When it comes to learning, there are many different ways that people receive information. Some people learn visually and others audibly. Still others receive information best if they can do it themselves. Personally, I (Patrick Walton) learn much better when I see the purpose behind what it is I am looking at. For instance, instead of just hearing about how the engine on my dirt bike works; understanding why it does what it does, before working on a specific part, makes the most sense to me. So when I can comprehend the purpose of the part, working on it and taking proper care of it makes much more sense to me.
I find that it’s easy to apply the above principle even to the book of Revelation. It’s my opinion that many people struggle to read the book itself because they got lost in transit. As they start reading the book they easily get lost in the different writing style of which The Revelation is composed. In fact many scholars disagree about who wrote the book because of this very fact. Some commentators say that John the Beloved, the one who was labeled by Jesus as a son of thunder (Mark 3:17), and who also lay his head on Jesus’ breast at the Last Supper (John 13:23) isn’t the same John that wrote The Revelation. The reason for this is because of the difference in writing styles when compared with John’s Gospel and his Epistles. I personally believe that the same John who wrote the Gospel of John and the Epistles of John also wrote The Revelation, and I will explain that in the upcoming chapters of this book. But again, the primary reason they struggle to reconcile John the Beloved to The Revelation is because of the major difference in writing style. But really there is no need to question the author because of the writing style. It’s clear that The Revelation is classified in its own literary style called apocalyptic and there are only two books in the entire Bible that fit this style; they are the book of Daniel and The Revelation.
The important thing about The Revelation is that we approach it as a different type of writing style, not that we spend our time discussing who wrote it. And for that matter, give John a little break. What would you expect from a 80+ year old who has been locked up on an island the size of Alcatraz for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and is suddenly taken up in the Spirit and exposed to visions, dreams and sounds that this mature apostle of the faith can hardly explain in human words? Thus what follows in this 22-chapter letter is challenging to our natural mind to fully ascertain what was really going on.
But as we start to understand the structure and layout of this book, we begin to see this beautiful tapestry the Holy Spirit has woven. That which was confusing and hard to understand takes on great clarity. It’s through the lens of understanding the structure of this book that I want to appeal to you. In this chapter I am going to work to lay out a clear, simple guide of how The Revelation is structured so that you can encounter Jesus and the glory of God through it. It’s my belief that if you understand how this book is laid out, you will receive much more from it.
The Structure of the Revelation
Something that I have said several times but feel it’s important to say once more, is that this book which many in the Church claim to be confusing, is actually very straight forward and easy to understand. Don’t let scholars, and those who claim to be smarter than you, turn you away from encountering the beauty of Jesus in it. This book was written for the peasant and uneducated, not just for the minority who have graduated Bible College and understand Greek and Hebrew. Okay, with that being said, it’s best to see that The Revelation is written mostly Chronological and progressive.
The Chronological portion of this book means that it generally flows from start to finish. It’s not entirely written in a systematic fashion, as most of us Westerners are used to, but generally speaking it’s Chronological. The progressive nature of this book is that the judgments of God and the sin of man increase as the storyline moves. As men resist the mercy of God through the temporal judgments He releases upon the Earth, their hearts will become harder and so also will Jesus’ judgments. For instance, within the 7 seals one of those seal judgments first kills one quarter of the Earth. But within the 7 trumpets one of those trumpet judgments kills one third of the Earth. The seal judgments are first and they are followed by the trumpet judgments. The progressive reality of this book is that Jesus is going to increase His activity to capture the heart of humans before it’s too late to repent.
I have found a simple key to understanding the structure of The Revelation is to see it in four primary parts with two groups of five sections in the fourth part. Let me say that again, a simple key to understanding The Revelation is to see the entire book in four primary parts. Now in the fourth part there are two groups of five sections. Don’t stop breathing yet, because in just a little bit I will further explain the different sections in the fourth part. Let’s look at them in their entirety and I will explain as we move along.
In the first part, which includes Revelation chapter one, we see John’s commissioning to share what he is about to receive from Jesus. John, who is an aging Apostle who is suffering persecution on the Island of Patmos, sees Jesus dressed as a High Priest and receives a commissioning from Him to share what he sees and hears with the seven Churches of Revelation 2-3. John is totally caught up in the beauty, majesty and worth of Christ Jesus in Revelation chapter one. This is John’s prophetic commissioning.
