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 “big 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
2. The Seventh Seal and the Six Trumpets 8:1-11:14
8:6-9:21 The First Six Trumpets, The Fifth trumpet (9:1-12) releases locusts, reminiscent of the eighth plague in Exodus 10:4-20. Commentators believe the star (9:1) refers to satan. Verse 11, “Abaddon” means Destruction and “Apollyon” means Destroyer. Note that the only ones harmed are those who lack God’s seal. The Sixth trumpet releases four angels. Notice these plagues do not cause unbelievers to repent. Recall that repentance was not the purpose of the Exodus plagues- recall the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart.
10:1-10 Second Digression: The Angel and the Little Scroll. An interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets. Recall there was a delay between the opening of the sixth and seventh seal in chapters 6 and 7. Notice how big the angel is. “The term ‘mystery’ is a technical apocalyptic term meaning divinely concealed information about the end of the age now disclosed to the inspired insight of a prophet or apocalyptist.” (Aune, 1195) John’s eating of the scroll recalls Ezekiel’s experience in Ezek 2:8-3:3.
11:1-14 Third Digression: The Two Prophetic Witnesses: The court outside the Temple is the court of the Gentiles. The holy city is Jerusalem. Remember that Revelation was probably written after the Jewish Revolt of 70 AD and the destruction of the Temple. This mention of the Temple may be a metaphor for the people of God. The two witnesses evoke the Old Testament prophets, such as Zerubbabel and Joshua (Zech 3:1-4:14) and Elijah (1 Kings 17:1, 2 Kings 1:9-16) and Moses (Exodus 7:17-21).The 42 months and 1,260 days equal 3 1/2 years from Daniel 7:25, meaning a limited time period. Isa 1:10,Jer 23:14 and Ezek 16:46-56 all refer to Jerusalem as Sodom. Verse 11, recall the story of resuscitation in Ezek 37:5,10. Why do you think all these indirect references to Old Testament prophets and stories are here in Revelation? Is John suggesting something about Israel and the Church?
3. The Seventh Trumpet and the Six Bowls 11:15-16:16: Between the seventh trumpet and the six bowls will be three distinct visionary “digressions”
11:15-18: The Seventh Trumpet: An announcement of God’s kingdom followed by worship and singing by the 24 elders.
11:19-12:17 Fourth digression: Satan and the Messiah: The heavenly temple is opened with dramatic phenomena. “John has used both Hellenistic and Jewish traditions in composing the chapter. The myth of the eschatological battle between Michael and the dragon (12:7-9) is inserted into the myth of the woman who bears a child and is attacked by a great red dragon (12:1-6,13-17). The woman may be Mary or may be Israel or may be the Church. The child is the Messiah. The dragon is the devil or Satan.
13:1-18 Fifth digression: The Two Beasts: The beast from the sea combines features of the four beasts of Dan 7:2-7. Jews, Greeks and Babylonians all had stories of battle between god(s) and sea monsters. Scholars believe this seven headed beast from the sea represents the Roman Empire. Rome was a city on 7 hills. The second beast (verse 11 ff) may represent “false prophets” who enforce Emperor cult worship. In the eastern provinces, emperors were often worshiped while still alive. (In Rome, emperors were not typically considered gods until after their death, but the imperial cult made sacrifices and prayers to gods on the emperor’s behalf. Good and loyal citizens participated in the imperial cult. Christians generally did not). Recall earlier (7:2-8) Christians were marked with God’s seal. Now non believers are marked as well. Hebrew and Greek letters had numerical values. “Nero Caesar” in Aramaic (John’s native language) has a numeric value of 666.
Once again, trying not to get overwhelmed by details, what do you think John’s main points are?
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.