What We Believe

TRUMPETS: The language describing what follows the sounding of the seventh trumpet is almost unanimously taken as depicting the close of history. “The kingdom of the world is become—ἐγένετο (egeneto)—the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ.” (11:15). “We give thee thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who art and who wast; because thou hast taken thy great power, and didst reign. And the nations were wroth, and thy wrath came—ἦλθεν (ēlthen)—and the time of the dead to be judged.” (11:17,18). “In the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then is finished the mystery of God, according to the good tidings which he declared to his servants the prophets” was the preliminary announcement (10:7). To be sure there have been diehards of the successive historical school who have so far lost their bearings as to refer all this to the victory of the Goths and other Arians under Narses, or to the victory of Christianity over Judaism involved in the destruction of Jerusalem, and the like. But most interpreters have acknowledged the force of the language (which—together with 12:1ff.—compels some to accept the fact of recapitulation here, if nowhere else). Swete: “With the seventh trumpet blast the Kingdom of God has come and the general judgment is at hand. Thus, this section of the Apocalypse brings the course of history down to the verge of the Parousia.”[2] Pieters: “This is, therefore, the triumphant consummation of the divine enterprise.”[3] Even W. Scott: Chapter 11:18 “records the last historical action—the judgment of the dead. There is no history beyond it.”[4]

Düsterdieck,[5] Charles,[6] and Beckwith[7] admit that the language describes the consummation but call 11:15–18 proleptic and introductory. The third woe, or contents of the seventh trumpet, we are told, are not found in this passage but in the remaining visions of the book. As the trumpets were said to evolve out of the seventh seal, now 12:1ff. evolves from the seventh trumpet, and the bowls in particular are thought of as the third woe. But for this there is not a shred of evidence:

(a) There is nothing after 11:19 which is called the third woe or seventh trumpet. The third woe is not mentioned at 11:19 because it would sound ridiculously didactic.

(b) Charles vainly tries to prove that each of the three woes is properly prefaced by the prayers of the saints or a vision of the heavenly temple, which means that 11:15–19 is this preface, and the woe must follow. To do this he must identify the first woe with the first trumpet which is manifestly impossible in view of the subsequent 8:13 “woe, woe, woe, for them that dwell on the earth, by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels who are yet to sound.”

(c) Beckwith rightly insists that the third woe can no more be missing than one of the trumpets, but he refuses to see the third woe in 11:15–19, although he confesses that this leaves the precise calamity meant uncertain. “We should therefore expect immediately after the trumpet blast of v.15 some great calamity to be sent upon the world corresponding to the first and second woes, but this does not occur.”[8] This is a gross underestimating of the contents of 11:15–19. Lenski well remarks, “To say that here no Woe appears is to ignore the fact that the destruction of the destroyers in the final judgment is a Woe greater than any other.”[9] Furthermore, 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.

Thus, also we take it that in v.15–19 we have the entire seventh trumpet complete. … Yet this seventh trumpet and third Woe, by placing us at the final consummation, involves all that now follows in further visions. But not in such a way that these visions follow in a temporal succession—all time has ended—but so that John and we see anew and with greater fulness all that the final consummation involves.[10]

So Lenski aptly states the relation of the ensuing cycles to that of the trumpets as both parallel and progressive.

DEEPER CONFLICT: The closing vision of the Deeper Conflict division again pictures the end (14:14–20). A simple comparison of the vision with Matthew 13:39, 41; 24:30–31 is enough to settle this. [Also, in the symbolic numbers of 14:20, a thousand and six hundred are elements of absolute completion: 100, (the number of completion, 10, squared or intensified) times 16 (the number of the earth or creation, 4, squared or intensified).] “The revelations of vv.8–13 now culminate in a vision of the Parousia, represented as a time of general ingathering of the fruits of life,”[11] is Swete’s comment. The opponents of recapitulation still flounder about in a mess of devices though making even further concessions here than at previous climaxes. Charles indulges in amending the text (he exscinds 14:15–17) and calls the rest “a proleptic vision of the preliminary Messianic judgment executed by the Son of man on the heathen nations which is described in detail in 19:11–16 and further apparently in 20:7–10, and under another form in 17:14”![12] (Why he refuses to call the phenomenon of recapitulation, which he seems to recognize in these passages, by the name ‘recapitulation’ is difficult to understand.) Düsterdieck again expressly discounts recapitulation while he admits that the vision “brings, it is true, a preliminary representation of the final judgment.”[13] He prefers to call this another example of the proleptical character of the structure. Similarly, Beckwith[14] grants that “the universal use of the figures employed here show that the judgment here symbolized is the great judgment of the last day.” He refuses to solve the difficulty this brings to his successive arrangement of the vision as some critics do by “the supposition that the passage stood originally at the end of another apocalypse, or of an earlier form of our Apocalypse,” which is fine, but he can only say this “announces in anticipation the coming of the great catastrophe.”

