What We Believe
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The Writings of Meredith G. Kline on the Book of Revelation: Chapter 1, “A Study in the Structure of the Revelation of John” (1945)

Danny E. Olinger

Meredith Kline in his “A Study in the Structure of the Revelation of John” took issue with the interpretation of Revelation by the Reformed expositor William Hendriksen. Kline agreed with Hendriksen that a recapitulationist reading, that is, a structural principle of parallelism, is necessary for a proper interpretation of Revelation. Still, Kline judged that Hendriksen—in his insistence that there are seven parallel sections in Revelation that span the era between the first and second comings of Christ—had sacrificed a proper emphasis in the final chapters of Revelation for the sake of establishing a symmetrical arrangement. Kline said, “It is perhaps the greatest single weakness of Hendriksen’s view” that he is compelled to make the mere applicability of the text concerning the seven Asian churches to the church throughout the New Testament age “the entire basis for the parallelism of this division with the others.”[1] According to Kline, Hendriksen had not applied adequately Hendriksen’s own belief that there is progress in eschatological emphasis in Revelation, especially in regard to the final judgment in his sixth (Rev. 17:1–19:21) and seventh (Rev. 20:1–22:21) divisions.

But, despite these criticisms of Hendriksen, Kline was thoroughly committed to the recapitulationist position. He stated, “Whatever may be its dangers of being abused, however, this structural principle of synchronism or parallelism or recapitulation is valid and necessary to a proper interpretation of Revelation.”[2] His stated thesis of the study was to enhance this hermeneutic by dealing with certain objections to the recapitulationist reading, by exegeting the climaxes of the main divisions in the text, by contrasting the church imperfect in the world with the church perfect in heaven, and by showing the centrality of Christ’s person and work.

Objections to the Recapitulationist Reading

Kline first engaged the objections raised against a recapitulationist reading by David Brown in his 1891 book, The Structure of the Apocalypse. Brown, professor of theology at Free Church College of the University of Aberdeen, advocated understanding Revelation as a presentation of successive events in history where the kingdom of God is oppressed by hostile world powers. In particular, Brown maintained that Revelation shares the same sequence of historical empires found in the book of Daniel.

Kline answered that the idea of the world’s hostility to the kingdom of God is true enough, but the concept that successive periods of history are required to interpret Revelation correctly is erroneous. In Daniel, the coming of God’s kingdom in Christ, the stone smiting the image (Dan. 2), does away with world powers, but, in Kline’s words, “we do not—cannot—interpret this literally.”[3] It is a spiritual outlook of the state of affairs brought about by the coming of Christ that John in Revelation shares with Daniel.

Brown also objected to the recapitulation interpretation on the grounds that it fails to present a sufficient motive for the composition of Revelation. Kline responded that it was close to presumption on Brown’s part to judge what constituted a proper motive for God’s including any specific form of revelation in his Word. Not only is such a consideration highly subjective, but also it disparages those recapitulationist readers (such as Kline himself) who find Revelation to be “the fairest gem in Scripture, uniting in a fitting consummation of the Divine Word the most precious themes of the Bible.”[4] The Apocalypse illumines the prophetic element of the Old Testament, elaborates and unifies New Testament eschatology, and provides an inspiration by its solemn majesty that is not found so impressively anywhere else.

Outline of Revelation

Having answered Brown’s objections of an introductory nature to the recapitulation view, Kline then proposed an outline that built upon Hendricken’s recapitulation scheme[5] but recognized the eschatological progress inherent in Revelation. He wrote,

The divisions which commend themselves to me are these:

Introduction 1:1–8;
The Church Imperfect in the World, 1:9–3:22;
The Seven Seals, 4:1–8:1;
The Seven Trumpets, 8:2–11:19;
The Deeper Conflict, 12:1–14:20;
The Seven Bowls, 15:1–16:21;
The Final Judgments, 17:1–21:8;
The Church Perfect in Glory, 21:9–22:5;
Conclusion, 22:6–21.[6]

Kline acknowledged that “some demonstration seems required” for the variance between his “Final Judgments” division, Revelation 17:1–21:8 , and Hendriksen’s sixth, Revelation 17:1–19:21, and seventh, Revelation 20:1–22:21, divisions. Kline noted that the main characters previously introduced in Revelation—Babylon and the beasts, Satan, unbelievers, and overcomers—reappear in Revelation 17:1–21:8. In these chapters, they are dealt with in respect to their final destinies. Babylon and the beasts appear in Revelation 17:1–19:21, Satan appears in 20:1–10, unbelievers appear in 20:11–15, and overcomers appear in 21:1–8.

For Kline, this unity of theme was typically disregarded but appeared to him in the narrative to be decisive. He then listed three considerations to confirm this conclusion. First, he noted the significance of the internal marker “Come hither.” Revelation 17:1 begins with one of the seven angels of the seven bowls series saying to John, “Come hither.” The angel then promises to show John the judgment upon the harlot-Babylon[7] with whom the kings of the earth and earth-dwellers have cast their lot. Revelation 21:9 begins in the same manner with one of the seven angels of the seven bowls series saying to John, “Come hither.” The angel then promises to show John the bride, the wife of the Lamb. According to Kline then, the “come hither” repetition combined with a change in the focus of the content is a strong clue that Revelation 17:1–21:8 should be seen as a unit.

Second, if Revelation 17:1–21:8 is a unit, then Revelation 21:8 (“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death”) is an apt conclusion to the theme of judgment that predominates.

