The Structure of Revelation

by James Akin

There are numerous different ways of outlining the book of Revelation. Unfortunately, authors usually do not usually spend much time explaining their outline or why it should be preferred to a different one. This is unfortunate because an author’s interpretation of the entire book can hinge on his outline. If an outline has not been successfully defended, it can leave a question mark over the whole work.

I want to avoid this problem. Instead of simply presenting an outline and hoping the reader agrees with it, I want to exegete an outline in the reader’s presence so he can see my reasoning. Because of this approach, we will not be starting at the beginning of the book and walking through it. Instead, we will jump around, noting its literary features, and showing how these influence the outline. Hopefully this non-linear approach will not seem tedious. To make it easier, I suggest this article be read with bible open. That will let the reader see the features of the text I am referring to without me having to keep interrupting to give long, repetitious quotations.

 

I. John’s Commission

In Revelation 1:19 John is given a three-fold commission: he is told to write, “the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall take place after these things.” (NASB)

Everyone seems to be agreed on what the three sections refer to. “The things which you have seen” refers essentially to the contents of chapter one (really 1:9-20 because John did not “see” the introductory material of 1:1-8). “The things which are” refers to chapters two and three. And “the things which shall take place after these things” refers to everything else in the book. The commission divides the book into three sections: chapters one, chapters two and three, and chapters four through twenty-two.

I agree with this interpretation. However if we stop here and say that this is the book’s basic outline and we need go no further, then I feel we will be adopting an overly simple view of the book’s contents. Additional time is needed to look at its structures before we announce that John’s commission expresses the book’s most basic outline. We need to first look at Revelation’s literary structures and then harmonize them with John’s three-fold commission.

 

II. The Four Heptads

If we want to study the book’s literary forms, the place to begin is obvious. Revelation contains four very visible, very prominent structures: the seven letters, the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls. These blocks of text are obviously there. The only problem that faces us is how to define where they begin and end.

Initially, I want to define each one as starting with the first item in the heptad and ending with the last clear effect of the seventh item in the heptad. For instance, the first trumpet is sounded in 8:7, and though the seventh trumpet is sounded in 11:15, its effects do not die down until 11:19. That would make the trumpet cycle 8:7-11:19.

Using this definition would divide the text as follows:

 

1. Seven Letters 2:1-3:22
2. Seven Seals 6:1-8:1
3. Seven Trumpets 8:7-11:19
4. Seven Bowls 16:2-16:21

 

Unclassified material:
1:1-20, 4:1-5:14, 8:2-6, 12:1-16:1, 17:1-22:21.

One of the things I noticed when I was trying to define the heptads is that each set of seven is prefaced by a certain amount of preparatory material. Each of the heptads has a “preparation–execution” pattern. Before the execution of each heptad, something is introduced which is necessary for the execution stage. Before John receives the seven letters, he sees Jesus who dictates the letters. Before the seven seals, John sees the scroll on which the seven seals are fixed. Before the trumpets are sounded, John sees the seven angels who are then given the trumpets. And before the seven bowls, John tells us he sees “seven angels with seven last plagues”.

If one was to say the preparation stages start with the introduction of this necessary element and end with the verse just before the first execution, the prep-stages are as follows: 1:10-20 (letters), 5:1-14 (seals), 8:2-6 (trumpets), and 15:1-16:1 (bowls). However, I think a couple of changes that need to be made. In the preparation for the letters, John hears Jesus’ voice in 1:10, but that is not the first verse in the context. The verse before it, verse 9, sets us up for verse 10 and is the obvious beginning to the narrative con text. Therefore I want to say the prep-stage for the letters is 1:9-20. Later, I will expand another one of the preparation periods, but my reasons for doing so will not become clear for some time.

Until then, we can update our outline to:

 

1. Seven Letters 1:9-3:22
2. Seven Seals 5:1-8:1
3. Seven Trumpets 8:2-11:19
4. Seven Bowls 15:1-16:21

Unclassified material:
1:1-8, 4:1-11, 12:1-14:20, 17:1-22:21.