In the second part, Revelation 2-3, we see the truths Jesus shared with John in Revelation 1 applied to Jesus as He addresses the seven Churches which are in Asia Minor, or modern day Turkey. Now, it needs to be said that a lot of Christian authors and people who really do love God, do some strange and funny things with these seven Churches. Some people say that within these seven Churches you can see all of Church history, leading up to the seventh Church, speaking of the present hour. Others see different dispensations of the grace of God through these seven Churches, including the seven mountains of Rome and the Catholic Church. We want to steer away from these confusing interpretations of scripture. It’s not that we can’t look into them to see if some have merit, but we don’t want to claim them to be something the Bible doesn’t say they are.
I believe that within the seven Churches of Revelation 2-3 there are three primary things we can see. Firstly, we see that these seven Churches are literal, historical and physical Churches. Recently Pastor Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle rented the cities of Ephesus and the other six Churches to preach from their current ruins. I say that simply to say, you can actually go to these old Church ruins, because they were literal, historical and physical Churches. Secondly, these seven Churches apply to what I am calling the Church Era, from Jesus’ ascension to present day. The reason for this is because for those that say we are living in the Laodicean hour, meaning that our present hour is that of the seventh Church of Revelation, the Church of Laodicea, fail to see that some of the other six Churches fit our current situation as much or more than the seventh Church does. I can see today’s Church culture like that of the Church of Ephesus and that of Thyatira. So, what we don’t want do with the truth of the Bible is to make it about only one thing or about one period of time. Because it is truth, it is for all time periods, in all places and with all cultures, not just one or the other. And thirdly, I believe that these seven letters to these seven Churches will have some of their greatest impact on the final generation of human history, as God prepares the Church for great crisis and great glory. These letters, in my opinion will impact the Church in a very dramatic way, as God fashions a people who look like Him to confront the man of sin, the antichrist, and an increased pagan culture given over to public demon worship.
The third part is found in Revelation 4-5. These two chapters pull the divine curtain back and give a glimpse to the human heart whose hands are really on the controls. It’s in these two chapters that John is first taken up into the Spirit to see that there is only One seated on the throne and around Him, though chaos is breaking out on the Earth, the sea of fire before Him is like glass. John sees that God the Father is firmly established on the Throne, holding all things in His great care. And from Revelation 4, John then sees the only One found worthy to take what I believe to be the Psalm 2 scroll from the Father’s hand to start the campaign to take over the nations of the Earth in Revelation 5. Why I believe this scroll in the Father’s right hand to be the Psalm 2 scroll is because what unfolds from this scroll is Jesus taking back the nations of the Earth, Him vindicating His bride publicly, ending the reign of terror of the antichrist and ushering in God’s Kingdom to this physical Earth. Part three is critical for what is about to unfold in the following chapters.
The fourth part which includes Revelation 6-22 (the rest of The Revelation) is the outworking of Jesus taking the scroll from the Father’s right hand in Revelation 5. These final 16 chapters include the showdown of eschatological Babylon and Jerusalem which includes both Jew and Gentile. This is the great conflict of the ages that has surfaced in the past, but will have its greatest implications at the end of this age. It’s called the battle of two houses of prayer, the House of the Lamb and the house of the antichrist. These two final chapters, Revelation 21-22 tell us what’s awaiting the over-comer in the city that God is building.
Now, as I said previously, within the fourth part there are two different groups having 5 sections apiece. They aren’t more parts, but just some subcategories within the fourth part. These two groups are called something different by the various commentators, but I like to call them Chronological and Parenthetical sections. The word Chronological according to Merriam Webster’s dictionary means events occurring from start to finish, from beginning to end or in a systematic order. Another word that I use for the Chronological sections is storyline sections. There are five Chronological/Storyline sections within the fourth part (Revelation 6-22). The other group within the fourth part is something called the Parenthetical sections. The word Parenthetical simply means an explanation. These five Parenthetical sections serve as a divine pause to the Chronological/storyline sections to help explain what’s taking place in the narrative of The Revelation. I believe that as we start to break open the fourth part and explain these two groups and their subsequent sections it will make more sense to you.
