Part One

Thesis Statement

One of the structural principles of the Apocalypse is to set before us different series of pictures relating not so much to successive events as to the same events under different aspects, each series complete in itself and inviting us to think less of its temporal relations to those which precede and follow it, than of the new and different light in which it presents an idea common to itself and them.[2]

This statement represents fairly the synchronous structure of Revelation to be defended in this paper (provided that “the same events” is understood in a very broad sense, as indeed William Milligan does, and not as specific events recorded in history books). The danger is particularly strong in the case of the recapitulationist that the natural desire to find symmetry in the structure will betray him into sacrificing the thought, at least as to proper emphasis, for the sake of establishing a certain formally symmetrical arrangement of the visions. For instance, William Hendriksen, in dealing with the latter chapters, is consistent with his main principle that there are seven parallel sections and “each of them spans the entire dispensation from the first to the second coming of Christ.”[3] In finding indications of the beginning of the Christian dispensation here he is correct; however, the overwhelmingly predominant thought of final judgment pervading the entirety of this section is not sufficiently evident in Hendriksen’s exposition. This is symptomatic of his general fault in not applying adequately his principle that “there is progress in eschatological emphasis.”[4] 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. This thesis is here developed by dealing with certain introductory questions, by the exegesis of the climaxes of the main divisions and the consideration of related problems, and by a more direct refutation of the successive-judgment view.

Objections to Recapitulation Refuted

To clear the way for the study of the text and to ground the Revelation of John in biblical apocalyptic, we evaluate three objections of a general hermeneutical character elaborated by David Brown[5] from Marcus Dods’s Introduction to the New Testament against the understanding of Revelation as a presentation largely of ideas rather than events, which historically, and not naturally exegetically, has gone hand in hand with recapitulation.

1. It is “out of keeping with the general purpose of apocalyptic literature,” which is to treat of the “the Kingdom of God oppressed by hostile worldly powers; in both books (i.e., Daniel and Revelation) successive periods in the history of this struggle are definitely though symbolically predicted.”[6]

The idea of the world’s hostility is true enough, as is that of the final triumph of God’s kingdom, which he later adds; but that “successive periods in history” need be involved as of the essence of true apocalyptic is erroneous. Undeniably there are four successive historical empires before the founding of God’s kingdom in Daniel, but far from Revelation being required to share this trait, it would be in direct contradiction to Daniel if it did so. For in Daniel, the coming of God’s kingdom in Christ—the stone smiting the image—does away with world powers. We do not—cannot—interpret this literally, but we do insist that the Old Testament prophet’s spiritual outlook on the state of affairs introduced by the establishment of the messianic kingdom be shared by his New Testament successor. Daniel considered all kingdoms as in principle, or as to the decisive issue, destroyed by Christ’s coming and unworthy of being specifically designated as world empires once the one and only true world Empire of Messiah had been founded. In accord with this is Daniel 7 where the latter issue of the fourth beast, during whose sway Christ’s kingdom is established, is represented by ten horns—ten, the symbolic number of completeness—designating the opposition to Messiah’s people that would develop after the decline of Rome, everywhere throughout the earth, and down through all the centuries to the Judgment—but in no wise describing successive, specific, historical periods. The only exception to this is the detailed emphasis on Antiochus Epiphanes’s anti-type, the little horn which appears among the ten. To this eschatological outlook Revelation is true, for it deals only with the general principles of the world’s opposition to the now established kingdom of God, with the one exception of the final stage of the beast’s activity. For a fuller discussion, see below: The Eschatological Perspective of Revelation.

2. It “fails to present a sufficient motive for its composition.”[7]

First, it is close to presumption to judge what constitutes a proper motive for God’s including any specific form of revelation in his Word. Second, such a consideration is highly subjective, and this is aggravated by Brown’s unjustly limiting the “ideas” to God’s sovereignty, providence, goodness, and final triumph in the vaguest of senses.[8] Third, many of those holding the view Brown disparages find in Revelation thus understood the fairest gem in Scripture, uniting in a fitting consummation of the divine Word the most precious themes of the Bible, illuminating the prophetic element of the Old Testament, elaborating and unifying the eschatological outlines inherent in the teaching of Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament, and providing an inspiration by its solemn majesty that is not afforded so impressively anywhere else. Fourth, it is a poor substitute for such to offer, as Brown does, a system of historical events—often of the most obscure, trivial, and irrelevant nature—which but vaguely illustrate major Bible themes and would provide scarcely any practical comfort to the afflicted church.

