You will find an introduction and outline of Revelation, here.
A prayer from John Calvin to use before your reading.
May the Lord grant that we may engage in the heavenly contemplation of the mysteries of God’s heavenly wisdom with ever increasing devotion to God’s glory and our edification. Amen.
I. Prologue 1:1-8
II. John’s Commissioning Vision 1:9-20
III. The Letters to the Seven Churches 2:1-3:22
IV. From Tribulation to Glory 4:1-22:9 Beginning in chapter 4, the author’s vision starts. The scene shifts from earth to heaven and we enter another world. John’s visions have been the subject of nearly endless discussion and speculation by readers. We are going to take a “bit picture” approach and not attempt to “decode” every verse. There are four basic convictions expressed in these chapters.
1. In heaven, victory over evil and death has already been won by God and the Messiah.
2. Even though it looks as if evil is in control, this is somehow part of God’s plan. The faithful, who persevere thorough suffering and trials, will receive eternal life with God. God is in control.
3. Human history has a goal, ultimately suffering will end and God’s rule will be established. The wicked will be judged.
4. Those who, on earth, share the witness of Christ in the face of death will, in heaven, share in Christ’s victory over death.
1. The Six Seals 4:1-7:17
a. The Heavenly Throne Room: Vision of the glory of God and of the Lamb 4:1-5:14.
4:1-11 This throne room scene is the longest and most detailed in Revelation. It serves to orient us to the activities and beings that are present in the throne room. In the ancient world, gods were thought of as living in a way similar to earthly kings. So we have a heavenly palace with supernatural courtiers. Notice in John’s vision, God is not described. The throne is located in the center of all John describes, encircled by four living creatures, 24 elders and angels. Some think the 24 elders are the 12 patriarchs or 12 tribes and the 12 apostles. The four creatures have been understood to symbolize the omniscience of God, or the four gospels, or humanity and all animals. Does it matter that we don’t know exactly what the four creatures represent? Is choosing one meaning necessary? Do acknowledging multiple meanings for the four creatures add something to our understanding of heaven?
5:1-14 There is a search for someone worthy to open the scroll. No one, except the Messiah (Lion of the tribe of Judah Gen. 49:9, the Root of David Isaiah 11:1,10) is able. John does not see a lion but a Lamb (v6). Does this tell us something about Messianic expectations and the reality of who the Messiah is? Why is the Lamb worthy to open the scroll? The scroll represents God’s plan and the Lamb is the one who is worthy and able to carry out God’s plan.
b. The First Six Seals 6:1-17: The first four seals are the four horsemen (see Zech 1:8-11; 6:1-8). Each horseman brings a judgment on humanity, irresistible conquest, war, famine, and disease and death. When the fifth seal is opened, John sees the martyrs and hears their prayers. The opening of the sixth seal brings a series of cosmic catastrophes. These do not need to be taken literally but can be understood to represent terrible social upheaval which causes people of all social strata to fear God’s judgment.
c. First Digression: The Sealing of the 144,000. 7:1-17. There are two visions (v 1-8 and v 9-17) which provides assurance that servants of God will be protected. The number 144,000 has been interpreted in various ways. They may be a representative of a particular group of Christians who have been specifically protected by God and survive the final eschatological battle. (Other Christians who do not survive will still be part of an eternal state of blessedness in God’s kingdom. (21:1-5) Or the number, 144,000 may symbolize completeness, none of the redeemed is missing. Notice (v9 and following) the scene of praise and worship and promise.
2. The Seventh Seal and the Six Trumpets 8:1-11:14:
a. The Seventh Seal:8:1 silence
b. The Altar of Incense: 8:2-5
c. The First Six Trumpets 8:6-9:21 Notice only one third of the world is affected. Two thirds survive until the final judgment. The tribulations are similar to the plagues of Egypt. These seven trumpet judgments are similar to the seven bowls in chapters 15-16. In 8:7 fire, hail and blood- see Exodus 9:22-25. In 8:8-9, see Exodus 7:20-21. In 8:10-11 no counterpart in Exodus. Wormwood was a bitter drug. In 8:12 see Exodus 10:21. In 8:13 three woes announced before the last three plagues. Why might the tribulations be similar to the Egyptian plagues? What do you think John is trying to say about God?
What is your “big picture” sense of John’s vision, so far?
Read More About It
Aune, David E. “Revelation” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Bruce M. Metzger, Roland E. Murphy eds. (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, rev. ed. (Minneapolis:Fortress Press) 1999. Chapter 26 “The Book of Revelation”.
Metzger, Bruce, “Revelation” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, rev. ed.James L Mays, ed. (New York: Society of Bible Literature) 2000.