An Overview

The Book of Revelation

Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.—Revelation 1:3

By David Rice

Any subject which contains great detail can be bewildering and confusing. For this reason many of the sciences appear complex and difficult. It may amaze us that physicists keep their bearings while faced with myriad subatomic particles, or chemists among the variant isotopes of over a hundred elements, which combine into countless molecules. How is it done? By grasping a conceptual framework, into which the mind can relate the details as they are encountered.

In this respect, Revelation is no different. The maze of symbols and details can be bewildering and confusing. But when we grasp the conceptual outline and progression of the book, we can relate the details to the whole, and understand the message.

The book symbolically describes the Christian age (1:1), to and through the thousand-year Kingdom of Christ and the little season. We can divide the book simply into three parts:

  1. Past, Gospel Age—(chapters 1-13)
  2. Present, Harvest—(chapters 14-19)
  3. Future, Kingdom—(chapters20-22)

This simple framework is helpful. However, as with many things simple, it is not precise. Actually, part 1 and part 3 overlap (they both speak of the raising of the sleeping saints, for example), and the overlapping area is part 2, the harvest. The three sections are represented better this way:

Part 1 (Chapters1-13)

This part can be further divided into:

(A) Introduction (chapter1)
(B) 7 churches, 7 seals, 7 trumpets (chapters 2-11)
(C) History of the persecuted Church (chapter12)
(D) History of the persecuting church (chapter13)

Introduction

The Revelation of Jesus Christ comes through this chain: God—Jesus—his angel—John (1:1). There are greetings from God, "which is, and which was, and which is to come" (the always existing one, 1:4, 1:8 NASB), and from Jesus, "the faithful witness, the first begotten of the dead, the prince of the kings of the earth..that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood" (1:5). The Holy Spirit is described as seven spirits (1:4), perhaps because God’s spirit operates to each of the seven stages of the church.

The vision was given "on the Lord’s day" (1:10, literally Sunday). Some believe the whole scene represents the John class (the Church at the end of the age, cf. John 21:22,23), receiving the vision of Truth from the Lord through his angel (the Laodicean messenger) on the greater "Lord’s day," now begun. This writer is partial to that thought, and believes it may explain, for example, the time standpoint of Revelation 17:10, "five [kings] are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come."

The one Church of God is represented as seven churches (candlesticks), and seven messengers (stars), one for each church (1:20). These seven stars are probably human messengers, just as the twelve stars of 12:1 are human apostles, and the star of 9:1 a human reformer.

Three Sets of Sevens

The seven churches, seven seals, and seven trumpets each take us through the Gospel age, with three different viewpoints: The Church, the false church, the governments. These seven stages span the age in seven time divisions, from beginning to end. The evidence for this conclusion is in the various descriptions of each segment. For example, the first church is commended for discerning the true apostles from false ones—a test specially fitting the early church, in which Paul had to defend his own apostleship—while the last church is told "I stand at the door and knock...I will come in...and sup with" his people (3:20). This is the promise Jesus said would be fulfilled at his return (Luke 12:37). Therefore we have traversed the age from church 1 to church 7. And a look at each church in Revelation 2 & 3 will show a clear progression, which matches exactly with observed history:

  1. Ephesus: Apostolic age, a good beginning with many zealous works, but the tendency at last for a cooling of their first love. But they disdain the deeds of the Nicolaitans, who would exercise lordship in the church.
  2. Smyrna (bitterness): A period of intense physical persecution. Also a time of tare growth, those who say they are (spiritual) Jews, but are not.
  3. Pergamos: The rise of the false church among the saints. The Lord’s faithful are "antipas," against the pope; spiritual impurity and the doctrine of lordship by the clergy take foot.
  4. Thyatira: The darkest days of Papal supremacy, when Jezebel seduces and adulterates the Christian world. "Satan’s seat" rose in church 3 (2:13), but in church 4 the saints see "the depths of Satan" (2:24).
  5. Sardis: The command of the Lord is to "repent," and the undefiled ones are promised to "walk with me...clothed in white raiment." It is a time of turning from the atrocities of Jezebel.
  6. Philadelphia: A period of blest growth and progress, as the reformed church prospers, and anticipates the Lord’s soon return. "I come quickly..." (3:11)
  7. Laodicea: The warmth of Christian zeal has cooled—the unworthy are spewed out, and the worthy ones are clothed and restored to sight by Present Truth, during this end of the age. The Lord stands at the door, having returned to feed and nourish the saints during this harvest time.

