This series has just finished the messages to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. Chapter 4 marks a major turning point in the Revelation narrative. But before diving into the Seven Seals in chapters 4-7 we now have enough background to take an initial look at the Revelation timeline.
Having a timeline will be a big help in understanding the context of the rest of the Book of Revelation. But keep in mind that putting the events of Revelation on a timeline is one of the most difficult challenges. We will need to lay a solid scriptural foundation in order to get this right.
To set the context for the timeline let’s briefly review some of the other principles of interpretation that we have studied so far.
In the first Revelation of Jesus video we saw that the symbols of Revelation are based on Old Testament links. A few words or a verse in Revelation correlate to an old testament passage that unpacks the meaning in Revelation.
We also saw in the fourth and fifth videos that Revelation is organized with a chiastic structure; that is, the book is divided into 8 sections that use words and symbols to create mirror image sections that progress to a climax in the middle.
The chiastic structure helps to define the overall theme of Revelation as the controversy between good and evil, with the first half of the book focusing on Satan’s attacks against Christ’s people on earth, and the second half focusing on God’s victory over evil.
As helpful as these interpretive principles are, we still cannot understand the book of Revelation if we don’t know when the events happen. We already saw in video number 2 that there is extreme disagreement among scholars about the time frame of Revelation.
Preterists place most of the context in the 1st and second century, historicists consider much of Revelation to be a review of history, and futurists see most of Revelation as dealing with the Great Tribulation in the future.
One consideration in trying to sort this out is the pattern of the rest of the Bible.
Beginning in the Book of Genesis, the Bible presents a narrative that begins with a perfect creation, that quickly devolves when Satan, disguising himself as a serpent, tempted Adam and Eve into sin.
The rest of the Old Testament narrative shows how God has attempted to establish human representatives who could reveal His character, plans, and purposes.
Although Satan does not show up very often in the Old Testament, a few passages, most notably in the book of Job, show that he is a major player, seeking to thwart God’s plans for humanity.
This becomes clearer in the New Testament as Satan is much more open in confronting Jesus during his earthly ministry.
This narrative is presented in the Bible as linear history that begins in the garden of Eden, skims over many centuries until the worldwide flood, and begins to seriously focus on the establishment of God’s chosen representatives with the stories of Abraham, the patriarchs, and the children of Israel.
Their history as a nation begins with Moses and continues through the judges and the kings, who alternatively represent and misrepresent God until they finally slide into enough apostasy that He has to let them be defeated by other kingdoms.
There is always the promise of a messiah who will save God’s people. However, when God Himself is born in Bethlehem He is so far from their expectations that Israel as a nation will not accept Him. And so Jesus lives a perfect life that shows what a human created in the image of God really is.
Then He takes upon Himself the guilt, shame, and pain that keep us imprisoned and ineffective. Finally, He defeats the power of death, rising from the grave to create a new kind of life that He gives freely to His new representative society, the church.
The history of her challenges and victories is recorded through the mid-1st century in the book of Acts.
With this narrative in mind, we would expect that the book of Revelation would take up the story where it left off in the late first century and continue it through the resolution of the sin controversy. And that is exactly what we have been seeing in the messages to the seven churches.
Although they were relevant messages to real 1st century churches, their prime purpose was to prophesy in advance the experience God’s church would have through the ages from the time John wrote Revelation in the late 1st century until just before the final crisis that is described in the rest of Revelation.
But keep in mind that the Bible narrative is not just about what is happening on earth.
Interspersed in the earthly drama are scenes in which we see what God is doing in the meantime. Indeed, the Bible narrative begins by telling us that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image” (Genesis 1:1,26).
When evil and violence became rampant, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth…So the Lord said ‘I will destroy man whom I have created” (Genesis 6:5,7). The result was the flood that wiped out all of humanity except for Noah and his family in the ark.
