I find Richard Bauckham’s writing on the Book of Revelation helpful, even though I do not agree with everything he writes on the subject. One area where I think he offers an excellent perspective on Revelation is his analysis of the structure of the book. Bauckham’s, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation contains a chapter on the structure of Revelation. What follows is a marking exercise I use when teaching Revelation that follows Bauckham’s structural analysis. I give students a triple spaced copy of Revelation with wide margins and invite them to mark up the book as we study it together. Here are my instructions:
Purpose of this Exploration:
The purpose of this exploration is to have you discover the way John’s Vision is organized. We will be looking at specifically how the Book of Revelation is structured. This exercise is best done while making an initial reading of the whole book at a single sitting. You can read the whole book in less than two hours.
Find the Beatitudes
As you read through the whole Book of Revelation look for the seven beatitudes that are contained in the Book. Each one begins with the word “blessed.” Here is a hint: the first one can be found in 1:3. When you find a beatitude underline it and mark it with an asterisk.
With regard to the first beatitude, notice that it also tells you how the Book of Revelation is intended to be read. In the original Greek it says literally, “blessed is the one who reads aloud in public worship the words of this prophecy…” Revelation is a book that is meant to be read aloud to those who gather to worship as the church, most likely in one sitting. If you were to attend a worship service in which the majority of the service was devoted to a reading of the Book of Revelation from its beginning to its end, what kind of impact would it likely have upon you?
Are you having trouble finding the seven beatitudes? Check out: 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7; 22:8.
Read the Whole Book
Usually when you read the Book of Revelation as a whole you will get caught up in the action. At least that is what happens to me. It is like reading a good novel. You almost seem to enter into the story and live it out in your imagination. What is it about how the Revelation is written that makes this possible?
To complete this assignment you will need at the very least a Text Study Copy of the Book of Revelation, and a Number 2 pencil.
Find the Prologue
The Book of Revelation claims to be an “apocalypse” (1:1), a “prophecy” (1:3) and a circular “letter.” The indication that it is a letter is the formula, “To the seven churches” followed by the greeting (1:4). Circle each of these words. The first eight verses make up the prologue of the letter. In the left hand corner near the beginning of verse one draw a right angled arrow . After the arrow write the words: “Beginning of the Prologue.” At the end of 1:8 draw a left angled arrow . After the arrow write the words: “End of the Prologue.”
Find the Inaugural Vision
John’s inaugural vision of the risen Christ who gives seven messages to seven Churches in the Roman Province of Asia Minor (Most of Modern Turkey) begins in 1:9. Beside the beginning of 1:9 draw a right angled arrow . After the arrow write the words: “Beginning of the Inaugural Vision and 7 Messages.” This section ends with the last message to the Church in Laodicea at 3:22. At the end of 3:22 draw a left angled arrow . After the arrow write the words: “End of the Inaugural Vision.”
Look at 1:10 and notice the technical phrase, “I was in the spirit.” It indicates the beginning of the whole visionary experience of John. Using a pencil underline the phrase. The phrase “in the spirit” is used on three other occasions in Revelation to indicate a major transition in the vision. Using your pencil underline these occurrences as well. You will find them at 4:2; 17:3; and 21:10. At 4:1-2 John is taken up into heaven for a second beginning of his visionary experience: an inaugural vision of heaven. Out of this inaugural vision of heaven there develops a series of judgments that continue through chapter 16. The two references at 17:3 and 21:10 are part of the introductions to two parallel visions that also have parallel conclusions at 19:9-10 and 22:6-9.
Find the Vision of God’s Rule in Heaven
Beside the beginning of 4:1 draw a right angled arrow . After the arrow write the words: Beginning of the Vision of God’s Rule in Heaven. This section ends with 5:14. At the end of 5:14 a left angled arrow . After the arrow write the words: “End of the Vision of God’s Rule in Heaven.” A series of judgments develop out of this vision of God’s rule they are organized into three groups of seven.
Find the Series of Sevens
The first set of judgments result from the breaking of seven seals on the scroll which only the Lamb is worthy to open (cf. Revelation 5). These are followed eventually by seven trumpets and seven bowls. This section begins at 6:1 and continues through chapter 16. We will mark this large section of the vision first and then look at the different sub components. Beside the beginning of 6:1 draw a right angled arrow . After the arrow write the words: “Beginning of the Series of Sevens.” At the conclusion of 16:21 draw a left angled arrow . After the arrow write the words: “End of the Series of Sevens.” This section contains a large portion of the Book of Revelation. We need to break it down into smaller parts to better understand how it is organized.
