Charting the Terrain:
Revelation's Structure and an Overview
For many people, the book of Revelation is confusing and difficult to understand. This article is designed to be a tour guide to help us in our exploration of Revelation’s spiritual geography. If we can understand the book’s basic structure, it will be easier to navigate our way through it and we can begin to enjoy the journey without fear of getting lost.
We open the book and before us is a vast supernatural landscape of prophetic visions. We will begin by mapping out the terrain into individual territories. This will help us see the distinctions in the spiritual topography we will be exploring.
There are four basic “territories” that this writer uses as a guide. The first territory is comprised of chapters one through seven. These are The Introductory Chapters. This portion of the book serves as a foundation and prepares us for what lies ahead.
The Second Territory begins with Chapter Eight and continues through Chapter Eleven. This is “The Time of Warning” that introduces us to the seven trumpets and the three “woes.”
At the conclusion of Chapter Eleven, we come to a bridge in our journey and that is Chapter Twelve. This bridge is inserted here to tell us that there is going to be a change and provides the main reason for the persecution of God’s people. The bridge of Chapter Twelve also serves to connect the first two territories of the book with the gate that leads us into the last two remaining territories.
We cross the bridge and proceed to the gate of Chapter Thirteen. We open it and enter into a swampy forest where the monsters, the beast and the false prophet reside. After we have thoroughly explored their habitat, when we reach its conclusion, we have been prepared to enter into the roughest terrain of our journey, the Third Territory which is “The Great Tribulation” or “The Hour of His Judgment” (Rev. 14:7) which encompasses chapters fourteen through eighteen.
The Fourth Territory is where we joyfully witness “The Second Coming of Jesus” and the events that follow as described in chapters nineteen through twenty-two.
We have reached the end of our journey and when we gaze back upon the landscape, the hills and valleys look something like this. –
FIRST TERRITORY – The Introductory Chapters - 1-7
SECOND TERRITORY – The Time of Warning - 8-11
THE BRIDGE – 12
THE GATE - 13
THE THIRD TERRITORY – The Great Tribulation – 14-18
THE FOURTH TERRITORY – The Second Coming – 19-22
We have charted the course through Revelation’s basic spiritual geography. Now we can begin to explore a more detailed road map of the visions, how they are constructed, and how they relate to each other – and us.
The Road Map -
Our journey begins naturally with the first territory, The Introductory Chapters one through seven. There are five roads that we will be following through these seven chapters as two sets are located on the same road, chapters two and three, and four and five.
The first road is Chapter One. This chapter is the introduction to the book and we begin this journey with the Apostle John on the isle of Patmos where he records for us the supernatural means through which he was commissioned to write; assuring us for a certainty that it is God that has given him and us the visions.
The second road contains chapters two and three. These chapters describe the spiritual conditions of the church in John’s day and in the future. Along this route we will receive encouragement, warnings and correction. As we stand on our hill of this present age overlooking what we are being shown, we can see that this road weaves its way through the centuries and we can observe the church progress from a zealous infancy to its gradual descent into the prophesied apostasy (I Thessalonians 2:3). Our understanding of the spiritual conditions we are viewing along this road, is vital in helping us to avoid our own personal apostasy. Here we are being equipped to face the journey ahead.
After our excursion through chapters two and three we are ready for a time of spiritual refreshment which brings us to the third road of chapters four and five.
This road suddenly makes a sharp swerve upward and we find ourselves delighted to be caught up with John into the third heaven, the one that can’t be seen with any telescope. It is here we are reminded that there is a place of rest among the trials we experience in the earth life. We are treated to a glimpse of what it is like to be in the presence of God and it is from this position of intimacy with the Lord, that John is given many of the visions that comprise the book he is being commissioned to write.
John’s sudden rise to heaven shows us that there is to be a change in how the apostle will be communicating with the Lord. Previously he had been receiving his messages to the church clearly and directly. He has now been elevated to another level of communication which is mostly visual through his witnessing of the prophetic visions.
While many have misinterpreted John’s calling up to indicate a rapture, the phrase “come up here” merely links him to the Philadelphian remnant that is to be raptured in Revelation’s eleventh chapter. If John is a figure of the raptured church going up in Chapter Four, then we must explain his appearance in Revelation Chapter Ten where he is commissioned to preach the Gospel. So it is obvious that John’s calling up in Chapter Four is not a rapture, but merely indicates a change in the method by which he is to receive his instructions.