Finally, if the division is made at Revelation 20:1 as Hendriksen recommended, then Hendriksen’s resultant division of Revelation 20:1–21:27 would be the only one not marked by a clear formal boundary. In Kline’s judgment, it would not avail to maintain that Satan’s appearance in Revelation 20:1–10 constitutes a new major theme. As Kline explained, “Just because a red horse gallops forth at the opening of the second seal, nobody will claim the second seal is a new theme since the preceding and following seals introduce difference horses. The seals unify all. So Satan is introduced to develop the same theme of Final Judgment which both precedes and follows 20:1–10, and unifies all.”[8] 

Climaxes of the Major Divisions of Revelation

Kline had little patience for those outside the recapitulationist camp who maintained that the visions from Revelation 4:1 forward are to be understood as chronologically successive. He clamored, “Futurists who claim that 4:1 on deals with the final segments of this age only, usually torture the seven letters into the form of an historical succession leading up to the end, but to no avail.”[9] Rather, the textual fact is that the climaxes to the seals, trumpets, and bowls series all picture the end of the gospel age. Consequently, the visions are not chronologically successive, but parallel in their temporal scope. Kline proceeded to show exegetically how each of the major divisions from Revelation 4:1 onward pictures the end of history.

The Seven Seals, Revelation 4:1–8:1

In the “Seven Seals” division, Revelation 4:1–8:1, Kline maintained that the seals reach the end of the age already in the sixth seal, Revelation 6:12–17. The biblical understanding of “great day” in Revelation 6:17 confirms this deduction. When the Old Testament prophets Joel and Malachi, and in the New Testament the Apostle Paul, refer to “the great day,” the consummation of all things is in view.[10]

Against those who argue that Revelation 6:17 points to national-societal decay toward the end, but does not reference the end of history itself, Kline said, “Fatal to this is the obvious fact that 6:17 is no longer in the first person as 6:16’s ‘Fall on us, and hide us.’ It is the inspired comment of the Seer on what has preceded, and cannot possibly be construed as the mistaken notion of the terror or conscience-stricken.”[11] As there was no exegetical escape from interpreting “great day” in a non-climactic fashion, Kline declared emphatically that “the case for the non-recapitulationist absolutely breaks on Revelation 6:17.”[12] 

Since the sixth seal introduces the great day of God’s wrath, Kline then asked, “what are we to expect in the seventh seal?” According to Kline, how one answers this question is “probably the most crucial single point of the book for an understanding of the structure.”[13]

In answering the question, Kline turned to Frederick Düsterdieck as a foil. Düsterdieck, a nineteenth-century Tubingen scholar who had written an influential commentary on Revelation, advocated a telescopic structure of Revelation where the seals, trumpets, and bowls series evolved out of the preceding series. He reasoned that if the seventh seal was limited to Revelation 8:1 (“there followed a silence in heaven about the space of half an hour”) as the recapitulation reading maintained, then the expectation of a final catastrophe following the events of the sixth seal is not met. This expectation is met, however, if the trumpet series and the rest of Revelation flow out of the seventh seal.

Against Düsterdieck’s proposal, Kline responded that the sixth seal does not lead to the expectation of a final catastrophe. Rather, it is the final catastrophe. “Beyond the cosmical cataclysm and the unspeakable terror of eternally lost souls in the presence of the wrathful Lamb and the throne of God revealed in the sixth seal, what final catastrophe is there that needs to be considered with any fulness of contents?”[14]

Moreover, Kline believed objections from Düsterdieck and others that the “silence” of Revelation 8:1 cannot be the content of the seventh seal were misguided. Thundering noise is symbolic in Scripture for God’s judgments going forth; silence in Scripture stands for God’s judgments completed.[15] Kline said, “Surely if we put ourselves in the Seer’s place in the midst of these tremendous visions and especially at this point when the air has just been filled with the shrieks of the lost and praises of the saints, we must acknowledge that a period that seemed like an half-hour of purest silence would make and leave an indelible impression.”[16] The proper interpretation of the cycle of the seals is that it brings the reader to the judgment at the sixth seal and into the eternal state in the silence of the seventh seal. Kline allowed the Scottish theologian Patrick Fairborn, principle of Free Church College, Glasgow, to have the last word on the meaning of the silence in Revelation 8:1. Quoting Fairborn, Kline wrote, “The struggle of conflict is over, the noise and tumult of war have ceased, and the whole field lies prostrate before the one sovereign and undisputed Lord.”[17]

The Seven Trumpets, Revelation 8:2–11:19

Kline then examined Albertus Pieters’s interpretation of Revelation 8 and the relationship of the sixth and seventh seals. Pieters, professor at Western Theological Seminary and author of The Lamb, the Woman, and the Dragon, saw this portion of Revelation as borrowed from a Greek drama. In quoting Pieters, Kline inserted his own parenthetical commentary: “ ‘In Scene 3 of this Act (see program) men begin to be aware of the gathering storm’ (the removal of the heaven as a scroll, Pieters apparently considers a gentle spring zephyr).”[18] The mocking tone of the parenthetical comments, however, turned to scorn when Kline considered Pieters’s opinion that the silence was “purely a dramatic touch, having no prophetic or doctrinal significance in itself, but placed here because the principles of dramatic arc require it.”[19] Kline asserted, 

Such extreme insistence on the resemblance of “Revelation” to a drama cheapens the Divine Word as much, if not more, than classifying Biblical Apocalyptic on a mere par with, and as of one cloth with other early apocalypses which Pieters is careful to guard against. It is asking too much of us, to require us to cease comparing Scripture with Scripture to determine Scripture’s meaning, in favor of comparing Scriptures with the devices of the Greek stage![20]

Kline’s high view of Scripture, however, was anything but a mechanical view. He commented on the seamlessness of the transition in Revelation 8:1 and 8:2, the two blending together literarily in the movement from the seventh seal to the seven trumpets. The Revelation 11:19 transition at the end of the division on the trumpets is so smooth that exegetes argue whether it belongs to the start of the next chapter. Kline said, “In so subtle a way the Revelation is even in its formal-arrangements made a living, moving organism, rather than a row of detached blocks of material.”[21]

But Kline was careful to note that from a formal viewpoint there is no warrant to consider the cycle of trumpets as evolving from the cycle of seals. The phenomena, which appear in Revelation 8:5 and are repeated in Revelation 11:19, clearly mark off the trumpet cycle as a formal unit. The declaration of Revelation 11:15 (ASV), “The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ,” that follows the sounding of the seventh trumpet depicts the close of history. The same is true of Revelation 11:17, 18a, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged.”

