One of the very controversial aspects of the Book of Revelation is its chronological organization. Some commentators (preterists) believe that most of the book was fulfilled in the early Christian era, and that the apostle John was writing about issues of the early church and the Roman Empire using symbolic imagry. Other commentators (futurists) believe that the prophecies of Revelation will be fulfilled at some time in the near or distant future. Still others (historicists) believe that Revelation is like the book of Daniel, with its prophecies covering the history of the church and the world from the time of the apostles until the end of time.
It is no wonder that there is confusion. The messages to the seven churches (chapters 2 and 3) are addressed to “the seven churches in Asia,” churches that existed in the time of John but which have not existed for centuries. But the time of trouble, the Second Coming of Christ and the Millennium are end time events. And the judgment, the end-time plagues and the Second Coming appear in several places. Does Revelation bounce around randomly from the past to the future and back again?
The book “A Revelation of Jesus” (which you can read by clicking the link “book” at the top of this page) has developed a timeline that makes sense of all this. The key insight is that there are actually two parallel timelines in Revelation. The first timeline depicts the events that take place on earth from the time of John until the end of time. It is quite detailed and can be tied to specific dates and historical events. The second parallel timeline shows what is happening in the unseen heavenly realm while the events on earth unfold. Interrupting these two timelines are two sections right in the heart of Revelation that depart from the chronological progression in order to show the history, future, and fate of Satan’s Babylon kingdom which has challenged God’s kingdom.
Understanding the chronological organization of Revelation is vital because otherwise we have no idea how the various sections fit together. You can read an introduction to the chronological organization in the first chapter of the book “A Revelation of Jesus” and see a diagram of the timeline. The relationship between the “on earth” and parallel “in heaven” timelines will become much clearer as you continue reading the book.