At each new climax this talk of anticipations and preliminaries sounds more feeble. At previous climaxes we were told these evolved the ensuing material out of themselves; but here we must be willing to accept arbitrary statements to the effect that this full, detailed, striking vision admittedly symbolizing the Parousia is only an anticipation. There is no single vision in chapters nineteen and twenty that any more vividly depicts the final separation of the good from the evil and the punishment of the latter! Why not take the passage at face value and admit that since we are here at the end, to continue we must recapitulate?

BOWLS: The pouring out of the seventh bowl produces a devastating, cosmical, cataclysmic judgment with points of marked similarity to the visions of the sixth seal and seventh trumpet (16:17–21). The end of the world has come again.[15] A great voice out of the temple and from the throne says, “It is done”—γέγονεν (gegonen) — the perfect tense eloquently describing 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. (A more subtle mark of the finality of this judgment appears, as Beckwith indicates, in the seven-fold use of a form of μέγας (megas).)

The absolute finality of this judgment Swete makes relative to the course of the Roman Empire which he misinterprets Babylon to mean. However, he does show more insight into the scope of this symbol when he adds, “But Rome does not exhaust St. John’s conception of Babylon . . . other ages may witness the rise and fall of other mistresses of the world not less magnificent and depraved.”[16] Beckwith at least places the vision properly at the close of the age for he acknowledges that it is the last form of Beastly power (Anti-Christ, to him) that destroys Babylon (Rome, to him).[17] But he continues to minimize the significance of these climaxes, for he says of Rome, “she is overwhelmed in a ruin only implied here.”[18] Of course, the subject of Babylon’s fall is treated more fully in the following chapters for that is their special theme, but it would take all the climax out of the progression within the judgments of the seven bowls of wrath to make the last a mere implication and not an actual description of the vengeance of Christ when he comes as a thief (16:15) to destroy the hosts of evil gathered for a last ungodly effort against God and the saints (16:16, compare 17:14; 19:19; 20:9).

FINAL JUDGMENTS: The division on Final Judgments (17:1–21:8) on any reasonable evaluation of the language brings us to the end of history again. Even H. Cowles, tenacious preterist, though claiming that even chapter nineteen refers to the destruction of the city of imperial Rome, at least grants that the final judgment is foreshadowed here.[19] While there is general agreement that the main theme or emphasis of these chapters is the end of the age (though a recapitulationist does not overlook the fact that the beginning of the Gospel Age is also included in the scope—17:8, 10, 18; 20:1–3), interpretations vary greatly, of course, within the more limited scope of the end of the age, with the particular view to be adopted depending on whether the judgments on Babylon, the Beasts, Satan, and men are considered synchronous with one another, successive, or some combination of the two. Charles, Düsterdieck, and Beckwith refer 17:8 to the fall of Rome and mysteriously bridge the gap to the end of time in 19:1ff.—whether by prophetic foreshortening or by supposing the prophet was just mistaken in thinking it was the Antichrist of the end-time who would destroy Rome, probably matters little to these gentlemen. Indeed, Charles in this section raves much of sources and fragments and from chapter twenty on says, “the traditional order of the text in these three chapters is intolerably disordered and hopelessly unintelligible.”[20] Such enlightening remarks serve well to indicate the problems that have long made these chapters the tinderbox of exegetical warfare, but they are of no value for an understanding of the text. However, all these men grant the point we desire to make here as a link in the case for recapitulation, i.e., in its climactic element this section presents the Final Judgment.

