Revelation: The Culmination of History

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The Culmination of History

Jesus, Seven churches, Seals, Trumpets, Bowls, the Millennium, the Final State.

Background: From exile on the island of Patmos, John relays a prophetic word to seven churches in Asia Minor around 95-96 AD
Theme: The culmination of world history
Outline: Jesus, Seven Churches, Seals, Trumpets, Bowls, the Millennium, and the Final State
Key Verse: "Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later." (Rev 1:19, NIV)

Revelation Chapter Index

Preface on Interpretation

7 Churches




7 Seals





7 Trumpets





4 Scenes





7 Bowls




7 Last Things







PLEASE NOTE: As these notes currently exist, they include frequent discussion of the comments made in the Bible Knowledge Commentary (Vol 2, New Testament), referenced as BKC.  I recommend this commentary, as well as the others in the Bibliography, as an excellent way for laymen to learn about what the Bible means.  There is no commentary that is perfect and without error, only the Scripture.  I feel free to state my disagreements for your consideration, yet still recommend the BKC; I am in about 98% agreement with it. [Ron Miller]

Preface: Interpretations of the Book of Revelation

Throughout the history of the Church there have been varying approaches to understanding the Book of Revelation. They are summarized in the following chart.

MethodDescriptionProponentsPro & Con
FuturistChapters 4-22 all refer to events immediately before and after the Second Advent of Christ. Pre-Millennial - Christ will return to Earth to physically reign for 1000 years, during which time Satan will be bound.Justin Matyr (d. 165), Irenaeus (d. 235), Hypolytus (d. 236), Franciscus Ribiera, a Jesuit, revived it in the 16th Century, a sub-group is the modern Dispensational interpretation (Scofield, Walvoord, Ryrie)Pro: Very literal treatment, widely accepted among evangelical fundamentalists
Con: Ch. 4-22 irrelevant to church today
HistoricistCourse of history revealed from Apostolic times through the present time and beyond. Post-millennial - Christ will return after the close of history to usher in the Eternal State.Joachin of Floris (d. 1202) devised. 1260 days = 1260 years, just beyond his lifetime. Later Anti-Christ and Babylon equated with Pope and Revived Rome. Luther, Calvin, Reformers, Wycliffe, and Henry Alford (18110-1871). Post-MillenniumCon: Lack of agreement and difficulty of identifying specific historical events.
PreteristEntire book refers to events in John's lifetime with hope of immediate return of Christ. Beasts of chapter 13 are Imperial Rome and Imperial Pagan PreistsProposed by the Jesuit Alcasar in 1614. Majority view today, also held by most 'liberals'Pro: Emphasis on historical context
Con: Not accepted as genuine prophecy (return of Lord only a hope, not a reality)
Idealist (Symbolic, Allegory)Book is symbolic, poetic, and spiritual - NO specific historical or prophetic events but a 'picture' of the conflict of Good and Evil . Amillennial - no physical reign of Jesus upon the Earth for 1000 years, but a Spiritual Reign through the Church.Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Augustine. Pro: Ultimate victory of Good over Evil
Con: Nothing literal, not genuine prophecy, none of the events is 'real'.

Evaluation of Methods of Interpretation:

Some true believers have held to each method. A combination of Preterist-Futurist gives recognition of the historical context (what did it mean to the first readers) with a view to true prophecy (the events referred to are in the End Times, and the beasts do not refer to the original Imperial Rome and Pagan Priesthood of John's day) as in Revelation by Alan Johnson (also included with additional notes as "Revelation" in Vol. 12 of the Expositor's Bible Commentary, bound with Hebrews through Revelation by various authors).