After the flood people again multiplied and began to re-establish a corrupt urban society around the tower of Babel; In the heavenly realm, “The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, ‘Indeed, the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do” (Genesis 11:5,6). “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech’. So the Lord scattered them abroad from over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:7,8)
In one of the most amazing and important passages in the Old Testament God pulls back the curtain to show that in the heavenly realm there is a very real controversy between good and evil.
Job was a wealthy, “blameless and upright man who feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).
According to the narrative, Job was a good and godly father, was kind to his employees, generous with his wealth, and cared for the poor and oppressed. But even as he was living out his exemplary life, unknown to him a momentous meeting was taking place in heaven.
“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. And the Lord said to Satan, ‘From where do you come?” (Job 1:6,7). “So Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and walking back and forth on it” (Job 1:7).
In the book ‘A Revelation of Jesus’ appendix 8 I lay out the scriptural evidence that Satan was actually claiming ownership and authority over the earth.
In response God pointed to His faithful follower Job: “The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” (Job 1:8). As a result of this interaction, Satan was allowed to put into place a series of catastrophes that nearly destroyed Job.
But Job’s faithfulness in the face of personal disaster was a rebuke to Satan and his claim of universal authority over humanity.
There are many more examples and much more that we could say, but from these few Old Testament examples, we can see that there are actually two timelines in the Biblical narrative. One outlines what God is doing from His heavenly realm, and the other shows what is happening on earth, as believers and unbelievers interact and often clash with each other.
This is also what we see in the visions of the Book of Daniel, which are the pattern for Revelation. If you have not already done so, please check out Revelation of Jesus #3, which analyzes the visions of Daniel. But let’s briefly look at Daniel chapter 7 as an example.
Daniel first saw a series of four fierce wild animals, that represented powerful world empires that would oppress God’s chosen representatives from the time of Daniel until the time of the end. In verse 9 the scene shifts to heaven where Daniel saw God on His throne surrounded by myriads of angels; “The court was seated and the books were opened”. In other words, the judgment was about to begin (Daniel 7:10).
Then in verse 11, the scene returned to earth where Daniel saw the fate of the oppressive kingdoms and the reward of God’s faithful followers. After this, the narrative left the timeline, with an angel explaining to Daniel what he had seen.
The pattern is the same in the other visions of Daniel. There is a linear timeline from the time of the vision that alternates between events on earth and God’s interventions from heaven, with explanatory digressions to help Daniel understand what he was seeing.
This concept is one of the keys to understanding what is happening in the book of Revelation.
In Revelation chapter 1 the story begins with an introduction that sets the starting point for the events on earth: John was “on the island that is called Patmos [where he was exiled] “for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:9). Most scholars believe that this happened in AD 95.
As John is finishing his introduction he hears “a loud voice as of a trumpet, saying “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last…” (Revelation 1:10,11).
Turning to look, he sees the first scene on the heavenly timeline: “I saw seven golden lampstands and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band” (Revelation 1:13). The “Son of Man” is, of course, Jesus.
The presence of the “seven golden lampstands” shows that He is in the Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary.
If you have not already done so, it would be helpful to watch the video “Revelation of Jesus 5: Sanctuary scenes” where the concept of the heavenly sanctuary is explained and there is an introduction to the rituals and sanctuary articles and furniture.
But suffice it to say, the Holy Place, with its seven golden lampstands, was the place where the high priest performed what the Bible calls “The Daily,” the sacrifices and rituals that were carried out every day, all year long.
So when we see Jesus the Son of Man clothed in the garments of the priests and walking among the lampstands, this symbolizes Christ’s ministry for the church that He has been carrying out every day throughout the long centuries since he ascended to heaven.
This ministry is mentioned in the book of Hebrews: “We have such a High priest…a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected” (Hebrews 8:1,2). “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
While Jesus is interceding, His people on earth are facing the trials, tribulations, and temptations of a world where Satan is alive and active. This long history is outlined in the messages to the Seven churches.