3. It “fails to present a sufficiently definite guide through its intricacies,” wavering as it does between predictive and more general contents.[9]

Quite on the contrary, grounding the symbolism in other scriptural symbolism is the only legitimate guide. If some portions are more specific predictions than others, no problem is presented, for the more specific portions are always at the beginning and the close of the gospel age where the really epoch-making, eschatological inbreaking of God’s redemptive acts in the world’s history transpires. The long intermediate period is similar enough throughout to describe by the general principles or ideas unfolding therein. Again, Brown’s system of historical events is no improvement, to say the least, for the events move in a narrow rut altogether out of keeping with the universalism of the New Testament and are so hopelessly without demonstrable scriptural relation to the symbols of Revelation that there are as many sets of events as there are proponents of this system of interpretation.

Outline of Revelation

If we are to speak of the beginnings and endings of various series or cycles of visions within the Apocalypse, it is necessary to have the outline of the book in mind. 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

The only division of which the bounds are at variance with the usual ones adopted by recapitulationists[10] is that of ‘The Final Judgments’ (17:1–21:8). Some demonstration seems required:

1. Within these bounds all the main characters previously introduced are dealt with in respect to their final destinies: Babylon and the Beasts in 17:1–19:21; Satan in 20:1–10; unbelievers in 20:11–15; and overcomers in 21:1–8. This unity of theme is much disregarded but appears to me decisive and is confirmed by the following considerations:

2. This section begins with one of the seven angels that had the seven bowls coming to John and saying, “Come hither,” promising to show the judgment on the harlot-Babylon with whom are associated the kings of the earth and earth-dwellers who sinned with her. So, the next section, if divided as here suggested, begins (21:9) with the angel of the seven bowls series coming to John with the invitation, “Come hither,” promising now to show him the bride, the wife of the Lamb. The objection cannot be pressed that the material in 17:1–21:8 exceeds the statement in 17:1–2 of what is to be shown the Seer. For although nothing is said in 17:1–2 of the Beast, the harlot appears at once (17:3) in relation to the Scarlet-colored Beast, and this is undeniably within the proper bounds of this division. The various characters are so closely related that in the discussion of this theme of final judgments they all of necessity appear in relation to Babylon and become legitimate subjects to develop in this section.

3. “Their (i.e., sinners’) part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death,” (21:8), supplies a fitting climax to the theme of judgment, especially since judgment on evil ones predominates in this section. Its appropriateness as the closing verse of this division appears also in that this is the last statement in the Revelation dealing in a positive fashion with the destruction of the wicked. It is true that 21:27a mentions sinners as not entering into the Holy City, but the obvious intention of this is to describe the perfection of the city (compare 21:26 and 21:27b) in a negative way, not the destiny of sinners.

4. If the division is made at 20:1, as by the majority of recapitulationists, the resultant division would be the only major one in Revelation not marked by obvious formal boundaries, if not in the first verse, at least in those immediately following (compare 8:3ff). The amillennialist is wont to do this thinking, perhaps, to strengthen the case for his interpretation of 20:1–10 thereby, whereas the premillennialist is more likely to point to the series of “And I saw” phrases (19:11, 17, 19; 20:1, 4, 11; 21:1) and insist that to make a major division at 20:1 is to fly in the face of the obvious formal indications which become impressive by their very accumulation. The latter is correct—on this point. It does not avail to claim that the introduction of a new character, Satan, in 20:1–10, constitutes a new major theme. 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 different 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.

As a matter of fact, however, I think this strengthens the amillennial view of 20:1–10 since it makes these verses of one piece with what has preceded. Then just as the discussion of the Beast’s final judgment took us back to the beginning of the Christian era (17:8, 10), so the binding of Satan (20:2–3) may readily be understood as going back to the same point before his final judgment is presented (20:10). On this basis, the newness of the main character in 20:1–10 can be appealed to, to show how unlikely it would be for these verses to follow chapter nineteen in chronological succession.