The 'dispensational' view, one of the futurist interpretations, (presented in the BKC) has particular assumptions concerning the separation of Israel from the Church, specifically, that the Church will not be present on Earth after chapter 4. While I respect those who hold this view, and use the BKC as the primary reference in teaching, I personally believe that the Church will be present until the Lord returns immediately before the 'bowl of wrath'. I ask for tolerance among true believers on this matter of interpretation, as various interpreters believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and in the truth and authority of the Scriptures. On the differences between these views:

IssueDispensational Pre-Tribulational (BKC)Historical Pre-Millennial (Post-Tribulational) (BrRon)
Rapture of the ChurchPrior to Tribulation PeriodNear the end of the Tribulation Period
Duration of TribulationSeven Years (Based on Daniel))Unspecified Duration (some take 7 years)
Purpose of TribulationRevelation of God's Wrath on WorldCulmination of Battle of Good and Evil with God's ultimate triumph
Who Converts the 'Great Multitude'Jews who become believers after Church is RapturedThe Church
Duration of WrathEntire Tribulation PeriodShort time following Cup of Wrath (during Seventh Bowl)

Three significant quotes on interpretation:

1. John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 23. "The assumption, therefore, that the book of Revelation was understandable in the first generation or that it was intended to be understood by that generation is without real basis." This means that the working out of the details of the end times and the imagery may not be understood until it is fulfilled. Even today, we cannot know all the specific details of the predicted events which are still future, although we may expect to recognize them as the time approaches for their fulfillment.

2. Robert Mounce, NIV Study Bible, (Notes on Revelation). "Fortunately, the fundamental truths of Revelation do not depend on adopting a particular point of view. They are available to anyone who will read the book for its overall message and resist the temptation to become overly enamored with the details." This means that salvation though Jesus Christ, his Lordship, the ultimate victory of God, God's ultimate judgement upon sin, reward of believers (even though they may suffer in this life), and the final eternal state of believers, are all clear regardless of how we may disagree over the details of the specific events.

3. Alan Johnson, "Revelation, Expositor's Bible Commentary - Vol. 12, p.418. "A comparison of the Prologue (1:1-3) with the Epilogue (22:7-21) shows that John has followed throughout Revelation a deliberate literary pattern. This should alert us to the possibility that the entire book was designed to be heard as a single unit in the public worship service." I suggest that the reader read the entire book through. If you wish to study the book, start by reading it through without notes, then read it section by section with notes or a commentary, and finish by again reading the entire book through without notes.

I. Introduction and Seven Churches (Chapters 1-3)

1:1 "must soon take place" The Preterist view is that John expected these events to occur within a few years. The Greek phrase 'en tachei' may be taken this way, or as meaning 'with no necessary delay, they may happen at any time'. Since the events have not happened yet, the second meaning is preferred.

1:3 "read ... hear" The early Christians could not afford personal copies of this scroll, or the other books of the Bible. The one who reads would read the scroll out loud for the congregation. The congregation would hear, listening intently to be able to understand and remember, because they could not read the scroll themselves later. In the preface above, it was suggested that the entire book may have been read at a single meeting.

1:4 The seven churches were actual churches in John's day, and perhaps typical of churches found in every age. Certainly we can find examples of each today. There is no reason to read them as prophetic of seven church ages, and those who follow the church ages view do not agree on the time nor character of churches three through six. The order given is a natural overland route through Asia Minor if a messenger was to visit all seven.

1:4-5 Note the reference to the Trinity as the source of "grace and peace".

1:5 "him who loves us" Through this entire book, including the criticisms of some of the churches and the terrible events which follow, Jesus loves his people (present tense). Not only did he love us by dying on the cross for our sins, he lives and loves us now.

1:7-8 BKC 1 I will not burden you with constant disagreements over the timing of the rapture, but simply state here that many pre-millennialists associate the rapture with the second coming of Christ - separating the two aspects (Rapture and Second Coming) by a considerably shorter period of time, occurring within minutes or hours of each other near or after the end of the Tribulation. Walvoord and other Dispensationalists see these as two distinct events separated by a seven year Tribulation period. In debates about the timing and aspects of His return, we must not forget the most important thing: Jesus is Coming!