This is quite a bit better than we had before. We made a significant dent in the unclassified material. We can make another one in short order.

 

III. Revelation’s Opening and Closing

Now that we have isolated the borders of the seven letters block, the nature of the first eight verses of chapter one is clear: they are introductory material. Rev. 1:1-8 is the introduction to the book. We also find at the end of the book several verses which serve as its closing. The exact start of the closing is harder to pin down, but it is my view that the closing starts at Rev. 22:12. My reasons will become clear shortly.

This revises our outline to the following:

 

Introduction 1:1-8
1. Seven Letters 1:9-3:22
2. Seven Seals 5:1-8:1
3. Seven Trumpets 8:2-11:19
4. Seven Bowls 15:1-16:21
Conclusion 22:12-21

Unclassified material:
4:1-11, 12:1-14:20, 17:1-22:11.

We have now reduced the unclassified material to just three blocks of text: chapter 4, chapters 12-14, and chapters 17-22. How are we to deal with this material?

 

IV. The Two Cities of Revelation

The last of the blocks engulfs six chapters. This material was a problem to me for some time. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. It was too large for me to feel comfortable saying it’s all one big section. But it didn’t have the kind of obvious, visible, rigid structures that the four great heptads did. After considering this section for a while, I began to perceive certain parallels within it.

For a start, the section contains two obviously antithetical cities, one at the beginning and one at the end: the Whore of Babylon and the Bride of Christ. In addition, both of these cities is introduced the same way. One of the seven bowl angels appears and takes John to see the city. The two city accounts also end the same way. After John has seen the city, he tries to worship the angel and is told not to. Then the angel makes one more comment to him (19.10c and 22.10f) and disappears from the text. After this John does not see the angel (or the city) anymore.

This gives us two, more readily discernable sections. Each is defined by the presence of a bowl angel. This makes our outline:

 

Introduction 1:1-8
1. Seven Letters 1:9-3:22
2. Seven Seals 5:1-8:1
3. Seven Trumpets 8:2-11:19
4. Seven Bowls 15:1-16:21
5. The Whore of Babylon 17:1-19:10
6. The Bride of Christ 21:9-22:11
Conclusion 22:12-21

Unclassified material:
4:1-11, 12:1-14:20, 19:11-21:8.

One can see now why I started the concluding material at verse 12 of chapter 22–because the angel from the Bride section is still present at verse 11. He disappears, and in verse 12 Jesus begins a statement which starts the closing section of the book.

We have also reduced the third unclassified block to a much more manageable size.

 

V. The Seven Sights

Once when I was reading this section (19:11-21:8), I noticed it contained a recurring literary formula: “I saw.” This phrase occurs ten times in this section, but the last six occurrences are grouped in pairs. The upshot of that is the text is divided into seven narrative sections, each introduced by the phrase “I saw.” The last three sections are introduced by a double “I saw.” These seven sections begin at 19:11, 19:17, 19:19, 20:1, 20:4, 20:11, and 21:1.

And looking at what John tells us he saw is instructive:

 

1. “I saw” Jesus and “the armies of heaven”
2. “I saw an angel standing in the sun”
3. “I saw the beast and the kings… and their armies”
4. “I saw an angel coming down out of heaven”
5. “I saw thrones on which were seated…”/”I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded”
6. “I saw a great white throne”/”I saw the dead”
7. “I saw a new heaven and a new earth”/ “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem” (all NIV)

In the first one John sees a leader and his army. In the second, he sees an angel. In the third, he sees a leader and his army. In the fourth, he sees an angel. In the fifth he sees thrones and one group of the dead (martyrs). In the sixth he sees a throne and another group of the dead (non- martyrs). In the last section he sees the new creation and the new Jerusalem.

The pattern John is seeing is leader–angel–leader–angel–thrones–throne–new creation. This section has an A-B-A-B-C-C-x rhyme scheme.

