12 The Patterns of the Apocalypse

We turn our attention now to some of the structural features of the book of Revelation. The serious student should, of course, begin his personal study of the book by trying to understand its complex patterns; and then, as the structural framework is taking shape, an attempt should be made to ihterpret detail and fit it into this framework.

Although this method has been adopted in the study that lies behind this exposition, the order has been reversed in this presentation for reasons explained in the Introduction.

The pursuit of sequences and relationships in a book as complex as Revelation calls for persistency and a refusal to be discouraged. The satisfaction of discovering hidden designs and of knowing that they are there to help God's servants to understand things that must shortly come to pass, will more than repay a little perseverance.

Here then are some of the features of the book.

The heavenly temple

Chapter 4 begins with the statement that John beholds a door opened in heaven. He goes through this door, and in spirit we ac company him. We witness an awesome spectacle that includes: A throne reminiscent of the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant;

A jasper and a sardine stone recalling the high priest's breastplate bearing precious stones, the jasper and the sardine stones are the first and the last stones (Exodus 28:15-20); Twenty-four elders — corresponding, perhaps, to the 24 orders of priests (as instituted by David) who served in the temple (1 Chronicles 24:4-18);

Seven lamps of fire a reminder of the branched candlestick with its seven lamps (Exodus 25:31-37);

A sea of glass like the molten sea of Solomon's temple (2 Chronicles 4:2-5);

Four living creatures resembling the cherubim of Ezekiel's visions (Ezekiel 10:20) and recalling the fact that cherubic

figures were an important feature of the tabernacle and the temple.

Evidently we are in a heavenly temple, for there are so many things in this scene that bring to our minds the tabernacle and the temple of the Old Testament. A reminder may be appropriate here that, like nearly everything in the book of Revelation, this majestic spectacle is described through symbols. We must try to sense the reality that lies behind the symbolism.

Moses would have seen the same heavenly temple when he ascended Mount Sinai. He made a copy of it in accordance with the insistent injunction: "See that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount" (cf. Hebrews 8:5). The tabernacle in the wilderness was therefore a pattern "of things in the heavens" (Hebrews 9:23) — an inanimate miniature of the living reality that involved the Almighty and the angels in heaven.

John witnessed what Moses had seen many years before. That is why the reality that John witnessed contains so many elements that recall the "copy" made by Moses. Likewise Elijah and Elisha caught glimpes of the cherubim. From Eden onwards the function of the cherubim has been to protect the holy things for the holy people.1 When Isaiah saw the Lord "high and lifted up" (Isaiah 6), and when Ezekiel saw visions of God, they also glimpsed the glory of God's heavenly host; and their descriptions remind us of features of the temple into which John was called.

It is God's intention to establish His kingdom on earth "as it is in heaven". In Revelation we are privileged to witness the final scenes of this divine operation. Instructions are issued and emissaries are sent forth from the heavenly throne. Man is abased and God is exalted.

The grand climax is expressed by the announcement: "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men" (21:3). Henceforward such things as John had witnessed in heaven can be seen on earth.

The four living creatures would seem to be a symbol of the powerful, protective angelic host, and the four and twenty elders symbolise the saints. There is a clear connection between the words of the heavenly vision ("And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold" — 4:4) and three sets of promises made to the saints: "He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment" (3:5); "to him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne . . ." (3:21); "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (2:10).

But what are the saints doing in heaven — if indeed the twenty-four elders are saints? It will help if, instead of regarding heaven as a location remote from this earth, we think of it as a term applicable wherever God's blessings are enjoyed by His people. Thus in Ephesians 2 Paul speaks of the believers as having been raised to heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Remember that he is describing their present estate.

The heavenly temple scene is the continuing vision of the Apocalypse. It is the backcloth against which most of the action takes place. This is a fascinating theme, and it would be interesting to follow it through in detail. However, -we shall restrict ourselves now to two passages, one from chapter 11 and the other from chapter 15:

"And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ . . . And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail" (11:15,19). "And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened: and the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles. And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever. And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled" (15:5-8).


See how these two passages help us to place things in their right order. The temple is opened after the sounding of the seventh trumpet — this is stated in the passage from Revelation 11. And the fact that the vial-bearing angels come out of the open temple shows that the seven vials follow the sounding of the seventh trumpet.2

There is confirmatory evidence for this conclusion. After the sounding of the seventh trumpet the words are pronounced: "The nations were angry, and thy wrath is come". How does God's wrath come? The seven vials are filled up with the wrath of God (15:7). See too how lightnings, voices, thunderings, earthquake and hail are features of the seventh trumpet (11:19) and the seventh vial (16:18,21).

