Book of Revelation: A quick overview

Updated 2.01.2010

The Book of Revelation involves recapitulation from different viewpoints of the period between the advents:

After the introduction showing us Christ in the midst of his church, and the tendencies in 7 churches which illustrate tendencies in the church of every age (chapters 2-3), we have the scene set for what follows by two chapters (4-5) which remind us who is controlling history and bringing God’s plan to realisation.

Then we have 7 seals which take us to the climax of history (6:1-8:1) the seals show the gospel going forth but also other forces which impact unbelievers; however believers, though they experience tribulation, are safe from eternal loss because they have God’s seal of ownership on them (ch 7). In all of this Jesus Christ reigns.

Next we have 7 warning trumpets (8:2-11:19) cover the same ground with judgments, in some respects reminding us of the plagues on Egypt at the time of the exodus, designed to bring the world into subjection to Christ. They are both physical and spiritual judgments. All flows from the prayers of the believers as they live in the world. Chapter 10:1-11:14 is an interlude corresponding to Chapter 7 showing the faithful witness of believers in the midst of unbelief. After a section which shows the woman and the dragon and the two beasts and the fall of Babylon (12-14), in which the persecuted church is protected by God,

we have the 7 bowls of God’s wrath (15-16) followed by a more elaborate description of Babylon’s overthrow (17:1-19:10).

I think 19:11 begins a new recapitulation giving a behind the scenes view of the present reign of Christ leading to the final judgement 20:10. This is a battle waged throughout history which involves the overthrow of Christ’s enemies. Chapters 21 and 22 show the blessed result in a New Jerusalem, a new heavens and earth where righteousness has its home.

Chapter 19 ends with the death of all Christ’s foes on earth, and chapter 20 begins by showing the binding of Satan for 1000 years and his release for a little time. As v4 shows, the believers who have died live and reign with Christ for 1000 years, so it seems the millennium must be the period between physical death and resurrection. Satan has no power over them but they live and reign with Christ. But this does not exclude the idea that the millennium is also the whole inter-advent period on earth during which Satan cannot prevent the Gospel going to the nations. But if we have Satan described as bound, it is only in these respects; he is still active on earth.

In order to have Satan out of the picture completely we have to have him back on the scene and then eliminated. I think this is what is meant by him being released ‘for a short time’ (v4) so as to deceive the nations and marshall opposition. But the last great battle is one sided: ‘fire came from heaven and devoured them’ (v9).

There remain questions about the interpretation of the passage which I cannot answer, but the final victory is sure.

A summary of the Bible’s teaching about the future

1. The LORD has all authority over nations and individuals.
2. Mere human kingdoms are temporary, but Messiah’s kingdom is eternal.
3. The work of Messiah is the means by which this eternal kingdom comes.
4. God’s chosen ones inherit the kingdom only through tribulation.
5. The present calls for faithfulness to the LORD in a hostile environment.
6. The climax of world history is in God’s hands.



Is Revelation essentially about the future or is it about what already has begun and will reach its final climax in the future?


Daniel 2:28-30 Revelation 1:1-3, 19
28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you lay on your bed are these:

29 “As you were lying there, O king, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen. 30 As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than other living men, but so that you, O king, may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.


45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces.
“The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future [the latter days]. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.”

46 Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honour and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. 47 The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”

1The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known [signified it] by sending his angel to his servant John, 2who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 3Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.



19“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later [after these things].


Daniel 2:29,45 (LXX) “in the latter days” = “after these things” in Theodotion’s translation.

Joel 3:1 “after this” (LXX);  Acts 2:17 “in the latter days”

Some conclusions:

1. In Daniel God is revealer of things to come “in the latter days”.

2. In Revelation 1 there are a number of words which hark back to Daniel 2, and suggest that it is in this context we should understand Revelation.

3. In Revelation 1 there are subtle changes. What was still future in Daniel is now underway in Revelation.

4. The “things which you have seen” (1.19) are the things John saw in the earlier verses.

5. The “things which are” are the things evident in the churches already.

6. The things which take place “after these things” refers to the era which the Old Testament called “the latter days”, that is, it does not refer to the very end of history in terms of historical time, but it refers to the beginning of the fulfillment of “the latter days”.

7. It is not that tribulation, the defeat of evil and the final coming of the kingdom are simply in the (far off) future, and are merely thought of as near or coming soon in the perspective of prophecy, but that as a result of the death and resurrection of Christ the final tribulation, the defeat of evil and the final coming of the kingdom of God is already underway.

8. Hence the many references to Old Testament prophecies already being fulfilled:

Christ is already ruling the nations (1:5) as the Son of man (1:7 compare Daniel 7:13).


