And so we come at last to Revelation, having laid the groundwork for understanding it through our studies of the Olivet Discourse, 2 Thessalonians 2, Daniel, and Joel 2.
Please read Revelation 6 before continuing with this post.
We shall not be covering the whole book of Revelation, nor shall we go into full detail on all the points that may arise in this series. There are a few reasons for this.
(1) Revelation is very complex and large commentaries have been written about it. Trying to cover everything in a few posts is therefore not practical. The reader is therefore advised to consider a suitable commentary for matters not addressed (at all or in depth) by this series. This website is a good starting commentary.
(2) I have no settled opinion regarding certain issues arising from Revelation (e.g. the period during which the Two Witnesses prophesy. It is therefore sensible to keep these posts focussed on the general framework and matters where we can be more confident.
(3) Some parts are not necessarily as closely connected to the study of the end times as others (e.g. the Letters to the Seven Churches ostensibly have more general application, although some would challenge this).
Structure and Daniel
Revelation frequently references Daniel, which is of great assistance in understanding the chronology of the end times (other passages such as the Olivet Discourse and Joel 2 are also important, as we shall see below). However, there are are a few issues that should be addressed before we go further.
(1) There is no clear link in the text between any particular event and the confirmation of the covenant that commences the 70th Week (although this may be referenced by the First Seal). This is in keeping with the Olivet Discourse, which does not mention the confirmation of the covenant, but gives the Abomination of Desolation as the first clear sign. We may therefore tentatively suggest that the confirmation of the covenant may not be obvious to us at the time, but something understood in hindsight.
(2) Although there are several 7-part structures (e.g. the Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls), the text does not link each part to a particular year of the 70th Week. We therefore should not be tempted to do this, but rely only on the links provided in the text.
(3) The Trumpets follow the Seals, and the Bowls (Vials) follow the Trumpets.
Seals > Trumpets > Bowls
Although some writers view these sequences as parallel to each other, I do not. Alan Kurschner tackles this issue in his book, Antichrist Before the Day of the LORD, and in various articles on his website.
(4) Although Revelation follows a general progression in terms of its structure, it is important to note that John goes backwards in various parenthetical sections to discuss in more depth matters he has outlined previously. Accordingly, the reader needs to be careful not to assume that something that comes next in text comes next in the end times chronology. The structure of Revelation is addressed by Alan Kurschner in Antichrist Before the Day of the LORD and by the contributors of the Revelation commentary website linked above.
It would be tempting to see the first five seals as general descriptions of life throughout the Church Age. The past two thousand years have seen conquests, wars, economic hardship, death and disease, and persecution of Christians. The seals do correspond to some extent to the general conditions outlined by Christ at the beginning of the Olivet Discourse.
However, we can tell from the general focus of Revelation on the end times, that these seals are are located in the end times. The First Seal most likely refers to the Antichrist’s rise to power (but before the Abomination of Desolation). We cannot say with certainty, however, that it refers to the confirmation of the covenant at the start of the 70th Week.
It is also not clear that Christians on earth will see the opening of these seals in heaven. Clearly, their effects on earth will be noticeable, and these should therefore be the focus.
The persecution of the saints in the Fifth Seal is the Great Tribulation. We know this because it leads into the Sixth Seal, which is the darkening of the heavens just before the appearance of Christ in the sky, which we have discussed in our posts on the Olivet Discourse and Joel 2.
It is crucial to understand the link here, because that will help the reader to navigate Revelation and to make the important distinction between the wrath of Satan and the Antichrist on the one hand, and the wrath of God on the other. Seals One to Six are not the wrath of God. The wrath of God begins with the Seventh Seal, which contains the Trumpets and Bowls.
Verse 17 tells us that the Day of the LORD (i.e. the Day of Wrath) follows the darkening of the heavens and the coming of Christ. It therefore confirms the conclusion we drew from the Olivet Discourse and Joel 2.
As stated in previous posts, no-one knows the day or hour of the coming of Christ. Therefore, we cannot say when the Sixth Seal occurs, except that it is at some unspecified time in the latter half of Daniel’s 70th Week (remember, Christ revealed that He would cut short the Great Tribulation).