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Jeanie C. Crain



Section I  
Prologue 1.1-8  Vision Son of Man 1.12-20
I. Seven Churches 2-3 1. Ephesus-abandoned first love 
  2. Smyrna--poor, suffering
  3. Pergamum--Balaam
  4. Thyatira-Jezebel
  5. Sardis--alive but dead
  6. Philadelphia--hold fast
  7.Laodicea--cold or hot
  Vision of Throne4-5
  First of seven sections ends 3.22 (NRSV) 7 Churches
II. Seven Seals 6-8.1 1.White horse 6.2--conquers, Christ
  2.Red horse 6.3--takes peace from earth, war
  3.Black horse 6.6--scales, famine
  4.Green horse6.8--pestilence and death
  5.Souls of martyrs 6.9
  6.Earthquake  6.12-17
  Two Vision s 7.1-8 Four angels at the four corners of the earth and "the seven angels who stand before God with trumpets" 
  7.9-17 Multitude of the Redeemed
  7. Unsealed scroll and silence
  Second of seven sections ends 8.1 (NRSV) 7 Seals
III. Seven Trumpets blown by Seven Angels 1. hail, fire, blood 8.7
  2. mountain into sea; 1/3 sea, blood 8.8; 1/3 creatures, ships destroyed
  3star (Wormwood) from heaven; 1/3 waters bitter; 8.10
  4.1/3 sun, moon, stars, day kept from shining 8.12
  5.bottomless pit, demonic locusts torment people without seal of God on their foreheads 9
  6.demonic calvary 9.13-20; 1/3 humankind killed
  Vision of the Little Scroll 10
  Measuring of the Termple of God 11; 2 witnesses; beast
  7. Consummation of God's Kingdom; temple in heaven opened 11
Section II Third of seven sections ends 11.19 (NRSV) 7 Trumpets
IV.12, 13 Portent in Heaven: woman (clothed with sun, moon under her feet, crown of twelve stars), child (male, rule all nations with rod of iron, snatched away and taken to God; woman nourished for 1,260 days), dragon( red, seven heads, ten horns, seven diadems). War in heaven (dragon and his angels thrown down; dragon pursues woman who is given wings of eagle. Two beasts (sea: Roman empire,  ten horns, seven heads, ten diadems; healed mortal wound); (earth: two horns, emperor worship, 666)

Vision of Lamb and 144.000 sealed, redeemed, first fruits 14; angel flying in mid-heaven proclaiming fall of Babylon; another angel proclaiming wrath of God for those marked with mark of the beast; Son of Man sitting on white cloud; angel proclaiming time to reap the harvest; angel with sickle; angel with authority over fire; vintage of earth thrown into the wine press of God.

  Fourth of seven sections ends 14.20 (NRSV) Visions
V. Seven angels, seven plagues, seven bowls 15-17 1. foul and painful sore16.2
  2 sea into blood 16. 3
  3. rivers and water into blood 16. 4
  4. scorching of sun 16.8
  5. darkness 16.10
  6. Euphrates dried up; frogs (demonic spirits) 16.12
  7. It is done--earthquake, destruction, and huge hailstones Babylon is given the full fury of righteous wrath.


  Fifth of seven sections ends 16.21 (NRSV) 7 Plagues
VI. Fall of Babylon, Great whore 17: seven heads interpreted as kings, ten horns as kings; Nero "was, is not, and is to come"); note inverse of Christ: is, was, is to come 1.8: could this be temporal versus eternal?

19 Praises in heaven; announcement of marriage of the Lamb 19.7; John falls down to worship but is told by the angel, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you."

19.11 Rider on white horse: victorious Christ (Faithful and True, judges righteously and makes war, eyes like fire, head with diadems, inscribed name unknown, robe dipped in blood, Word of God, followed by armies in white, sharp sword from mouth strikes down enemies, rules with rod of iron, treads the wine press with the fury of God Almighty Angel stands in the sun 19.17 and calls to birds in midheaven to come the the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, captains, mighty, and their riders. Beast and deceiver with mark thrown into the lake of fire; followers are killed by sword.

  Sixth of seven sections ends 19.21 (NRSV)Final Battle
VII. Binding of Dragon for a thousand years 20; souls of martyrs raised (first resurrection) to reign with Christ-6; second death has no power over priests of God.  Dragon is released (Gog and Magog 8), fire consumes the army of the Dragon and the Dragon is thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur. Vision  of Great White Throne 20.11-15, New Heaven, New Earth, New Jerusalem (out of heaven, bride); God dwell among mortals21.3. All things are made new (21.5); measuring of New Jerusalem (21.15-27): no temple in the city (22), for God is the temple; gates are never shut(21.25), for God has opened and no one can shut (4.8); only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life can enter (27).