Numbers carry a lot of symbolism in Revelation:

7            A number of completeness – example: God’s work of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:3

see Psalm 79:2 for another example

seven churches – seven golden lampstands – seven stars – seven spirits of God (1:4; 4:5; 5:6) – seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowels – thunders speak (10:3) – hills (17:9) plagues – horns etc. – 7000 killed (11:13)

also 7 beatitudes (1:3; 14:13; 16;15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7; 22:14)

also 7 misunderstandings (1:17; 5:5; 7:14; 10:4; 17:6; 19:10; 22:9)

also 7 attributes of God (5:12; 78:12)

also 7 marks of the locusts (9:7-10)

there appears also be 7 large sections to the book.

4            A number of completeness – north, south, east and west, the 4 corners of the earth

four corners (7:1; 20:8) – four winds (7:1), four angels, four living creatures

10            A number of completeness in the decimal system

ten days of persecution (2.10); ten horns of dragon; ten horns and ten crowns of beast (13:1;17:3,7,12,16); a tenth of the city (11:13);

12             A number of completeness – the twelve tribes forming one nation, unity in diversity

12×12=144,000 complete and vast number

12 stars, 12 angels, 12 tribes, twelve, gates, foundations in new Jerusalem with measurement of 12,000 stadia (21:16)

A special period

time, times & half a time

– time of evil domination over God’s people (Daniel 7:25; 12:7)

– period church is nourished by God in the desert (12:14)

42 months [@30 days each 3.5 years/1260 days]

–       period the Gentiles trample down outer court/holy city (11:2)

–    period of the authority of the beast (13:5)

1260 days

– period the two witnesses prophesy (11:3)

– period church is nourished by God in the desert (12:6)

OT background

1. Elijah prayed it might not rain 3.5 years (Kings 17:1, James 5:17)

2. There was a literal period of 3.5 years when Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the temple (167-164 BC) – the little horn in Daniel 8 that arises from the third (Greek) kingdom.

This provides an illustration what will happen on a deeper level in the little horn in Daniel 7 from the fourth kingdom (Rome & successors) which persecutes for ‘a time, times and half a time’.

NT reference : Jerusalem to be trodden down until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled

Contrast: three and a half days of seeming defeat for God’s people (11:9,11)



Interlocking sections – rich symbolism with constant OT allusions

Contrasts: eg. The scarlet woman/ Babylonian prostitute with the woman clothed with the sun/the pure bride/New Jerusalem

Frequent recapitulation of the period between ascension and the return of Christ

Movement from the church imperfect in the world to the church perfect in glory

Message: (a) Stand faithful and firm in a hostile environment – the victory is certain in Christ;

(b) God will receive glory for his salvation and his judgments.

Prologue 1:1-8

(1) 7 churches preceded by vision of Christ 1:9-3:22

The church imperfect in this world

(2) 7 seals preceded by vision of God’s throne/Christ 4:1-8:1

  • interlude 7:1-17 – God’s sealed servants

(3) 7 trumpets 8:2-11:1            (answer to the plea for judgment 6:9-11)

  • plague on earth  Ex 9:22ff
  • plague on sea Ex 7:17ff
  • plague on rivers Ex 7:17fff
  • plague on sun Ex 10:21ff
  • plague on realm of wicked/darkness Ex 10:4ff
  • plague on Euphrates/demonic
  • plague on world (last judgment) Ex 9:22 & 19:16-19
  • interlude 10:1-11:14 – the true people of God and their testimony

(4) 7 signs 12:-14:20; 15:2       (the deeper conflict)

  • conflict of the serpent with the woman and her children 12
  • persecution by the beast from the sea 13:1-10
  • persecution by the beast from the earth 13:11-18
  • the Lamb and the 144,000 14:1-5
  • the gospel and judgment proclaimed by three angels 14:6-13
  • the harvest of the earth by the Son of man 14:14-20
  • the saints victory 15:2-4

(5) 7 bowls 15:1-16:21

  • the woes expounded – the ultimate Exodus
  • note bowl judgments parallel trumpets but are more intense

(6) Close up of the judgment of Babylon and the Beasts & Devil 17:1-21:15

  • Babylon’s fall announced 17
  • Babylon’s fall elaborated 18:1-19:10
  • Christ’s final judgment 19:11-21
  • Millennial blessing for believers – Satan bound in certain limited sense – so that Gospel reaches nations not just Israel as in OT (cf. Ch 12, totally excluded from heavenly influence because of Christ’s resurrection), the 10 day trial (cf.2:10) of the saints results in millennial reign in heaven of dead believers (termed first resurrection) 20:1-6
  • Final judgment of 19:11-21 recapitulated 20:7-15 (devil reintroduced on stage only to be eliminated).

(7) The Church perfected in the new creation 21:1-22:5

Epilogue 22:6-21