Does the Book of Revelation describe events in chronological sequence?

SUMMARY OF THIS ARTICLE

Some believe that the Book of Revelation describes events, from beginning to end, in a strict chronological sequence. This article shows that Revelation repeats the same event in different parts of the book. A good example is the return of Christ. It is described at the end of four of the main divisions of Revelation in chapters 6, 11, 14, and 19. For example, in both Revelation 14 and 19 Jesus “treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God” (14:20; 19:15). Other examples of events that are repeated are:

  • The great earthquake, which moves every mountain and island out of their places (6:14; 11:13 and 16:20);
  • The jubilation of “the great multitude” (7:9; 19:10);
  • The New Heaven and New Earth (7:15-17; 21:3-4);
  • The whole world worships the beast in both the descriptions of the sea beast and of the beast from the earth (13:4, 12);
  • In both the trumpets and the plagues the beast comes out of the abyss (11:7; 17:8);
  • The “time, times and half a time,” the 42 months and the 1260 days are different symbols for the same period of history but are mentioned in five different verses (11:2-3; 12:6, 14; 13:5).
  • The destruction of Babylon is described in Revelation 16, 17 and 18 (16:19; 17:16; 18:21).
  • In both Revelation 14 and 18 angels announce that “Babylon is fallen” (14:8; 18:2), which means that it has become corrupted.
  • The battle of Armageddon begins in Revelation 16 but is completed in Revelation 19 (16:14-16; 19:19).

There are two reasons for this repetition:

Firstly, the Book of Revelation frequently interrupts the sequential flow of events and jumps back in time to explain the history up to that point in time in a less symbolic and therefore, in an easier to understand manner. We see this, for example, at the beginning of Revelation 7, 10, 12, and 17. 

Secondly, different main parts of Revelation cover the same period from the time of Christ to His return. Each of these main sections highlights a specific aspect of that period:

    • The seals describe the experience of God’s people.
    • The trumpets explain how God called the unbelieving world, but they refused.
    • The wars (Rev. 12-14) identify the organizations involved in the final battle by linking them to Daniel 7.

The events in Revelation are therefore not given in a strict chronological sequence. The big challenge with Revelation, therefore, is not only to determine what these symbols mean but also their chronological sequence.

– END OF SUMMARY – 

REPETITION

The following are examples where Revelation refers to the same event in different places:

RETURN OF CHRIST

The end of current world history is described at the end of four of the main sections of the Book of Revelation:

Seals (Revelation 4-7) – The sixth seal is the “day of their great wrath” (6:17).

Trumpets (Revelation 8-11) – 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).

Wars (Revelation 12-14) – The harvest by the Son of man sitting on a cloud is described in 14:14-20.

Plagues (Revelation 15-20) – The Return of Christ is described in 19:11-21. 

Since the final events are described in four different places, the same symbols are repeated in these four accounts:

Two accounts of the Return of Christ use the winepress of the wrath of God as a symbol for the destruction of the peoples of the world (14:20; 19:15).

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.

The great earthquake, which moves every mountain and island out of their places, is found in the sixth seal (6:14), just before the seventh trumpet (11:13), and in the seventh plague (16:20).

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

We encounter the New Heaven and New Earth in both Revelation 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.

The phrase, “it is done” appears both in the description of the new heavens and new earth (21:6) and in the seventh plague (16:17).

THE BEAST

After the beast from the sea has recovered from its deadly wound, the whole world worships it (13:1-10). This is repeated in the description of the beast from the earth: The false prophet “causes them that dwell on the earth” to worship the beast (13:12).

Both the trumpets and the plagues describe what happens when the beast comes out of the abyss (11:7; 17:8)

TIME, TIMES AND HALF A TIME

The “time, times and half a time,” the 42 months and the 1260 days are different symbols of the same period of history (3½ x 12 = 42; 42 x 30 = 1260) but are mentioned in five different verses; twice in the trumpets (11:2-3) and three times in the wars of Revelation 12 and 13.

BABYLON

The destruction of Babylon is described in different places in the Book of 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 says 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, a strong angel prophesies that Babylon will be “thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer.

Furthermore, both the three angels and the mighty angel announce that “Babylon is fallen” (14:8; 18:2), which means that it has become corrupted (see 18:2).  If Babylon fell in chapter 14, and Revelation is chronological, was it rebuilt before chapter 18, so it could fall again?  Or were there simply two accounts of this event?