22 River of water of life flowing from the throne of God; on either side of river is tree of life with twelve kinds of fruit.  Servants of God will see Lamb's face and have His name written on their foreheads.  God is light (5)

  Seventh of seven sections ends 22.6-21 (NRSV) Vision of Throne
Conclusion: The angel tells John the words given to him are trustworthy and true, for the angel has been sent by God to tell what must soon take place: "See, I am coming soon." 

John again falls down to worship but is told he should not do that: "Worship God!" 22.8

John is told not to seal up the words.  

Promise is repeated: "See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. "22.12 [Is it logical that from eternity, coming is always soon in the limited, temporal, and finite?]

22.16 Jesus, root and descendent of David, morning star (2.8) or resurrected Christ has sent the angel to John with the invitation "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come." 17 Anyone who wishes can take the water of life as a gift.

22.18 All who hear the words of the prophecy of Revelation are solemnly warned not to add to or to take away from the words on penalty of losing the tree of life and the holy city.  

"Surely, I am coming soon."

"Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!"


John Gabel, Charles Wheeler and Anthony York in The Bible as Literature: An Introduction, 6th edition (Oxford 2000)

The show itself--what John sees--is in two parts: the first depicts the cosmic and earthly events at the end of the Present Age; the second depicts the eternally static situation of the Age to Come.  The events that conclude the Present Age are introduced by sets of sevens that are associated with the communication of messages: seals on a scroll and heralds' trumpets.  The events themselves are divided into three phrases: the defeat of Satan in the heavenly sphere (by the birth of Christ), in the earthly sphere (by the destruction of Rome), and in the underworld (by the final elimination of the Devil, Death, Hades, and the sea at the very end of the age.) Poised between the two ages is the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, which shares something of both future and past: It provides a foretaste of the bliss of eternity future, but the evil of the past lies there waiting to exert itself yet once again.  When this final resurgence of evil has been suppressed and ultimate judgment passed, the New Age can begin in all its perfection.  The only thing the author had to add was a warning that the last days were at hand and that no one should tamper with the words of his book. (157)

...In Revelation we so often find an instance of the destruction of evil followed by rejoicing in heaven, only to be followed in short order by the return of what seems to be the same evil in different guise.  Layer is placed upon similar layer, and it is not always evident just where we are in the continuing story at any given moment.  But there will come an end to that story, the author of the book assures his readers, when the great instigator of evil and his entire domain will be flung into the fiery lake; and then the warfare of the saints will cease forever. (157)

Chapter 1 John's greetings and the circumstance of his call

2-3 The letters to the seven churches

4-5 The heavenly court and the lamb

6-7 The seven seals

8-11 The seven trumpets

12-13 The pregnant woman, the dragon's defeat, the two beasts

14 Visions of assurance and warning

15-16 The seven bowls of wrath

17-18 The whore of Babylon and the beast

19-20 The defeat of the dragon's forces, final judgment

21-22 The new Jerusalem, conclusion


Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996)

Though the book includes portions which follow the epistolary form (1:4-3:22), much of Revelation is written in the form of apocalyptic literature (cf. Daniel and Zechariah) and it refers to itself as a prophetic book (1;3, 22:7, 10, 18, 19).  The three major movements in this profound unveiling are captured in 1:19: "the things which you have seen" (ch. 1); "the things which are" (chs. 2 and 3); and "the things which will take place after this" (chs. 4-22).

Outline of Revelation

Part One: "The Things Which You Have Seen" (1: 1-20)

I. Introduction (1:1-8)

II. Revelation of Christ (1.9-20)

 Part Two: "The Things Which Are" (2:1-3:22)

I. Message to Ephesus (2:1-7)

II. Message to Smyrna (2:8-11)

III. Message to Pergamos (2.12-17)

IV. Message to Thyatira (2:18-29)

V. Message to Sardis (3:1-6)

VI. Message to Philadelphia (3:7-13)

VII. Message to Laodicea (3: 14-22)

Part Three: "The Things Which Will Take Place After This" (4:1-22:21)