There is nothing after Revelation 11:19 that is called the third woe or seventh trumpet. On the other hand, there is every indication that the greatest woe has been announced in these verses, namely, the destruction of the destroyers in the final judgment. In view is not historical succession but redemptive-historical fulfillment for “the vision which these verses contain consummates in the revelation of the ark of the covenant in the temple of God in heaven; this is no mere preparation for more historical events, but signifies that the whole Covenant is now fulfilled through the grace of our faithful God.”[22]

The Deeper Conflict, Revelation 12:1–14:20

In the next major division, the “Deeper Conflict,” Revelation 12:1–14:20, the closing verses in 14:14–20 again picture the end of history. Kline said that any uncertainty about this is settled by a simple comparison of the vision with Matthew 13:39, 41 (“and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels . . . The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all cause of sin and all law-breakers”) and Matthew 24:30, 31 (“Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other”).

The Seven Bowls, Revelation 15:1–16:21

The end of the world comes again in Revelation 15:1–16:21. The seventh bowl poured out in Revelation 16:17–21 produces a devastating judgment with points of marked similarity to the visions of the sixth seal and seventh trumpet. The perfect tense of the Greek verb, gegonen, the “It is done!” eloquently describes “God’s redemptive plan as fully executed and now followed by the predestined state of eternal blessedness accruing from that finished work of the Redeemer.”[23]

The Final Judgments, Revelation 17:1–21:8

The “Final Judgments” division, Revelation 17:1–21:8, again brings one to the end of history. But, at history’s last hour, when Satan is loosed from the abyss and the anti-Christian powers are marshalled for the last conflict with God, why does the Beast’s attitude towards Babylon change so that the Beast hates and destroys Babylon? Why should Antichrist scorn any anti-Christian agency’s help at such an hour? For Kline, the only sound basis for explaining the Beast’s change towards Babylon was the seeking of self-deification. He said, “During the Gospel Age, Satan tolerates any false-gospel or religion or apostate church pointing men to some sort of being or principle of benevolence beyond. But when the last hour of intensified conflict has come, Satan endeavors to concentrate the energies, efforts, might and worship of the whole world in his AntiChrist.”[24]

In support of this assertion, Kline appealed to 2 Thessalonians 2:4, Daniel 7:25 and 11:36, and Revelation 13:7–8. In 2 Thessalonians 2:4, the man of sin opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, takes his seat in the temple of God, and proclaims himself to be God. In Daniel 7:25, the little horn of the fourth beast speaks words against the Most High and wears out the saints. This is unto the end put forth in Daniel 11:36 that the little horn shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god. In Revelation 13:7–8, the last form of the Beast is given authority that all on earth shall worship him.

Conclusions from the Exegesis of the Division Climaxes

Despite the exegetical proof that each of the formal divisions from Revelation 4:1 to 21:8 brings the readers to the close of history, opponents of the recapitulation interpretation sought to escape the force of the argument. They claimed that these divisions are sidelights and interludes, anticipations and introductory summaries. It did seem plausible on the surface, Kline admitted, that the futurists were right that John had been given by God an anticipation of the end to sustain his spirit though the coming tribulation in the visions of Revelation 7:9–17, 11:1–3, and 14:1–5. Such plausibility, however, does not have exegetical support. Kline pointed out that each of the three parenthetical visions occurs in close connection with the conclusion of their cycle of seals, trumpets, and deeper conflict, where the final triumph of God’s kingdom is depicted. Rather than having a forward reference, it is more likely that the assurance contained in these parenthetical visions has primarily a backwards reference to the calamitous judgments described in the earlier stages of their cycle. “Thus,” Kline said, “they corroborate the interpretation of the division climaxes as being actually climaxes of what has preceded rather than anticipations of what is yet to come.”[25]

What further raised Kline’s ire in the use of this “anticipation” evasion in regard to climaxes of the divisions was the arbitrary way its proponents used it exegetically. This was especially the case since it required “an instance of exegetical violence impossible to defend” in interpreting the sixth seal in Revelation 6:17. Consequently, for Kline, “the suspicion is hard to avoid that the preconceived notion that the end of the age cannot be presented before the end of the Apocalypse determines the interpretation of all the major climaxes” by futurists.[26]

Furthermore, Kline continued, what would be John’s need in having so many anticipations? Is he doing it because he is afraid that he is going to lose the attention of the reader unless he keeps reminding the reader that great things are coming? But, if that is the case, then wouldn’t the reader be disappointed to find out that the real thing at the end doesn’t have much more to add. The result is that the book of Revelation becomes grotesquely futuristic. 