OBSERVATIONS: As for our own view of these chapters, the following observations may suffice:

1. Not without bearing on the chronological relations of these visions is the question, in connection with the fall of Babylon, of how we are to understand the fact that the Beast which courts the harlot, in its final state and in association with the ten kings, hates and destroys her. A very obvious question over which the commentators for the most part brush hastily. In answering it, exegetes fail in direct proportion as they have denied or minimized the religious significance of Babylon and have dwelt upon the seductiveness of the world—the “lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life.” It does no good to point out that Judas the betrayer at last was not happy with the thirty pieces of silver and hanged himself—thousands of other ungodly men have faced destruction in full pursuit of the philosophy “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” and thus have to the very end clung with no revulsion of feelings to the seductiveness of the world.  This, history’s last hour, looms large in importance in the eschatological perspective of Revelation. Satan is loosed from the abyss; the mightiest anti-Christian powers are marshalled for this last desperate conflict with God. Why should Antichrist scorn any anti-Christian agency’s help at such an hour? The only sound basis for explaining the Beast’s strange change in attitude toward Babylon is the consideration of the change in its own character which Scripture indicates. Whether we understand the Antichrist to be a personal being or the last form of world-imperial opposition to Christ, we must acknowledge that the Bible associates Antichrist with self-deification and non-tolerance towards all other worship, true or false. In 2 Thessalonians 2:4, the man of sin “opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God.” In Daniel the little horn of the fourth beast not only speaks words against the Most High and wears out his saints (7:25), but also, he magnifies himself above every god (11:36ff.—the basis of 2 Thess. 2), honoring only the god of fortresses—that is, physical might or war as such.[21] In Revelation 13 again, the last form of the Beast, i.e., to whom it is given to overcome the saints (13:7), is given authority that “all that dwell on the earth shall worship him.” (13:8). 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. Therefore, the Beast at the last not only persecutes the true followers of the Lamb but also destroys all other pretenses at religion—that is, Babylon.

Even though this interpretation of Revelation 17:16 be rejected, it is plain that there must be some succession from 17:16 to 19:19–21, for the Beast and ten horns cannot be destroyed before they themselves make the harlot desolate. A possible difficulty of harmonization presents itself in the prima facie impression of the sixth and seventh vials (16:14–20), for there the Beast’s forces are gathered to the battle (16:14–15) which we identify with that of 19:19–21, in the sixth vial, whereas the wrath of God is poured out on Babylon in the seventh vial. However, these bowls of wrath are not successive even though the last two go beyond the others to the end of the age. The first five are no doubt synchronous judgments, and we may allow for interlocking of details in the last two. Probably the meaning is that Antichrist rises to power gathering his forces, then destroys Babylon (Revelation 19:19ff. omits this since Babylon’s fall has already been disposed of in chapters seventeen and eighteen), and is presently brought to naught himself at the manifestation of the presence of Christ.

2. The careers of the harlot-Babylon, the Beast, and False Prophet were intertwined in chapter seventeen where it was revealed that the Beast would destroy Babylon; and the Lamb, the Beast. Then in chapter eighteen the separate strand of Babylon’s fall was elaborated, with the point of view now being that her fall, though executed by the Beast, was the Final Judgment of God. Then in chapter nineteen the other strand of the Final Judgment of Christ on the Beast and False Prophet is developed more fully, which involves (see 19:19–20) a recapitulation of 17:11–14. This recapitulation covers, however, only the climactic battle, not the whole New Testament age. Now in chapter twenty the Final Judgment on Satan is the theme, and since his career during the gospel age has not yet been described in this major division, by way of necessary background for a proper presentation and understanding of this final judgment, as in the cases of Babylon and the Beast in chapter seventeen, that career is covered, directly in 20:1–3 and by implication in 20:4–6. There is, therefore, another example of recapitulation of the Christian dispensation, with 20:1–6 synchronous with 17:3–6, 8a, 9, 10a. Also, Satan’s judgment (20:7–10) is thus parallel to 17:8b, 10b–14, and 19:11–21. 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 premillennial school’s sense would stick out like a very sore thumb.