Climaxes of the Major Divisions of Revelation

The most conclusive feature in the proof that the major divisions of the Apocalypse are parallel in their temporal scope rather than chronologically successive is that the climax of each formal division is the end of the gospel age. Further confirmation arises from the observation of the same phenomenon at the climax of certain parenthetical visions contained within the boundaries of the major divisions. The seven letters to the churches precede the visions proper—see below on progression in the Apocalypse—and do not close with a picture of the end of this age. Futurists who claim that 4:1 on deals with the final segment of this age only, usually torture the seven letters into the form of a historical succession leading up to the end, but to no avail.

SEALS: The seals reach the end of the age already in their sixth member (6:12–17).

(a) The vision is beyond doubt based on Jesus’s Olivet Discourse.[11] There these astronomical phenomena and the terror of the unbelieving accompany “the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” The cataclysm of the sixth seal is, therefore, also the end.

(b) “The great day of their wrath is come”—ἦλθεν (ēlthen) (6:17). This “great day” in Scripture is the consummation of all things. (Compare 1 Thess. 5:2–3; Mal. 4:1; Joel 2:10–11). Swete takes the language as symbolical of national-social changes and decay toward the end, and therefore at this verse, though recognizing that the language refers to the end itself, he is forced to makeshift, “fear anticipates the actual event—there have been epochs in history when the conscience of mankind has antedated the judgment and believed it imminent.”[12] 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.” This 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. The only reason for so construing it is that an anti-recapitulation view demands such. I believe this is the most vulnerable spot in the entire book for the opponents of our view who can elsewhere present a somewhat plausible interpretation by calling all the climaxes anticipations or interludes and by appealing to their telescopic-structure concept. None of these escapes works here. The case for the non-recapitulationist absolutely breaks on 6:17.

(c) The lists of natural catastrophes and varieties of unbelieving men affected by this judgment is in each case seven, the number of divine completeness, especially in dealing with the world; this is emphasized by the πᾶς (pas) before the last two members of each list.

(d) The characteristic of wrath is not appropriate to the Lamb during the time when the sincere offer of salvation is being made based on the Lamb that was slain. Such is appropriate only when the day of salvation is past, and those who have rejected him receive their due.

(e) The removal of the “heaven” (6:14) corresponds to the heavens fleeing away in connection with the Great White Throne Judgment (20:11), which is admittedly the end.

Since the sixth seal has introduced the great day of God’s wrath, what are we to expect in the seventh seal? There is much dispute as to what constitutes the contents of this seal. The answers range from one verse, 8:1, to the whole of the Apocalypse from 8:1 on. This is probably the most crucial single point in the book for an understanding of the structure.

Düsterdieck presents a telescopic structure of the Apocalypse whereby each of the seals, trumpets, and bowls-series evolves out of the preceding one. He argues at length against recapitulation and in favor of temporal succession, largely on the basis of the seventh seal.[13] We are led to expect by the crisis to which things have come at the sixth seal, the climactic effect of which is heightened by the visions of chapter seven, that the opening of the seventh seal will reveal the extreme end and final catastrophe, and that with “a certain fulness of significant contents.”[14] This expectation is not at all met if we limit the contents of the seventh seal to “there followed a silence in heaven about the space of half an hour” (8:1). It is fully met if we accept the view that the trumpets and all the rest of Revelation evolve out of this seventh seal and form its contents.

In answer to these remarks of Düsterdieck we advance the following considerations:

1. The sixth seal does not lead us to expect a final catastrophe for the simple reason that it is itself the final catastrophe that befalls this fallen world. Beyond the cosmic 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? Only the lake of fire remains, and Revelation nowhere elaborates with fulness upon that state. Furthermore, the blessed estate of the righteous in glory has already been dwelt upon at length in the second parenthetical vision of chapter 7 by the time we reach 8:1. We conclude, therefore, that a brief summary statement only should be expected at the opening of the seventh seal. This is exactly what we have. It takes the form of an impressive period of silence; the fact that the duration of this period is described in approximate terminology—ῶς (ōs)—indicates that this was the impression made on the Seer and that the half-hour is not meant as a symbolic number. 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 a half-hour of purest silence would make and leave an indelible impression.