Excursus on Milligan’s View

Kline moved on to what he labeled an excursus on William Milligan’s view of the relation of the structure of Revelation to Matthew 24 and the Gospel of John. Kline seemingly respected Milligan, a nineteenth-century Church of Scotland theologian who had written extensively on Revelation. According to Kline, Milligan “did well to point out the use of recapitulation in Matt. 24 which prepares the mind to expect the same in the prophecy of Revelation.”[27] Kline even said that in spite of Milligan’s questionable route[28] in arriving at his conclusions regarding the formal structure of Matthew 24, the conclusions “seem well taken.”

Particularly, Kline supported Milligan’s contention that the theme of Matthew 24:23–28 is the apostate church of the New Testament. The misstep that Milligan took here was failing to establish that the supposed corresponding subject in Revelation, the vision of the bowls, shares this theme of the false church. Still, Kline affirmed that Milligan was “on the right track” in his assuming that Babylon in Revelation symbolizes the apostate church.[29]

But the suggestion from Milligan that really caught Kline’s eye was Milligan’s proposal that the structure of Revelation is related to the life of Christ presented in the Gospel of John. It is not that the logical structure of John’s Gospel and Revelation agree in any striking way as Milligan maintained.[30] But, for Kline, as instructive as it is attractive is the truth epitomized in Milligan’s quotation-statement, “As thou didst send Me into the world,—that is the Gospel;—Even so sent I them into the world,—that is the Apocalypse.”[31]

With the treatment of Milligan, Kline rested his case in support of the subject of recapitulation. He lamented, “If these features of Revelation do not recommend the synchronous structure to the student of this book, it is not likely that the consideration of any other passages would.”[32]

Christ and His Church-Bride

Kline believed that the instructive and attractive truth Milligan had intimated—Christ preceding and then at work in his church—stood central to the message and movement of Revelation.[33] But, even more than sending his church into the world, Christ is at work through his Spirit transforming the church into his image to be his bride for eternity. The visions of Revelation work toward this goal, even the visions of judgment and woe. In fact, it is through such judgments that Christ not only makes the enemies of God his footstool, but also purifies his church from every defilement.

The intimate connection between Christ and his church-bride also explains Kline’s determination that any proposed structure of Revelation reflect this movement found in the text. He stated, “This process of cleansing, this transformation of the Church, a pilgrim below, into the Church at home in the Father’s glorious mansions above, is adequately introduced and concluded, only if the contrast of these two terminal main divisions of ‘Revelation’ is recognized.”[34] Revelation 1:9–3:22, the first terminal division, the church in the world, pictures the church as imperfect. Revelation 21:8–22:5, the second terminal division, the church in heaven, reveals the church as perfect. Kline commented, “Only when the Church on earth, partaking of the sin and imperfection of this world, and the finished glorious creation of God’s redemptive program are thus presented in all their contrast, are the ways and the wisdom of God in suffering His people to trod their persecuted path through this life, justified to men.”[35]

This seminal insight was why Kline challenged the last two divisions of Hendriksen’s outline of Revelation. In Hendriksen’s outline the crowning vision of the church in Glory presents the same type of conclusion as in the previous sections. But, according to Kline, if Revelation 21:9–22:5 is merely on par with the other sections, then one’s understanding of John’s specific purpose in writing could be blurred. Kline subsequently set out to “defend the construction adopted here, especially since this affords the opportunity to confirm the contrast between the seven letters’ picture of the Church and the last vision of the redeemed in glory, as being the author’s specific intention.”[36]

Although the subject matter of Revelation 21:1–8 and Revelation 21:9–22:5 is similar, Kline noted a distinction between the two texts. In Revelation 21:1–2, John sees the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. The vision in Revelation 21:3–8 regarding the future of the saints is auditory. In contrast, the entirety of Revelation 21:9–22:5 is visionary. 

Kline noted that in the introduction to the vision of Revelation 21:10, the angel carries John away “in the Spirit” to see the holy city. This might seem to some to be an insignificant or superficial construction, but Kline believed that it carried great significance. Each time “in the Spirit” appears previously at Revelation 1:10, 4:2, and 17:3, it indicates the start of a new division. More importantly, “in the Spirit” also provides a basis for contrast for the church imperfect in the world throughout Revelation with the 21:9–22:5 section where the church is in Glory perfected. Kline explained the “in the Spirit” contrast:

In 1:10ff., the Church is in the World;
in 21:9ff. the Church has been taken out of the world.

In 4:2ff., the Church is in conflict with and overcome of the World;
in 21:9ff., the Church is at peace having overcome the World.

In 17:3ff. the Church apostate appears transformed into the World;
in 21:9ff., the Church glorified appears perfectly purified from the World.[37]

Kline then drilled deeper into the contrast between the two main terminal divisions of Revelation 1:9–3:22 and Revelation 21:9–22:5. He listed how the imperfections of the earthly church in the letters to the seven churches in the Revelation 1:9–3:22 division are conspicuous by their absence or attended by their opposite characteristic in the heavenly church in the Revelation 21:9–22:5 division (in roman below). He also provided parenthetical citations to verses regarding the positive relationship between those who overcome in the seven churches and the blessings found for the saints in the New Jerusalem (in italics below). 

Church in Ephesus and the New Jerusalem

In Revelation 2:2, there are false prophets in the church in Ephesus.
In Revelation 21:14, New Jerusalem has walls founded on the Lamb’s true apostles.

In Revelation 2:5, the church in Ephesus serves as a lampstand in the world.
In Revelation 21:23 and 22:5, in the New Jerusalem there is no need for light of lamp or sun, for the Lamb is the lamp and the Lord God is the light.[38]

In Revelation 2:7, those in the church in Ephesus who overcome shall eat of the tree of Life.
In Revelation 22:2, the tree of life yielding its fruit every month appears in the New
Jerusalem.