Consistent with this sequence are the facts relating to the beast. The first reference to the beast in Revelation is in chapter 11 in a context relating to the witnesses. The action of this chapter takes place immediately before the sounding of the seventh trumpet. Then the seventh trumpet sounds and the vials of God's wrath are poured out on a beast-worshipping world.

Problems to be resolved

The Lord's return, the resurrection, judgment and glorification of the saints, and the establishment of the kingdom have to be fitted into this sequence. But how?

When discussing the prophecy concerning the two witnesses, the proposition was made that the 'rainbow' angel of chapter 10 represented the Lord Jesus. This means that the Lord appears to the witnesses before he reveals himself to the world. His coming is not as yet apparent. Wickedness prevails, and the people of God suffer.

The sounding of the seventh trumpet announces that, as far as the waiting saints are concerned, there will be time no longer. When the seventh angel begins to sound, the mystery of God is finished (10:7). From this it can be confidently inferred that from now on the true servants of God are exempt from all persecution and from the painful consequences of the outpouring of the vials.

Are the saints made immortal as soon as the seventh trumpet sounds? This seems unlikely for the following reason: after the vials comes the destruction of Babylon, the great whore — the unfaithful wife; then, after the destruction of Babylon comes the marriage of the Lamb and his bride, the true church, which probably implies the glorification of the saints.

Yet the interval of time cannot be long. The impression is conveyed that the vials are a series of swift and devastating judgments, leaving no time or opportunity for repentance.

"Behold, I come as a thief"

Even after the sounding of the seventh trumpet, the unfaithful and unbelieving are in darkness. They do not know what is happening, and the day of the Lord comes to them as a thief in the night: "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief" (1 Thessalonians 5:4).

This helps us to understand Revelation 16:15: "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame." At first sight these words seem out of sequence. The seventh trumpet has sounded; six out of the seven vials have been poured out; the time of warnings is over; the Lord has come — why then this reference to the thief-like advent?

It is not difficult to see that these words are not a part of the prophetic sequence of the chapter. Whereas the events connected with the vials are written in the past tense ("And the first went. . ."; "And I heard . . ."; "And there came . . ."; "And he gathered . . ."), this passage is in the present tense ("Behold, I come . . ."). Clearly the passage is a parenthesis, and in both the RV and the RSV the words are actually put in brackets. This means that the Lord does not return at this point in the outworking of the vial prophecies. Either he is yet to come or he has already returned. The suggestion is that, in terms of this prophecy, the Lord has already returned, and these events are the sequel; but the beast-worshipping community is so ignorant of this great fact that even at this late hour the beast and the false prophet are inducing their worshippers to rally and do battle against the unknown enemy. It is as if the Lord should say quietly to the discerning reader as he is reading this prophecy of post-adventual happenings: "See how these foolish, ignorant people illustrate the truth of my assurance that my coming should be thief-like. Be warned, for when the time comes you could be deceived in the same way."

The programme of the sixth seal

Our object is to follow the sequences and discover the patterns of the Apocalypse. Returning to the seals, it will be recalled that various movements, various processes, are set in motion by the removing of the seals from the book of life. These movements bridge the time gulf between the Lord's ascension and the occasion of the opening of the book, and in some instances go beyond this occasion.

Specially interesting is the sixth seal. The main feature is an earthquake. This is a dramatised prophecy of the removal of human institutions.3 The things to be removed are mentioned summarily in Revelation 6:

"And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" (verses 12-17). The details of these removals are supplied in the trumpet series, where they are set out as a programme. This means that the sixth seal is the composite one that contains the trumpet prophecies — the sixth seal and not the seventh.

This will be better appreciated if features common to the sixth seal and the seven trumpets are set out side by side:

Sixth Seal

Seven Trumpets

(Revelation 6: 12-17)

great earthquake

great earthquake (11:13)

another earthquake (11:19)

sun black

third part of sun smitten (8: 12)

moon as blood

third part of moon smitten (8:12)

stars fall from heaven

"there fell a great star from heaven" (8:10)

third part of stars smitten (8:12)

the great day of his wrath

"thy wrath is come" (11:18)

This is by no means the whole story. It has already been observed that the sounding of the seventh trumpet introduces the seven vials. If therefore the sixth seal is a summary of the trumpet operations, and if the seventh trumpet introduces the vial operations, it follows that the sixth seal should also 'contain' the seven vials. We should expect to find common features in the sixth seal and the seven vials. And we do!

