In previous videos, we have seen that the Old Testament provides a key for understanding the symbols of Revelation. We have also seen that the Book of Daniel provides a model for what we can expect in the content of Revelation.
In this video, we will see that besides the Old Testament, the book of Revelation itself gives us important keys to understanding what at first seems very disorganized and confusing. Revelation is actually highly organized, but to see that you have to read it very carefully.
One pattern that some readers have noticed is that words or phrases that appear at the beginning of Revelation also appear at the end, and often nowhere else. For example, the first verse of chapter one says: “Show his servants things which must shortly take place” (Revelation 1:1).
The last chapter has the same phrase: “show His servants the things which must shortly take place” Revelation 22:6. This phrase is found nowhere else in the Book of Revelation. And there are several other words, phrases, themes, or symbols that are found in both the first and the last chapters of Revelation.
This is the first clue that Revelation was written with a chiastic structure. The chiastic structure is a mirror-image pattern. It uses words, phrases, symbols, or ideas in the first half that are mirrored by the same or similar elements in the second half, progressing and building toward a climax. They are often found in the Old Testament and other ancient literature. A chiastic structure looks like this:
A-1 is a word, phrase, symbol, or theme that appears at the beginning. It also appears at the end, A-2. As you read a little farther you encounter another word, B-1, and it also appears somewhat before the end. And so on until you reach the middle where you have either one or two words, phrases, symbols, or themes that are the climax of the whole passage.
Sometimes you will see the chiasm turned on its side like this:
This probably seems a little vague and nebulous at this point; a real example will make it much clearer. The story of Noah and the ark, found in the book of Genesis, was written with a chiastic structure, and I have outlined part of it here. Notice that keywords form a mirror image: Ark is A-1 at the beginning, the ark is also A-2 at the end. All living creatures are second, all living creatures second to the last, food is third from the beginning, and food is third from the end, etc.
The mirror-image pairs build-up to G, the climax: God remembers Noah. The climax was a turning point: before the climax, the animals entered the ark and the waters increased. After God remembered Noah the waters decreased and the animals exited the ark.
The chiastic structure was used to help storytellers remember the order and key points of the story. The chiastic structure also helped to build up to and emphasize the climax of the narrative.
A-1: Ark (6:14-16)
B-1: All living creatures (6:17–20 )
C-1: Food (6:21)
D-1: Animals (7:2–3)
E-1: Entering the Ark (7:13–16)
F-1: Waters increase (7:17–20)
G: God remembers Noah (8:1)
F-2: Waters decrease (8:13–14)
E-2: Exiting the Ark (8:15–19)
D-2: Animals (9:2,3)
C-2: Food (9:3,4)
B-2: All living creatures (9:10a)
A-2: Ark (9:10b)
The Book of Revelation is the most extensive and amazing chiasm in the Bible, and the complex details make it clear that John did not dream this up; God Himself inspired John to write in a way that created it. Revelation can be divided into 8 sections which are like chapters in a book.
So how can we know where each of the 8 divisions begin? It is quite obvious because each one starts with a scene from the heavenly sanctuary, such as God on His throne, the altar, the seven lamps, the four living creatures, and the twenty-four elders. We will have a lot more to say about this in the next video.
I became aware of the concept of a chiastic structure in Revelation many years ago. At first, it seemed unconvincing and irrelevant. But with a deeper study, I found that when the divisions are correctly identified the chiastic structure is not only obvious, but it is one of the most powerful tools for analyzing the Book of Revelation.
Let us take a look at the specifics of the Revelation chiastic structure.
The first and the eighth divisions compare and contrast the church on earth in chapters two and three, with the church in the eternal kingdom of God in chapters 21 and 22. Nowhere else in Revelation do we see the tree of life. The New Jerusalem is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible except for these two sections. Here we see the promise to those who overcome: Jesus will come quickly, death will be abolished and they will have a new name and a whole new existence.
The second and seventh divisions focus on the judgment; both the judgment that takes place in heaven to determine the fate of every person and the judgments on earth when we will experience the consequences of our decisions.
In both divisions, John sees heaven opened and God sitting on his throne. He sees a great multitude which includes those who have been martyrs waiting for God to judge and avenge their blood. Several phrases including “a white horse” and “death and hades” are found only in these two divisions. You may want to stop the video to look carefully at the impressive number of matching elements.
The third and sixth divisions cover the seven trumpet plagues and the seven last plagues. Although they are distinct events, their descriptions use many of the same words and images such as the earth, the sea, the rivers and springs, darkness, the beast out of the bottomless pit, the River Euphrates, a great earthquake, and people who do not repent.