Church in Smyrna and the New Jerusalem

In Revelation 2:8–10, those in the church at Smyrna face persecution.
In Revelation 22:2 and 22:5, in the heavenly city the overcomers receive the promises
and the saints reign forever.

In Revelation 2:9, there are false Jews in the church of Smyrna.
In Revelation 21:12, the gates of the New Jerusalem have the names of the true Israel.

In Revelation 2:11, those in the church in Smyrna who overcome will not be hurt by the second death.
In Revelation 21:27, the saints in the New Jerusalem are those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Church in Pergamum and the New Jerusalem

In Revelation 2:12, Satan’s throne is in the church in Pergamum.
In Revelation 22:1, the church dwells where God’s throne is in the New Jerusalem.

In Revelation 2:14–15, the church at Pergamum is filled with uncleanness and heresies.
In Revelation 21:16, 18, 21, 27, the church in the New Jerusalem is patterned after the Holy of Holies, marked by purity, and the absence of anything unclean.

In Revelation 2:17, overcomers in the church in Pergamum will be given a white stone with new names written on it.
In Revelation 22:4, the members of the New Jerusalem have God’s name written on their foreheads.

Church in Thyatira and the New Jerusalem

In Revelation 2:20, the church at Thyatira is filled with impurity and spiritual fornication.
In Revelation 21:16, 18, 21, 27, the church of the eternal day is holy and excludes he that makes an abomination and a lie.

In Revelation 2:26–28, those in the church in Thyatira who conquer and keep the works of God will be given authority over the nations and the morning star.
In Revelation 22:5 and 21:22–22:16, saints in the New Jerusalem reign with Jesus,
the descendent of David, the bright morning star, and by his light the nations walk.

Church in Sardis and the New Jerusalem

In Revelation 3:1, many are dead in the church at Sardis.
In Revelation 21:27, in the New Jerusalem are those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

In Revelation 3:2, the church in Sardis is filled with imperfection.
In Revelation 21:18, 21, 27, the church in the New Jerusalem is marked by purity and does nothing false.

In Revelation 3:5, those who conquer in the church in Sardis will be clothed in white garments and their names will never be blotted out of the book of life.
In Revelation 21:27, nothing unclean enters the New Jerusalem, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Church in Philadelphia and the New Jerusalem

In Revelation 3:9, there are those in the church in Philadelphia who lie.
In Revelation 21:18, 21, 27, those in the New Jerusalem do not do detestable things.

In Revelation 3:9, false Jews are in the church in Philadelphia.
In Revelation 21:12, the names of true Israel are written on the gates of the New Jerusalem.

In Revelation 3:10, the servants of God in the church in Philadelphia face persecution.
In Revelation 22:3, 5, in the New Jerusalem the overcomers receive the promises of God and reign forever.

In Revelation 3:12, those who overcome in the church in Philadelphia will be inscribed with God’s name and that of the New Jerusalem, made pillars in the temple of God, and never excluded from God’s presence.
In Revelation 21:10 and 22:4, the holy city Jerusalem coming down from heaven is the habitation of the saints who bear the name of God on their foreheads.

Church in Laodicea and the New Jerusalem

In Revelation 3:16, the church is Laodicea is filled with liars and those who are lukewarm.
In Revelation 21:27, the church in the eternal day has nothing unclean or detestable in it.

In Revelation 3:21, overcomers in the church in Laodicea will sit with Christ on his throne.
In Revelation 22:1 and 22:5, the throne of God and the Lamb is in the New Jerusalem where the saints will reign forever and ever.[39]

After presenting the list, Kline exhaled, “To make this analysis is practically to exhaust the content of both divisions. So exhaustive a contrast is not a coincidence.”[40] It was confirmation to Kline of what he had set out to prove, that John’s specific intention is to contrast the seven letters’ picture of the church and the vision of the redeemed in the glory of the New Jerusalem.[41]

Structure of John’s Apocalypse

From the preceding textual examination, Kline concluded that in Revelation there are five synchronous sections—Seven Seals, Revelation 4:1–8:1; Seven Trumpets, Revelation 8:2–11:19; Deeper Conflict, Revelation 12:1–14:20; Seven Bowls, Revelation 15:1–16:21; and, Final Judgments, Revelation 17:1–21:8—that range over the whole gospel dispensation and climax with a definite presentation of the eschatological finale.

These five sections are bounded on the front, Revelation 1:9–3:22, and the back, Revelation 21:9–22:5, by a section that does not cover the whole New Testament age. The final section, Revelation 21:9–22:5, does not point back to the beginning of the New Testament age. The seven letters of the churches in the opening section, Revelation 1:9–3:22, do not present a definite picture of the eschatological end. In Kline’s judgment, then, these terminal sections in Revelation 1:9–3:22 and 21:9–22:5 are not synchronous with the central five sections, but at the same time, they do not harm the symmetry of Revelation. Rather, the terminal sections enhance the symmetry formally by grounding and crowning the logical development in the book.

Kline then made clear the theological significance of such a structuring for the reader of John’s Apocalypse. He wrote,

As the Lord who bought her endured the contradiction of sinners against him and the pain of the cross before entering into the glory and joy that was set before him, so the Church must carry the cross of affliction from within and from without until she is rewarded at length with the crown of life. This fundamental contrast and the progress inherent in it is made prominent in the opening and closing divisions of Revelation—the Church imperfect and suffering in this evil world, and the Church perfect and triumphant in that holy city Jerusalem which cometh down out of heaven from God.[42]

Apostate Church, the World, and Satan

Kline then argued that these contrasts make apparent Revelation’s teaching that opposition to the true church exists. The apostate church, the world, and Satan seek to destroy the church. Apostatizing influences (see Rev. 2 and 3) were within the seven churches and could be seen working their leaven increasingly.[43] The world, the imperial power, increasingly persecutes the faithful in the churches. The mere presence of Christian martyrs reflects the world’s manner in receiving the good news (Rev. 6:9–10).