I. Person of the Judge (4.1-5:14)

    A. The Throne of God (4.1-11)

    B. The Sealed Book (5:1-14)

II. Prophecies of Tribulation (6:1-19:6)

    A. Seven Seals of Judgment (6:1-8:5)

    B. Seven Trumpets of Judgment (8:6-11:19)

    C. Explanatory Prophecies (12:1-14: 20)

    D. Seven Bowls of Judgment (15:1-19:6)

III. Prophecies of the Second Coming (19:7-21)

    A. Marriage Supper of the Lamb (19:7-10)

    B. Second Coming of Christ (19: 11-21)

IV. Prophecies of the Millennium (20:1-15)

    A. Satan Is Bound 1,000 Years (20:1-3)

    B. Satan Reigns 1,000 Years (20:4-6)

    C. Satan Is Released and Leads Rebellion (20:7-9)

    D. Satan Is Tormented Forever (20:10)

    E. Great White Throne Judgment (20:11-15)

V. Prophecies of the Eternal State (21:1022:5)

      A. New Heaven and New Earth Are Created (21:1)

       B. New Jerusalem Descends (21:2-8)

       C. New Jerusalem Is Described (21:9-22:5)  

VI. Conclusion (22:6-21)




David L. Barr

2 Structuring a Plot: The Stories as Distinct Actions

After some preliminaries, the writer begins to tell an autobiographical tale:

    I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, "Write in a book what you see ...." (1:8ff)

This first story segment details what happened to him on Patmos. (A majestic human being appears to him and dictates seven messages to the angels of seven churches.) Having finished this task, John is called up to heaven, where he observes a scene at the divine court. This second story concerns the process by which a slaughtered-standing lamb opens a divine scroll and reveals its contents. John next looks into the heavenly temple and sees strange new signs. In this third story a cosmic dragon pursues a cosmic woman but is eventually defeated by a cosmic warrior, resulting in the establishment of a wholly new cosmic order.

I make three preliminary observations about these stories. First, they are ever more fantastic. The audience is led into ever stranger territory and witnesses ever more bizarre actions. The story progresses from John standing on Patmos (a real world event), to the vision experience, to a trip to heaven, to a cosmic battle. Then we are taken quickly back to earth again in the closing address to the reader. It is a fantastic journey--rather like a shaman's journey.(9) In literary terms, we find three different literary types sandwiched between realistic narratives of John on Patmos: the revelation theophany, the throne vision (Merkavah), and the cosmic war story.

Second, while these three stories are themselves sequences of causally connected action, there is very little connection between the incidents in the separate stories. Each sequence has its own logic, its own set of characters, its own base locale, and John plays a somewhat different role in each. These stories may be set forth schematically as follows:

Story One Story Two Story Three
Place Patmos Heaven Earth
Characters Jesus as Majestic Human



Jesus as Lamb-Slain

Elders and

Heavenly Beings

Jesus as Heavenly Warrior

Dragon and Beasts

Woman and her children

Action Letter Writing Worship War
John Presented as Secretary Heavenly Traveler Seer/Prophet
Mythic Paradigm Theophany Throne Vision Holy War
Chapters 1-3 4-11 12-22(10)

If I briefly sketch the action of each segment, two points will become clear: they each can be viewed as a unified action, but they do not form a causal sequence between them. I would characterize the kernel incidents of these stories as follows. One: A majestic human being appears to John on Patmos and commands him to write a scroll and send it to the seven churches of Asia. After a detailed description of this divine figure, the figure comforts John, explains particular symbols to him, and then dictates seven messages to the angels of the seven churches. Two: John ascends to heaven at divine initiative, sees God on the throne surrounded by the heavenly court, and hears the heavenly liturgy. A scroll is presented that is sealed and that no one can open, causing John to weep. Then a character, announced as a lion but revealed as a slain-standing lamb, proceeds to open the scroll in seven stages. In the silence of the seventh seal, seven trumpets sound, followed by the announcement: God's kingdom has come. Three: A majestic heavenly woman about to give birth is pursued by a heavenly dragon who seeks to consume her child. The woman is saved and the child preserved, but the dragon turns to make war on her other children. Two great beasts are conjured from the sea and the earth; the lamb gathers 144,000 on Mt Zion. Scenes of heavenly harvest predict earthly judgment, then enacted in seven plague events, leading to the great announcement: it is done (16:17). Just what is done is now related in two sets of scenes, one grouped around the great prostitute (war against heaven, heavenly warrior, destruction, a thousand years of peace, final battle, final judgment, new creation) and the bride/wife of the lamb (restoration of the city).