Let’s start with the first Chronological section in the fourth part which is Revelation chapter 6. Within this Chronological/storyline section we see Jesus starting to break the seven seals which are sealing up the scroll that He took from the Father’s right hand in Revelation 5. As Jesus breaks these seals we see the ensuing activity of God that follows. Through those seals we see political aggression released upon the Earth, followed by a great world war, famine, a financial crisis, the death of one quarter of the Earth’s people, and great cosmic disturbance. These seals are a devastating blow to those who are living on the Earth. So much so, that at the close of Revelation 6 we see nearly every type of people alive on the Earth, that don’t know Jesus, trying to hide in the rocks from the face of Him who sits on the Throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. This is a storyline chapter or a narrative of the actual events unfolding.
When we get to Revelation 7 we now see the first Parenthetical section within the fourth part. It’s here in Revelation 7 that the narrative is placed on pause, and John receives some much needed information about the future of the Church who is alive in the midst of this great crisis. It helps when we see that just because John is a mature apostle, doesn’t mean he is free from grief and confusion. The Bible doesn’t tell us directly, but I assume that John is totally blown away when he sees what takes place in Revelation 6. Those seals being broken, leading to the death of one quarter of Earth’s population. This gives us the needed answer for the Parenthetical/explanation chapter of Revelation 7, about how God is going to protect His saints in the midst of this season of human history. In Revelation 7, John sees that God seals his servants to protect them from His judgments. But it’s also here that John sees an innumerable multitude standing before the Lamb worshiping Jesus, having overcome the antichrist through martyrdom. John doesn’t see a weak, defeated group of Christians (Jew and Gentile alike) holding on to the fort, so to speak, but a victorious group of martyrs shouting the high praise of God for His great leadership over their lives. It must have given John great hope when he saw those that had been overcome by the beast, worshiping God in power and strength, fully alive in Him never to taste death again.
From Revelation 7 we enter back into the second Chronological/storyline section in Revelation 8-9. In these two chapters the narrative is placed back on play and John sees the releasing of the seven trumpet judgments. Now these seven trumpets are directed towards the antichrist empire and those that are worshiping antichrist as they have rejected the previous mercies of God which were the six seals. These trumpets are serving as the divine warning that after them there is more trouble to follow, the 7 bowls of God’s wrath. It might be hard for you to see that destroying one quarter of Earth and another one third in just two judgments, which could be upwards of 4 billion people total in just those two judgments, is the mercy of God, but beloved, it truly is. Jesus understands that it would be better for people to suffer a little bit in this age, physically and financially, than to be separated from Him in hell for eternity. Those who respond to Jesus’ judgments come to love Him the most. It’s called being trained by judgment.
In Revelation 10-11 we enter back into the second Parenthetical/explanation section of the fourth part. In these two chapters John gets direction to the large increase of prophetic activity that God is going to release upon the Earth to boldly testify like a lion in the midst of the great tribulation. These two chapters are a critical explanation about how God’s message is delivered in the rest of The Revelation that’s still unfolding before John, another eleven chapters after Revelation 11. In reality, John, like Daniel was an End Time Father to a future generation. How John received this information in The Revelation was going to be the way that he would deliver it. God knew that whatever John wrote in The Revelation would become the text book for future preachers who would eat the scroll like John did in Revelation 10.
In the third Chronological section which is Revelation 11:15-19 we see the storyline continue as God unfolds the Rapture of the Church. It is here that John hears the loud proclamation that the kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdom’s of our Lord and of His Christ. Following this proclamation is what I believe to be the rewards and evaluation of the saints as they are standing before what Paul called in 2nd Corinthians 5:9-11, the Judgment seat of Christ. Now what’s important to see here is that though this is mostly Chronological, this loud statement sounded by the angel is a prophetic statement about what God is going to do, but hasn’t yet done in fullness. What I mean is; the kingdoms of this world won’t become Christ’s until the close of Revelation 19, when the antichrist and the false prophet are thrown into the Lake of Fire and the devil is locked up in Revelation 20 starting the millennial reign of Christ, on the Earth. This storyline chapter is critical to seeing what God is going to do, but here proclaiming prophetically in advance.
