The Apocalyptic Struggle: A Series on Revelation 4-16 (1)

Over the next few months I will teach the “Revelation (Apocalypse) of Jesus Christ” in a bible class at the Woodmont Hills Family of God. I have a specific interest in doing this and it is to highlight the apocalyptic struggle between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world.

When the seventh angel sounded the seventh trumpet, “voices” (note the plural) announced:

“The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
and he will reign for ever and ever.”

This, I believe, is the fundamental agenda of the Apocalypse, that is, to announce the coming of the kingdom of God which consumes the kingdoms of this world. The kingdom of God is breaking into the world and ultimately destroys the principalities and powers (to use Paul’s language) that presently de facto rule the cosmos. God will not let that stand since it de jure belongs to him.

In this series I will focus on Revelation 4-16 since it progressively unfolds the victory of God’s kingdom in a dramatic way. 

Revelation 4-16 is the second of four visions.  A superficial reading of the Apocalypse will notice how often John uses the language of “then I saw” or “I looked,” etc. John is a seer–he sees what God will do; he sees the coming reign of God.

The four visions in Revelation are highlighted by the four-fold use of “in the Spirit.” This is the language of Ezekiel 37:1 when Ezekiel was carried to the valley of bones. This phrase appears in the following places in Revelation:

  • Revelation 1:10 — John sees the risen Christ on the isle of Patmos.
  • Revelation 4:2 — John watches events unfold from the heavenly throne room
  • Revelation 17:3 — John watches events unfold from an earthly wilderness
  • Revelation 21:10 — John inspects the New Jerusalem from a high mountain on the New Earth.

This visionary notation structures the Apocalypse into four visions (a fuller schematic outline is available here):

  1. Vision One – The Kingdom Begun: Jesus Has Overcome (Revelation 1:9-3:22)
  2. Vision Two — The Kingdom Comes: The Heavenly Perspective (Revelation 4-16)
  3. Vision Three — The Kingdom Comes: The Earthly Perspective (Revelation 17-21:8)
  4. Vision Four — The Kingdom Fully Realized in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-22:7)

The second vision is the bulk of the book and, in many ways, its heart.  This section literally unveils (reveals) the work of God in the world. Sitting on the isle of Patmos and living in the urban centers of Asia Minor, the imperial power of Rome appears dominant and controlling. Who can oppose it? And where is God when the saints are martyred and the church has been placed under a hostile siege? While the first vision encourages the faithful and confronts the problems in the seven churches, the second vision pulls back the curtain to peer into the heavenly throne room. Taken up into that throne room, John sees what is really real, what the true state of affairs is.

The second vision announces that God is on his throne and Ceaser has not deposed him. It announces that the Lamb has made the redeemed a kingdom of priests. It dramatizes the opening of the scroll that contains the destiny of the cosmos itself–the scroll is taken by the Lamb from the hand of the one who sits on the throne, its seven seals are opened, seven trumpets hearld its opening, and the seven bowls of wrath are poured out upon the kingdoms of the world (partial content of the scroll).

The second vision encourages readers to believe what they cannot see. God is enthroned even though the world looks chaotic and hostile. The kingdom of God will fill the earth even though the kingdoms of the world look impregnable. The Lamb is also a Lion–a king–who will defeat the enemies of God and secure the realm for God. The Lamb and his followers will sing a new song, a song of redemption, as they celebrate the victory of God in the world.

The second vision is not simply about Rome but it is the fight (war, struggle) that has been played out within the fallen world ever since the kingdom of darkness first entered God’s good creation. It is the struggle of the children of Seth against the children of Cain in Genesis. It is the struggle of Israel against the nations, the struggle of Yahweh against the gods of the nations. It is the struggle of Jesus against the demons, and it is the struggle in which believers are engaged against principalities and powers (and not simply against flesh and blood). It is a struggle that continues today in multiple forms.

The conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world is embedded in the biblical story from beginning to end. The Apocalypse, through the eyes of John, unveils the progression and conclusion of that struggle. The significance of the Apocalypse for contemporary believers is not the specific prediction of specific historical events but the assurance that the struggle is not in vain. God’s kingdom is coming, is even now present, and will ultimately triumph over the kingdoms of this world.

In coming posts I will work my way through the dramatic picture of the second vision and, hopefully, speak to the present powers that confront the people of God.

7 Responses to “The Apocalyptic Struggle: A Series on Revelation 4-16 (1)”

  1.   Tim Archer Says:

    I’m looking forward to it. I’ve spent a lot of time on the first five chapters of Revelation the last couple of years (with a book due out this fall). I think understanding chapter 5 (that the Lion is a slain Lamb) is key to understanding the book and even understanding Jesus’ mission.

