Thursday, April 18, 2024

Signs, Seals, Trumpets, Bowls and The Other Weird Stuff in Revelation

Note: I have re-visited The Book of Revelation during a time where I am leading discussions (not really teaching) this amazing book in Sunday School this quarter. These writings are a product of re-thinking and updating research for the class.

Many prophetic passages use poetic metaphor and apocalyptic imagery. Apocalyptic or poetic imagery must be treated in a different manner than a straight-forward historical account. Once again the key to understanding prophetic imagery (e.g., stars falling from heaven, the sun becoming dark, the sky rolled up like a scroll, etc.) is to see how such imagery is used in the Bible, rather than use current events and modern scientific discoveries to speculate (e.g., nuclear war, bar codes, computer chips in the hand and forehead, attack helicopters, tanks, etc.). Most books written on prophecy today are disconnected exegetically from the biblical text and thus are nothing more than the clever fantasies of the different authors. Brian Schwertley

In our class we are now in some of the most intriguing, disturbing, and confusing parts of Revelation, particularly Chapters 6-20.

This book portrays similar and even parallel sections around central truth. I liken it to Jesus using the analogy to labor pains.

There is a pattern in the seal/trumpet/bowl judgements (Rev. 6-16)…. let’s look at these from a wide view for a moment.

7 SEALS- 6 and then an interlude (pause)- 7th seal is 7 Trumpets

7 TRUMPETS- 6 trumpets and then an interlude- (brief hint of 7 Thunders)

7 THUNDERS Rev 10: 1-7- (Don’t guess with God?- He cuts short?)

7 BOWLS – Rev. 16- Finality


These “interludes” are important as well. In my view, the flow of God is much like birth pains..there is a growing action toward a climactic end, but before the dam breaks..there is a pause.. even a pull back.

So much of life is like that. Part of God’s rhythm of life is like that. Think about physical pain- it builds, grows, and then subsides. This has always been a sign of God’s grace. My greatest fear of hell has always been the pain that never ebbs…….

For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. (Jesus in the Olivet Discourse- Matthew 24/ Mark 13/ and Luke 21.)

These signs are always in place- they grow in intensity- but then withdraw…but one day the water will break!

But part of God’s plan is silence….solitude… waiting…..

Let's think through the child birth experience:

Signs- We definitely see the expectant mother is pregnant. We know nature, we know what to expect, we just don't quite know the timing.

Contractions- Building pressure

The Pause- 

Let's don't miss the importance of the pause- is a gracious act that the Lord allows intense pain to ebb away.

In my view, I have actually mis-used the idea of recapitulation from the technical sense (I'll elaborate a little more later in this post). It is actually better to call it a 'refluency;.

In the early days of the American revolution, American poet Phyllis Wheatley,  wrote a beautiful line in the poem, "To His Excellency, General Washington":

Enwrapp'd in tempest and a night of storms;
Astonish'd ocean feels the wild uproar,
The refluent surges beat the sounding shore; 

Refluent waves is the "pullback" and building of the next wave.... it is a pause in the energy of motion but no power is lost. Maybe another thought experiment is the 'eye of a hurricane" where in the middle of the storm everything is calm and eerily mundane....

There were 400 silent years between the last Old Testament prophecy and the appearance of Jesus.

Silence sometimes can be deafening.

Have you ever tried to practice solitude?

A lot of noise is happening all around us. But we must NEVER forget the Bible’s command- “Be still and know that I am God”.

In our contemporary world, we need to ‘get away’- ‘turn off technology’. Then God can most clearly communicate to us.

Keep remembering…much of Revelation is figurative and the images are all throughout the Old Testament.

Not a literal half an hour- not literal days- there is a difference in God’s time and Man’s time

Also, I keep seeing the Old Testament and temple references. Do you see the incense of heaven and the smoke of hell in both testaments? Do you see the Egyptian plagues and references to the Exodus?

Did you notice the presence of God on the mountain along with the smoke and thunder?

“In the midst of these sufferings and woe, we are to point men and women to the Gospel of Grace found only in Jesus Christ. We are also to warn them to repent and believe while they have time.” Max A Forsythe

As the book unfolds… we see seven parallel passages and grow in intensity and ebb, like ocean waves, that grow in intensity around the same basic truth.
  • Section 1- Chapters 1-3- The Church is active, under assault, under the direction of Jesus
  • Section 2- Chapters 4-7- The Throne and the Scroll – The Seals
  • Section 3- Chapters 8-11- The Trumpets
  • Section 4- Chapters 12-14- The Cosmic battle of forces
  • Section 5- Chapters 15-16- The Bowls
  • Section 6- Chapters 17-19- Babylon and the Beasts
  • Section 7- Chapters 20-22- Final doom and ultimate glory

The difficulty is that though the narrative follows a structure, the events are hard to place in a linear storyline.

I have to agree with George Alan Ladd: “The main purpose of prophecy is not to answer all our questions about the future, but enable believers to live in the present in light of the future.”