1:9-11 BKC 3 Mr. Walvoord basically states that the Lord’s day in which John was in the Spirit was not a 24 hour day at all, and not Sunday, but John being in the Day of the LORD prophetically. I do not see the need to go beyond the literal calendar day meaning of the Lord’s day being a Sunday. I would suggest that although references to the early church meeting on Sunday are rare, the fact that this expression is only used in that manner here, the latest dated book in the Bible, should not be considered unusual.

1:9-11 BKC 6 The phrase ‘autonomous local church’ should not be applied to the seven churches of Revelation in the same sense as we view this type of church today. Those seven churches apparently recognized certain central authorities (unlike some autonomous churches today). Examples are the authority of the Apostles (Paul had appointed elders in some churches) and obedience to the Council of Jerusalem (50 AD). Certainly the authority of John to give the revelation from Jesus was acknowledged. In 3 John, John states his intentions to straighten out the leadership in that ‘autonomous?’ church. If autonomous means that the local church is ultimately responsible to no authority other than to God himself, this was not a characteristic of these seven churches who recognized God’s authority given to the apostles and the elders appointed by them. The reading of 'autonomous local church' into this passage is due to a Baptist/Congregationalist mindset.

A. The Church in Ephesus (2:1-7) - "You have forsaken your first love" (2:4)

From:"him who holds the seven stars ... and walks among the seven lampstands"
Commend:"I know your deeds ... you cannot tolerate wicked men ... you have persevered"
Condemn:"You have forsaken your first love"
Command:"Repent and do the things you did at first."
Overcomer Promise:"the right to eat from the tree of life"

2:5-6 BKC 1 As Mr. Walvoord has documented, the immediate area of Ephesus has been uninhabited since the 14th century. Therefore, "I will remove your lampstand from its place" is now a fulfilled prophecy. This is a remarkable instance of a prophecy completely fulfilled within the Church Age.

B. The Church in Smyrna (2:8-11) - "I know your afflictions and your poverty - yet you are rich" (2:9)

From:"him who is the First and Last, who died and came to life again"
Commend:"I know your afflictions and your poverty - yet you are rich"
Command:"Be faithful, even to the point of death"
Overcomer Promise:"will not be hurt at all by the second death"

C. The Church in Pergamum (2:12-17) - "You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam" (2:14)

From:"him who has the double-edged sword"
Commend:"you remain true to my name"
Condemn:"you have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam"
Overcomer Promise:"some of the hidden manna ... a white stone with a new name"

D. The Church in Thyatira (2:18-29) - "You tolerate that woman Jezebel" (2:20)

From:"the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze"
Commend:"I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance,
and that you are now doing more than you did at first"
Condemn:"you tolerate that woman Jezebel"
Command:"Hold on to what you have"
Overcomer Promise:"authority over the nations ... also the morning star"

2:20-23 BKC 1 I find it surprising that no discussion of degrees of literalism and symbolism is given. "I will strike her children dead" may certainly mean suffering will extend to followers of this false teacher, but a more literal interpretation is that the woman Jezebel has children that will die. I point this out because the choice between literal, figurative, and symbolic is not as clear as we might like to think. The question to ask is what would the phrase normally mean to a person in that time? Both are possible interpretations.

E. The Church in Sardis (3:1-6) - "You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead." (3:1)

From:"him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars"
Condemn:"You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead"
Command:"Wake up! Remember ... obey ... repent"
Overcomer Promise:"will be dressed in white ... never blot out his name ...
will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels"

F. The Church in Philadelphia (3:7-13) - "I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word" (3:8)

From:"him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David"
Commend:"you have kept my word"
Command:"Hold on to what you have"
Overcomer Promise:"make (him) a pillar in the temple of my God, never will he leave it ...
write on him the name of my God ... the city of my God ... my new name"