Also, there is only one rapture indicated in the ancient writings; 11 Esdras 6:26 in the Apocrypha, and the first century writing, “The Prophecy of Elijah,” not three as some assume. As I have mentioned previously, in our article "The Eyeglasses of Interpretation," the reference to the gathering of the elect in I Thessalonians 4:16, 17, is part of the first resurrection which occurs after the tribulation when the Lord returns and is not the pre-tribulation rapture.
We proceed to witness Jesus being given the book from God the Father and He opens the first of the seven seals of prophetic revelation, which immediately places us on the fourth road, Chapter Six.
This is where we are reminded again that Revelation was written to encourage a persecuted church. On this road the seals that Jesus opens reveals the persecutors of God’s church, the persecuted and a picture of their ultimate avenging.
Seals one through four (verses 2-8) show us the four horses or spirits that represent today's major persecutors of the church - apostate Christianity (white horse), communism (red horse), inflationary economy (black horse), and apostate Islam (pale or green horse). The fifth seal reveals the persecuted crying out to be avenged, (verses 9-11) and as the sixth seal is opened (verses 12-17) we behold the answer to their prayers for their avenging. Although we can feel the ground trembling beneath our feet, the earthquake that initiates the beginning of their vindication is an event in the future that corresponds to the earthquake in Chapter Eleven, verse thirteen where the final judgments of God upon the wicked begins when the seventh trumpet sounds, and cumulates with a second earthquake in Chapter Sixteen verse eighteen that directly precedes Jesus’ second coming. On this road we are assured that those who have afflicted the Lord’s church will reap what they have sown and God’s people will eventually be vindicated.
There is a seventh seal that has yet to be opened, but before the visions it holds can be revealed we must first view the remaining scenery that that lies before us on the fifth road, Chapter Seven. The events we witness here are contained within or are part of the visions that were opened by the sixth seal. We understand that we are still being shown visions that concern God’s church as we behold the sealing of the 144,000, the last generation of evangelists. We watch them being commissioned by the Holy Spirit and then in verses nine through seventeen, as this road comes to its conclusion, we are privileged to view a portrait of the overcoming church.
It is here we realize that the First Territory we have been traversing through is primarily concerned with God’s church. From the admonishments to the church in chapters two and three to our view of the overcomers in Chapter Seven that have gone through great tribulation (verse 14) and have been refined in the furnace of affliction, we are reminded that the bulk of Scripture shows us that God never said the roads we
are travelling upon will be easy, He said they would be blessed.
We will be reunited with the 144,000 in chapters nine and fourteen, and the overcomers in Chapter Fifteen, but before we continue our journey, we will remain for a moment resting at the end of the First Territory we have explored and review some of the landmarks that stand out the most.
In Chapter One, we were assured that the road we are on is God ordained and we can trust where it leads.
We have seen God’s love for His church in chapters two and three as He oversees them with His guidance and correction.
We have been encouraged by the assurance of the reality of heaven in chapters four and five.
In Chapter Six we understand that while we must endure persecution in this life, God is aware of our suffering and assures us there is a purpose for it and ultimately His people will be avenged.
And in Chapter Seven we realize that our journey ends in victory as long as we remain faithful to our God.
As our time of reflection upon the ground we have traversed through the First Territory comes to a close we anticipate the journey ahead. We turn to face the future as Jesus prepares to open the seventh seal.
Rivers and Islands
– The opening of the seventh seal places us upon a summit that overlooks the remaining landscape of our journey. From this pinnacle we observe the chapters unfolding before us and watch their progression to the final outcome of history; the glorious return of the Messiah Jesus.
We can see the Light of His second coming in the distance and as we prepare to navigate our way through the difficult terrain that leads us to that grand event, we will keep our hearts and minds focused upon the victory contained in the light of His arrival. If you are a Christian, you should be anticipating the journey ahead with zeal and confidence; fear is something that does not belong in your backpack.
As we contemplate the beginning of our exploration through the warning period of the Second Territory that contains chapters eight though eleven, we realize that the terrain is somewhat different than the landscape we have explored in the First Territory of chapters one through seven. Here we will not be travelling upon roads, but rivers. The rivers are visions that develop over a long period of time and run parallel to other visions. Among the rivers are “islands.” These visions are details of events that are occurring as the parallel visions of the rivers are progressing.
