We have already unveiled the chronology and structure of the apocalyptic events (see our works “The Biblical Apocalyptic Chronology”, “An Attempt of Reconstruction of the Chronology of Christian Era” and “The Structure of the Biblical History”). Now it is time to represent the structure of the Book of Apocalypse and to interpret the key event of the Last times – the Beast of Apocalypse.
The book of the Apocalypse is deeply Jewish, probably the most Jewish of all the books of the New Testament. It is like a mosaic made up of pieces of Old Testament literature. Therefore, without a good knowledge of the Old Testament, and the Old Testament apocrypha, there is nothing to do here.
The Book of the Apocalypse is the most difficult in the New Testament, because it contains several layers of semantic codes. Deciphering each of them is a daunting task. The Apocalypse is both chiasm, and the meaning of numbers, and the names of God, and the vision of God, and temple rites, and the old apocalyptic literature (books of Daniel, Enoch, and Jubilees). All these layers are not parallel, but intertwined. All of this requires interpretation.
This situation leads to two errors of interpretation:
- A beginner to read a book is immediately captivated by its picturesque images and loses both the general plot and the semantic line.
- Or, on the contrary, the reader accepts some version of the interpretation in advance and while reading the book sees only it, not paying attention to the multi-story meanings.
The Apocalypse is a series of visions that were given to John at different times. John saw some visions on earth; John saw other visions in Heaven. Then the plots of these visions were intricately encoded with biblical signs and recorded in a book that we now call the Apocalypse or Revelation.
The characters of the Apocalypse: God, the Devil, people faithful to God – Christians (and the Christian church), wicked people hostile to God.
All visions contain a vision of two realities: Heaven, in particular the Heavenly Sanctuary, and earth, this world. The whole story is presented as a relationship between the realities of Heaven and earth. Throughout the book’s narrative, Heaven and earth are separated, and are in different realities. But in the epilogue, Heaven and Earth are transformed (New Heaven and New Earth) and finally unite as one reality.
The Revelation consists from the six parts:
II. message to the seven churches in Asia;
III. history till the culmination and Last times;
V. story about the Beast (the Last times);
I. The introduction (chapter 1) describes who revealed the secrets of God, to whom and why.
II. Chapters 2-3 concern events contemporary to John – this is a message from God to the seven churches in Asia (modern Turkey) in which the actual problems of these churches are considered and instructions on what to do. It should be noted that the problems of the churches of the time of John are similar to the problems of all churches in all ages, and therefore, like the letters of Paul and other apostles, remain relevant to this day and serve as an important source of Christian life.
III. Chapters 4-9 concern the religious history of the world from John to the beginning of the Last Times (or, in other words, to the beginning of the End). In fact, this is a development in the details of the gospel story of Christ about world history: “the disciples came unto him privately, saying, tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?… ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake… And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Mat.24: 3-14).
Part III consists of three sub-parts, which describe various historical events, and their scale gradually increases. It is necessary to understand that events are described here are the events of religious history, relations between Christians and the wicked in the context of faith and fidelity to Jesus.
First John sees what is happening in Heaven, and then how it is reflected in earthly events. Initially six seals are opened (chapters 4-6). The first four seals will mark the general sorrows for the world: “nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows”. Yes, the world is waiting for various cataclysms and there will be many of them. But these cataclysms contain two kinds of sorrows – the sorrows of Christians and of the wicked. The fifth seal tells us that the wicked oppress Christians: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake” but God will not leave it just like that, and the sixth seal outlines what awaits the wicked.
This is an introductory outline of the story – the world will face cataclysms and suffering, and Christians will suffer from the wicked, but for their faith and patience will be rewarded (Chapter 7), and the wicked will be punished by God.
The seventh seal reveals to us a new level of sorrow about the afflictions for the wicked. It reveals a series of executions in the form of six trumpets (chapters 8-9). But one need to understand that this is already a detailed description of what, in general, the sixth seal tells us. All executions of the seven trumpets are purely executions of the wicked, and this does not apply to faithful Christians. Moreover, the first four trumpets are natural disasters, and the fifth and sixth are disasters directly on people. Executions for the wicked are not just out of revenge, but God expects the wicked to repent. But unfortunately: “And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts” (Rev.9: 20,21). There was no repentance.
IV.The chiastic culmination (chapters 10-11).
Chapter 10 describes the John’s new vision: “And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer” (Rev.10: 5-6).
A special Angel (most likely this is either the Archangel Michael, or Christ Himself) stands with his feet over the whole earth (which speaks of something already global) and we are talking about seven thunders, which John was ordered to hide. There is a hypothesis that this means that the events of the seven thunders are canceled.