The third Parenthetical/explanation section within the fourth part is found in Revelation 12-14. Here we see the confrontation that moves from the heavens down to the Earth with the emerging of the antichrist onto the world stage as the devil’s empowered leader. This man is pictured here in Revelation 13, as being empowered by the devil himself as a fully incarnated, demonized man. John sees here that the majority of the Earth is caught up in the worship of both the devil, and the beast who has received his power from the dragon, which is the devil. These two chapters give us insight into the short reign of terror through the antichrist, though it’s short (only 3 ½ years) it will feel like an eternity, as the most wicked and demonized man in human history takes the world stage and begins the systematic destruction of those Jews who don’t yet believe on Jesus, and the Jews and Gentiles throughout the Earth who have given themselves to Jesus. John sees that this is a great darkness that’s coming, yea, even a darkness that one can feel.
In the fourth Chronological section within the fourth part is Revelation chapters 15-16. In these two chapters the storyline is back underway; that narrative is playing out in front of John’s eyes. John here sees the seven bowls that are poured out upon the beast, the worshipers of the beast and the evil structures of society that are hell-bent on rejecting Jesus and His leadership over them. These bowls that are released from Jesus fall on a dark society, given over to the wholesale persecution of those things which are holy. It’s without question that the judgment which follows from these bowls totally overwhelms John once again. Remember, though John is mature and already suffering for the Gospel’s sake, he is seeing unspeakable judgments and sin upon the Earth.
In the fourth Parenthetical section which is Revelation 17-18 within the fourth part John is going to receive the explanation of why the bowl judgments are so severe in Revelation 15 and 16. I am assuming it’s because John is so blown away by the destruction of the seven bowls that God inserts Revelation 17 and 18 to explain why His judgment was so swift and severe. In the start of Revelation 17 John is summoned by the angel to come and see the great seduction of eschatological Babylon and her counterfeit political, economic and religious system. It’s here that John receives his answer to the question of why the judgment of the seven bowls was so severe. The harlot Babylon will be part of the antichrist’s two-step plan to move billions straight into demon worship as he steps into the temple and claims to be God, forcing the Earth to worship him at the penalty of death. I love that Babylon’s swift destruction is mentioned 4 times within Revelation 18 giving us great insight into the strong and powerful empire’s swift and sudden destruction.
The fifth Chronological/storyline section in Revelation 19-20 helps us understand that sin will be judged. Finally, all things that are wrong will be made right under the leadership of Jesus Christ. Revelation 19 which tells of the antichrist and the false prophet being thrown into the Lake of Fire will create the greatest leadership vacuum in world history. As these two men, under the full demonization of the devil, lead untold billions into their worship and defiance of the Lamb, Jesus will slay them publically. Then He will step into His leadership role and inaugurate the 1,000 year Reign of Christ on the Earth. It’s here in Revelation 20 that we see the devil is not only locked up for that 1,000 year reign, but also destroyed in the Lake of Fire at the close of those 1,000 years. Revelation 20 closes with the final judgment of all those throughout world history that have rejected Jesus’ leadership over their lives. They are sentenced by Jesus into the Lake of Fire where they will be separated from Jesus for eternity, suffering in the Lake of Fire under the divine, eternal punishment of God.
In the final fifth Parenthetical/Explanation section of the fourth part in Revelation 21-22 John gets a heavenly tour of the eternal dwelling place of the saints with God in the New Jerusalem. As Jesus has restored the Earth in Revelation 20 during the 1,000 year reign, He now does away with it, bringing in a new heaven and a new Earth which John sees coming down, prepared like a bride for her groom. It’s here that the longing of both the human heart and the divine heart find their consummation, as God dwells with man in the Eternal City, for eternity! This is the longing of Eden’s fulfillment. What Adam lost, God restored through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, for all of mankind, throughout world history who have loved God and loved His appearing.
John continues to explain the glory of this city giving dimensions, sounds, sights, colors and much more. The book closes in this explanation chapter, urging all who long to drink to come and drink freely. Oh, the glories of Revelation 21-22!
It’s my belief that these chapters are given primarily to empower the human heart to say No to sin in this age and reach for the glory of the age to come. I want to close this chapter with a great quote from one of my favorite preachers, Mike Bickle. Mike says if we don’t think rightly about heaven, we won’t think about it at all. I believe this to be true and also to be the experience of most Christians I know. When our view of heaven is different from what the Bible describes it to be, we struggle to disconnect from this age and to fill our minds with a vision of a glorious destiny with Jesus. This is our inheritance and it’s important that we don’t shrink back from giving ourselves fully to it. Even so, come Lord Jesus!