An Easier Way to Read Revelation

An Easier Way to Read Revelation

Throughout the book, when John uses phrases like “after this” or “after these things,” he’s not denoting the historical chronology of the events he describes. Rather, he’s chronicling the order in which he saw a series of visions. The different angles display God’s judgment and ultimate triumph in Jesus Christ—the one great event of his return.

Imagine watching the final play of a football game from several different camera angles.

Angle one from the pylon cam: a player scores a rushing touchdown.

Angle two from behind the goalposts: he scores the touchdown and spikes the ball.

Angle three from the blimp: he scores a touchdown, spikes the ball, and the crowd rushes the field and fills the stadium.

Our understanding of this one event grows in intensity and meaning as it’s shown from multiple angles. In his classes at Reformed Theological Seminary, Michael Kruger uses this helpful metaphor to explain a biblical literary device called recapitulation.

Recapitulation is the act or instance of summarizing and restating a narrative to give a different emphasis or perspective. One biblical book that employs recapitulation with stunning effect is Revelation.

Seeing the World Through 7s

Revelation is notoriously confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. Yes, there are dragons, angels, antichrists, and (seemingly) multiple returns of Christ. But if we read this book through the lens of recapitulation, it becomes easier to understand.

It’s widely agreed that Revelation is structured by the repetition of sevens—seven churches, trumpets, bowls, and so on. But questions arise about the sequence and scope of the successive sevens. How do they hold together? When do they occur? How far does each one extend? Recapitulation helps us answer these questions.

Revelation isn’t meant to be read merely as a chronology of fantastic events. It should be seen as one set of events repeated seven times, each with increasing intensity. Revelation is apocalyptic—a genre defined by images, symbols, and references to the Old Testament and John’s ancient world. It’s intended to help the churches to whom it’s written see the world in a different way.

As Richard Bauckham writes, “The effect of John’s visions . . . is to expand his readers’ world, both spatially (into heaven) and temporally (into the eschatological future).” This accords with other ancient Jewish apocalyptic literature (like Daniel and some extracanonical books), but unlike extrabiblical literature, Revelation remains distinctly Christian and Christ-focused.

What Do the 7 Sections Depict?

The seven sections depict the two advents (or arrivals) of Jesus and the time between them. In different ways, they each tell the same story of Jesus returning to save and judge. Read this way, we see John’s clear and repeated emphasis on the final judgment, and we see the one event of Jesus’s return in its all-encompassing beauty.

1. Revelation 1:1–3:22

From the beginning of the book, the number seven holds symbolic weight. Bauckham argues that the seven spirits before the throne (1:4) symbolize the Holy Spirit in the fullness of his power and presence to the churches. Moreover, Jesus addresses seven churches. These churches represent all churches that will exist in the inter-advent period, or the period between Jesus’s first and second comings.

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