Marking the Seven Seals
We will start by marking the series of seven seals. To the left of the beginning of 6:1 make the following type of bracket: “”. Above the bracket and the end of 6:17 write the following: “End of the First Six Seals.” We will now use a pencil to highlight the first six seals. At 6:1 underline the words,”first of the seven seals.” At 6:3 underline, “second seal.” At 6:5 underline the words, “third seal.” At 6:7 underline the words, “fourth seal.” At 6:9 underline the phrase, “fifth seal.” And at 6:12 underline the words, “sixth seal.”
Following the sixth seal there is a pause in the seal judgments. We use a fifty dollar word to describe this pause, “an intercalation,” which means an “an insertion of extra time.” There is an insertion of extra time between the sixth seal and the seventh seal. This intercalation takes up all of chapter seven. There is another intercalation between the sixth and seventh trumpets which we will mark later. To the left of 7:1 make the following type of bracket: “”. Above the bracket and the end of 7:17 write the words: “End of the First Intercalation.” As you read the chapter you might want to note what happens during this insertion of extra time. Based upon what you discovered, why do you think God paused the judgments of the seals?
The opening of the seventh seal begins in 8:1. We need to mark it as well. To the left of 8:1 make a bracket: “”. Above the bracket and over the end of the verse write: “End of the Seventh Seal.” With your pencil underline the phrase, “seventh seal.” Note that the seventh seal introduces the judgments of the seven trumpets. With your pencil underline all of 8:2 to show the structural connection to what follows. Note what else happens when the seventh seal is opened. How does this shed light on the purpose of the first intercalation?
By separating the seventh seal from the first six, the Revelation makes the seventh seal stand out. In your opinion, what seems to be emphasized as a result of isolating the seventh seal?
Marking the Seven Trumpets
The judgments of the seven trumpets begins in 8:6. We need to mark its start as well. Make a bracket at the beginning of 8:6: “”. Above the bracket and verse write: “End of First Six Trumpets.” Now we will highlight the first six trumpets. At 8:7 underline the following: “the first angel sounded his trumpet.” At 8:8 underline, “the second angel sounded his trumpet,” and at 8:10, “the third angel sounded his trumpet.” At 8:12 underline the words, “the fourth angel sounded his trumpet.” At 9:1 underline, “the fifth angel sounded his trumpet.” And at 9:13 underline, “the sixth angel sounded his trumpet.”
Take a minute to note 8:13. Underline the whole verse with your pencil. This verse introduces three woes which overlap the judgments of the three final trumpet blasts. Also underline 9:12 which concludes the judgment of the fifth trumpet blast, and the end of the first woe. The second woe will conclude at the end of the second intercalation / sixth trumpet, and the third at the end of the seventh trumpet. Underline 11:14 to indicate the end of the second woe. What do you think is the intended impact of the three woes on those reading or hearing the Revelation?
There is a second intercalation, an insertion of extra time, between the sixth and seventh trumpet blasts. Take time now to mark the pause. At the beginning of 10:1 make a bracket: “”. Above 11:14 and the bracket write: “End of the Second Intercalation.”
You should now mark the beginning and end of the seventh trumpet. At 11:15 make a bracket: “”. Write above the end of the verse and bracket: “End of the Seventh Trumpet.” Go to verse 11:15 and underline the following phrase: “the seventh angel sounded his trumpet.” Just as the first intercalation isolated the seventh seal, the second intercalation isolates the seventh trumpet blast. What happens when the seventh trumpet is sounded? Why do you think the Revelation might want to emphasize the events associated with the sounding of the seventh trumpet?
The Interlude Between the Seven Trumpets and Seven Bowls
An interlude in the judgments of sevens now occurs in Revelation. Known as the narrative of the Woman and the Dragon it marks a fresh start of something new. As the narrative progresses it shifts to describe the conflict between the people of God and the enemies of God, including “the Beast.” The section ends with the people of God triumphant in heaven in chapter 15.
We need to mark the Interlude. At the beginning of 12:1 make a bracket: “”. Above the verse and over the bracket write: “End of the Interlude.” The last of the series of sevens comes immediately after “the Interlude.” Unlike the previous two series of seals and trumpets, this series does not contain an intercalation. The seven bowls of God’s wrath come in rapid sequence one after another. The flow of the text creates an impression different from the other two series. How would you describe it?