Third, each of these three actions is built on a distinct model. The first story is clearly a theophany; and the third is just as surely a holy war. I am not so clear how to characterize the second, except to say it is neither theophany nor holy war. While our knowledge of Merkavah mysticism is limited, there does seem to have been a throne vision genre, perhaps built on Isaiah's famous vision (Isa. 6). Some would also connect the throne scene with the rituals of the imperial court.(11)

Thus each of these three units can be viewed as a unified action, but what becomes obvious is that there is no real connection between the three actions. While one can point to strong thematic continuity between these sections, there is not a continuity of action. The action of the first movement does not lead to that of the second or the third. They do not form a causal sequence, yet within each movement there is a reasonably clear causal sequence. How should we understand their relationship? Is Revelation one story or three?

There is an O. Henry short story called "Roads of Destiny" that offers some analogy to John's narrative strategy. In O. Henry's story a young man leaves his native village to explore the world and write poetry. But when he comes to a fork in the road, he cannot decide which way to proceed. So the story is told showing him take all three options: first he takes one branch; then the second; and finally he returns to his village. For each path taken a different series of events ensues, but each leads inexorably to the same end: the young man is shot and killed--each time with the very same pistol. Now clearly all three events belong in the same narrative, for the narrative could not make its point without all them. Yet just as clearly the actions within each event can have no causal connection with actions in the other two; for the initial act of choosing one road excludes the acts that lie down another path. It would be to miss the point were we to ask whether our young man went down path two before or after going down path one. The connection is not one of before and after. What then are the connections between the three?

These connections have to do with theme (destiny) and characters rather than with continuous sequential actions. Yet they gain their meaning only by being seen in comparison within the same narrative.(12) When one finishes O. Henry's story one understands the seductive/destructive allure of poetry in a new way, a way that takes destiny beyond accidental encounters. One also understands that action within a story is not necessarily sequential.

In a similar way, John's three dramatic actions do not constitute a sequential, unified action. One does not happen before or after the other. They represent alternative tellings of the story of Jesus with a common theme and overlapping characters. The Dragon does not attack the Woman's children (chapter 12) after Jesus dictates the letters (chapters 2-3) or after the triumphant consummation of heavenly worship (chapter 11); that attack is contemporaneous with the life of the church and is as old as Eve. The third action is a retelling of the story of the coming of God's rule with a new focus. It is as if the narrator finished the triumphant heavenly announcement that the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of God and of the Christ (11:15) and then turned to the audience and said, "Do you wonder how that came about? Well, let me tell you . . .." The focus now is on the attack of the Dragon and the ensuing cosmic war, with Jesus being presented (rather ironically) in the guise of the Divine Warrior.

This lack of causal sequence can be seen in the ending of each of these story segments, for each ends with a partial closure, a sense of an end that is no end. At the end of the Letter Scroll Jesus promises to come to any who will open the door (3:20); at the end of the Worship Scroll, the voice announces that Messiah's kingdom has come (11:15); at the end of the War Scroll evil appears to be destroyed and the new Jerusalem descends (21:1). Yet even in this last instance we are told that nothing unclean can enter the city (21:27); and as life in the city is described in glowing terms we are also told "Outside are the dogs" (22:15). This is a story that appears to end, repeatedly, but never finally does.

Rather than one unfolding event, Revelation presents three interrelated tellings of the story of Jesus. One does not lead to the other, yet they gain their meaning by appearing together. Let us now consider more carefully just how they are put together.



The aural experience of the Apocalypse would have a definite beginning and ending, and John has so arranged these to emphasize a sense of completion. Many have observed the strong correlation between the beginning and the ending. There are at least eleven points of correspondence, in addition to the epistolary framework (1:4; 22:21).

1:1, 4, 9 John names himself 22:8
1:1 An Angel sent 22:6
1:1 Will soon take place 22:6
1:1 The servants 22:6
1:3 Reader blessed 22:7
1:3 The Time is near 22:10
1:4 Grace to you 22:21
1:8 The Alpha and Omega 22:13
1:10 The Spirit 22:17
1:16, 20 Stars and Angels 22:16
1:17 John falls at feet 22:8

But the parallels are more than just verbal and thematic, there is also a parallel of action. Set within the context of a letter that begins "John to the seven churches" (1:4) and ends with the letter formula so familiar from Paul's letters, "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with all" (22:21), the action starts with John directly addressing the audience and describing his sojourn on Patmos where he has a vision (1:9-10). It ends with John directly addressing the reader, saying this is what he heard and saw (22:8). It is the classic technique of the storyteller: I was off alone one day and I saw something very interesting. . .. The actual story is one further stage removed from the audience by the additional frame of the letter. This double envelope of letter and vision-report frames all the action of the story and helps the audience experience it as a unity.



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Copyright 2000 Jeanie C. Crain
Last modified: October 27, 2005