Does Revelation describe events strictly in their chronological sequence? Revelation repeats events, such as the return of Christ, in different parts of the prophecy. It also reverses the sequence of certain events.
Many people believe that Revelation it is a chronological record of events from beginning to end. This is not correct. There is an order, but it is not chronological. The following are examples where Revelation refers to the same events in two or more places:
(1) The consummation of all things—the end of current world history—is described in various places:
The sixth seal is the “day of their great wrath” (6:17).
In the seventh trumpet, “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (11:15; cf. 10:7).
The harvest by the Son of man sitting on a cloud is described at the end of chapter 14 (verses 14-20).
The Return of Christ is described at the end of Revelation 19 (19:11-21).
There are therefore four different accounts of the end time events in the Seals, the Trumpets, the Wars (12-14) and the Final Plagues.
(2) Two of these accounts of the Return of Christ use the winepress of the wrath of God as symbol for the destruction of the peoples of the world (14:20; 19:15).
(3) The sixth seal is the “great day of their wrath” (6:17), but the seven plagues are “the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished” (15:1). The implication is that the “great day of their wrath” includes the seven last plagues.
(4) The people “who had been victorious over the beast” are described in 15:2 but they are the same as the 144,000 in 14:1-5.
(5) The “great multitude” (7:9), who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14) are again heard in 19:1, where they cry out with a loud voice..
(6) 13:1-10 predicts, after the beast from the sea has recovered from its deadly wound, that the whole world will worship it. This worship becomes a reality in the next section, when the false prophet “causes them that dwell on the earth” to worship the beast (13:12).
(7) The period of 3½ years, 42 months or 1260 days, being all the same period (3½ x 12 = 42; 42 x 30 = 1260) is mentioned five time in Revelation, twice as part of the seven trumpets (11:2-3), and three times as part of the seven wars (12:6; 12:1, 13:5).
(8) Both 11:7 (in the trumpets) and 17:8 (in the plagues) mention the beast coming out of the bottomless pit.
(9) The New Heaven and New Earth is mentioned in both chapters 7 and 21 (compare 7:15-17 to 21:3-4). If Revelation consisted only of chapters 1 to 7 we would not have noticed anything missing, because Revelation 6 ends with the Return of Christ and Revelation 7 describes the New Heaven and New Earth.
(10) It is said “it is done” both in 21:6, where God makes all things new, and in 16:17, in the seventh plague.
(11) The destruction of Babylon is described in various places in Revelation:
Firstly, in the seventh plague, Babylon is given “the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (16:19).
Secondly, when one of the plague angels (17:1) tells John the story of Babylon, the angel repeats the judgment of Babylon, saying that the ten horns will “hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire” (17:16).
Thirdly, in 18:21 there is a prophecy that Babylon will be “thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer” (18:21).
(12) Both Revelation 14:8 and 18:2 state that “Babylon is fallen”. If Babylon fell in chapter 14, and Revelation is chronological, was it rebuilt prior to chapter 18, so it could fall again? Or were there simply two accounts of this event?
(13) The battle of Armageddon starts with the gathering of the kings “for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (16:14). “And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon” (16:16). Chapters 17 and 18 are devoted to explaining the Great Whore, but chapter 19 picks up the battle of Armageddon when John “saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army” (19:19).
(14) The great earthquake, which move every mountain and island out of their places, is found in both the sixth seal (6:14) and the seventh plague (16:20).
The above are examples where Revelation refers to the same events in two or more places. The following are instance where events are given in reverse order:
(15) Revelation 11 ends with the seventh trumpet, when “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ” (11:15). But Revelation 12 then starts with the time prior to the birth of Christ (12:1-5). (Compare the “rod of iron” of 12:5 to 19:15 to identify the Child as Jesus.)
(16) Revelation 6 ends with “the great day of their wrath” (6:17), when the mountains and islands disappear due to a massive earthquake (6:12-14). But then Revelation 7 starts with an angel ascending from the east with the seal of God, instructing the winds to be delayed until all of God’s servants are sealed (7:1-3). The sealing of God’s servants must clearly precede “the great day of their wrath”.
(17) In Revelation 10 an angel comes down from heaven with a new message, contained in a little open book. John is instructed to eat this book and “prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings” (10:11). However, this is described after the sixth trumpet in chapter 9, in which a third of mankind is killed. Logically John, representing the church, receives the message for the world before a third of them are killed.
In general, the events described in the interludes between the sixth and seventh seals, the sixth and seventh trumpets, the sixth and seventh wars and the sixth and seventh plagues all precede the sixth in the series.
The events in Revelation are therefore not given in chronological sequence. Revelation frequently goes back to explain things that are described in previous chapters, but add more detail, sometimes using different sets of symbols. The big challenge with Revelation is not only what these symbols mean, but also their chronological sequence.