Chapters 4 and 5 take us back in time to the beginning of the Christian age when our Lord was declared to have "prevailed" as a "lamb slain," which shows that the following vision of the seven seals (chapters 6 & 7) starts again at the beginning of the age. The final description at the end of the seals shows the Church complete, and even the Great Company purged and rewarded (chapter 7)—the end of the age.

Chapter 8 begins again at the start of the Gospel age, by referring to the act of the offering of incense at the Golden altar, which represents the perfect offering of our Lord, through whom we are accepted. Following this, seven angels blow in sequence seven trumpets, described in chapters 8 to 11. The seventh trumpet introduces the Kingdom during a time of judgment upon the nations, while the saints receive their reward. As with the seven churches, and the seven seals, each of the seven trumpets outlines a distinct and progressive phase of the age passed from Christ to the Kingdom.

Chapter 12 represents the early Church as a woman arrayed with the (gospel) sun, the (law) moon under her feet, having twelve apostolic stars as her crown. But as Paul warned (2 Thess. 2:7), an unholy influence was developing, which would claim to represent God, while in fact constituting the great Man of Sin. In Revelation 12 this is shown by the development of a child which was caught up to heaven(ly authority) and dislodged heathendom from its spiritual ascendancy (verse 7-10). This sounds good, but the true Church was obliged to flee into the wilderness like Elijah, where she was kept during the dark ages by the providence of the Lord. (See Reprint 306, 307.)

The persecution of the Church was for 1260 days in Chapter 12, and in Chapter 13 we encounter a persecutor persecuting for the same time period (42 months x 30 days = 1260 days). On the prophetic scale of a day for a year, this represents the 1260 years, during which the Church was persecuted by that system which grew out of and dominated Rome (Daniel 7:8,25)—the Roman Catholic Church. (Papacy’s control of Rome spanned 1260 years. In 538 A.D. Belisarius, Justinian’s general, left the Pope in control of Rome, and in 1798 A.D. Napoleon’s general Berthier took the Pope as a prisoner to France, where he died the following year; no immediate successor was allowed.)

Papacy is shown in Daniel 7 as a horn growing out of the Roman empire, while Revelation 13 shows it as a composite of the four beasts of Daniel (13:2).

But Papacy was also joined by other false systems: The Anglican church (13:11, see Reprint 319, 320), and allied Protestant churches (13:14, see Reprint 321, 322). These latter two entities ultimately comprise the False Prophet (cf. 13:13-15, 19:20, Reprint 510). Three times in Revelation, the saints are distinguished as those who did not worship, or gained the victory over "the beast, and...his image" (14:9,10,12; 15:2; 20:4). Thus are we warned not to be enticed with the apparent majesty, or threats, or false doctrines, of nominal Christendom.

Part 2 (Chapters 14-19)

This section deals with the period we know as the harvest of the Gospel age. It includes both the harvest of the true Church, and the destruction of the false church and associated governments, with by far the greatest emphasis on the latter. This part subdivides naturally into four sections.

Chapter 14: The harvest and exaltation of the truth Church (see specially verse 14), and the harvest and destruction of the false church (18-20).

Chapters 15 and 16 describe the judgments of Christendom as the seven last plagues. There is an unmistakable parallel between these judgments upon the Christian "earth" (16:1), and the development of (nominal) Christian society (earth) represented by the seven trumpets (8:5). It is as though to show that these seven judgments are upon the same society that grew up in seven stages during the age. The parallel is particularly striking in the first four stages in each case: the symbols earth, sea, rivers, sun, respectively, are shown in each part. (Of interest also is a comparison of earth’s creation days in Genesis.)

It is this writer’s view that the seven plagues commenced at the beginning of the harvest (the first plague being Present Truth itself), and the last is Armageddon, still future, which will open with the final conflict in the Middle East. It is our view that five plagues have been poured, and only one more, the sixth, intervenes before the final calamity. To see the matter in this light cannot but increase the impetus to press forward with greater diligence in the (relatively) brief opportunity yet remaining for us to prove faithful.

Others view these seven judgments as having been all poured by 1914, with their unfolding impact continuing since then. Still others believe the first plague began with World War I, the remaining plagues being poured progressively since, with the seventh still ahead. Still others believe these plagues describe seven specially forceful and rapid judgments impending in the future. The varied opinions have this in common, however: the seven plagues are seven progressive judgments as a result of the Lord’s presence which result in the overthrow of Christendom, and the introduction of the Kingdom.

