Understanding End-Time Prophecies

 The Symmetry and Parallelism of the Book of Revelation

 Lorraine Day, M.D.

Revelation is often studied in a "topical" manner, meaning that a certain subject or isolated passage is selected and investigated, such as the Three Angels Messages of Rev 14 or the Beast of Rev 13.  However, it is impossible to really understand Revelation by this method of study.

The book of Revelation is very different in style and composition from the other New Testament books.  Its literary architecture is, in large part, the key to its understanding.  Every section and subject in Revelation relates in a specific way to every other section and subject in the book.  Recognizing its ingenious literary construction and symmetry contributes substantially to our understanding of its content.

"John conveys its unity by his construction of a symmetrical pattern, an inverse parallelism called a chiasmus."  Understanding End-Time Prophecies, by Hans LaRondelle, pg 82

This framework has been recognized by numerous scholars and its form helps clarify the meaning of the message.

Symmetrical Outlines

"The most simple outline of Revelation that shows the literary composition of an inverse parallelism is the following arrangement:

A. The Church Militant, Chs. 1-3
B   Christ Begins the war, Chs. 4:1--8:1
C   Trumpets Call to Repent, Chs. 8:2 -- 11:1
D   Overview of the Christian Age, Chs. 12-14
C1  Probationary Time Ends:  Retributive Judgments, Chs. 15-16
B1 Christ Ends the War, Chs. 17-20
A1  The Church Triumphant, Chs. 21-22

A more detailed outline of the literary composition of Revelation is offered by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (Invitation to the Book of Revelation, Appendix).


A.  Prologue, 1:1-8
B  The Community under Judgment , 1:9 - 3-22 (Seven Messages)
C   God's and Christ's Reign, 4:1 - 9:21; 11: 14-19 (Seven Seals and Seven Trumpets)
D   The Community and Its Oppressors, 10:1 - 11:13; 12:1 - 15:4
Prophetic Commissioning, 10:1 - 11:13
Enemies of the Community, 12:1 - 14:5
Eschatological Harvests, 14:6-20; 15:2-4
C1  Judgment of Babylon/Rome, 15:1, 5 - 19:10
Seven Bowls, 15:5 - 16:21
Rome and Its Power, 17:1-18
Judgment of Rome, 18:1 - 19:10
B1  Final Judgment and Salvation, 19:11 - 22:9
A1  Epilogue, 22:10-21

". . . Within this framework, the beacon light of prophecy shifts from the apostolic church to the church in the wilderness and finally dwells on the remnant community in the end of time (Rev. 12-14).  A responsible study of end-time prophecies cannot be made by divorcing some selected portions of the Scripture from their inalienable contexts.  Revelation repeatedly directs its spotlight on the conclusion of the prophetic cycles of the seals and the trumpets, so that the perspective of each cycle is necessary to understand a specific end-time vision and its message of consolation."  LaRondelle. pg 105-106

John's vision includes a series of "sevens:" a) letters to the seven churches (ecclesias) (Rev 2-3), b)  seven seals (Rev 6), c)  seven trumpets (Rev 8-9), and d)  seven bowls or vials - the seven last plagues (Rev 16).

After the sixth seal, after the sixth trumpet, and after the sixth bowl (plague), there is a special pause in the continuous sequence of events and a comforting vision is given.  This emphasizes God's concerns for His end-time people.  These interludes with their comforting visions are found in Rev 7, Rev 10-11, and Rev 16:15.

The seals, the trumpets and the bowls (plagues) all close with the coming of Christ, revealing that these three series of "sevens" are not three chronological sequences, each following the other, but instead they each repeat the same historical periods, but each gives a view from a different perspective.

The Literary Pattern

A)   There is a parallel nature of the Prologue (1:1-8) and the Epilogue (22:6-21)

Both sections speak of an angel from God who is to show God's servants "the things that must soon take place"  (1:1 and 22:6) 

Both sections discuss the "testimony"  Rev 1:2 = testimony of Jesus. 
Rev 22:16 (NIV) = testimony for the churches (ecclesias).

Both sections tell us that "the time is near"  (1:3; 22:10).

God is the Alpha and Omega in Rev 1:8.  Christ is the Alpha and Omega in Rev 22:13.

B)   The Seven letters in Rev 2-3 are related to fulfilled promises in Rev 21-22.

"Tree of life" in Paradise is promised in 2:7, it's fulfilled in 22:2

 "Second death: 2:11 vs 20:6, 14; 21:4,8

 Promise of "Morning Star" in 2:28 is fulfilled in Christ, 22:16.

 A Place with Christ on His throne (3:21) is seen fulfilled in Rev 20:4; 22:3-5.

These promises to the church in Rev. 2-3 are fulfilled in the Church Triumphant in Rev 21-22.

Rev 2 and 3 deal with the struggling church, while Rev 21-22 show us that the church will be triumphant.

The first division of Revelation including all of its parts anticipate the second division.

C)  Next we see the parallelism between the Throne visions of Rev 4-6 and of Rev 19-21. 

24 elders and 4 living beings worship God seated on His throne:  (Rev 4:1,9; 5:13, 14; 19:1,4).

Rider on a white horse (6:2;  19:11)

Souls of the martyrs (rev 6, and Rev 19-20).

Rev 6:10, the souls cry out "How long, Lord. . . until you avenge our blood?

Rev 19 answers with "Hallelujah!. . . true and just are God's judgments. . . He has avenged on her the blood of his servats."  In Rev 20:4, the martyrs are vindicated.

D)  A symmetrical parallelism is found between the seven trumpets (Rev 8-9) and the seven bowls (plagues) in Rev 16.

Both portray judgments of God and use identical symbols.

The trumpets of Rev 8-9 are the limited warning types during the Christian era, of the world-wide judgments in the last plagues of Rev 16.

The demarcation between the historical era and the apocalyptic judgment era is seen at the end of Revelation 14.  Revelation 15 begins with the announcement that the mediation in the heavenly Temple of God has ended.

We will understand each sequence in Revelation much better if we study its corresponding counterpart in the other area of the book.

The Scriptures that were available to John, the author of Revelation, were the books of the Old Testament.  Therefore, it is imperative to carefully study the Old Testament to interpret the symbolism found in Revelation since John knew and used these Old Testament terms.

We must understand how these terms were used in the Old Testament, what they represented, how God used certain signs in relation to His people, in order to decipher John's meaning in Revelation.

Most Christian denominations call themselves "New Testament Christians" and spend little, if any, time studying the Old Testament.  For this reason, the vast majority of Christians define much, even most, of Revelation in literal terms, leading them far away from truth.


© Lorraine Day, M.D. 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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