It is important to note here that the sorrows of the first four seals affect a quarter of the people. And the events of executions of six trumpets are already a third. Many commentators believe that the expected events of the seven thunders should already concern a half of all people. As you can see, the narrative line of these events is on an increasing scale. How can this be explained? Probably, over time, the preaching of Christianity is expanding more and more, reaching more and more countries and reaching more and more people. More and more people become faithful and, accordingly, more and more wicked oppose this. But the events of the seven thunders are canceled, perhaps because the previous executions showed that, like the Egyptians in the time of Moses, the wicked in the era of Christianity, even under the pressure of executions, persist and do not want to repent.
Attention. Until the events of the Last times and climax all the world events, described in the Apocalypse are local. The last global event in the biblical history before the Last times was the Babylonian tower; the next global event will be the Babylonian whore. Everything between these biblical events are local. That is the globalization of the world is a clear signal that the last times have begun. See more our work “The Structure of the Biblical History”.
The scale of events become global, therefore, the Lord introduces his most powerful argument for sinful humanity. Now comes the culmination of the entire book of the Apocalypse. For the Western people, it is customary that the culmination of the narrative is always at the end. But in oriental literature based on chiasmas, the climax is always in the middle of the text.
There is an oath of Yahweh by himself, repeating the same oath given in vision to Daniel before describing the end of times (Dan. 12). John, having eaten the already open book, receives a vision of the events of the Last times, which begin with the culminating event.
“And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months” (Rev. 11:1-2).
For a short time, Christians around the world receive protection from the wicked. John measures with a rod, as an instrument of power, that is, shows the protection of faithful Christians.
“And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth” (Rev. 11:1-2). The two prophets personify the last global preaching of the Gospel and repentance (“clothed in sackcloth” means repentance). Prophets preach, but this has little effect and the Beast kills them. Then God resurrects them and some of the sinners, seeing this, repent. But that’s all. “The nations were angry” and the Seventh Angel trumpets that the Judgment and the Last times are approaching. This is the end of the culmination of the Apocalypse.
V. Chapters 12-20 tell us a detailed story about the Beast and the Last times. In fact, this is a detailed transcript of the prophecy of Christ from the Gospel: “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Math.24: 23-37).
It describes the order of the events of the Last times, as well as their exact chronology – the last sermon of the Gospel, the fall of Babylon, the reign of the 10 kingdoms, the kingdom of the Beast, the last persecutions against Christians, the last seven plagues against whom who received the mark of the Beast, the imprisonment of Satan in prison, the millennial kingdom , the release of Satan for a short time, preparation for the final battle, the Last Judgment and the End of the history of this world.
In chapters 12-13 we have an introduction that briefly describes the history of the emergence of the Church, its relationship with God, as well as the history of the fall of Satan and his enmity with the Church. First, the Church received power from God and the ability to avoid being completely defeated by the devil. But at the end of time, the hour will come when Satan and his earthly manifestations – the Beast and the False Prophet / Antichrist will defeat the Church and many of the faithful will suffer, and the whole world will worship the devil.
Further, in chapter 14, there is the consolation of Christians who suffered from the wicked servants of the Beast, and also it is briefly described the sequence of events of the last times (the last global stage of the preaching of the Gospel, the fall of Babylon and executions for those who accepted the mark of the Beast).
In Chapter 15 John sees a new vision of rituals in Heaven, which in chapter 16 pass to earth in the form of the last seven plagues for those who received the mark of the Beast. Let us note once again that the entire book of the Apocalypse describes the executions and sufferings that God sends, but these are executions for the enemies of Christianity and the servants of the devil. Faithful Christians endure sorrows because of persecution from the wicked. Then, after the sixth execution, all sinners are gathered in one place called Armageddon to fight with Christ. And the seventh angel pours out his vial. This is some kind of super-terrifying geological cataclysm that history has not yet known. What is the meaning of these executions? God still hopes that at least a small part of sinners will repent under the influence of executions. However, from executions they grow even more ferocious: they “blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory” (Rev.16: 9).
And here text of Revelation John pauses.
In 17, 18 and in the first three verses of chapter 19, there is a shift from the main chronological line of the narrative. Chapter 13 describes who the Beast is. In chapter 14 we have already been given a sequence of events in which the New Babylon is mentioned. Then there is a description of the seven plagues for those who took the mark of the Beast, and Babylon is mentioned only in passing. And what about Babylon? In chapters 17-18 John makes a digression, in which he describes in more detail what the Babylonian Harlot is, what the end awaits her, who will destroy the Harlot (10 kingdoms) and how the Beast will receive his power (from those 10 kingdoms). It is noticed that the description of the events in heaven – in the Heavenly Sanctuary, until the culmination of Revelation, resemble the usual services in the Jerusalem Temple. But later, the heaven events resemble the rituals performed on Yom Kippur, the day of judgment.