3:10 BKC 1 Mr. Walvoord appears to take the common position that the ‘hour of trial’ covers the entire seven year tribulation (1 hour = 7 years = 61,362 hours). He then states that John "could not have stated it more explicitly ..." Actually, John could have. He could have said 'time of trial' rather than 'hour of trial'. It is unclear to me exactly where this ‘hour’ fits, but I place it within the seven years, and fairly near the end of it, as a much shorter period of time. My interpretation is more 'literal' in the sense of what an hour means, yet I acknowledge that as a figure of speech an hour of trial may be considerably longer or shorter than 60 minutes. Alternatively, this may mean the hour in which the trial begins, as in Tuesday at 7:00 PM (no, I don't know the exact day or hour), and if that hour was at the beginning of the Tribulation it would effectively include keeping the Church out of the entire Tribulation Period.

3:10 "keep you from" The original Greek for this phrase, unlike the English translation, can mean 'keep you from' or 'keep you through'. We translate it according to our assumptions about whether the church will be raptured before the 'hour of trial' or whether the church will go through that hour but be preserved, much like Israel was preserved from the plagues on Egypt.

G. The Church in Laodicea (3:14-22) - "So, because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out" (3:16)

From:"the Amen, the true and faithful witness, the ruler of God's creation"
Condemn:"you are lukewarm"
Command:"Be earnest and repent"
Overcomer Promise:"the right to sit with me on my throne"

II. Scroll and Seven Seals (Chapters 4-7)

4 INTRO BKC 2 At some point in time, believers may realize that the events of chapters four and following are present (whether these believers will belong to the Church is debated). While I see no definite fulfillment of these events yet, I acknowledge that the first seals, the horsemen, may appear at any time.

A. The Throne in Heaven (Chapter 4)

B. The Scroll and the Lamb (Chapter 5)

C. The Seven Seals (Chapters 6:1-8:1)

1. First Seal, the White Horse (6:1-2)

6:1-2 BKC 2 "This ruler has a bow without an arrow, indicating that ..." Just because the arrows are not mentioned does not mean he does not have any. As an example, in 2 Samuel 1:22 "From the blood of the slain, from the flesh of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back ..." does not mention arrows, only a bow, but it is obvious that Jonathan had arrows and used them. I therefore do not agree with the assumption about this first rider that since no arrows are mentioned with the bow, he will conquer without war.

2. Second Seal, the Red Horse (6:3-4)

3. Third Seal, the Black Horse (6:5-6)

6:5-6 BKC 1 It is best to leave the denarius as being worth about a day’s wages for a manual laborer and not equate it to ‘fifteen cents’, which certainly does not equate to a day’s labor in the United States today.

4. Fourth Seal, the Ashen Horse (6:7-8)

5. Fifth Seal, the Martyrs (6:9-11)

6:10-11 BKC 1 Mr. Walvoord concludes that because John sees souls clothed in white, saint’s souls in heaven are given temporary physical bodies, because spirits do not wear clothes. If we are to make assumptions in this manner we might ask, "Is the pale horse a visionary experience representing the release of plague and death, an earthly horse, or the appearance of a horse, or an angel in horse form? Does it teach that there is livestock in heaven, or that animals as well as people are there?" It is very easy to misread this book by straying from the clearly intended teaching. We should concentrate on what it means to be clothed in white, being pure and clean, rather than making other conclusions about whether we will have a temporary body before the resurrection.

6. Sixth Seal, Cosmic Events (6:12-17)

7. Interlude - Sealing of the 144,000 (7:1-8)

7:3-17 BKC 3 The tentative association of the 24 elders as representing the entire church and a completed church age is expanded here to distinguish the church from the great multitude which comes out of the tribulation. I do not believe this text teaches this, it is a presupposition of the Dispensational interpretation.