Granting that silence itself is a legitimate symbol, what better way could be found to present this symbol?—in fact, what other way? A priori, silence seems as legitimate a symbol as its opposite, a thundering noise. If the latter stands for God’s judgments going forth, why should not the former symbolize God’s judgments completed? This meaning is confirmed when we answer the question, “What is the connotation of silence in the prophetical language of Scripture?” In Isaiah 47:5 and 1 Samuel 2:9 the wicked are assigned to the silence of darkness, consequent upon the vengeance of God. In Zechariah 2:13 silence prevails because God has delivered his people and dwells in their midst.

Düsterdieck’s puerile objection[15] against the silence obtaining on earth since it is said to be in heaven, is flatly contradicted by Zechariah 2:13 which relates “before Jehovah” with the silence on earth! This would leave the way open also to find Revelation 8:1 at least partially fulfilled in the silence of the lost in their eternal abode, or for a view like Fairbairn’s (see below).

Habakkuk 2:20 associates silence with God’s being in his holy temple. All of these ideas fit admirably into the final, eternal state which the seventh seal is required to symbolize. In the light of prophetical usage, this silence of Revelation 8:1 is a rich and comprehensive symbol, indeed. Fairbairn interprets: “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.”[16]

2. Still another possible view which has at least as much to recommend it as Düsterdieck’s is that the silence represents a withholding of revelation. Revelation 7:13–17 corresponds very closely to Revelation 21:1–8. Now since the only revelation in the entire book that marks a material advance beyond what is related in the sixth seal and 7:13–17 is the final vision of the holy city immediately after 21:1–8, it may be that immediately after 7:13–17, in 8:1, we have silence because the time had not yet come to present this last crowning vision, even though the preceding material leads to that point.

3. There are grave flaws in Düsterdieck’s interpretation both materially and formally:

(a) He is forced to read into silence—with no semblance of biblical warrant—the idea of hushed, still excitement in anticipation of the coming trumpet judgments. But where is the information on the part of the heavenly host concerning coming judgments? To ground the anticipations of the heaven-dwellers, he must drag the vision of the seven angels with the trumpets forcibly into the half-hour period of silence and thus willfully ignore the fact that these angels are clearly separated as a distinct vision by the phrase “And I saw,” which is a common manner of dividing visions in Revelation.

Quite similar is the view of A. Pieters. Concerning the sixth seal he says: “In Scene 3 of this Act (see program) men begin to be aware of the gathering storm”[17] (the removal of the heaven as a scroll, Pieters apparently considers a gentle spring zephyr). Then of the seventh seal, “So the hosts of heaven stand silent, in breathless expectancy, waiting for the solemn pageant to proceed. Notice that this silence is, again, a purely dramatic touch, having no prophetic or doctrinal significance in itself, but placed here because the principles of dramatic art require it.”[18] Such extreme insistence on the resemblance of the 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.[19] 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!

(b) From a formal viewpoint it does not seem warranted to consider the cycle of trumpets as evolving from the cycle of seals. The trumpet cycle is clearly marked off as a formal unit by the phenomena of 8:5 which are repeated at the close of the cycle (11:19). Also, the seven-sealed book does not appear again, though—if the remainder of the visions constituted the contents of the seventh seal—we should expect that when its revelations were exhausted there would be a final reference to it, at least.

Furthermore, the ease with which 8:1 might seem to blend into 8:2 is altogether in keeping with other transitional passages in Revelation, which is simply an evidence of a good literary style. The transition from the trumpets to the next cycle is so smooth that there has been dispute whether 11:19 goes with what precedes or “should be the beginning of the next chapter, introducing a new vision.”[20] Compare also the beginning of the bowls cycles (15:1); this major heptad is “another sign in heaven,” and thus blends with the earlier signs of the previous cycle (12:1, 3). Again, the last two major divisions have an affinity to the bowls’ cycle, for they are introduced by “one of the seven angels that had the seven bowls” (17:1 and 21:9). In so subtle a way the Revelation is even in its formal arrangement made a living, moving organism, rather than a row of detached blocks of material.

