THE LITERARY CHIASM
Kenneth Strand developed the concept of the chiastic literary structure of Revelation (See Symposium on Revelation—Book I, Frank Holbrook, editor, 1992 Biblical Research Institute, Review and Herald). Strand’s division of the sections of the chiasm (excluding the prologue and epilogue) are as follows:
Although the discovery and development of this literary structure was a major step forward in the understanding of Revelation, there are a number of problems with the division of the sections as it is presented by Strand. The problems stem from an attempt to make a chiastic pair of the woman clothed with the sun of chapter 12 and the harlot of chapter 17. Although this pairing seems intuitive, it necessitates a distortion of the chiastic structure with the following problems:
It is not a true chiasm of the eight divisions. Section III is paired with V, and IV is paired with VI, even though some of the scriptural links are weak. In order to maintain a semblance of the chiastic structure, sections III and IV are joined together as a unit and V and VI are joined together:
Although Strand contends that each section should begin with a sanctuary scene (with sanctuary imagery such as the throne, the Lamb, the four living creatures, 24 elders, sanctuary furniture, etc.), his section VI does not begin with any sanctuary imagery, only “a loud voice…out of the temple” which is actually a part of the previous section.
An obvious sanctuary scene, 14:1-5, is ignored rather than being used as a beginning marker of a new section.
The strong links between chapters 12, 13 and chapter 14, and the obvious and clear division of themes between chapter 13 and 14 are ignored.
The division of the chiasm is of more than academic interest. It is the division of the book into two halves that defines the overall theme of the book. Strand, with his division between chapters 14 and 15, sees the first half of the book as history and the second half as future prophecy. This of course necessitates making the substance of the first half historical, specifically, the seals and trumpets (which comprise more than a third of the book).
In order to support the historical views of the seals it necessitates making the crucial fourth and fifth chapters some kind of “inauguration” (either of Christ’s priestly ministry or of His kingly reign) which took place just after the resurrection and ascension. This claim is made despite the strong evidence that these chapters represent the introduction of the anti-typical Day of Atonement (see appendix 2). The historical view also necessitates fantastic interpretations (especially in the trumpets), the assignment of historical significance to obscure historical events, or glossing over of details of the prophecies in order to make historical applications of the seals and trumpets. Most modern historicist commentaries have simply chosen to generalize these sections, calling them historical but refusing to assign dates or events.
I have suggested the following division:
The problems which are solved by this division are:
A true mirror-image chiasm of every section is presented:
Every section begins with a sanctuary scene, and every sanctuary scene in the book is the beginning of a section.
The links between corresponding sections are stronger, especially in III—VI and IV—V.
This division, dividing the book in a different place (between chapters 13 and 14), which demands a reconsideration of the themes of the two halves and of the overall theme of the book. Since the theme of the climax of the first half in chapter 13 is the culmination of Satan’s efforts to destroy God’s people and the climax of the second half in chapter 14 is the culmination of God’s program to bring the “everlasting gospel” to the world, the division into historical and future halves does not follow. The overall theme is the great controversy between God and Satan concerning sin, and God’s ultimate victory and the eradication of sin from the universe.
PROGRESSION OF SANCTUARY SCENES
The progression of the sanctuary scenes that introduce each of the chiastic sections of Revelation helps to clarify the meaning of the book. Except for the prologue and epilogue, each of the 10 chiastic sections is introduced by a scene from the heavenly sanctuary, which at first glance appear to be a random sampling of items of sanctuary furniture such as the altar of incense or of individuals who participate in the sanctuary drama such as the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders. However, a careful study of the sanctuary scenes shows that the particular mix of furniture and individuals coincide with the progression of the yearly Old Testament sanctuary ceremonies which prefigure the sanctuary activity that has been taking place in heaven since the ascension of Jesus and the institution of His priestly ministry.
The first sanctuary scene, which introduces the seven churches, is found in Revelation 1:12-15. John saw Jesus dressed in “a garment down to the feet” which was the robe used by the priests in their daily ministration in the sanctuary (Exodus 28:4, 31). He saw Jesus walking among seven golden lampstands, which suggest the seven lamps that illuminated the Holy Place (the first room) of the sanctuary. This scene depicts the ongoing ministry of Jesus for His church that began when He returned to heaven after His crucifixion and resurrection, analogous to the “daily” ministry of sacrifices and ceremonies in the Old Testament sanctuary. It corresponds perfectly with the messages to the seven churches (Revelation chapters 2 and 3) that portray the history of the church through the centuries, from the time of John until the final events.
The second sanctuary scene (Revelation 4:1-5:14) which introduces the seven seals begins with a vision of a “door open in heaven,” the door separating the Holy Place (first room) from the Most Holy Place (second room, see 4:1 A Door Open in Heaven). John saw “seven lamps of fire” which again suggests the lamps in the Holy Place, but he also saw the throne of God, which corresponds to the mercy seat that was on top of the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place (Hebrews 9:5). The time during the ongoing sanctuary service that there was ministry that took place in both rooms of the temple was the Day of Atonement, and this is in harmony with the extensive imagery and symbolism that indicate that this section depicts the introduction of the antitypical Day of Atonement (see 4: The Day of Atonement).