From the fourth verse of chapter 19, as well as the entire chapter 20, there is a return to the story, stopped after the seventh vial of executions for the servants of the Beast.
“And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war” (Rev.19: 11).
Heaven opens and God Enters the Arena of Earth History. This participation of God in history can be divided into two parts – a demonstration, portent in which prototypes of the events of the End of the World will be revealed, and then after a while the events of the End themselves will occur.
The great battle in Armageddon (the prototype of the Last battle of “Gog and Magog”) and the preliminary judgment (the judgment preceding the Last Judgment) are the last demonstration and warning to humanity. An angel, by order of God, destroys many wicked people and the earthly incarnations of Satan – the Beast and the false prophet “both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone”. And the very angel-Satan is bound a thousand years in the underworld and casted into the bottomless pit. Faithful people who were killed by the Beast and its servants will be resurrected and will reign with Christ on earth for those a “thousand years”. Actually, this Millennial Kingdom on this earth, is also prototype of the future Kingdom of Christ on the New earth, is also the last sign from God for mankind. The other dead will not be resurrected and will wait for their fate during the General Resurrection and the Last Judgment.
Then, after the Millennial kingdom, for a short time, the devil will be released from prison, and not prototypes will begin, but directly the events of the End. The devil again, having gathered his minions around the world (“Gog and Magog”), decides to go to the Last Battle to destroy the people faithful to God. But as soon as the army of the devil is gathered, fire from Heaven will fall and devour him. After this, the General Resurrection of all people and the Last Judgment itself takes place. The devil and his minions will forever be thrown into the lake of fire.
VI. And instead of the old world, God will create both the New Heaven and the New Earth, in which evil will never be, and all the righteous and faithful will reign forever together with Christ. Actually, the description of this New Heaven and Earth is in the epilogue of the book of Revelation (chapters 21-22).
As you can see, the main essence of the book of Revelation is to show Christians how God will fight the devil for the salvation of mankind. God will punish, admonish, and demonstrate in such a way as to influence sinners and push them to repentance. All this will be done many times. God will even present people with prototypes, portents of the Last Battle, and the Last Judgment, and punishment to the devil and his minions, and the Kingdom of God, all in order to somehow melt the petrified hearts of people. But there is a limit to everything, even to God’s limitless patience and mercy, and someday everything will finally come true.
An important conclusion for us is that we live in a global world where the reign of New Babylon is coming to an end. This means that the events before the chapter 10 of the Apocalypse most likely have already passed. And we are on the verge of the collapse of Babylon and preparation for the accession of the Beast (well, everything that follows it). When the modern global civilization, based on money, finally collapsed, it will be a confirmation that we have already passed what was described before chapter 10, and an amazing and fearful story awaits us.
Chiasm Centers in the Apocalypse
Chapter 11 is the culmination of the narrative of the Apocalypse.
Here events not only reach a global character, but the tension also reaches its limit. The last sermon of the two prophets’ repentance takes place, and they start to confront with a new devilish phenomenon – “the Beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit“. The Beast defeats the faithful and kills them. But God resurrects them, and at this miracle many believed, although the majority, on the contrary, became even more furious.
Considering the history of local apocalyptic events, we see a constant alternation of realities – heavenly with angels with their trumpets, seals, thunders and earthly with various historical cataclysms. Local events end in chapter 10. John hears the sixth trumpet. At the end of which John is warned that he will soon begin a special prophecy. Then in chapter 11 we are talking about a global event – two prophets. He sees the Heaven and hears the seventh trumpet announcing the beginning of the kingdom of Christ (and the wrath of the Gentiles).
Further 12 – 19 chapters are an insert between the story of the prophets and the description of the kingdom of Christ. It is, as it were, a large block, in which the whole religious history of the world is described. The description of events in this block of Revelation begins to follow a different path than before. If until chapter 12 the events developed linearly, towards the culmination, at each stage increasing in scale, then starting with chapter 12, John goes to a different level of description of events.
He begins to describe not specific historical or heavenly events with their vivid symbolism, as it was before, but unfolds a new prophecy, to prepare for which the angel commanded him in chapter 10.
The essence of this prophecy is a revelation about the history of the enmity of the Church and the devil. As you know, people who have remained faithful to God, God Himself gives a certain way and way of life in the world after the Fall of man and expulsion from Paradise. The most important aspect of this Church lifestyle is enmity with the devil (see our work “The Structure of the Biblical History”).