4. Even though it be granted that Düsterdieck’s view of the formal relation of the seventh seal and the trumpet series were correct, this would not at all militate against recapitulation. For instance, Milligan writes, “We cannot, therefore, separate the trumpets from the seventh seal. The former are not independent of the latter but are evidently developed out of it, although the succession is one of thought rather than time.”[21]

Also, Düsterdieck’s interpretation of the half-hour silence, if accepted, does not put recapitulation into discard. Lenski understands the silence with Düsterdieck as the hushed expectation of the heavenly hosts but does not conclude that what follows is the contents of the seventh seal. Rather, the climactic nature of the sixth seal decides him on the need of recapitulation if the book is to continue.[22]

But the shining example that all of Düsterdieck’s arguments do not avail against recapitulation is Düsterdieck. For in his view the great final catastrophe is not introduced immediately in the trumpet series but much later. Meanwhile the visions immediately evolving from the seventh seal describe “the trial of the patience of saints who are regarded as awaiting the day of the Lord.”[23] When we observe that Düsterdieck admits that in the sixth seal “the day of the Lord begins,[24] it becomes apparent that Düsterdieck is himself a recapitulationist.

We reaffirm, in concluding this matter, that the cycle of seals brings us to the Judgment at the sixth seal and into the eternal state in the silence of the seventh. As to formal structure, the evidence is wanting for the view that the visions are arranged in telescopic fashion; and even were this not the case, the essential synchronous nature of the revelations of the visions would be unaffected.

Part 2

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.”[25] Pieters: “This is, therefore, the triumphant consummation of the divine enterprise.”[26] Even W. Scott: Chapter 11:18 “records the last historical action—the judgment of the dead. There is no history beyond it.”[27]

Düsterdieck,[28] Charles,[29] and Beckwith[30] 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.”[31] 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.”[32] 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.[33]

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,”[34] 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”![35] (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.”[36] He prefers to call this another example of the proleptical character of the structure. Similarly, Beckwith grants that “the universal use of the figures employed here show that the judgment here symbolized is the great judgment of the last day.” [37] 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.[38] 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.”[39] 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).[40] But he continues to minimize the significance of these climaxes, for he says of Rome, “she is overwhelmed in a ruin only implied here.”[41] 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.[42] 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.”[43] 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.[44] 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.[45] Swete[46] 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.[47]

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;[48] 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] William Milligan, Lectures on the Apocalypse (London: Macmillan, 1892), 100.

[3] William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1944), 25.

[4] Ibid., 47.

[5] David Brown, The Structure of the Apocalypse (New York: Christian Literature Co., 1891), 31ff. The source of Brown’s three objections is a quote from Marcus Dods, Introduction to the New Testament (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1888), 243–44.

[6] Ibid., 31–32.

[7] Ibid., 31.

[8] Ibid., 28.

[9] Ibid., 31.

[10] Compare Hendriksen, op. cit., 42–43.

[11] Matt. 24:29–30; Mark 13:24–26; Luke 21:25–27; compare 2 Pet. 3:10–12.

[12] Henry Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John, 2nd ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1907), 95. So also Isbon Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1919), 266.

[13] Friedrich Düsterdieck, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Revelation of John (Meyer’s Commentary on the New Testament), (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1887), 260–63.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 262.

[16] Patrick Fairbairn, Prophecy, Viewed in Respect to its Distinctive Nature, its Special Function, and Proper Interpretation (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1865), 407.

[17] Albertus Pieters, The Lamb, the Woman, and the Dragon: An Exposition of the Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1937), 124.

[18] Ibid., 131.

[19] Ibid., chapter 2, especially 31–32.

[20] Ibid., 157.

[21] Op. cit., 51.

[22] Richard Lenski, Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation (Columbus, Ohio: Lutheran Book Concern, 1935), 266.

[23] Op. cit., 263.

[24] Ibid., 233, line 21.

[25] Swete, 146.

[26] Pieters, 157.

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

[28] Düsterdieck, 328ff.

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

[30] Beckwith, 606ff.

[31] Beckwith, 608.

[32] Lenski, 356.

[33] Lenski, 358.

[34] Swete, 188.

[35] Charles, II, 18.

[36] Düsterdieck, 404.

[37] Beckwith, 661–67.

[38] So, Milligan, Lectures, Hendriksen, Lenski.

[39] Swete, 226.

[40] Swete, 159, 286.

[41] Swete, 686.

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

[43] Charles, II, 437.

[44] 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.

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

[46] Swete, 100–106. So, also, Beckwith, 540; Düsterdieck, 252.

[47] Düsterdieck, 389–90.

[48] See Lenski, 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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Ordained Servant: October 2021

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