(We also ought to add that a judgment takes place at each of the throne blocks: the unnamed ones who were seated on the thrones “had been given authority to judge” and when John saw the unnamed One sitting on His throne, the books were opened and “the dead were judged”–more parallelism).

Because of the recurring literary formula, the seven blocks of text, and the symmetrical relationship between these seven blocks (via their rhyme scheme), we have good evidence that this material constitutes a distinct section on its own and that it is not a part of either of the two city sections which surround it. In fact, not only is it a section, but it appears to be an additional heptad, the “seven sights”, if you will.

We can thus revise our outline to:

 

Introduction 1:1-8
1. Seven Letters 1:9-3:22
2. Seven Seals 5:1-8:1
3. Seven Trumpets 8:2-11:19
4. Seven Bowls 15:1-16:21
5. The Whore of Babylon 17:1-19:10
6. Seven Sights 19:11-21:8
7. The Bride of Christ 21:9-22:11
Conclusion 22:12-21

Unclassified material:
4:1-11 and 12:1-14:20

Now we only have two unclassified sections left: chapter 4 and chapters 12-14. I want to deal with the latter first.

 

VI. The Seven Signs?

It is obvious that these three chapters, 12, 13, and 14, are part of neither the trumpet material nor the bowl mate rial which surrounds them. That being the case, they must either form one single section, or should be split into two or more smaller sections. To find out which is the case we can look at this material in terms of form and content. While it lacks the obvious, unifying content of the Whore and the Bride sections, and while it lacks the obvious, unifying form of the seven sights, I still feel its their ultimate unity can be demonstrated.

First, we will look at form, but we will start with the final chapter (ch. 14) and work our way backwards.

Chapter 14 contains three main blocks of text. The first of these is the Lamb and the 144,000 on Mt. Zion (vv. 1-5). Following this, three angels make announcements (vv. 6-14). And finally there are two harvests (vv. 15-20). Chapter 13 contains only two blocks of text. The first of these introduces the beast from the sea (vv. 1-10) and the second introduces the beast from the earth (vv. 11-18). Thus, in these two chapters, we have five blocks: 1) the beast from the earth, 2) the beast from the sea, 3) the Lamb and the 144,000, 4) the three angels, 5) the two harvests.

The “I saw” literary formula is also present in this mate rial. It appears in front of three of them (numbers 1, 2, and 4). It does not appear in front of the other two (numbers 3 and 5), but an equivalent phrase, “I looked”, does.

Given the presence of these five blocks and of the “I saw” and “I looked” phrases, it is possible this material might turn out to be another heptad. The possibility of this is strengthened when you realize that the only time the dragon and the two beasts appear on-camera are in this material and in the seven sights. In order to find out whether this mate rial is another heptad, we need to look at chapter 12. If chapter 12 divides into two parts, it is.

At least at first glance, chapter 12 does not appear to divide into two parts. There are no clear, radical shifts in content which we could use to draw a line and say, “Everything on one side of this mark belongs in one group and everything on the other side belongs in another.” The best division of content that one could make is (1) the war of the dragon against the child (vv. 1-12) and (2) the war of the dragon against the woman (vv. 13-16; this leaves v.17 out). I am not comfortable with this. Though the dragon does change the object of his designs, I don’t feel at ease saying this a real dividing line. These events could well be taken as two happenings in a single section rather than two separate sections.