The third sanctuary scene (Revelation 7:9- 8:5) introduces the seven trumpets. Again John saw items from the Holy Place (the golden altar, Revelation 8:3,5) and the Most Holy Place (the throne, the censer, Revelation 7:9, 8:3, Leviticus 16:12, Hebrews 9:3,4), showing that this section is a continuation of the Day of Atonement. An “angel” (who represents Christ) is seen ministering with a golden censer, taking incense from the golden altar to offer with “the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 8:3,4). This corresponds to the second stage of the Day of Atonement when the High Priest, carrying a golden censer, brings the blood of the sacrifices “inside the veil” (into the Most Holy Place, Leviticus 16:12-16). This phase of the service was the last opportunity for the people to “afflict [their] souls and do no work at all” (Leviticus 16:29,30), in other words, to demonstrate their repentance and faith. In the Book of Revelation this last chance for repentance happens during the seven trumpets with the ministry of the two witnesses.
The fourth sanctuary scene (Revelation 11: 15-19) introduces the war in heaven and the oppression of the “saints” by the beast. The focus is exclusively in the Most Holy Place and specifically on the ark of the covenant which contained God's law, the Ten Commandments. The Law of God is the standard of judgment so this scene is very appropriate considering that this section exposes Satan, his rebellion, and his agents which “should be judged” (Revelation 11:18).
The fifth sanctuary scene (Revelation 14: 1-5) introduces the vision of the 144,000 and the three angels' messages. The vision continues in the Most Holy Place but instead of viewing the ark and the law, it focuses on the throne of God which in the Old Testament sanctuary service was called the Mercy Seat (Exodus 25:17-22, Leviticus 16:2). This emphasis fits with the portrayal in this section of the final message of mercy that will go to the world (the three angels' messages).
The sixth sanctuary scene (Revelation 15:1-8) introduces the “end of probation” and the seven last plagues. John saw the sanctuary opened and “filled with smoke” so that “no one was able to enter the temple” (Revelation 15:5-8). In three passages in the Old Testament the temple was filled with smoke and in each case the priests finished their ministry and left the sanctuary (Exodus 40: 33,34, 2 Chronicles 5:13,14, 1 Kings 8:10,11). This represents the third phase of the Day of Atonement services in which the priest left the Most Holy Place, came out of the temple and made a final atonement for himself and for the people who had been “afflicting their souls” throughout the whole ceremony (Leviticus 16:23,24, 29,30). He no longer offered the blood of the sacrifices and there was no longer an opportunity for anyone to come to the sanctuary to confess their sins. This symbolism is appropriate for this section in which the opportunity for forgiveness has ended (the end of probation) and God is concerned with protecting His faithful children with the seven last plagues.
The seventh sanctuary scene (Revelation 19: 1-8) introduces the Second Coming of Christ, the binding of Satan during the Millennium and the final judgment of the impenitent. This scene is unique in that unlike every other sanctuary scene in which it is explicitly mentioned that John “saw” the sanctuary articles and individuals, in this scene John apparently did not see anything; he heard “a loud voice of a great multitude from heaven” and “a voice from the throne.” He somehow knew that “the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sat on the throne” but there is no mention that he saw them. In the Old Testament Day of Atonement this corresponds to the final stage that takes place away from the sanctuary; the scapegoat was taken out into the wilderness, the bodies of the sacrificial animals were taken “outside the camp” to be burned, and all involved washed their clothes and bodies and “came into the camp” (Leviticus 16:21-28). Likewise, in this section of Revelation the beast, the false prophet and finally the impenitent are burned and Satan is first bound and finally burned, bringing the history of sin to an end.
The final sanctuary scene (Revelation 21:2-5,22) introduces the “new heaven and new earth.” Since every trace of sin and sinners has been eliminated, there is “no temple...for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Revelation 21:22). John saw New Jerusalem which will be a perfect cube, just like the Most Holy Place of the sanctuary, but instead of being a symbol of the presence of God, “the tabernacle [actual presence] of God” will be “with men, and He will dwell with them” (Revelation 21:3).
Thus we see that the sanctuary scenes that introduce the chiastic sections correspond to the themes of those sections. They present a progression that follows the ancient Hebrew ceremonial year, beginning with the daily ministry throughout the centuries of church history, progressing to the beginning of the Day of Atonement (the judgment in heaven), the beginning of the time of trouble (the golden censer), then moving from the Holy to the Most Holy Place as everyone on earth makes a decision for or against the Lord, and then out of the temple with the close of probation and finally to the end of the temple and into the immediate presence of God. This progression of the sanctuary scenes is another verification of the meaning of the various scenes that are presented in Revelation, beginning at the time of John and moving progressively to the eradication of sin and to the eternal kingdom of God.