3. The reaping of the harvest of the earth’s redeemed and the gathering of the clusters of the vine for the great winepress of God’s wrath (14:14–20) finds a striking parallel in the casting of the reprobate from the presence of the Great White Throne into the lake of fire and the blessing of the elect in the new heaven and new earth where “God himself shall be with them” (20:11–21:8). Why is the past career of individuals, not found written in the book of life, described as preparation for their judgment? Their lives have no meaning and their individual careers no unity apart from the great anti-Christian powers whose dupes and agents they were; but these have already been fully disposed of (17–19), and all that remains is that those who were enslaved to them and meekly followed them in life should now share their calamity and follow them in death. Also, in the case of the redeemed, to relate their earthly course were to relate them anew to their foes; but why resurrect them again since God has cast them in final judgment into the second death? The synchronism in these last two instances is therefore limited in scope to the day of final judgments as pictured in this main division and elsewhere in the “Revelation.”

4. For the sake of completeness the nature of the climaxes of certain parenthetical visions is briefly indicated here:

(a) Before the opening of the seventh seal are two consolatory visions. The second (7:9–17) is a grave problem for all seeking strict succession in Revelation. Grotius thinks of Syrian Christians after the fall of Jerusalem, 70 A.D.! Elliott finds the fulfillment before 395 A.D. but is compelled to speak of the realization of glory by the collective body of the church of all generations. Barnes also, though arriving at 410 A.D. in 7:1–8, admits 7:9–17 is “an episode having no immediate connexion with what precedes or with what follows” and picturing the totality of the redeemed in heaven.[22] Swete[23] talks as usual of mere anticipations of “the issue of the final judgment” and recognizes that “the whole of the episode . . . finds echoes in the last two chapters of the book.”

Conclusive indications that this is the finale of the redemptive program of God are:

(i) The remarkably close parallel of 7:15–17 with 21:3–6, which follows the cosmic regeneration (20:1,2).

(ii) The great tribulation is past (7:14), which, on any interpretation of the phrase—comprehensive of the whole gospel age or restricted in some peculiar way to the end time—means the gospel age is completed.

(iii) The innumerable and universal multitude indicate the great commission is fulfilled and the end come.

(b) The episode of Revelation 11:1–13, immediately before the seventh trumpet, also is concluded by age-ending events. (For a detailed discussion of this, see below, “Eschatological Perspective of Revelation.”)

(c) Towards the close of the section, the Deeper Conflict (12–14), is a vision (14:1–5) which is perhaps not strictly parenthetical, and yet since it is complete in itself and not the climax of this section, this may be the proper place to treat of it. It presents the Lamb and one hundred forty-four thousand redeemed on Mt. Zion (compare Hebrews 12:22–24). Swete tries to make it out as an earthly scene, but Düsterdieck acknowledges,

In like manner, just as in ch. vii:9 sqq., an inspiriting prospect of the heavenly glory of believers abiding faithful in the great tribulation still impending is afforded before this trouble itself is stated, so also in the first part of ch. xiv. (vv.1–5) a scene is represented in which a multitude of departed believers . . . manifests the glorious reward of the victors.[24]

Though we do not agree with all the details of this analogy, the exegesis of 14:1–5 is essentially correct.

The number of the redeemed is certainly the symbolic number for the completed church of both testaments;[25] the whole church thus in heaven is a feature of the consummation. With this finality accord all the details. The redeemed are viewed as having been purchased out from—ὰπό (apo)—the earth and from men, and as having overcome spiritually (i.e., they “were not defiled—aorist tense—with women,” v.4), and therefore they are following—present tense—the Lamb “whithersoever he goeth,” v.4, (compare 1 Thess. 4:17, “so shall we ever be with the Lord.”).

Conclusions from the Exegesis of the Climaxes

The evidence has now been presented to demonstrate that the climax of each of the major formal divisions of Revelation from 4:1 to 21:8 brings the reader to the close of history. This hardly seems coincidental. At each of these points the opponents of recapitulation have sought to escape the force of the argument by claiming that these passages did not form part of the basic succession but were sidelights, interludes, anticipations, introductory summaries, and the like. Such excuses might carry some weight in those visions which are classified above as parenthetical. It seems plausible enough to consider these as anticipations of a final order of things which actually arrives only with later chapters in the Apocalypse, but as granted to John beforehand to sustain his spirit, as it were, through the visions of tribulation and woe to come. Even in these three instances, however, it should be noted that each of them occurs in immediate connection with the closing vision of their cycle (except that in chapter fourteen, a trio of angelic warnings intervene). Since the final triumph of God’s kingdom is depicted in these closing visions immediately following, it seems more likely that the assurance contained in these parenthetical visions has primarily a backward reference to the calamitous judgments described in the earlier stages of their cycle. Thus, 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.