Sixth Seal

Seven Vials

great earthquake

great earthquake (16:18)

sun black

darkness in kingdom of beast

islands moved

every island fled away (16:20)

mountains moved

mountains were not found (16:20)

the great day of his wrath

the vials of the wrath of God (16:1)

Putting all this together, the sixth of the seals that binds up the book of life is concerned with various demolition and removal operations that are set out in detail in the trumpet and vial series. The trumpet series, as we have seen, brings us to the beginning of the kingdom. The initiative is now in the Lord's hands. This finds fulfilment in the pouring out of the vials of God's wrath. This prepares the way for the destruction of the great whore, and then the destruction of the beast. Between these two operations, as we discover from Revelation 19, comes the marriage of the Lamb and his true bride (which probably implies resurrection and immortality for the people of God).

The great division

We turn now to another notable feature of the book of Revelation that has been mentioned only briefly and incidentally hitherto: the great division that comes in the middle of the book.

It is not difficult to see that after the climax marked by the sounding of the seventh trumpet, a new start is made in chapter 12. The chapter begins with the words:

"And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars ..." This is followed by:

"And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns ..." (12:3).

Here then is the section of Revelation that is concerned with signs or wonders. (The same Greek word is sometimes translated "sign" and sometimes "wonder".) The signs include the beasts of Revelation 13 and, presumably, the dramatic scenes of chapter 14. Certainly it includes chapters 15 and 16 — the 'vial' chapters — because the vial series is spoken of as a sign:

"And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God . . ."(15:1).

It seems reasonable to infer that the destruction of the whore and of the beast (the subject matter of chapters 17 to 19) also comes in the 'signs' section of Revelation, not only because of the way that the prophecies follow on, but also because an angel associated with the vials speaks to John about the judgment of the *yhore: "And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters" (17:1).

Indeed, there are reasons for thinking that the 'signs' section may extend to the end of the book of Revelation. But this is not a subject for dogmatism.

Complementary prophecies

Careful reading reveals that the contents of the 'signs' section run parallel with the 'trumpet' section. Both sections cover the same prophetic ground, but with different emphasis. Thus they complement each other, and together give us a more comprehensive picture of things that must be hereafter.

To see the intriguing possibilities, let us first take note of some of the more obvious parallels between the trumpets and the signs.



(Chapters 8 -11)

(Chapters 12 onwards)

A great star falls from heaven (8:10)

The dragon is cast out of heaven (12:9)

A third part of the stars is smitten (8:12)

The dragon's tail casts down a third of the stars (12:4)

"Woe, woe, woe to the inhab-iters of the earth" (8:13)

"Woe to the inhabiters of the earth" (12:12)

The beast that comes out of the bottomless pit . . .

The beast that comes out of the sea . . .

. . . makes war against the witnesses and overcomes them . . .

. . .makes war against the saints and overcomes them . . .

. . . they of the people and kindreds and tongues . . .

. . . power over kindreds and tongues and nations . . .

. . . they that dwell upon the earth... (11:7-10)

... all that dwell upon the earth . . . (13:1-8)

Resurrection and judgment (11:18)

Resurrection and judgment (20:4 and 11-13)

"Thy wrath is come" (11:18)

The vials of God's wrath

Temple of God opened (11:19)

(chapters 15,16)

Lightnings, voices, thunder-ings, earthquake and hail (11:19)

Temple of God opened (15:5) Voices, thunders, earthquake and hail (16:18,21)

This feature has already been taken into account in the chapter concerning the witnesses; also earlier in this chapter, when looking at the evidence that the seventh trumpet contains the seven vials.

And there are other intriguing possibilities . . .

References and Notes

1. Genesis 3:24

2. It is important to distinguish between words spoken by those who are actors in the Apocalyptic drama and words that describe events. After the announcement, "And the seventh angel sounded", two sets of spoken words are recorded — the first by "great voices in heaven", and the second by the 24 elders. However, the narrative goes straight on to verse 19 and reveals that the temple of God is now open. This is the immediate consequence of the sounding of the seventh trumpet, and prepares the way for the outpouring of the seven vials.

3. See Part 2, chapter 11,The sixth seal.

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