Marking the Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath
You should now take a few moments to mark out the seven bowls. At the beginning of 16:1 make a bracket: “”. Above the bracket and the verse write: “End of the Seven Bowls.” We will now highlight each of the seven bowls with our pencil. Underline the words, “the first angel went and poured out his bowl,” at 16:2. Do the same for the words, “the second angel poured out his bowl,” at 16:3 and so forth for each of the seven bowls at the following verses: 16:4, 8, 10, 12, 17.
Four Plus Three
Before we move on, we will take a few moments to mark a pattern that occurs throughout the Book of Revelation to this point. Go back to section which contains the seven letters to the seven churches of the Roman Province of Asia. In the margin to the left of 2:1 write the number one “1” and draw a circle around it. Above 2:8 write the number two “2” and circle it. Above 2:12 write the number three “3” and circle it. Above 2:18 write the number four “4” and circle it. Above 3:1 write the number five “5” and draw a square around it. Above 3:7 write the number six “6” and draw a square around it. Above 3:14 write the number seven “7” and draw a square around it. Notice that the order of the elements is different for the last three letters than it is for the first four letters.
Now turn back to the section on the seven seals. At the beginning of each seal and above the verse write the sequential numbers the way you did for the seven letters. Write the first four numbers and circle them. Write numbers five through seven and draw a square around the number.
Now turn to the section on the seven trumpets and repeat the process. At the beginning of each trumpet and above the verse write the sequential numbers. Write the first four numbers and circle them. Write numbers five through seven and draw a square around the number.
Finally do the same for the seven bowls of God’s wrath. At the beginning of each bowl and above the verse write the sequential numbers. Write the first four numbers and circle them. Write numbers five through seven and draw a square around the number.
If you look carefully at the first four seal judgments, the first four trumpet judgments, and the first four bowls of God’s wrath you will notice they share a common focus? What is the focus they share?
The Fall of Harlot Babylon
We have finished the series of judgments that developed out of the vision of God’s Rule in Heaven. We now witness the collapse of those opposed to God, a time of transition, and then the vision of the Bride of the Lamb and the New Jerusalem. Earlier we noted that two parts of this section of the Revelation are structured in parallel with each other. Before marking the rest of the overall structure of Revelation. Let us take some time to note the parallel sections. Turn to 17:1-3 and underline all three verses with your pencil. In order not to lose the significance of “in the spirit” in 17:3 which we highlighted earlier, take a number two pencil and double underline the phrase. Now go to 21:9-10 and underline these two verses and also double underline the phrase “in the spirit” to preserve its significance. In the margin beside 17:1-3 and 21:9-10 write the following: “Start of Parallel Visions 17:1-3 and 21:9-10.” The two parallel visions are of the Fall of Babylon and the Coming Down From Heaven of the New Jerusalem.
The ending of the parallel visions needs to be marked as well. We will use a similar procedure. Underline 19:9b-10. Start with the words, “And he added….” Now go to 22:6-9. Marking this will be a little more complicated because of the prominent role these verses play in the structure of Revelation. Underline the verses. Write in the margins by both sets of verses: “Parallel Vision Ending: 19:9b-10 and 22:6-9.”
Now we need to mark the beginning and end of the Fall of the Harlot Babylon. Go to 17:1 and
draw a right angled arrow . After the arrow write the words: Beginning of the Fall of Babylon. Now go to 19:10 draw a left angled arrow . After the arrow write the words: “End of the Fall of Babylon.”
Transition From Fall of Babylon to Coming of New Jerusalem
The next section in the Book of Revelation is a time of transition between when Babylon falls and the New Jerusalem comes. It begins at 19:11 and continues to 21:8. We need to mark of this section as well. At 19:11 draw a right angled arrow . After the arrow write the words: “Start Transition.” Then at 21:8 draw a left angled arrow . After the arrow write the words: “End Transition.”
Marking Coming of the New Jerusalem
We now will mark the section which focuses upon the Bride of the Lamb and the Coming of the New Jerusalem. This is the section which parallels the Fall of Babylon. It begins at 21:9 and concludes by an overlapping section that goes from 22:6-9. Go to 21:9 and draw a right angled arrow . After the arrow write the words: “Start New Jerusalem.” Go to 22:9 and draw a left angled arrow . After the arrow write the words: “End New Jerusalem.” Take your pencil and in the margin beside 22:6-9 to the right make a large “}” and beside it write: “Overlapping Sections.”
The Epilogue begins at 22:6 and concludes at 22:21. At the start of 22:6 draw a right angled arrow . After the arrow write the words: “Start Epilogue.” At 22:21 draw a left angled arrow . After the arrow write the words: “End Epilogue.” Note that Revelation began with a typical opening for an ancient letter and in 22:21 it ends with a typical ending for an ancient letter.