8. Interlude - The Great Multitude (7:9-17)

9. Seventh Seal - Silence (8:1)

III. Seven Trumpets (Chapters 8:2-11)

A. Preparation of the Seven Trumpets (8:2-6)

8:1 BKC 2 Many others interpreters chart the trumpets as going back over the last seals as a recapitulation or restatement of part of the seals, including additional details. This 'recapitulation' is common in the Bible, the most famous example being the two stories of the Creation of Man in the book of Genesis, the second of which is a more detailed telling of the same event. Timing is a particular problem in Revelation, for instance, was the vision of the Great Multitude only intended to include believers who came out before the Seven Trumpets? Or was the vision not meant to apply only to the time before the seventh seal where it was placed? It is important to note that the Trumpets are more severe than the Seals, and the Bowls more severe than the Trumpets.

One way to understand the seven trumpets is that they begin sometime during the events of the sixth seal, and the bowls begin sometime during the events of the sixth trumpet. The seventh seal, trumpet, and bowl end at the same time.

B. First Trumpet - A Third of Earth Burned (8:7)

C. Second Trumpet - A Third of Sea Creatures and Ships Destroyed (8:8-8:9)

C. Third Trumpet - A Third of Water Turned Bitter (8:10-11)

D. Fourth Trumpet - A Third of Sun, Moon and Stars turned Dark (8:12-13)

E. Fifth Trumpet - Locusts from the Abyss (9:1-9:12)

F. Sixth Trumpet - A Third of Mankind Killed (9:13-21)

G. Interlude - The Angel and the Little Scroll (Chapter 10)

H. Interlude - The Two Witnesses (11:1-14)

I. Seventh Trumpet - Praise to God (11:15-19)

IV. Four Scenes (Chapters 12-15)

A. First Scene - The Woman and the Dragon (Chapter 12)

12:1-2 BKC 2 I have taken the moon in Joseph’s vision as Leah (in contrast to Mr. Walvoord) as Rachael had died while giving birth to Benjamin before the vision came to Joseph. Presumably Joseph did not have a vision of his dead mother bowing down to him. Leah (Rachael's sister) was Joseph' s step-mother in this famous polygamous marriage involving two wives and two concubines producing twelve sons for Israel. The point remains the same that the vision identifies Israel.

B. Second Scene - The Two Beasts (Chapter 13)

13:4-6 BKC 1 It is by no means clear that Isaiah 14:14 is talking of Satan rather than the overwhelming pride of the King of Babylon, a literal king during the captivity of Israel, although this interpretation is commonly accepted. This is one point which Christians may disagree over.

13:7-8 BKC 2 Walvoord suggests that this verse does not refer to Christ as slain from the foundation of the earth, but that the names were written in the book of life from the foundation of the earth. Certainly God foreknew and predestined some to salvation (all believers). If these verses are taken (as most do) as referring to Christ as slain from the foundation, it reveals the equal truth that God intended from the beginning to send his only begotten Son to die for our sins.

13:9-10 BKC 2 Yes, as Mr. Walvoord and many others point out, the word ‘church’ is absent from the references in this book to the Tribulation period. However, in the earlier chapters the word ‘church’ is not used for the Church universal of all ages, but only of seven specific localized churches. The word Church is not used in the sense of 'all believers' in the book of Revelation.

13:16-18 BKC 1 I think Walvoord uses a poor example of man working six days and resting the seventh as six being the number of man. In this instance, man works six days and rests the seventh because that was the example of our Creator. By this reasoning, six would be the number of God.

C. Third Scene - The Lamb and the 144,000 (14:1-5)

D. Fourth Scene - The Harvest of the Earth (14:6-20)

V. Seven Bowls (Chapters 16-19:10)

A. First Bowl - Sores (16:1-2)

B. Second Bowl - Sea to Blood (16:3)

C. Third Bowl - Rivers and Streams to Blood (16:4-7)

D. Fourth Bowl - Scorching Sun (16:8-9)

E. Fifth Bowl - Darkness (16:10-11)

F. Sixth Bowl - Euphrates Dries Up (16:12-16)

16:12 BKC 1 It is best to acknowledge that this prophecy can be literally fulfilled without knowing today what specific countries and political alliances will be involved.

