This essay is a summary of my understanding of the book of Revelation, after a Bible study conducted over the Digitial E-net by Brad Schafer. The views expressed are my own, but I have drawn heavily from A Rebirth of Images by Austin Farrer, especially for my understanding of the sevenfold structure, the Number of the Beast, and the significance of the 144,000.
The book is divided into six "suites" of seven "movements" each. The large-scale structure of the book is:
Each suite starts with a "prelude," followed by a "quartet" of movements, followed by a "trio" of more intense movements. Each prelude comes immediately before the first of the seven elements of the suite and is a passage related to but distinct from the seven elements. The preludes are:
The quartets are distinguished from the trios not only by position in the sequence of seven, but by a change in subject matter. The clearest example is the Quartet of Seals, the famous Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; the seal following them is the complaint of the martyrs, completely different in content. The Quartet of Trumps is also fairly distinctive, since each destroys one third of something; at the fourth trump, the theme of "one third destroyed" ends and the Three Woes of the Eagle begin. The quartets are:
The trios are:
There are three "unnumbered" suites and three "numbered" ones. The unnumbered suites are:
The numbered suites are:
The Seven Lamps stand apart from the other suites. They are not numbered like the seals, trumps, or cups, but they are clearly distinguished, unlike the elements of the Signs and Visions Suites. They are addressed to specific and concrete audiences, delivered in relatively plain prose, with no visionary images except that of the Prelude, Christ Amid the Lamps. A new level of vision begins after the Seven Lamps Suite and lasts for the rest of the book. (John sees a door in Heaven and is invited through it. 4:1)
The Seven Visions, at the other end of the book, also stand apart from the rest, though in a less distinct way. In the Suite of Seals, the seventh seal is the whole Suite of Trumps; in the Suite of Trumps, the seventh trump is the Suite of Signs; in the Suite of Signs, the seventh sign is the Suite of Cups. Of the six suites, only the first and the last, the Suite of Visions and the Suite of Lamps, stand outside this system of exfoliation.
The unnumbered suites of Visions and Signs have much less obvious demarcations of their elements than have the Seven Lamps (each beginning "To the church in X write...") or of course the numbered suites, each explicitly counted off. Instead, new elements are introduced with the phrases "And I saw" or "And there appeared," or phrases very close to them. When you note the occurrences of these phrases, they divide the unnumbered suites into sevenfold structures, like the explicitly numbered suites.
The unnumbered suites have a dramatic or narrative content. This contrasts with the formalized, discrete form of the numbered suites, where the effects of each seal, trump, or cup have no relation to the others. However, the numbered suites also contain narrative passages; these take the form of "interludes." The first and second of these interludes appear between the sixth and seventh elements of their suites; the third interlude is connected to its suite, the Suite of Cups, by being delivered by one of the angels of the cups. The interludes are:
If you note the appearances of new voices or new images in the interludes, these, too, turn out to have sevenfold structures, though even less clearly than the unnumbered suites. The sevenfold structure of each interlude can then be divided into a quartet followed by a trio, as with the suites. However, the interludes have no preludes.
We can divide the book of Revelation into "movements." The six suites total 48 movements (eight each, a prelude and a series of seven). The three interludes total 21 movements (seven each). This totals 69 movements. Adding to this the Promise at the end (22:6-21), and excluding the first eight verses as outside the vision proper, we have an even 70 movements to the vision. The number seven is so prominent in Revelation that it is hard to believe this is accidental.
Continue to Part 2, Outline.
Return to Introduction to Essays
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop
Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2011