ARMAGEDDON

The battle of Armageddon starts in Revelation 16 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 interrupt the chronological events to explain the Great Whore. Revelation 19 picks up the story of 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).

JUMPS BACK IN TIME

The above are examples where the Book of Revelation refers to the same event in more than one place.  One reason for this is that Revelation, at times, jumps back in time. For example:

REVELATION 7

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 continues 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 precede “the great day of their wrath.

REVELATION 10

In the sixth trumpet in chapter 9, a third of mankind is killed.  Revelation 10 begins with an angel that comes down out of 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).  Logically, John, representing the church, receives the message for the world before a third of them are killed.

REVELATION 12

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).  Revelation 12 then jumps back to the time before the birth of Christ (12:1-5).  (Compare the “rod of iron” of 12:5 to 19:15 to identify the Child as Jesus.)

Another example is Revelation 17.

CONCLUSION

The events in Revelation are not given in a strict chronological sequence. For two reasons, Revelation repeats the same event in different parts of the book:

      • Interruptions of the sequential flow of events jump back in time to explain the history. 
      • Different main parts of Revelation cover the same period from the time of Christ to His return.

AVAILABLE ARTICLES ON REVELATION

INTRODUCTION
   Why is the title of this website Revelation BY Jesus Christ?
   Are events described in chronological sequence? 
   Is a consistently literal interpretation valid?
   Does Revelation present Jesus as God?
   God’s throne – the center of the universe.
BABYLON
   Babylon; the mother of harlots
   Babylon’s merchants are her false prophets.
   Babylon is not the reconstructed ancient city of Babylon.
   How does Babylon relate to the beast?
SEVEN-HEADED BEASTS
   The Seven-Headed Beasts of Revelation
   The three beasts are three of the seven heads.
   The Seven Heads Identified
REVELATION 13
   13:1-2 – The Beast relates to Daniel 7.
   13:3-4 – The fatal wound
   The identity of the beast
SEVEN SEALS
   Introduction to the Seven Seals – What book is this?
   Seven seals explained
   Does the seventh seal include the seven trumpets?
SEVEN PLAGUES
   The Plagues of Revelation – 16 articles

For further reading, Jon Paulien’s commentary is recommended.

6 Replies to “Does the Book of Revelation describe events in chronological sequence?”

    1. Six of the seven wars are listed in Revelation 12. The only one not mentioned there is the last war, namely the return of Christ (14:14-20). The easy wars to identify are:
      1. The war between the woman and dragon before the birth of the male Child (12:1-4);
      2. The war between the male Child and the dragon (12:5) and
      3. The war in heaven between Michael and Satan (12:7-12).
      The other three wars are a bit more difficult to see, and are described by 12:13-17.
      1. First, before the woman flees to her place in the wilderness, and prior to the 1260 days, she is persecuted by the dragon (12:13). Because of the persecution she has to flee to the wilderness. In verse 13 she is therefore not yet in the wilderness.
      2. Second follows the 1260 wilderness days (12:6, 14-16), with the serpent trying to sweep her away with a flood. This is a different place, a different time and Satan is now called a serpent.
      3. Third the dragon “went off to make war with the rest of her children” (12:17). Since the dragon has to “went off“, this again is a different place, and God’s people are described differently. Most of Revelation 13 and 14 expands on this war.
      Hope that helps.

  1. Found your article very interesting about the chronology of Revelation. I have problems understanding the order in which things will occur during the end-times (trib. period). In reading your article, I found the same things you mentioned confusing as to time-lines. You seem to have a handle on this.
    would it be possible for you provide a “list” of the order in which things will happen. i.e. church age, rapture, seals opened, 144,000 on scene, lst trumpets, war in heaven, etc.
    Thanks so much. Stay blessed.

    1. Yes Loretta, I think it is possible to develop a chronological list of the final events by putting the parallel prophecies side by side, but first I want to finalize my articles on the other chapters of Revelation. I have been working on Daniel & Revelation for many decades and I think I have an idea what it means, but for the last number of years I have been working on Paul’s letters. There are some principles in his writings that are critical for a proper appreciation of Revelation. I am now working my slow way through Romans, publishing as I go. I have also prepares an article on Galatians, which I also might publish, before I return to Revelation. I thank the Lord for people that are interested in His Word. Andries

  2. Go to YouTube and watch the video, “Genesis of Dispensational Theology” to find the true source of the dispensational interpretation of Dan. 9:27.
    Feel free to copy the video or use whatever parts are needed to speak the truth in love.

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