    Can’t wait to read what you’ve got to share.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2.   randall Says:

    Wonderful! You’re starting a new series. I am looking forward to it, even though it will cover only part of the book.

    I grew up on CofC amillennialism with a view that this world would be consumed by fire and that we would spend eternity as disembodied spirits in something like heavenly never never land. That became disappointing. Many promises and prophecies made to or about Israel were said to find their complete fulfillment in the church and that was also something I was not all the way comfortable with.

    Later I fell off the wagon and got on the premillenial train, but not the dispensational one. I am not altogether happy with that one either, but at least Israel means Israel. So I don’t know where I stand on the issue now – probably more premil than panmil. I am still interested, but don’t feel like I have a dog in the fight.

    I am wondering who you think the John is that wrote the book. John the apostle or some other, possibly unknown, John? We had a Sunday School class at church taught by a Harvard Divinity School grad and he agreed with the author of the book (can’t recall the title) that we used that it was some unknown John – but didn’t rule out the possibility that it could have been the apostle. All premils were lumped with Hal Lindsey and the authors of the Left Behind series and we never addressed any of the millenial schemes during the entire class – amil was the default setting and we didn’t look anywhere else on the menu. But I digress.

    I am curious as to what you think about the authorship and very much look forward to this series as I know it will be edifying. I can study the later chapters some other time, or wait until you have the time and inclination to address them.


    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Yes, historic premillennialists (like Stone, Lard, Brents and Harding, for example) are quite different from 20th century dispensationalists. I will not tip my hand at this point, but I don’t have much patience with the way Revelation is handled by most dispensationalists.

      As to author, it is John. 🙂 Which John? Well, tradition is pretty strong here, but the language is quite different (though the genre is different as well). I don’t know for sure, but the apostle John is as good a guess as other and I generally trust tradition on this point.

      Thanks for your encouragement, Randall.

  3.   eirenetheou Says:

    i like to say that “what we need in this library is more johns” — or any at all for that matter! In the Bible we may have more Johns than some of us and some of “the tradition” like to think.

    Let’s see. In the Gospels and Acts we have John the fisherman, the brother of James, who may be part of that trio that Paul (in Galatians) knows as “Peter, James, and John.” (The “James” in that trio is almost assuredly not the brother of the fisherman, but he may be in some way “the brother of the Lord.”) Then there is that “John” to whom a gospel and three letters are attributed in the New Testament. In two of the letters that individual — if indeed there be only one — calls himself “the elder,” but unless i missed it this author never identifies himself by a proper name. And then there is the author of the Apocalypse, who indeed identifies himself as “John,” and more than once.

    The Greek of the Gospel and the letters attributed to — but not “signed” by — “John” is “simple” (even i can read it) but the ideas it expresses are often dauntingly complex and it is often used as a model and primer of Koine grammar. The Greek of the Apocalypse is something else entirely, close to something an educated Greek would call “barbaric.” We may generously assume that its author is “not a native speaker.” We should note that the first three chapters of the Apocalypse are a letter or letters to seven churches in “Asia”; it is useful to compare these chapters to the letters elsewhere attributed to “John.”

    i can imagine that the author of the Apocalypse could be that John who follows Jesus in the Gospels and becomes an “apostle” (although the author of the Apocalypse never uses that word and neither does the author of the letters), but it is a stretch to connect the language and the ideas of the author of the Apocalypse with that of the author(s) of the Gospel and the letters. They inhabit a quite different milieu.

    “Tradition” remembered, among other things, that there were “two Johns” at Ephesus. There may have been many more than that in other Christian communities — and, as we know, a few remain to the present hour. If we wish to argue for one John among the authors of the New Testament, then we must look carefully at the linguistic and intellectual consonance or dissonance between the Apocalypse and the Gospel and its related letters.

    God’s Peace to you.


    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      You quite correct, my friend Don, the tradition did remember “two Johns” in Ephesus. But the tradition is strong for the apostle as the Revelator, but it is not without problems. Ultimately, nothing is certain in terms of authorship when it comes to the Johannine literature.

      John is a good name–the gift of God, right? I kinda like it. 🙂

  4.   rich constant Says:

    well john mark,
    as i told you before i have not read rev. oh i must have been about 30 or so maybe 35 when i lost homer Hayley’s book.
    i still have in a box tapes i think on the book(one of his week long series) although the book was so convoluted to me that i have not visited it in a long long time. i needed to resolve basic questions,to grow strong in Paul. for myself a firm foundation of the cross. praise god i am finally satisfied with myself on that issue.
    and now i can learn about this book that i have avoided for at least 25 years.
    i mean i do have my doubts about the canonisity of the darn thing although i will go with my learned brother brother to make this work with what paul afferms of the future present and the day of judgement we are looking forward too.

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