G. Seventh Bowl - Earthquakes and Cosmic Events (16:21-19:10)

1. Pouring out of Seventh Bowl (16:17-21)

2. Woman and the Beast (17:1-18)

3. Fall of Babylon the Great (18:1-24)

4. Praise for Fall of Babylon (19:1-5)

5. Praise for Marriage of the Lamb (19:6-10)

VI. Seven Last Things (Chapters 19:11-22:10)

A. First Last Thing - Rider on White Horse (19:11-16)

B. Second Last Thing - Destruction of Beast (19:17-21)

C. Third Last Thing - Binding of Satan (20:1-3)

20:1-6 BKC 4-5 It is important to consider the large list of references given by Mr. Walvoord. The doctrine of the kingdom of God upon the earth does not rest upon only this passage, although the 1000 years is only specified in this chapter. It is a watershed for prophetic interpretation and many other passages must be taken only symbolically if this passage is taken only symbolically. If taken symbolically (I agree with Walvoord in a literal interpretation) then we must find fulfillment of many prophecies either in the church periord or in the eternal state.

D. Fourth Last Thing - First Resurrection and 1000 Year Reign (20:4-7)

20:5 BKC 3 I presume that the ‘token resurrection of a number of saints’ at the time of Jesus’ resurrection was not part of the first resurrection if they died again, as I presume they and Lazarus did. The Bible does not tell us that they were raised immortal, although it does not say that they weren’t. I agree with Walvoord that the other groups resurrected, including Old Testament saints, the Church, and Tribulation saints, are all part of the first resurrection whether they were all resurrected at one time or not.

20:6 BKC 1 I wish to make clear that when Walvoord includes the Church saints as part of the first resurrection, he includes them in the reign of Christ for 1000 years upon the Earth. This is my position, and it is important because this includes us! I believe that those believers who have been faithful stewards will be given duties of some responsibility during this period of time. Those believers who have not been faithful should not expect to be entrusted with responsibilities of that kingdom.

E. Fifth Last Thing - Release and End of Satan (20:7-10)

F. Sixth Last Thing - White Throne Judgment (20:11-15)

G. Seventh Last Thing - New Heaven, New Earth, New Jerusalem (21:1-22:5)

VII. Conclusion (22:8-21)


New Testament Survey by Merrill Tenney : Highly recommend this book for a good background to the life of Jesus and the New Testament. The first half covers background, what the world was like under Roman rule and what the conditions of the Jews were. The second half gives background, outline, and introductions to each of the New Testament books (including Acts).

Bible Background Commentary (New Testament) by Craig S. Keener : Printed by InterVarsity Press, this is an excellent one-volume resource for understanding the customs and background (history, language, and geography) behind the verses of the New Testament. It is not an interpretation of the New Testament as are most commentaries, its purpose is to give background information. I highly recommend this to the serious student of Scripture, who already has a good grasp of the meaning and application of the New Testament.

"Revelation" by John Walvoord, Bible Knowledge Commentary (New Testament, Volume II) by the Staff of Dallas Theological Seminary: Admittedly a 'dispensational' interpretation, meaning that the authors take the book of Revelation very literally and teach that Jesus will take the Church out of the world before the 'Tribulation Period'. Although I do not agree totally with their opinions, I have found this to be a fair commentary, also explaining the views of others which the authors do not hold. If you use my notes you will receive some insight as to where the points of disagreement are. Highly recommended as the best short commentary on the market. I am easily in agreement with 98% of what this commentary teaches, and who knows if I am right about the other 2%??

"Revelation", Alan F. Johnson, (Vol 12 of the Expositor's Bible Commentary, bound with Hebrews through Revelation by various authors): A scholarly commentary for advanced students and trained pastors, College and Graduate reading level. Deals with all major views of each passage of Scripture, along with notes on any textual and translation problems (notes on Greek text are perhaps useable by those without knowledge of that language, but intended for those with at least some familiarity with the language.) This work is also sold as Revelation, a less expensive paperbound book without the Greek notes.

Updated March 2012
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