Episode 28: The Book of Revelation (2) The structure of the whole thing
For this second episode on the book of Revelation, Paul and Dan get their paper and pencils out and attempt to draw a diagram on a single sheet of paper that represents the whole book! They pick out the markers in the text that open and close the main sections, the sort of audio cues that an original audience might have picked up on. They then start to explore how the structure could be drawing out some of the key points the book is communicating.
Paul and Dan start with a reminder of the key points from episode 1. The book is a letter to churches right at the end of the Apostolic era when they are in transition to the next generation. Using the “3 T’s” they look at the Time it was produced, the Target Audience and the Type of writing (or genre). While it is full of apocalyptic style and imagery, it appears to be primarily a letter from John, carrying a message of prophecy, the hearers of which would be blessed if they “hear it and keep it” (Revelation 1:3).
Why is structure important?
They then think about why structure is so important in any piece of literature. It obviously helps an audience of people to pick out the key sections and when the letter is moving from one subject to another. However, just because structural markers and clear section changes help a listener, this doesn’t mean that the text is not a finely crafted piece of artwork. Quite the contrary with Revelation – it draws the reader back, time and again, into deeper study and reflection.
Paul and Dan then get stuck into the structure, covering the main sections of the book. They attempt to draw a diagram, with mixed success (see below)! Fortunately you don’t need to rely on their artistic skills! Take a look at the short video further down the page which explains the structure in a little more detail.
The structure of Revelation
By comparing the introduction and prologue with the epilogue, they conclude that the book is a unified whole which functions as a whole to convey its message to the churches in Asia around the end of the 1st century.
Then Paul points out that there is a repeating phrase that seems to mark the main sections. John is invited to “Come and see” something new and he is shown it “in the spirit” in Revelation 1:9, 4:1, 17:3, 21:9. These phrases seem to indicate that a new scene or perspective is being introduced. There is an example in Revelation 4:1 where the perspective shifts from the view on earth (with the churches in Asia) to the view from heaven – God’s view point!
Seals, trumpets and bowls
The large section from chapter 4 to 17 is made up of 3 groups of 7 sequences. Seven seals of a scroll, seven trumpets and seven bowls. But Paul and Dan notice that there is a discrete section between the trumpets and bowls, (chapters 12 to 14), which seems to be doing something different.
Exploring the structure of the seven seals they discover that it starts with a group of four, then two more, but then there is an interruption for a change of subject before arriving eventually at the seventh seal. Curiously, the sequence of seven trumpets follows just the same pattern! There is an even longer interruption before getting to the seventh trumpet. It feels as though the structure is signalling that there are certain things that need to be understood and resolved before the completion of the sequence can happen. The final sequence of seven – the bowls – is different, it moves straight through one to seven with no interruption and concludes with the words “it is done!”
An even more intricate structure
Paul and Dan then briefly think about what the central section in chapters 12 to 14 might be doing. It also has seven ‘signs’ and seems to be charting from beginning to end the opposing forces in a conflict. More of that in a future episode!
Finally, three proclaiming angels in chapter 14:6-11 announce the next three sections. Firstly the seven bowls of judgement, then the fall of the city of Babylon, and finally doing away with the beast, its false prophet and the dragon (whatever those images represent!)
Drawing the structure of Revelation
The episode finishes by reflecting on the close of the book where the New Jerusalem is described in the coming together of heaven and earth as the solution to all the issues described earlier in the book. Finally, Paul and Dan think about how this structure starts to draw out some of the points that its first audience might have heard. They also compare drawings…!