OF THE BOOK OF REVELATION
Perhaps no single issue plagues the correct interpretation of book of Revelation than its structure. A prewrath understanding of the book of Revelation warrants a fuller discussion than the simple outline given in the introduction. The outline is re-printed below:
"PARENTHESIS I THE RESCUE HIGHLIGHTED"
"THE DAY OF THE LORD"
"POST 70TH WEEK EVENTS"
"PARENTHESIS II COSMIC CONFLICT HIGHLIGHTED"
"THE DESTRUCTION OF ANTICHRIST FINAL WRATH OF GOD"
"PARENTHESIS III DESTRUCTION HIGHLIGHTED"
"THE MILLENNIAL REIGN OF CHRIST"
The key to the structure of the book of Revelation can be discerned from the seventh chapter of Daniel and Matthew 24. There are conceptual, thematic, linguistic and theological parallels, which defy any serious Bible student to conclude otherwise. We shall look at these two chapters, respectively, first.
The Structure of Daniel Seven
The seventh chapter of Daniel introduces the second major section of the book of Daniel. The first six chapters are primarily historical and chronological in nature. The remaining six chapters are prophetic in nature. Therefore, chapter seven is a pivotal chapter. It serves to introduce the prophetic content of chapters 8-12.
Chapter 7 begins with a vision concerning four beasts. Daniel 7:1 reports,
The NASBs translation includes the statement, "he wrote the dream down and related the following summary of it." Since Daniel gives us a summary, this leaves room for more details to be added later, which is done in both Matthew 24 and Revelation 4-21. Chapter 7:2-14 continues,
Contained in this rather long quote is an outline of the end time sequence that becomes the framework for both Matthew 24 and Revelation 4-21. By way of summary, Daniel indicates four beasts will arise out of the sea. The fourth beast will eventuate into ten horns. When the ten horns rule another horn will arise and destroy three of the ten original horns. After sometime, thrones will be set up. The Ancient of Days will take his seat. The court will be seated. The books will be opened. The boastful beast will be destroyed and the authority of his helpers will be suspended. One like a Son of Man will then receive dominion, glory and a kingdom. The reader must not miss the important fact that Daniel first gives a general overview of the events of the end time.
This general overview is then followed by a specific look at the fourth beast and his unparalleled persecution of the saints, which will terminate with his destruction. Notice Daniel 7:15-28:
The rest of the Daniel 7 is concerned with an explanation of the fourth beast, his persecution of the saints and the eventual kingdom the saints will receive after the beast is destroyed. A discernable pattern can be argued from the seventh chapter of Daniel. First, a general overview of the end times is given. Then a detailed look at the unparalleled persecution of the saints follows. The destruction of the beast is promised. The chapter ends with the promise that the saints will receive a kingdom ruled by the Highest One.
The Structure of Matthew 24:4-31
This exact same pattern is developed in Matthew 24:4-31. First, a general overview is given. Then a specific look at the persecution of the saints is detailed. The persecution will be cut short (the beasts destruction). The promise of the Lords return to gather the saints rounds out this section of Matthews gospel.
The general overview is given first. Matthew 24:4-14 states,
That Matthew 24:4-14 is a general overview of the end times is discernable from the following facts. First, the disciples initial questions set the agenda. Matthew 24:3 states that the disciples asked "when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?" It is very important that the reader recognize that two questions are asked and the second question has two parts. The first question concerns the destruction of Jerusalem. The second two-part question concerns the Lords return and the end of the age. Equally important is the recognition that the Lord answers the questions is reverse order. In other words, the Lord answers the question, "what will be the sign of the end of the age," first. The appearance of the term end in Matthew 24:6, 13 and 14 proves this point conclusively.