According to Kline, nearly indistinguishable from the imperial power of the world is secularism, “man’s prophethood gone astray, the wisdom of this world which genders materialism, false science and philosophy and buries the souls of men in the interests of this world.”[44] The baneful effect of secularism’s drag upon the church appears throughout Revelation—the loss of the Ephesians first love (Rev. 2:4); the spiritual deadness of the Sardis church (Rev. 3:1–2); the lukewarmness due to their dependence upon their riches and the things of the world that prevailed among the Laodiceans (Rev. 3:15–18); the wisdom of the world that makes the prophet’s experience bitter in bringing the good news to the nations (Rev. 10:10–11); and, in Revelation 18 the wisdom of the world that causes merchants and kings to lament the destruction of Babylon, that is, false apostate religion. Kline judged, “This worldly propaganda is seen for what it is, a fellow-beast of the imperial agent of Satan, deceiving men by its lamb-like features but enslaving them to the first beast by its dragon-like claims.”[45]

Satanic opposition to Christ and his church also escalates in Revelation. Present in the churches of Asia in Revelation 2 and 3, it intensifies in Revelation 12 when Satan is revealed as the unseen source and strength behind the Beast and False Prophet. Satan also is not to be separated from his agents as their fall in Revelation 19:20, and his fall in Revelation 20:10, are one.[46] Bounded by these two visions of Satan in Revelation 19:20 and 20:10, “the intervening careers of the Beast and the False-Prophet are forcefully portrayed as Satanic in their source, character and end; and thereby all is eloquently climaxed.”[47] Each hostile character—the apostate church, the world, Satan and his agents—is dealt with in such finality in the Final Judgments section of Revelation 17:1–21:8 that none of them ever again darken John’s vision.

The Eschatological Perspective of Revelation

In the last major subsection of his thesis, Kline addressed the eschatological perspective of Revelation. He praised Milligan for finding in Revelation three great ideas—conflict, preservation, and triumph. The first two are correlative and contemporaneous, and issue into the third at the appearance of the Lord. As with his previous interaction with Milligan, however, Kline believed that the main point was well taken, but that Milligan had oversimplified the data. That is, there is the preserving of the elect in their conflict with the world, and there is the triumph of the church in the final overthrow of its persecutors at the manifestation of Christ in flaming fire, but there is also the repeating feature in the visions of a great crisis by the Satan-controlled enemies of God’s people. The presence of this crisis period before the ultimate triumph of the elect is what Milligan did not recognize. Kline argued that the historical sequence in Revelation is first a long period where the church is preserved as it witnesses to the world about Christ. This is followed by a short period controlled by the Satanic hosts, after which they are destroyed and the saints are vindicated at the second advent.

For confirmation of the long period and short period sequence, Kline turned to Revelation 11. There, the two witnesses, symbolic of the church, are given 1,260 days to prophesy. Once the 1,260 days are completed, the witnesses are slain by the Beast that comes out of the abyss and lie dead for three and a half days. In Revelation, “1,260 days” denotes the entire period of the church’s protection from the world’s hostility. The inference in Revelation 11:7 is that the gospel has been preached by the two witnesses to the uttermost parts of the earth. When the church’s testimony reaches its completion, the end must come (Matt. 24:14). The fact that there are those who are terrified and give glory to God in Revelation 11:13 is not sufficient to alter this proposed interpretation. Their frightful reaction heightens the effect of the judgment, and their giving glory to God is best understood in light of a passage like Proverbs 1:24–28. Their calling on God is too late.

The parallels between Revelation 11:1–3 and 20:1–10 also support the eschatological view of a long period, short period, and final destruction at the coming of Christ. As the two witnesses were given 1,260 days to complete their mission, Satan is restrained for a thousand years as the church takes the gospel to the ends of the earth. The difference in symbolism is a difference in vantage points. In Revelation, whenever 1,260 days or three and a half times appears, earthly history is the vantage point. When a “thousand years” is used, the reference is to the spiritual realm. [48]

In Revelation 20:8–9, Satan comes up from the abyss after a thousand years for a little season to paralyze the efforts of the saints as the Beast had done in Revelation 11. Kline stated that Hendriksen adequately accounted for the symbolism of these verses in More Than Conquerors when he wrote, “The meaning then is this: the era during which the church as a mighty missionary organization shall be able to spread the Gospel everywhere is not going to last forever, not even until the moment of Christ’s second coming”[49]

Jesus Christ: Prophet, Priest, and King

Kline believed that the eschatological outlook in Revelation is also seen in Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilling the three-fold office of prophet, priest, and king on behalf of his people. Christ’s prophetic office is exercised in revealing to John the contents of Revelation, as well as more specifically in the seven letters and the opening of the seven-sealed book. His priestly office appears in the recurring symbol of the Lamb slain, the casting out of Satan (Rev. 12:7–10), his arraying the saints with the robes of his righteousness (Rev. 6:11; 7:9, 14), his purchasing the elect (Rev. 14:4), and in his service and presence in the heavenly temple (Rev. 21:22–23 and 22:1,3). His kingly office is exercised is conquering all his foes and those of his people (Rev. 5:2, 16; 12:5; 17:14; and 19:11).