If we can’t divide chapter 12 by its content, can we divide it by its form? Again, it does not look promising at first glance. The “I saw” and “I looked” phrases do not occur in this chapter. There is, however, one phrase which might provide the kind of division we are inquiring about. At the beginning of chapter 12, John tells us that “A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven” (12:1). Shortly thereafter he tells us “another sign appeared in heaven” (12:3). I would suggest then that the appearance of the woman and the appearance of the dragon may be the final two units of a heptad. If so, the seven signs would be:

 

1) the woman clothed in the sun (12:1)
2) the dragon (12:3)
3) the beast from the sea (13:1)
4) the beast from the earth (13:11)
5) the Lamb and the 144,000 (14:1)
6) the three angels (14:6)
7) the two harvests (14:14)

Now, I am much less sure of this than anything I have said so far. The proposed woman section is much shorter than the dragon section (being only two verses long), and if the two happenings were not explicitly introduced by the text as separate signs, we would not make this kind of division. I am fully confident of the divisions of chapter 13 and 14. These are certain on the grounds of both form and content. But the division of chapter 12 is ambiguous, though it finds support in the explicit naming of the woman and the dragon as two separate signs.

Because of the ambiguity over chapter 12, however, I would like additional support before I say that this material is definitely all one section.

Chapter 12 begins with the woman who is obviously Israel (either ethnic or spiritual, possibly both). She gives birth to Christ, and the dragon attacks him. The child is caught up to heaven however, and when the dragon tries to follow, he is repelled by the hosts of heaven. Having been frustrated in his attack on the child, he begins to attack the child’s mother but is frustrated again. He then prepares to make war on the woman’s “other children”, who must be either ethnic Jews of some sort or spiritual Jews (as in Rom. 2:28f and Eph. 2:12, 19) or both. The middle and the latter are probable given Rev. 12:17.

To help him in the battle, the dragon then gets two allies (chapter 13), the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth. The war these three make against the woman’s children is described as the two allies are introduced.

Then we see the Lamb standing on Mt. Zion with the 144,000, and they sing. Up to this point we have been hearing about the war the dragon wages. Now a different note is brought in, one of the other side’s triumph. The sign of the Lamb and the 144,000 is surely a sign of victory. You might interpret it either to mean that the 144,000 are now in heaven and that is why they are victorious, or you might say it is an anticipation of the final victory which is realized in the seven sights of ch.s 19-21. In either case, it is a note of triumph which is in keeping with the development of the war theme from chapters 12 and 13.

If this sign is not an anticipation of God’s final victory, the next one certainly is. Before that victory comes, God sends three angels who bring messages. The first announces the gospel and tells the people of “every nation, tribe, language, and people” to worship God. The second announces the coming doom of Babylon (incidentally, this is the first time the Whore is mentioned). Finally, an angel appears who proclaims the doom of anyone who allies himself with the beast and warns them away from giving in during the persecution (the war). This material is also a development of the war theme.

Finally we are shown two harvests. While the meaning of the first is debatable, the meaning of the second is not. It is a harvest of judgment, for we are told that the grapes that are reaped are thrown into the winepress of God’s wrath, which is trampled, making blood flow out of the winepress. This may be an anticipation of the final victory, or it may be the final victory itself, presented as a single symbol. If so, chapters 12-14 cover virtually the entire period of the book of Revelation.

In view of all this, it is apparent that the theme being unfolded in these chapters is the war the dragon wages against Christ and his followers. Chapter 12 tells us the origins and early history of the war. Chapter 13 tells us of the two allies of the dragon and how they wage the war on the saints. Chapter 14 opens with a note of victory which is followed by three proclamations: first, the gospel, second, the doom of Babylon, and third the doom of anyone who succumbs to the persecution and gives in to the dragon. Finally, the earth is harvested–twice–and the grapes of the second vine’s harvest are throne into the winepress of God’s wrath.

In these chapters a shift takes place: first the dragon attacks (ch.s 12-13), then God responds (ch. 14). Both of these, however, are development of the war theme which is expanded in the seven sights of chapters 19-21. I therefore think it is safe to say chapters 12-14 are a single section, united by a common theme. The best outline I have for the material, in spite of the chapter 12 problem, is the seven-fold one I suggested earlier. But even if you cut the pie differently, this material is a unity and so can be entered into our outline as a single section.