Where it is applied to all the climaxes of the major divisions, this “anticipation” evasion is altogether arbitrary. Especially since it requires an instance of exegetical violence impossible to defend in order to maintain this theory at one point—and that the very earliest climax, i.e., the sixth seal—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. Furthermore, what is the need of so many anticipations? Is the author afraid he will lose his reader’s attention unless he keeps reminding him that great things are coming? If the earlier climaxes are all mere anticipations, the reader must be disappointed when he finds that the real thing at the end has not so very much more to add to the pictures of the “anticipations”! As for those opponents of recapitulation who tone down the obvious finality of these climaxes to mean something just short of history’s close, the Book of Revelation becomes grotesquely futuristic. If at 6:12–17 the day of judgment dawns and then even at 14:14–20 it is only a preliminary phase of the Judgment that has arrived, concerning what within so meager a scope of time has the author been so verbose in the intervening chapters? Can it possibly warrant so much attention?

Why not therefore accept the synchronous structure which the climaxes demand? At the climax of each cycle the universe is shaken to the foundations, or Christ returns to earth in Final Judgment, or the hosts of heaven triumphantly proclaim that God’s wrath has been poured out and his kingdom consummated—but all such, we are told, is a letdown from what we should be expecting! It is but a little prelude. We must realize that the seventh seal includes all the remainder of the book, and so again with the seventh trumpet—in spite of the facts that the seventh seal, seventh trumpet, etc. are never alluded to again and that each cycle is beautifully rounded off in its seventh member, and that the succeeding cycle is always a new beginning marked by a formal introduction. That the final Judgment section of the book goes beyond the previous climaxes in intensity and fulness of treatment is quite in keeping with parallelism. For each parallel section has its own theme to deal with, and also our position is that there is a logical progress in the intensity of God’s judgments as found in the successive cycle-themes.


[1] This text is the ThM thesis of Meredith G. Kline for Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA, 1946.

[2] Op. cit., 146.

[3] Op. cit., 157.

[4] Walter Scott, Exposition of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, 4th ed., (London: Pickering & Inglis, n.d.), 245.

[5] Op. cit., 328ff.

[6] Robert Charles, Revelation of St. John (International Critical Commentary), (New York: Scribner, 1920), 292.

[7] Op. cit., 606ff.

[8] Ibid., 608.

[9] Op. cit., 356.

[10] Op. cit., 358.

[11] Op. cit., 188.

[12] Op. cit., II, 18.

[13] Op. cit., 404.

[14] Op. cit., 661–67.

[15] So, Milligan, Hendriksen, Lenski (in loc.).

[16] Op. cit., 226.

[17] Op. cit., 159, 286.

[18] Ibid., 686.

[19] Henry Cowles, Revelation of John With Notes (New York: D. Appleton, 1873), 9.

[20] Op. cit., II, 437.

[21] So, Carl Friedrich Keil, The Book of the Prophet Daniel, in Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament by C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, trans. by M.G. Easton (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1872), 461–67.

[22] Compilation of views by Johann Lange, Revelation of John (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1874), 11.

[23] Op. cit., 100–106. So, also, Beckwith, op. cit., 540; Düsterdieck, op. cit., 252.

[24] Op. cit., 389–90.

[25] See Lenski, op. cit., 249–50.

Meredith G. Kline (1922–2007) was a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church who served as a professor Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, and Westminster Seminary California in Escondido, California. Ordained Servant Online, October 2021.

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Also in this issue

A Little Exercise for Young Theologians Revisited

Poured Out Like a Drink Offering: An Ordination and Installation Charge

Reflections from the Front Lines

The Writings of Meredith G. Kline on the Book of Revelation: Chapter 4, “Images of the Spirit” (1980)

Commentary on the Form of Government of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapter 22

Preaching the Word with John Chrysostom by Gerald Bray: A Review Article

Can We Fully Separate Ecclesiology and Polity? A Review Article

A Development, Not a Departure: The Lacunae in the Debate of the Doctrine of the Trinity and Gender Roles, by Hongyi Yang

On Virtue

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