “binding” of Satan is presented twice, each time with the same terms and imagery. In chapter 12, Satan was the “great dragon, the old serpent, the Devil and Satan,” the one “who deceives the whole habitable earth,” who was poised to devour the “son,” but instead, he was thwarted when the “son” was caught up to the throne.
As a result of the death of Jesus, “Michael and his angels” defeated “the dragon” who was “cast” (Greek ballō) out of heaven to the earth. From that point, salvation, God’s kingdom, and Christ’s rule were declared “because the accuser of our brethren is cast down!” Therefore, saints “overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and because they loved not their life unto death.” ALL THIS WAS BASED ON CHRIST’S DEATH – (Revelation 12:1-11).
Satan was described as the one “who deceives the whole habitable earth” before he was cast to the earth. After his downfall, he turned his fury against the woman who gave birth to the “son,” then against the “remnant of her seed, they who have the testimony of Jesus Christ” – (Revelation 12:12-17).
In chapter 20, the “angel” laid hold of the “dragon, the old serpent, the Devil and Satan to cast (ballō) him into the Abyss” the “thousand years.” The Devil was unable “to deceive the nations” until that period was completed, after which, he was “loosed for a little time” – (Revelation 20:1-6).
At the end of the “thousand years,” Satan was “loosed from the Abyss” to go out and “deceive the nations from the four corners” of the globe, and to gather them to “ascend over the breadth of the earth to encompass the camp of the saints.” All this was to no avail, for “fire descended out of heaven and devoured them” as they assembled for their final assault against the church – (Revelation 20:7-9).
The verbal parallels between the “casting down” of the “Dragon” following the victory of the “son,” and his imprisonment in the “Abyss” and later release are too close to be coincidental; on some level, the same realities must be in view. Note the following descriptions of the Devil and their verbal parallels:
- (Revelation 12:9) – “And the great dragon was cast out, the ancient serpent, he that is called Adversary and the Satan, that deceives 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.”
In the vision of the heavenly Throne, John saw that “out of the throne proceeded flashes of lightning, voices, and thunders.” The picture is repeated three more times, and each time, additional elements are added, including earthquakes and hail. Each time, there is both repetition and progress – (Revelation 4:5, 8:5, 11:19, 16:18-21).
There are too many verbal and conceptual parallels between the different visions to be coincidental. John expects us to detect these clues for insight into each vision and how they all fit together. 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 John’s visions.