 

Introduction 1:1-8
1. Seven Letters 1:9-3:22
2. Seven Seals 5:1-8:1
3. Seven Trumpets 8:2-11:19
4. Seven Signs 12:1-14:20
5. Seven Bowls 15:1-16:21
6. The Whore of Babylon 17:1-19:10
7. Seven Sights 19:11-21:8
8. The Bride of Christ 21:9-22:11
Conclusion 22:12-21

Unclassified material:
4:1-11

VII. The Vision of Heaven

We have now eliminated all the unclassified material but chapter 4. That chapter is obviously a unity and does not break down into different sections. But is part of one of the sections it borders, or does it stand on its own?

The fact that it is so brief (being only eleven verses long) argues that we should include it under one or the other. It simply does not have the stature of the other sections. All the commentators of which I am aware treat chapters 4 and 5 as a unity. Since we know that chapter 5 is the preparation for the seals, should we then say that chapter 4 is just a sort of extended preparation?

There is an obvious unity between the two chapters. The latter opens with John seeing the scroll “in the right hand of him who sat on the throne.” This phrase would be hard to interpret without chapter 4, which introduces the throne and the One who sits on it.

The only reason I would even hesitate to lump the two together has to do with chapter 4’s function in the book. By taking us into heaven and showing us what is happening before the judgment begins, it sets the stage for all that takes place in heaven. Since Lamb opens the seals in heaven, chapter 4 definitely introduces them. But the trumpets and bowls also take place in heaven as well. Should we count it as a separate section which introduces all three judgment-heptads?

I do not believe so. We must say the scene of heaven sets the stage for all three cycles in some sense, but that does not mean it is a distinct section all its own. In view of its extreme brevity and its obvious unity with chapter 5, I believe the best thing to do is to say chapter 4 as an extended introduction to the seals cycle, which also introduces the trumpets and bowls. Earlier, I said I would revise the preparation stage of a second cycle. This is why.

 

VIII. Revelation’s General Outline

We have now eliminated all the unclassified material and can present the general outline we have been working to develop:

 

Introduction 1:1-8
1. Seven Letters 1:9-3:22
2. Seven Seals 4:1-8:1
3. Seven Trumpets 8:2-11:19
4. Seven Signs 12:1-14:20
5. Seven Bowls 15:1-16:21
6. The Whore of Babylon 17:1-19:10
7. Seven Sights 19:11-21:8
8. The Bride of Christ 21:9-22:11
Conclusion 22:12-21

Basically speaking, Revelation has an eight-fold outline, and six of the folds appear to be heptadic. We might ask, in view of this, whether the remaining two–the city sections– are heptadic as well.

If they are, I can’t find it. The only two clear events which would be elements of the heptad are the approach of the angel and John’s attempt to worship the angel. Between these two there would have to be five more units and I don’t have a way to divide the text which is not arbitrary. Until such a method might emerge we must resist the temptation (ever pre sent) to impose sevens on the book. I am already a little uncomfortable with the division of the seven signs.

Nevertheless, I am sure that this is the correct general outline for the book. I arrived at it by trying to stick very close to the text. Others have arrived at the same thing. According to D. Guthrie, A. Yarbro Collins has arrived at an outline which is the same as mine, except the sections are labeled differently [The Relevance of John’s Apocalypse, 25].

I also find confirmation for the outline in a very interesting symmetry which I discovered among the sections.

 

IX. A Subtle Symmetry

After perceiving the eight basic blocks of text, one questions that naturally arose was why they are arranged the way they are. Why, for instance, at the end of the trumpet cycle do we suddenly jump backwards in time and start looking at the birth of Christ? Why don’t we just go straight on into the bowls instead of having the interlude?

I set to thinking about the various sections and how they relate to each other. One thing I have noticed is that the sections come in pairs. This is obvious in the case of the two city sections. The Whore and the Bride are obviously parallel. It is also clear in what I have been calling the seven signs and the seven sights. Both deal with the conflict on earth. In chapters 12-14, we see the conflict begin, and in chapters 19-21, we see the conflict end. The cast of characters in these two sections is also the same.