It is important to note that John’s account follows a particular sequence. If until chapter 11 the scale of what was described only increased, now the historical scale is gradually decreasing. That is, it all goes in line with the chiastic structure of Revelation. Unfortunately, many commentators fail to notice the non-linear nature of biblical poetics and make gross mistakes.
This new prophecy begins with the most general historical account of the enmity between the Church and the devil in chapters 12-13. First, a wife with 12 stars is a popular biblical sign of the Church, in particular the people of Israel (12 stars – 12 tribes of Israel). It also describes the falling away of the devil, who is called a “red dragon” with 7 heads and 10 horns. Then this Wife-church gives birth to the Son – Christ. Christ ascends to Heaven, and the devil persecutes the Church (this time in the form of Christianity). But the Church receives the wings of an eagle – special protection from God and the devil cannot defeat the Church. The Church lives like this for 1260 years from the rapture of Christ into Heaven (see our work “The Biblical Apocalyptic Chronology”). But the moment comes when the dragon is especially furious and the most important battle of the faithful Christians and the devil begines.
And then there is a story, again, only in other words, describing what is described in chapter 11 – the culminating sermon of the two prophets and the victory of the Beast over them. If in chapter 11, the preaching of the prophets was described more, and the Beast is mentioned only briefly, now the main attention goes to the description of the Beast and its deeds.
After the murder of the prophets, at least some of the people repented, but the majority became even more furious: “And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast. And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him? And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13: 1-8).
The events of chapter 11 are also described here, but this was only the first stage. Further, in chapter 13 we learn that the Beast, which acted for 42 months (the same time as 3.5 years) during the enmity with the two prophets, was not alone. The Second Beast helps its. After these events – the victory over the prophets and the worship the Beast of all who did not repent, a new stage begins.
The second beast is the False Prophet / Antichrist makes the image of the first Beast, gives life unto the image of the beast, and everyone will be marked 666. And everyone who does not bow to the Beast and does not confirm this by receiving this mark, (as they once received the seal of the Cainites) are chased and killed. The world is coming to its most fallen state in its history.
This is where the most general and historically large-scale story ends.
Further, the historical framework begins to narrow, but the story becomes more detailed. If the story of chapters 12-13 begins, from the Fall of man or at least from the time of Moses, and ends with the Last times in the future, then in chapter 14 there is already a story about a shorter period – it begins with the preaching of the gospel around the world closer to the Last times, and ends at times of the Beast. This is the famous Three Angels message.
Here we are on a shorter segment of history, but we see more details.
First, we learn that towards the Last times, the Church will be able to establish the preaching of the Gospel almost everywhere, both geographically and socially, by actually fulfilling the commandment to preach the Gospel. God says that that’s when the End will be near: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matth. 24: 14).
Then comes the second stage – New Babylon.
And already then there is the third stage – the triumph of the Beast in the world, described in chapter 13. Moreover, we have a clarification that those who have accepted the mark will be severely punished by God.
Finally, John goes on to give four historically more detailed stories. It:
story about 7 ulcers;
detailed account of Babylon;
detailed story of 10 kingdoms;
story about the end and destruction of the kingdom of the Beast.
This whole cluster is presented in the form of the chiasm of religious history:
A. War of heavenly forces, angels with the devil and his henchmen, expulsion from Heaven.
B. The hostility of the earthly Church and the devil on earth throughout history
C. The beast comes out of the sea into the world.
B’. The last battle of the earthly Church and the Beast.
A’. War of Heaven with the Beast – through 7 executions, throwing beasts into fire, and binding the Dragon.
This chiasm is not pure; it has a number of references that are not included in the logical structure of chiasm and play the role of semantic insertions. In general, this is a rather strange structure and in many ways incomprehensible to us. The chronological description begins to break, some events are excluded from it, and then earlier events are described later. But they are described in such a way that their sequence becomes clear. The core is chapter 13, and everything before and after is like building up meanings around the center of the chiasm.
Why does John go this way and not continue the usual chronology along the line? The chiastic structure of the narrative places the most important at the center of the chiasm. And John puts the Beast in the center of this chiasm. The Beast in the general history of the Christian world (the history of the enmity between the Church and the devil), according to John’s narration, is a central and most important event.
Misunderstanding of the complexity and nonlinearity of the narrative after chapter 11 leads interpreters to confusion and elementary chorological errors. But a careful examination allows us to unravel this tangle.
In the next work, we will consider in detail the phenomenon of the Beast.