In Christ’s foes—the first beast (false kingship), the second beast (false prophethood), and harlot-Babylon (false priesthood)—one beholds the prostration of man’s three-fold office. Man as priest was to dedicate the world to God, but in the harlot-Babylon, man has dedicated the riches of creation and civilization to himself. This is why in Revelation 18:14–16 there is a detailed account of the goods of the world employed for the arraying of the harlot. All false religion, and especially the apostate church, fall under the harlot-Babylon. Instead of leading the nations to Christ, they cause the nations “to drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication” (Rev. 14:8 ASV).

The proper exercise of man’s prophethood would have led to wisdom, but in the False Prophet such efforts are aimed at ignorance and deception. In leading others to worship the Beast, the False Prophet leads not to truth, God himself, but into the chaos of creaturehood—“six hundred and sixty and six” (Rev. 13:18 ASV). This is why the appeal in Revelation 13:18 (ASV) to those who are in Christ exercising the office of prophet rightly (“he that hath understanding”) is to see through the False Prophet’s deception.

The description of the Beast in Revelation 13:2 derives from the prophecy of Daniel 7, where the beasts represent world empires. According to Kline, this “puts the burden of proof on the interpreter who denies that unregenerate man’s kingly activities as displayed in governments and building of empires are symbolized by the Beast of Revelation.”[50]

The Beast has already suffered a death stroke in connection with the decisive victory of Christ (Rev. 12:7–9), but God gives it authority to continue during the gospel age (Rev. 13:5). The activities of the Beast and his False Prophet in Revelation 13 occur during the long period, but there is nothing that would prohibit these activities issuing into a climax in a last great crisis for the church. “In fact,” said Kline, “such an end-time crisis is demanded by a comparison of 13:7, 15 with 11:7 where the making war, overcoming and killing of the saints was after the 1,260 day—or missionary—period.”[51]

Har Magedon, Revelation 16:16

Fittingly, and in anticipation of his future theological writings on Revelation, Kline closed the eschatological aspect section with an explanation of Revelation 16:16. Leading up to the bowls series, everything points to a final crisis clash, but this does not appear in a clearly defined hour of trial in the first two series or heptads, the seals and the trumpets. In the third series of the bowls, the hostility is open as men have the mark of the Beast and worship his image (Rev. 16:2). These blasphemers are unrepentant (Rev. 16:9–10). The scene is set for the climax of this worldly opposition, which appears in the sixth bowl. The kings of the earth gather to war in the great day of God the Almighty at the place that is called in Hebrew Har-Magedon (Rev. 16:14, 16).[52] The battle is the same as that of Revelation 19:19 and 20:8. “The Church which has faithfully proclaimed the Word to the wicked as God visited judgments upon these wicked through the long Gospel Age, is tested in a final Har-Magedon of distress, but is again seen triumphant in Christ, as we survey these three heptads.”[53]

Historical Manifestation and Ministry of the Eternal Son of God

Kline admitted in closing that to leave the matter with the eschatological would display the plant with the budding flower, but would deprive it of its source of life. The source of life was the historical manifestation and work of the eternal Son of God, the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world. The book of Revelation presents Christ as its central focus from its beginning to its end. 

The opening vision in Revelation 1 presents the glorious figure of the “one like unto a son of man” who says “I am the first and the last and the Living one; and I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. Write, therefore!” (Rev. 1:17–19 ASV, exclamation added). Everything in Revelation that the Spirit reveals to John to see, the things that are and the things that shall come to pass, unfold as the consequence of the historical career of Christ.

The Christ-centered focus continues in Revelation 2 and 3 with the seven letters to the churches. After the letters have been delivered, and the visions proper to be disclosed are prefaced in Revelation 5 by the disclosure of “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (Rev. 5:5). He is the one who has overcome, even the “Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Rev. 5:5, 6). All the heavenly host and every created thing in heaven, on earth and under the earth, adore him in union with the One who sits on the throne. The message is clear, let the last days proceed for he has overcome. 

In Revelation 12:1–14:20, the heart of Revelation, the historical manifestation of Christ and his ministry passes for review. The time of Christ’s authority is said to have come—the man-child victorious over Satan. In his concluding sentence of the thesis, Kline proclaimed,

Because Jesus Christ lived, died and rose again, there is the Church with a testimony for the nations, there is a hatred which will one hour reach a climax on the part of the unbelieving, unrepentant world which refuses his kingly call, and these will be a final and everlasting triumph for God and His Redeemed.[54]

Endnotes

[1] Meredith G. Kline, “A Study in the Structure of the Revelation of John” (Master’s thesis, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1945), 20.

[2] Ibid., 1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 2.

[5] Hendriksen divided Revelation as follows: “1. Christ in the midst of the seven golden lampstands (1–3).  2. The book with seven seals (4–7).  3. The seven trumpets of judgment (8–11).  4. The woman and the Man-child persecuted by the dragon and his helpers (the beast and the harlot) (12–14).  5. The seven bowls of wrath (15, 16).  6. The fall of the great harlot and of the beasts (17–19).  7. The judgment upon the dragon (Satan) followed by the new heaven and earth, new Jerusalem (20–22).” William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation (Baker, 1998; originally published in 1939), 21.

[6] Kline, “Structure of Revelation,” 3 (line-by-line arrangement of quoted text).

[7] Kline freely interchanged the terminology “Babylon” and “harlot-Babylon” not only throughout this paper, but also throughout his writings on the book of Revelation as a whole.

[8] Kline, “Structure of Revelation,” 3–4.

[9] Ibid., 4.

[10] See, Joel 2:10–11, Mal. 4:1, and 1 Thess. 5:2–3.

[11] Kline, “Structure of Revelation,” 4. 