The church of Ephesus symbolizes the post-apostolic era when the now largely gentile church lost her first love and began to hate the Jews who rejected Jesus and persecuted them.
During the Smyrna period of the second and third centuries the church, pressured by Roman persecution, succumbed to legalism, symbolized by the synagogue of Satan.
During the Pergamos era the throne of Satan symbolizes the imperial period from the time of Emperor Constantine when the Christian church became the official religion of the Roman Empire. She compromised by allowing idolatry in order to accommodate the heathens who flooded into her.
Thyatira represents the dark ages, when the church split into a corrupt, persecuting state church, symbolized by Jezebel, and a faithful underground church that eventually birthed the Protestant Reformation.
The emergent protestant movement slipped into competing denominations and political alliances that resulted in the “dead” formalism of the Sardis post-reformation period.
During the late 18th and 19th centuries, the church came back to life with the reforms of the Philadelphia era. But the modern Laodicean church has become increasingly lukewarm, succumbing to apathy, love of comfort, and entertainment.
All through the centuries of failure and apostasy Jesus never abandoned His church. He continued to walk among the candlesticks, interceding and sending the Holy Spirit, drawing all who would respond to Himself, and then working through those who were faithful to extend the knowledge of His gospel to dark neighborhoods and regions where He was not known.
But with Revelation chapter 4 we see Jesus entering a new phase, introduced by a voice “like a trumpet…saying, ‘come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this” (Revelation 4:1).
Let’s look more carefully at the phrase “take place after this”.
The Greek phrase “after this” is μετά ταύτα (Meta Tavta). It is used nine times in the book of Revelation. Often it is used to indicate a change of scene rather than a chronological sequence; for example, in chapter 7 John saw the 144,000 sealed servants and “after this” he saw a great multitude that no one could number.
But Revelation 4:1 is the only verse in which this phrase is used twice: “After this, I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this” (Rev. 4:1)
The first “after this” shows a change of scene, but the second “after this” indicates a sequence: the events of chapter 4 in some sense happen after what has come previously.
Many commentators have taken this to mean that what happens in chapter 4 happens after the time of the Laodicean church. But keep in mind that there are two parallel timelines. The voice told John to “come up here”; in other words, he was given a view of what was happening in the heavenly realm.
During the time of the seven churches, the “in heaven” timeline showed Jesus in the Holy Place interceding. But “after this” Jesus would proceed to a new phase of ministry, which will be revealed starting in chapter four.
We have one final detail that we can nail down on the timeline: At what point does the change of ministry on the “in heaven” timeline correlate with the “on earth” timeline? Again we find an answer in Revelation 4:1, keeping in mind the principle that revelation uses words or symbols to link a point in Revelation with a scripture somewhere else.
The literal translation reads, “After this, I looked, and behold, a door open in heaven” (Revelation 4:1). Compare this with Revelation 3:8, the introduction of the message to the Philadelphia church: “Look, I have set before you a door open” (Revelation 3:8).
The exact Greek wording, “door open” is found in these two verses and nowhere else in the Bible. This links the change of Jesus’ ministry in heaven that will be revealed in chapter 4 with the Philadelphia era on earth.
As we consider the powerful spiritual movements that were taking place during the Philadelphia period of the 19th century, we see the evidence of Christ’s new ministry. And it is not surprising that Satan worked with fiendish intensity to bring about the apathy of our own Laodicean era, to make us unaware of and indifferent to the new ministry that is happening in heaven and the new response that God wants from His people on earth.
But that’s what Revelation is all about: to reveal to us what Jesus is up to so that we can join Him in His ministry to bring life to a dying world.
We are just getting started with the Revelation timeline.
I will be adding to it as we move through the book of Revelation.
If you would like to see where this and other Revelation themes are going, the book that this series is based on, “A Revelation of Jesus” by David Lackey is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other online bookstores.
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