As the seals are broken…apocalyptic images are described……

Symbols- The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The first of the seals unleash a famous and well known Biblical image: four horses of color who wield judgement on the earth. We also see similar horses in Zechariah:

ZECHARIAH 6:1 Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four chariots came out from between two mountains. And the mountains were mountains of bronze. 2 The first chariot had red horses, the second black horses, 3 the third white horses, and the fourth chariot dappled horses—all of them strong.4 Then I answered and said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” 5 And the angel answered and said to me, “These are going out to the four winds of heaven, after presenting themselves before the Lord of all the earth.

These symbols can create issues in our interpretation of prophecy:

Can you symbolize parts of Scripture and still keep a high view of Scripture? Should we weigh literal interpretations more accurate than figurative interpretations?

And I never have had an issue with Scripture having symbolism and yet is still accurate, authoritative, inspired, and true! Is this the Real Reality? No, these are visions…but they represent deeper truths!

These seals represent a type of “pre-judgment judgment” and “pre-wrath wrath”….

Man cannot sin without consequences!

In a sense, we have freedom to live within God’s boundaries or to rebel… but make no mistake, choices come with consequences that are contained in the activity itself! Everything suffers because of sin! For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:19-22 ESV)

This theory of refluency offers a compelling lens through which to interpret the Book of Revelation, providing insights into its complex narrative structure and theological themes. According to my thought experiment, each vision and event in Revelation can be understood as recapitulating or re-enacting the overarching spiritual struggle between good and evil throughout human history. 

Many have attributed an originator of this thinking to Augustine and the technical application of recapitulation...

A cyclical pattern of sin, repentance, and redemption, central to Augustine's concept of recapitulation, finds resonance in the repeated cycles of judgment, tribulation, and eventual triumph depicted in Revelation. Through this framework, the visions of seals, trumpets, and bowls can be seen not merely as discrete events but as successive stages in the unfolding drama of God's plan for redemption and judgment. Furthermore, the use of symbols and imagery in Revelation, such as the Lamb, the dragon, and the new Jerusalem, can be interpreted as representing archetypal elements of the human spiritual journey, echoing themes of sin, sacrifice, and ultimate victory. Thus, by applying the theory of recapitulation, readers can gain deeper insight into the timeless and universal truths conveyed through the vivid and enigmatic imagery of the Book of Revelation. (An AI answer to my question on this topic- in 15 seconds no less!)


Recently, I have been reading an incredible book by David Bodanis entitled: E=MC2, A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation.

And in that book we learn that an original thinker in terms of the Law of Conservation of Energy was Michael Faraday.

Bodanis writes:

The word energy is surprisingly new, and can only be traced in its modern sense to the mid 1800s. It wasn't that people before then had not recognized that there were different powers around—the crackling of static electricity, or the billowing gust of a wind that snaps out a sail. It's just that they were thought of as unrelated things. There was no overarching notion of "Energy" within which all these diverse events could fit. One of the men who took a central role in changing this was Michael Faraday,

Sir Humphry Davy was speaking on electricity, and on the hidden powers that must exist behind the surface of our visible universe.

Because Faraday did not have that bias of thinking in straight lines, he could turn to the Bible for inspiration. The Sandemanian religious group he belonged to believed in a different geometric pattern: the circle. Humans are holy, they said, and we all owe an obligation to one another based on our holy nature. I will help you, and you will help the next person, and that person will help another, and so on until the circle is complete. This circle wasn't merely an abstract concept. Faraday had spent much of his free time for years either at the church talking about this circular relation, or engaged in charity and mutual helping to carry it out. He got to work studying the relationship between electricity and magnetism in the late summer of 1821.

This circle wasn't merely an abstract concept. Faraday had spent much of his free time for years either at the church talking about this circular relation, or engaged in charity and mutual helping to carry it out. He got to work studying the relationship between electricity and magnetism in the late summer of 1821. It was twenty years before Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, would be born; more than fifty years before Einstein. Faraday propped up a magnet. From his religious background, he imagined a whirling tornado of invisible circular lines swirling around it. If he were right, then a loosely dangling wire could be tugged along, caught in those mystical circles like a small boat getting caught up in a whirlpool. He connected the battery. And immediately he had the discovery of the century.

This immediately got me into re-thinking these seal/trumpets, and bowls in Revelation!

While Michael Faraday's visualization of magnetic fields using circles may not directly relate to St. Augustine's theory of recapitulation, there could be some metaphorical parallels that could be drawn. In Faraday's case, the use of circles helped him understand the dynamic and interconnected nature of magnetic fields, with lines of force forming closed loops. Similarly, Augustine's concept of recapitulation emphasizes the cyclical nature of human existence and spiritual history, with events repeating and echoing throughout time.

One could draw a metaphorical connection between Faraday's circles representing the interconnectedness and cyclical nature of magnetic fields and Augustine's idea of recapitulation, where the events of human history and individual lives are seen as interconnected and repeating in patterns of sin, repentance, and redemption. Both concepts involve the idea of cycles and interconnectedness, albeit in different contexts—Faraday in the realm of physical phenomena and Augustine in the realm of spiritual and theological understanding.

We shouldn't be surprised by circles- we see it in nature all the time, especially the renewal of seasons. 

Again- much of this is HOTLY debated and many of my readers have already taken me to task on my many errors in interpretation.... I'm not offended at all... this is just fun being immersed in these ideas and it keeps me alert.

The Lord could come back or I could be called to meet Him any time- I want to be ready and I am so thankful for His grace!

How about you?

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