Chapter 17 details the judgment of the great whore—Papacy—which ultimately will be devoured and burned (verse 16). It is unmistakable that the great harlot, "that great city [government] which reigneth over the kings of the earth" (v. 18), is the power that ruled from seven-hilled Rome (v. 9). Today Jezebel has painted her face, but the aged matron, once "drunken with the blood of saints" (v. 6), will not be spared her just penalty.

Chapters 18 and 19 further detail the harvest work introduced in chapter 14, starting with the pronouncement of judgment on Babylon (cf. 14:8, 18:4), and continuing to the execution of judgment (cf. 14:19, 19:15). At last "the beast [papacy] was taken, and with him the false prophet [allied Protestant systems who falsely speak for God]...these both were cast alive into a lake of fire" (19:20).

Part 3 (Chapters 20-22)

Chapters 20-22 can also be divided into four sections: three distinct views of the Kingdom, plus a closing section.

20:1-10: Satan is deposed, and the world freed from his blight. The saints are raised from the dead (20:4,5 NASB—notice the flow of thought, omitting the spurious first sentence of verse 5 not found in the Sinaitic manuscript). They serve as kings and priests in the new age (20:6). Satan returns for a little season; afterward he and his followers are destroyed.

20:11-21:1: Another view of the Kingdom, with different symbols. The old heaven and earth flee, the dead are raised and judged, the new heaven and earth are established, the disturbed and restless sea class exists no more.

21:2-22:15 Another view of the Kingdom, with yet different symbols. The Bride of Christ descends to assist mankind, God dwells among them to dry all tears and remove pain and death, the Bride is shown as a great city, New Jerusalem, whose features are described in detail. Into this city all the repentant can gain access. In this city flows a river of life, lined with trees whose leaves are medicine for the nations. All who wash their robes can enter (22:14 NASB), and without the city are the evil ones (22:15).

22:16-21: These last six verses are a closure to the book (actually verses 7-13 begin this pleasant ending). Jesus affirms that the Revelation was sent from him; he urges fidelity to its message, and affirms again to John that he will soon come. John replies "Even so, come, Lord Jesus," and closes with greetings of grace to us all.

Two additional comments on Part 3

(1) Chapter 20 is not an abrupt break from Chapter 19; it is closely related. Part 2 speaks of three parts of Christendom: the Beast, the False Prophet and the Dragon (16:13,19). Chapter 19 closes with the demise of the first two; Chapter 20 explains the demise of the third. (For this reason, some conclude that Chapter 20 follows in time sequence the close of Chapter 19; others [this writer included] suppose 20:1 refers to the Lord’s return, and the gradual work of dispossessing the Dragon from his power from that time forward—a review of a lengthy process.)

There is a disparity in the symbolic representation of the Dragon’s treatment between 20:1,2 and Isaiah 27:1. Chapter 20 shows him bound during the kingdom, and freed later to test humanity. But Isaiah 27:1 shows him slain, rather than bound, at the outset of the kingdom. "In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall . . . slay the dragon that is in the sea" (Isa. 27:1, cr. Psa. 74:14, Ezek. 29:13).

This difference shows that the Dragon is merely a symbolic aspect of Satan. It represents him as the great tyrant who has usurped control of the kingdoms of this world. Satan is given four designations, and the use of each designation is significant throughout Revelation. Each one refers to him in a different aspect.

  • Dragon—Usurped power over the nations
  • Satan—Opposer
  • Devil—(false) Accuser
  • Serpent—Deceiver

In Revelation 20, during the little season, the adversary reappears as Satan (v. 7), as a deceiver (v. 8), and as the Devil (v. 10). But he never reappears as the Dragon; he will never again be the master of the governments. In that capacity, he is destroyed (Isa. 27:1) when his power over the nations is broken—at the time Revelation 20:3 speaks of him being cast into the bottomless pit.

(2) Notice that in the first and second views of the Kingdom, the destruction of the ungodly is not the same. 20:9 says they are "devoured," and that with heavenly fire, while 20:15 consigns them to a burning lake. Assuming none would conclude there are two different dooms for the ungodly, this requires that the visions be taken symbolically. And this 20:14 affirms: "This is [represents] the second death."