[12] Ibid. Kline at this point added an observation that would mark both his understanding of Revelation and his theological writings as a whole. He stated that the characteristic of wrath seen in Rev. 6:12–17 is not appropriate during the time when the sincere offer of salvation in the Lamb slain is being made to sinners. It is appropriate at the end of history when the day of salvation is past and those who have rejected the Lamb receive their due.

[13] Kline, “Structure of Revelation,” 4.

[14] Ibid., 5.

[15] Kline noted that the wicked in Isa. 47:5 and 1 Sam. 2:9 are assigned to the silence of darkness, consequent to the vengeance of God. Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 6.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid. Although Pieters was operating within the model of comparative studies in the New Testament, Kline’s remarks early in his teaching career upon the two dangers that confront orthodox Old Testament scholars when dealing with comparative studies seem appropriate. Kline said, “One [danger] is to ignore or underestimate the value they have for our understanding of the Bible by revealing to us the world in which the Old Testament church lived, more particularly, the world against which the church was in deadly conflict and into the snares of which, both theological and ethical, apostatizing and backsliding, the church often fell. The other danger is to be so captivated by the many attractive formal parallels to the Bible which appear in the life, liturgy and literature of the ancient Near East, as to ignore or underestimate the significance of the fact that the Bible is absolutely unique as an embodiment and the record of redemptive supernaturalism. The significance of the fact is that the Bible is its own best interpreter.” Meredith G. Kline, review of God Spake by Moses, by Oswald T. Allis, Westminster Theological Journal 15, no. 1 (November 1952): 48.

[21] Kline, “Structure of Revelation,” 7. This statement reflects the shared view of Kline’s supervisor, Ned Stonehouse, and Stonehouse’s mentor, Geerhardus Vos, on the progressive nature of Scripture. For an explanation and defense of Vos’s view that Scripture’s structure is not one resembling a dogmatic handbook, but that of an organically unfolding process of a maturing organism, see Geerhardus Vos, “The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline,” (7–22) and Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., “Introduction,” (xvi–xx) in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1980). For Stonehouse’s view of the unity and diversity of Scripture, see Moises Silva, “Ned B. Stonehouse and Reaction Criticism (part one),” Westminster Theological Journal 40, no.1 (Fall 1977): 77–88.

[22] Kline, “Structure of Revelation,” 8.

[23] Ibid., 9. Kline explains the perfect tense of the verb in Rev. 6:17, and even sets off an underlined space for its inclusion, but he did not fill in the blank. Every clue in the context suggests that gegonen is the missing word.

[24] Ibid., 11.

[25] Ibid., 13.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid., 16.

[28] The questionable steps Milligan had taken were connected to his interpretation of Matt. 24:15–22, which he matched with the vision of the trumpets in Rev. 8–11. Milligan maintained that the Matthean verses speak to God’s judgment on the world. Kline maintained that, with their reference to the fall of Jerusalem, these verses speak to God’s judgment on the apostate church of the Old Testament.

[29] Kline, “Structure of Revelation,” 17.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Fifty-six years later, in his treatment of Zechariah’s third night vision, Kline included an observation about the relationship of John’s Gospel and Revelation that demonstrates that he still held to Milligan’s suggestion. He wrote, “What John began to do in his Gospel demonstrating that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, by rehearsing his sign-works (John 20:30, 31), the apostle continued to do in the Book of Revelation.” Meredith G. Kline, Glory in Our Midst: A Biblical Theological Reading of Zechariah’s Night Visions (Overland Park, KS: Two Age Press, 2001), 88.

[34] Kline, “Structure of Revelation,” 18.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid., 19 (line-by-line arrangement of quoted text).

[38] Kline also noted that Rev. 2:7, where those who overcome shall eat of the tree of life, should be compared with Rev. 22:2, where the tree of life appears in the New Jerusalem. Ibid., 19.

[39] Drawn from text at p. 19 of Kline, “Structure of Revelation.”

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid., 18.

[42] Ibid., 20.

[43] The destruction of the apostate church is described in Rev. 14:8, 16:19, 17 and 18, a destruction that seemingly affords more delight to the hosts of heaven in Rev. 19:1–5 than the fall of any other foe of the church. Kline juxtaposed this observation with the reaction of John in Rev.17:6 where Babylon’s “plain and full manifestation in that wilderness where he had last seen the radiant woman occasions the Seer more surprise than any other revelation.” Kline, “Structure of Revelation,” 21.

[44] Kline, “Structure of Revelation,” 21.

[45] Ibid., 22.

[46] In a parenthetical comment in this section, Kline returned to the previous analysis of the inadequacy of the chronological succession view. He wrote, “If national imperial power as such is utterly and finally uprooted from this world, i.e., the Beast is cast into the lake of fire, at 19:19, how can Satan still be using the nations as his agents of hostility against the saints in 20:8 if chronologically this is a thousand years later? He can’t; the author has recapitulated between these points.” Ibid., 22.  

[47] Ibid.

[48] Earlier, in detailing Satan’s judgment, Kline added, “We do not detain ourselves with a full discussion of the question of Chiliasm, but would merely add that in the symmetrically synchronous structure of the entire Revelation as propounded in this paper a millennium understood in the pre-millennial school’s sense would stick out like a very sore thumb.” Ibid., 11.

[49] Ibid., 25 (quoting Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, 194–95). 

[50] Kline, “Structure of Revelation,” 27.

[51] Ibid., 28.

[52] The Scripture citation is given as “6:14, 16” instead of the obvious and accurate 16:14, 16.

[53] Kline, “Structure of Revelation,” 30.

[54] Ibid., 30–31.

Danny E. Olinger is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as the General Secretary of the Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Ordained Servant Online, May 2021.

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