Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XXXV)

April 22, 2010

Oops!  At the conclusion of my last post, I failed to pull together an overall outline of the Book of Revelation, playing off 1:19 as a Divinely-intended preview of the book, a la the way Acts 1:8 lays out its movement in advance.  Allow me to do so now:

I. Introduction: “The things you have seen” (Ch. 1)

II. Letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor: “The things which are” (Chs. 2-3)

III. Visions of the future, all the way through the new heavens and earth: “The things which shall take place after this” (4:1-22:5)

A. The heavenly throne room, the seven-sealed scroll and the Lamb (Chs. 4-5)

B. The opening of the seven seals on the scroll (6:1-8:1), around the first “interlude” (Ch. 7)

C. The sounding of the seven trumpets (8:2-11:19), around the second “interlude” (10:1-11:14)

D. The “prelude” to the bowls of wrath: Introducing key characters in the second half of the book (Chs. 12-14)

E. The pouring out of the seven bowls of God’s climactic wrath (Chs. 15-16)

F. The “postlude” to the bowls of wrath: Explaining the identity of Babylon the Great and her relationships (17:1-19:5)

G. The marriage feast of the Lamb, the Second Coming and the reign of the King of Kings (19:11-20:15)

H. The new heavens and earth and the new Jerusalem (21:1-22:5)

IV. Conclusion (22:6-21)

As I proceed through this outline over the next few posts, explaining the significance of various aspects of it, you will begin to grasp why the breaks (i.e., as seen in the outline above) are at the points where they are in the body of the Apocalypse.   Today, I am going to begin with the first “interlude” in Revelation 7.

Before going any further, let it be said that “interlude” may not be the best terminology for the “break in the action” you see in Revelation 7 and 10:1-11:14.  Having said that, though, I have been unable to think of any better descriptor to this point in time.

Why is chapter 7 considered to be an “interlude,” anyway?  That’s because it causes a screeching halt and momentary re-focus from the mounting momentum of the first six seals being removed from the scroll in chapter 6.  (The “interlude” in 10:1-11:14 does exactly the same thing.)

Why is there the need for this particular “break in the action” at this specific point in the book?  My long-considered theory is that certain key information needs to be revealed and orientation given at this point, immediately before the last seal is removed and the scroll–which likely includes the end-times events as its content–is finally open for viewing.

What is that information?  Well, because of the extensive parallelism between Revelation 6 and the part of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 known as “the beginning of birth pains” (24:8), a period characterized only by the “tribulation” of the church age (24:9; see Acts 14:22–and the overwhelming majority of uses of “tribulation” [thlipsis] in the N.T.), I conclude that the 7-year “great tribulation” period at the end of the age cannot begin until the trumpets sequence (8:2ff.).   Thus, Revelation 7 is the last opportunity to get key information in before that transition point.

After that further explanation, you are probably getting frustrated, saying, “Just get on with it–spit it out!  What is that information?!”

OK.  Here it is: Revelation 7 answers the question asked at the end of chapter 6: “… [T]he great day of the Lamb’s wrath (i.e., an alternate name for the prophesied Day of the Lord) is about to come, and who is able to stand (Greek histemi) ?” (my paraphrase of the more likely force of the Greek aorist of erchomai).  The answer(s) in chapter 7: Scene 1– Four angels stand (Greek histemi) at “the four corners of the earth” to seal 144,000 Jewish men to go through the Day of the Lord (7:1ff.); Scene 2– The “great multitude which no one can count” stands (Greek histemi) in front of God’s throne in heaven.  In other words, as the onslaught of the Day of the Lord cranks up with the trumpet judgments, the sealed 144,000 will be virtually the only ones able to “stand” on earth and the “great multitude” will stand in heaven (as the group later known as “the heaven-dwellers”).

There is one other angle, too.  The second part of Revelation 7 answers the implied question raised by the wording in 3:10: “… I will keep you from the hour of testing which is about to come upon the “earth-dwellers…” (again my paraphrase)–when and how will God’s people be “kept from the hour of testing?”  The most obvious answer is that “the great multitude” being taken to heaven in 7:9ff., just before the beginning of the “great tribulation”/Day of the Lord is that, describes both the “when” and “how” Christ keeps His promise in 3:10.

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