The categorizing of the visions into parallels and details; rivers and islands, is merely a device we will use to help us understand the structure of the visions we are exploring and how they relate to one another.
From our view overlooking the landscape before us, we observe the first river, Chapter Eight, begin to weave its way into the future. When we reach its conclusion, the vision that was begun in eight, breaks off into a fork that becomes Chapter Nine, beginning another river that runs parallel to the evolving vision that has been instigated in Chapter Eight.
Chapter Eight describes environmental judgments, and Chapter Nine mainly deals with warfare, spiritual and physical. As we shall see during the course of this study, these judgments are progressive, increasing to the time of the end.
The events these river visions describe continue developing through time running parallel to each other until they are split by Chapter Ten which is an island. This vision details a period of evangelism that transpires during the time the two river visions of chapters eight and nine are continuing their course.
They flow around the island of Chapter Ten, and a second island, Chapter Eleven emerges, which is a continuation, or the fulfillment of Chapter Ten.
The eleventh chapter is a detail of events that are contained within the first portion of the “gate” of Chapter Thirteen, just before the beast comes into full power. We can see the river/parallel visions of chapters eight and nine continuing to flow on either side of Chapter Eleven’s island.
We see that the island of Chapter Eleven comes to its conclusion with the “rapture” of the two witnesses and the sounding of the final trumpet. As I have mentioned, this event coincides with the first part of Chapter Thirteen, in the time period when the beast system is developing just prior to the system’s coming into full power and control.
We observe that the terrain of Chapter Eleven’s island continues to the “bridge” of Chapter Twelve. At the end of Chapter Eleven, we cross the bridge which is a parable. The history it illustrates leads us to the “gate” of Chapter Thirteen, where the beast empire and false prophet are revealed.
Chapter Thirteen is also an island of detail that is contained within the progressive visions of chapters eight and nine, and stretches out into the Third Territory of the great tribulation.
We scan across the terrain of Chapter Thirteen’s island, and at its conclusion we see that the river visions of eight and nine have been progressing and flowing around thirteen’s island shores as well, and are coming to their conclusion as they cascade into the dark sea of Chapter Fourteen, which is a parallel vision that encompasses the entire Third Territory of chapters fourteen through eighteen.
Here we witness the river visions of chapters eight and nine merge into the detail island of Chapter Sixteen, as the judgments that have been unleashed in those previous chapters cumulate to illustrate the events that are occurring during the Great Tribulation’s turbulent insurgence into history.
Chapters seventeen and eighteen are also island visions detailing the events that transpire within the prophesied moment in time described as the “Great tribulation” that begins in Chapter Fourteen.
We can see there is a mountain overlooking tribulation’s waters and we observe the 144,000 introduced to us in Chapter Seven, and who have been sealed to be preserved through the river and spiritual warfare of Chapter Nine (9:4) resting safely with the Lord upon its summit. The overcoming church of the latter portion of Chapter Seven, (verses 9-17), is standing above the waters of this sea on the island of Chapter Fifteen, showing us the victory of those souls that have endured great tribulation, rejoicing before God’s throne. These souls represent the martyrs of the age, also those who have come to the Lord during the great tribulation, and those souls who have been left behind and have been refined, realigned and purified through their sufferings.
The stormy waters of tribulation’s sea comes to its conclusion at the shores of Chapter Nineteen and the evil it contains is overcome by the second coming of the Lord as we enter the Fourth Territory.
As tribulation’s turbulent waves crest and break for the last time, we can see the end of our journey will consummate into the finale of time chronicled for us in the New Land that emerges in chapters twenty through twenty-two. With this wondrous destination in mind, we will prepare to launch the boat of our thoughts upon the first river of Chapter Eight, and allow its currents to help us explore the times we are experiencing now as we near the second coming of our Lord, the Messiah Jesus. The surveying equipment we will be using to study the topography of chapters eight through thirteen in this newspaper is expository for the most part; which means we will be examining the spiritual geography of these visions verse by verse, as if we are searching for treasure.
Global Warming or Global Warning? Revelation Chapter Eight
copyright 2013 by H.D. Shively
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