The fourth and fifth divisions are the climax of the chiasm. Chapters 12 and 13 show Satan’s final effort to defeat God’s followers with the image and mark of the beast. Chapter 14 shows God’s victorious response as His followers who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus preach the gospel to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people. The image and mark of the beast are prominent in both divisions, and the followers of Satan with the mark of the beast on their foreheads are contrasted with the followers of Jesus with the seal of God on their foreheads.
The chiastic structure is an impressive literary accomplishment. But it also provides crucial information about the Book of Revelation.
For example, there are an even number of divisions. This means that instead of one climax as we saw in the chiasm of Noah, there are two climaxes, one for the first half and another for the second half. This tells us that Revelation is divided into two halves with two related but distinct themes.
Looking at the climax divisions we can see that the overall theme is the cosmic controversy between God and Satan. The first half of the book has to do with Satan’s efforts to coerce and destroy God’s followers, and we see much of his success in the seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, and especially with the symbolic beasts of chapters 12 and 13. The second half of the book has to do with God’s victory over evil with the 144,000, the gospel to the world, the defeat of Babylon, the second coming of Christ, the millennium, and the new earth.
Besides helping us understand the themes of Revelation the chiastic structure allows comparisons of the corresponding mirror-image divisions. This can help us to confirm interpretations that are suggested by analyzing symbols. For example, in the first Revelation of Jesus video we compared symbols from the Seven Seals with their Old Testament links to show that the seven seals have to do with the judgment of humanity. This interpretation is supported when we compare division 2 which includes the Seven Seals with division 7, its chiastic mirror-image. In division 7 we see Christ coming on a white horse to destroy His enemies who have been persecuting His followers. We see Satan first chained in the bottomless pit and then burned in the lake of fire. We see God’s faithful followers reigning and judging for the 1000-year millennium, and then we see resurrected humanity standing before the great white throne with the book of life being opened. This whole division is about judgment. This confirms that the corresponding Seven Seals in division 2 also are about the judgment.
We saw in the Revelation of Jesus video “Visions of Daniel” that we can expect some parts of Revelation to be symbolic and other parts to be literal. But how can we know which is which? The chiastic structure can help us.
If we look, for example, at division 6, we see that it has two parts. The seven last plagues seem to be quite literal. “Men who had the mark of the beast [broke out with] foul and loathsome sores” (Revelation 16:2). “They gnawed their tongues because of the pain. They blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores” (Revelation 16:10,11) There is nothing about the sores that seem symbolic, and in fact, all of the seven last plagues seem quite literal. But as division 6 continues in chapter 17 it becomes very symbolic with beasts, horns, and a harlot with the name “Babylon the Great” on her forehead.
The chiastic pair of division 6 is division 3, the seven trumpet plagues in Revelation chapters 8 through 11. Because it is a mirror image of division 6, we would expect it also to have a literal section and a symbolic section. And it does have two sections that are quite different. In chapters 8 and 9, John saw “something like a mountain burning with fire [which] was thrown into the sea.” He saw “hail and fire…[that] burned up a third of the trees”, “locusts…that looked like horses prepared for battle”, and “horses…with heads like lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and sulfur.” These images have often been interpreted as highly symbolic, but their chiastic pairing with the seven last plagues suggests that John was giving a literal description of future events that were totally unfamiliar to him, and he tried to compare them with things he was familiar with from his time, such as burning mountains, locusts and horses.
Then in chapters 10 and 11 the scene shifts to a mighty angel standing over the water, a book that John had to eat, and two witnesses that were killed by a beast from the bottomless pit. Again the chiastic pairing shows us that we are looking at highly symbolic scenes.
We need to keep in mind that the chiastic structure is only one of several tools to help us understand Revelation; we will need to confirm the interpretations that are suggested by the chiasm with other evidence. But as we will see in future videos, the chiastic structure is one of the major keys to helping unlock the mysteries of the book of Revelation.
The first four ‘Revelation of Jesus’ videos have been introductory, giving us tools to help interpret the Book of Revelation. We have one more before we get into the content. The next video will look at the sanctuary scenes that introduce each of the chiastic divisions. We will find that they are not just random collections of sanctuary furnishings; they outline a progression through the temple rituals that correspond with the experience of God’s followers from the time Jesus left them 2000 years ago until they are finally secure with Him for eternity.
You can find many more details about the chiastic structure and the rest of the Book of Revelation in the book “A Revelation of Jesus” by David Lackey.
To see all the videos in this series check out the Revelation of Jesus playlist. These videos are based on the book “A Revelation of Jesus” by David Lackey; you can order a copy of the book on Amazon or other online bookstores, or read it online at RevelationofJesus.net