Though it is less obvious, the four major heptads also come in pairs. The letters and the seals, for instance, are both executed by Jesus. Jesus dictates the letters; Jesus opens the seals. The second two heptads, however, are not executed by Jesus but by angels. Angels blow the trumpets; angels pour out the bowls. Not only is there this pairing between their executors, there is pairing between the things executed. Letters and seals are both literary items. Trumpets and bowls are both liturgical items that were used in Jewish temple worship.

Therefore, it seems that the eight sections fall into four pairs:

 

A: Jesus, literary (letters and seals)
B: angels, liturgical (trumpets and bowls)
C: the earthly conflict (signs and sights)
D: a great city (the Whore and the Bride)

The symmetry between the eight sections goes deeper than this, however; though it is a little harder to see at first.

 

1. Seven Letters A
2. Seven Seals A
3. Seven Trumpets B
4. Seven Signs C
5. Seven Bowls B
6. The Whore of Babylon D
7. Seven Sights C
8. The Bride of Christ D

Now right here this does not display a great deal of symmetry. The most you can make of it from just a surface glance is the presence of a B-C-B pattern and a D-C-D pattern following an A-A. That is some kind of symmetry, but not a very satisfying one. I believe, however, that there is a deeper one to be found.

It is obvious that four of the sections have an explicit seven-ness. We are told that there are 7 churches. We are told that there are 7 seals. We are told that there are 7 trumpets. And we are told that there are 7 bowls. The seven-ness is explicit. That is not the case with the other four sections. They are either non-explicit seven or they are not sevens at all.

If we represent the explicit heptad passages by the letter S and the others by the letter T, we find that the overall structure of the book is a chiast:

 

S. Seven Letters
S. Seven Seals
S. Seven Trumpets
T. Seven Signs
S. Seven Bowls
T. The Whore of Babylon
T. Seven Sights
T. The Bride of Christ

It has an S-S-S-T / S-T-T-T pattern. This also cracks the strange A-A-B-C-B-D-C-D pattern we saw earlier. If we group all of the S-passages together we find that their order is A-A-B-B, while if we group all the T-passages together their order turns out to be C-D-C-D.

In essence we could say that Revelation has an S-leg with an A-A-B-B pattern and a T-leg with a C-D-C-D pattern. The two legs are then propped together so they form a chiast with a twist at the point of intersection, giving the overall chiast an S-S-S-T / S-T-T-T form

The apparent presence of this symmetry in the order of the sections supports the idea that the eight-fold structure I have suggested is correct. I did not perceive this symmetry until after I had already broken the book into the eight blocks; only then I discovered that they have this special relationship among themselves.

One other note: the letter section serves as the introduction to the rest of the book, which is composed of seven sections. Given that, you may ask whether the book is a single great heptad with a preparation stage. I don’t know whether this suggestion is right or not, especially in light of overall the symmetry. It is a possible understanding of the book’s structure, but one I am nervous around.

 

X. John’s Two Commissions

How are we to relate all this to the three-fold commission John was given in chapter one? John was told to write 1) the things which he had seen, 2) the things which are, and 3) the things which shall be after these things.

“The things which he are” is the execution of the seven letters. The “things which [John had] seen” covers most of chapter one, which is the preparation for the seven letters. Before the letters can be dictated, the one who dictates them appears to John and commission him to write them down. There fore, “the things which you have seen” and “the things which are” represent the two parts of the letter cycle which deals with the present reality of the churches at the time John is writing. “The things which shall be after these things” is the rest of the book, the other seven sections, which deal with later events.

John receives a second commission in chapter 10. In 10:11, he is told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings” (NIV). This “second prophecy” is usually thought to be the contents of the book from chapter 12 onward. It might, however, be the contents of the book from the very next verse onward. We can investigate this by consulting the concordance.