The Lords use of the birth sequence underscores his emphasis in Matthew 24:4-14 on the end of the age. Matthew 24:4-8 emphasizes the beginning birth pangs. This supports our conclusion that the Lord is not giving an overview of the entire time from his departure to His Second Coming, but rather the final years that immediately precedes his return. "Beginning birth pangs" are associated with the birth of the baby and not the nine months of pregnancy. Matthew 24:9-14 focuses on the hard labor that follows the beginning birth pangs. The Greek term thlipsis (tribulation) is used to describe the suffering of a woman about to give birth (John 16:21). As with a baby, the "one who endures to the end (of the age), it is he who shall be saved (delivered)."
The final factor that supports the conclusion that Matthew 24:4-14 covers the entire end-time sequences concerns the phrase, "this gospel of the kingdom." The phrase has been incorrectly interpreted to refer to the gospel of Christ. That is, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ outlined by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. However, the Lord did not begin proclaiming the good news of His death, burial and resurrection until two plus years of ministry (Matt 16:21-23) had passed. In contrast, Matthew reports that the Lord began preaching the "gospel of the kingdom of God" in the very early days of His earthly ministry (Matt 4:23). The gospel of the kingdom concerns Gods physical reign on earth and His removal of the wicked, which was initiated by the Lords ministry on earth (Mark 1:15, Luke 8:21, Luke 11:20). The worldwide proclamation of this message signals the end of the age (Rev 14:6-7).
The general overview of the end times (Matthew 24:4-14) is followed by a focus on the persecution of the saints in Matthew 24:15-24. It states,
Matthew 24:15-24 covers the same period as Matthew 24:9-14, which is a very important point to remember. This same pattern occurs in the seventh chapter of Daniel. First the general overview and then comes the specific focus on the persecution. What is called tribulation in Matthew 24:9 is described as a great tribulation in Matthew 24:21. However, Matthew 24:15-24 focuses more on the unparalleled persecution the saints will face during this time. The third aspect of the end time sequence concerns the destruction of the beast. The Lord Jesus indicates that the days of tribulation will be cut short (Matt 24:22). He does not elaborate on this point, but a shortened tribulation means the end of the beasts opportunity to persecute.
The final portion of Matthew 24:4-31 i.e. verses 25-31, deal with the return of Christ, which answers the question, "what will be the sign of Your coming," asked by the disciples. Notice,
As with Daniel 7, these final verses promise the saints deliverance. Specifically, the Lord will return and gather the saints together to eventually set up a kingdom on earth. The dependency of the Lord on Daniels material is evident (Matt 24:15).
The Structure of the Revelation
The prophetic outline of the end times that flows through Daniel 7 and is utilized by the Lord in the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24:4-31 also occurs in the book of Revelation.
Scholars are generally agreed that Revelation 1:19 offers a temporal outline of the book of Revelation. John indicates that he received instructions from the Lord to "Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall take place after these things." This framework offers the following structural depiction of the book. The first chapter of Revelation is "the things you have seen." Revelation two and three cover "the things which are"; and Revelation four through twenty-one are "the things which shall take place after these things." The disproportionate attention given to the "things which shall take place after these things (Revelation 4-21)," suggests that the temporal outline of the book is not the key to its structure. This is particularly true given that the seven churches receive promises that are both first century and futuristic in nature. In other words, there is an overlap of "the things which are" and "things which shall take place after these things." This undermines any attempt to force a strict interpretation of Revelation 1:19 as the dogmatic outline of the book of Revelation.
Critical to our discussion
are chapters 4-20 of the Revelation. It is our position that chapters
4-11 give the general overview of the end times. Revelation 12-13 gives
the specific focus on the persecution of the saints. Chapters 14-21
detail the destruction of the beast, the coming of Christ and the kingdom
that follows. As with Matthew 24:4-31, the book of Revelation fills
in many details left out of Daniels seventh chapter summary, but
the basic structure is the same.
Revelation 4-11 gives an overview of the end times. Revelation 4 opens with a throne room scene. God the father is seated on a throne surrounded by his court of elders, living creatures and angels. Revelation 5 presents the coronation of the Lamb as executor of the Fathers will. Revelation 6 outlines the "beginning birth pangs" and the "tribulation" of the saints. Revelation 7 highlights the deliverance of Gods first fruits of unsaved national Israel and the righteous saints of the ages to heaven. Revelation 8-9 details the beginning of Gods wrath. Revelation 10 underscores the end of Gentile dominance on earth and Revelation 11 reports Gods reclamation of the earth (Gods reign begins).
