Revelation Is a Pastoral Book
Another important point in the interpretation of the Revelation timeline is the present suffering that was going on. In addition to being apocalyptic, the book of Revelation is pastoral. The book is designed by our Lord Jesus through the Apostle John to bring comfort and assurance to those who are suffering under an antagonistic world power, the Roman Empire (including the Apostle John who is suffering for Christ in his exile to Patmos). Any exposition of Revelation must begin with the presenting issues being faced by those who would have received and heard this divine communication. However, as we do in all exposition, we seek to discover the timeless truths embedded in the contextual scenario.
Back to our question. Can we discern a timeline in the book of Revelation that will help us to understand the progress towards Judgment Day? I believe that the answer is yes. But here is the caveat: rather than laying out a detailed chronology based upon the apocalyptic imagery and apocalyptic chronology of the book of Revelation, let’s follow the cycles of Revelation, each becoming more intense, and each leading us to Paradise Regained (John Milton, 1671).
Revelation Is Composed with One Story in Seven Escalating Cycles
Revelation is a story of God’s plan of salvation coming through His Son, Jesus Christ. We repent and receive Jesus Christ as our resurrected and reigning Lord and Savior. Satan seeks to stop the miracle of faith. Satan can’t defeat Jesus and He turns on believers. Every attempt to stop the gospel becomes, in the hands of a sovereign God, a way to advance the Kingdom. This story moves through seven expressions, seven octaves, seven escalating stories until the Consummation of time and history.
So, why does the Book of Revelation move through a cycle of seven? In fact, the number seven is a very important number within Revelation. The seventh day of the week is the day that God rested from his creation. Therefore, the number seven is used by the biblical writers to express perfection, fullness, or divine completion, whether of the plan of salvation or the time remaining for the earth.
When reading Revelation, you discern a story is being told. You read through the story, and you sense a completion. “Then I saw . . .” And the same story repeats, but with different scenarios; new images, but a very similar storyline. This cycle repeats through Revelation so that we may divide the book into seven sections, or cycles. They are:
Cycle 1: 7 Letters to the Churches (Rev 1-3)
Cycle 2: 7 Seals (Rev 4-7)
Cycle 3: 7 Trumpets (Rev 8-11)
Cycle 4: 7 Histories (Rev 12-14)
Cycle 5: 7 Bowls (Rev 15-16)
Cycle 6: 7 Messages to Babylon (Rev 17-19)
Cycle 7: Great Consummation (Rev 20-22)
Within these seven divisions of the Revelation, we locate essential truths to help us locate a Revelation timeline.