Upon looked up all the relevant words, I found that though it is present earlier in the text the “international theme” suddenly leaps to prominence following 10:11. The word people, used to indicate an ethnic group, along with its plural, occurs six times in the book, but only two of these uses occur before 10:11. Nation and its plural occur twenty- four times in the book, but only three of these occur before 10:11. Language and languages occur eight times, and only two are before 10:11. Eliminating the phrase “King of kings”, the word kings occurs fifteen times in the book, only two of which are before 10:11 (the singular of this word is never used in reference to a merely human king). Lastly, there is the word tribe and its plural. Though not mentioned in 10:11, this word is elsewhere associated with the international theme. Of its six occurrences that are not in reference to a Jewish tribe, three are before 10:11.

If you total up the words of the international theme, you find that of fifty-nine word uses, only eleven occur before 10:11, which means that eighty percent of the international theme is to be found at 10:11 or after.

Forty-four occurrences come after 10:11, and are distributed among the remaining sections of the book. Here is how they break down: remainder of the trumpets (6), seven signs (10), seven trumpets (6), the Whore of Babylon (13), seven sights (5), the Bride of Christ (4). There are a lot in the Whore section because the kings of the earth are talked about. Surprisingly, there are a number of occurrences in the remainder of the trumpet section during which the second commission is given. This might make one want to say the second prophecy begins immediately, and not at the beginning of chapter 12.

 

EXCURSUS: Other Structures

 

The 4/3 Split

As I read the book of Revelation, I began noticing some of the heptads seem to fall into groups of four and three. Usually the group of four would come first. There would be four elements in series, then a shift of some kind would take place, then there would be another three.

For instance, there is a recurring statement which appears in each of the seven letters: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Each of the letters also contains a promise, which is always right next to the exhortation to hear. It was by looking at this relationship that I first found the 4/3 split. What I discovered was that in the first three letters (Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum), the exhortation to hear comes before the promise, while in the last four letters (Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea) the exhortation to hear comes after the promise.

After I saw this, I began to notice the 4/3 split in other heptads. In the seals it is obvious: we first have the four horsemen of the Apocalypse followed by three seals without horsemen. It is also present in the trumpets. First we have four judgments followed by three special judgments: “the three woes.”

It also appears to be present in the seven sights.

The first four sights are introduced by the formula “I saw”, but the last three are introduced by a double use: “I saw”/”I saw”. The 4/3 split appears to occur in the “seven signs” as well. The first four signs are single entities who are introduced: the woman, the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. The last three are not single entities but composite groups and events: the Lamb and the 144,000, three angels with warnings, and two harvests.

However, the 4/3 split does not appear to be present in the bowl cycle. At least I have not found it if it is there. This is strange since it appears to occur in all the other heptads, but we must not force it onto a text where it does not occur.

 

The 6/7 Split

While I have never seen anyone mention the 4/3 split, the 6/7 split is regularly discussed in commentaries on the book of Revelation.

In at least two of the heptads (the seals and the trumpets), you move through the first six elements relatively quickly, but then there is a sudden parenthesis before you go on to the seventh.

In the seal cycle, you run through the first six seals in chapter 6, then a parenthesis which takes up all of chapter 7 occurs, then in the first verse of chapter 8, the last seal is opened. In this case, the parenthesis contains two elements: the sealing of the 144,000 and the multitude in white robes.

In the trumpet cycle, something very similar happens. One proceeds through the first six trumpets, which take up the rest of chapter 8 and all of chapter 9. Then you come to the parenthesis which fills chapter 10 and most of chapter 11. At the end of 11, you get the sounding of the seventh trumpet. As before, the parenthesis contains two elements: the eating of the scroll (chapter 10) and the measuring of the temple (chapter 11), which discusses the two witnesses.

There does not appear to be a 6/7 split in the bowls, though you might see the discussion of the three evil spirits as a parenthesis. One fact that argues against this, however, is that if there were a bowl parenthesis, it would have only one element in it. It would also seem a little short compared to the other two, which are a chapter or two long.

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