While we cannot be dogmatic about the actual beginning time frame for the events outlined in Revelation 4-11, when these events end can be asserted with greater certainty. Most students of Revelation recognize a difference between the first four seals and the last three seals. The common trait of the last three seals is the wrath of God. The fifth seal martyrs request that God pour out his wrath on the living earth-dwellers. The sixth seal announces the imminent outbreak of Gods wrath. The seventh and final seal begins the actual outpouring of Gods wrath as seven trumpets. The seven trumpets demonstrate a similar pattern to the seals. That is, the first four trumpets are different from the last three trumpets. The final three trumpets are characterized as three "woes." These represent the worst expression of Gods wrath the wicked will ever experience on earth.
However, between trumpets six and seven is a break in the advancement of the story line. This break serves the purpose of allowing John opportunity to announce the completion of the mystery of God. He writes, " in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then the mystery of God is finished (Rev 10:7)." The apostle Paul defined the mystery of God as Gods special work in Christ to bring Gentiles to glory (Col 1:24-2:5). The completion of the mystery of God also ties into the completion of the "times of the Gentiles," (Dan 9:24, Luke 21:24, Rev 11:2). These events coincide with the completion of the ministry of the two witnesses (Rev 11:4-13).
With the sounding of the seventh trumpet, God the father takes back his rightful physical rule over the earth. John states, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever (Rev 11:15b)." The first order of business for the new King will be the removal of all the wicked (both human and demonic) from the earth.
The Persecution of the Saints
As with both Daniel 7 and Matthew 24:4-31, after the general overview of the end times is given, a specific look at the persecution of the saints is given. Unique to the Revelation is the most detailed presentation of the primary cause of the persecution given in Scripture. A war in heaven results in Satans restriction to earth for a short time (Rev 12:7-17). This is the basis of the unparalleled persecution. Death will reign on the earth during the persecution of Gods saints. The three primary perpetrators of death will be the beast (Rev 13:7), the false prophet (Rev 13:12), and the image of the beast (Rev 13:15). The target of Death will be the woman (the Jews) and her offspring (the church) (Rev 12:17).
The Destruction of the Beast and His Kingdom
The third aspect of the end-time sequence that appears in both Daniel 7 and Matthew 24 concerns the destruction of the beast. Having highlighted the persecutors in Revelation 12-13, Revelation 14-19 focuses on the destruction of the beast and his kingdom. Chapter 14 begins this important section with the Lord and 144,000 Jews standing on Mount Zion. This is the first time the Lamb is pictured physically on the earth in the Revelation. Three angels announce doom upon the earth. The chapter ends with a summary description of Gods wrath against the wicked on the earth. The fifteenth and sixteenth chapters of the Revelation detail the bowl judgments against the beast, his kingdom and those who take his mark. Revelation 17-18 highlights the destruction the beasts city. Revelation 19 highlights the destruction of the beasts armies.
The Kingdom Comes
The final aspect of the end time sequence concerns the kingdom of the Most High God. Revelation 20 indicates that after the destruction of the beast, the Lord Jesus will set a temporal kingdom on earth for one thousand years. All the wicked of the nations, Satan and his demons are removed from the earth. Christ and the beheaded reign on the earth after which the final revolt of Satan occurs and the eternal judgment ends human history as we know it.
Daniel 7, Matthew 24 and the Revelation manifest a discernible structural pattern with respect to the sequence of events concerning the end times. First, a general overview is given. Then a specific look at the unparalleled persecution of the saints is outlined. The final element of the three accounts concerns the destruction of the perpetrator of the unparalleled persecution and the kingdom of God that follow. Daniel 7 and Matthew 24 informs our understanding of the Revelation. As the commentary develops, we hope to show the connections between these great works.
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