The first verse of Revelation sets the approach for the prophecy we sometimes call the Apocalypse. It begins, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass” (Revelation 1:1).
Revelation 1:1 points our attention to the Lord Jesus Christ as the focal point of the book and all that John was about to receive in vision to put down in writing. This final book of the Bible is not about the Antichrist but the Christ. The Antichrist is spoken of in this book but the overall general approach of Revelation is the unfolding of Jesus Christ and what He about to have “come to pass.”
Here I want to make mention of four structural approaches that a Bible student of Revelation should consider when approaching their study. My intention here is just to make mention of these but not to provide exhaustive details of all that is available to consider.
There is a progression in Revelation that flows in a historical unfolding as it related to Christ and His church.
The fact that the opening verse of Revelation 1:1 states that it is an unfolding of “things which must shortly come to pass” tells us there is a historical progression ahead as it relates to the ministry of the risen Lord for His church.
There is a type of structure to Revelation that is similar to use of parables in communication, Hebrew poetry, or a chiastic structure that makes use of figurative speech and parallelism in describing literal events.
Taking this historicist approach to the study of Revelation allows for a natural deductive unfolding of God’s Word rather than prejudging or trying to apply a predetermined conclusion into the context or form of speech. When the prophecy is assumed literal and the form of speech or authorial intent is not considered it is easy to adapt contradictions of beliefs.
An overview of this approach…
- In Revelation 1-3 we have 7 churches in relationship to their Christ.
- In Revelation 4-7 we have the 7 seals displaying the early church and their persecutors.
- In Revelation 8-11 we have the 7 trumpets warning the world of judgement for their rejection of Christ and His church.
- In Revelation 11-14 we have the 7 signs that expose the schemes of Satan against Christ and His church.
- In Revelation 15-16 we have the 7 last plaques of God’s wrath against those who rejected Christ and His church.
- In Revelation 17-19 we have the 7 judgments against Satan’s final conflict against Christ and His church.
- In Revelation 19-22 we have the 7 visions of Christ’s victory over Satan and the enthroning of Christ and His church forever.
In its chiastic structure, Revelation 12 is a kind of peak of the 22 chapters. Chapters 1-11 flow up to Revelation 12 as past historical review of Christ and His church. Chapters 13-22 flow down from Revelation 12 as future historical review of Christ and His church. Revelation 12 is basically the plan of redemption through Christ and His church despite Satan’s attempt to stop it.
This is an approach that is popular among pre-tribulation dispensationalist prophecy students that basically applies a belief to the text before exegesis begins. It says that the approach to study through Revelation is knowing that the rapture occurs in Revelation 4:1 with the words, “Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.”
After that scene when John is caught-up to heaven, the pre-wrath structure relies on the absence of the mention of church after that, which is said to indicate that the church is in heaven and no longer on earth, so therefore Revelation 6-18 is events taking place during the 7-year tribulation.
However, there are 7 scenes of Heaven interwoven of this time that is considered to be taking place during the 7-year tribulation, but there is also no mention of the church being in Heaven in those scenes.
It is conceivable that the pre-wrath structure works in interpreting the book of Revelation, but only if you begin with the key dispensationalist beliefs of interpreting Daniel 9:25-27 as referring to the Antichrist, a treaty with Israel, the third temple, and 7 years of tribulation (rather than the Savior, His sacrifice on Calvary, the sanctuary in Heaven, and 7 years of the gospel covenant before going to the Gentiles).
There seems to be a progression in Revelation that emphasizes the sanctuary ministry and the plan of redemption, in moving from the first apartment to the second apartment, or from the holy place to the most holy place.
If you remember the sanctuary among the Israelites in the Exodus was modeled after the sanctuary in Heaven. As declared by the Psalmist, “Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God?” (Psalm 77:13).
Hebrews 3:1 and in the theme of that book, refers to “High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.” The gospels and the New testament echo the words of Mark 16:19 regarding Jesus, “he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.”
We see the furniture of the sanctuary in revelation as the visions of Revelation progress. We see the seven lamp stands in Revelation 4:5, the altar of incense in Revelation 8:3-4, and not until Revelation 11:19 do we find the Ark of the Covenant.
There seems to be a progression in Revelation that emphasizes the Jewish festivals of Passover, Pentecost, Trumpets, and Tabernacles.
Passover is seen in Revelation 1:5, 17-18. Pentecost is seen in Revelation 4-5. Trumpets is seen in Revelation 8-11. The Day of Atonement is seen in Revelation 13–20. Tabernacles is seen in Revelation 21.
The importance of this structure is the placement of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement. In the Jewish life the Feast of Trumpets always came ten days before the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:24-27). Trumpets always announced the Day of Atonement.
The Day of Atonement was the day of judgment, the time when the High Priest ministered in the most holy place (Leviticus 16:1-34). So Passover, Pentecost, and Trumpets were feasts during the time when the priests ministered in the holy place. When the Trumpets end in Revelation 11, we see in Revelation 11:19 the first view of the Ark of the Covenant in the most holy place in Heaven.
These are four structural approaches to the book of Revelation. I have my favorite, you may have your favorite, but what is most important is that we both get into the text and prayerfully study.
I may have raised more questions than I answered here, but my point was to encourage you to consider how you approach the study of the book of Revelation.
If nothing else, maybe this post will encourage you to dig deeper because I just touched on the surface of the impact these four approaches have on understanding Revelation.