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14.2. Sequential Events

The sequential view understands the general flow of the book and especially the series of seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments as following a chronological sequence. Similarities between different chronological judgments are understood as part of God’s design, but not necessitating identity because differences in the text make plain that identity is not involved. In the most widely-held sequential view, the events attending the seven bowls are subsumed within the seventh trumpet and the events of the seven trumpets are subsumed within the seventh seal.

Sequential Events

Sequential Events

We can understand this development by a simple illustration. We have all seen firework displays in which giant rockets are shot into the air exploding into a great ball of fire. This, as it falls toward the earth, bursts into a great number of balls of fire of various colors which, as they fall further toward the earth, burst again into smaller balls of various colors. So it is with the judgments of God. At first we see nothing but a sealed scroll. As the seals are removed each one appears to be a judgment and we would expect that when we come to the last seal, it would be the last judgment. But, instead, the last seal discloses seven angels, each with trumpets. These, in turn, are various judgments, and the seventh trumpet, in turn, reveals not another single judgment, but seven vials of the wrath of God. In both instances there is a series of seven with the last disclosing seven more. In addition to this structure there is a parenthesis between the sixth and the seventh in all three series.1

The more literal one’s interpretation, the more one will tend to follow the sequential view. The more one emphasizes literary genre and symbolism and moves further afield from the Golden Rule of Interpretation, the more likely the recapitulation structure or other literary structure will find appeal.

While the sequential view holds the basic flow of the book to be chronological, it does not preclude recapitulation in some of the related visionary scenes which are not strongly anchored within the sequence.2 The reasons given for the sequential view include:

There are five principal arguments for the basic futurist perspective. (1) It is argued that Rev. Rev. 1:19+ divides the whole book into three temporal parts . . . (2) Rev. Rev. 4:1+ (“I will show you what must happen after these things”) affirms . . . that the visions of wrath in the remainder of the book are to occur after the events of the church age . . . (3) It is assumed that the order of the visions generally represents the order of future events . . . (4) If the order of the seals, trumpets, and bowls does not portray historical events in the order of their historical occurrence, and if the trumpets and the bowls are not subsumed within the seals, then . . . the trumpets and the bowls are separated from the introductory throne vision of Rev. Rev. 4:1+-Rev. 5:14+, from which the seals and the rest of the visions in the book seem to naturally flow. (5) The increasing intensity of the judgments throughout the book is another argument.3

Each set of judgments is more intense and destructive than the previous ones. The second trumpet destroys one-third of seas while the second bowl turns all of the seas into blood (Rev. Rev. 8:8-9+; Rev. 16:3+). . . . Although there are many similarities between the septets, the differences are more crucial and determinative. The seals generally differ in content from the trumpet and bowl plagues. There is no parallel alignment between the first, fifth, and seventh judgments of the septets. . . . The two Greek phrases καὶ εἶδον [kai eidon] and μετὰ ταῦτα [meta tauta] indicate a sequential movement . . . a chronological movement . . . The seven seals are followed by the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls follow the seven trumpets . . . The bowls evidence a sequential pattern as they are called “the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished” (Rev. Rev. 15:1+). . . . The seventh trumpet is linked to the seven bowls. The 144,000 people are an example of an event under a trumpet judgment following a seal judgment. One hundred and forty-four thousand people are protectively sealed on their foreheads after the sixth seal and before the release of the plague by the four angels (Rev. Rev. 7:1-8+). The fifth trumpet brings a demonic plague on humankind and torments “only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads” - the sixth seal precedes the demonic plague of the fifth trumpet.4

When the seventh seal is opened (Rev. Rev. 8:1-5+), no immediate events as such follow on earth—except for the earthquake—as in the first six seals, unless the opening of the seventh seal includes among its events the blowing of the seven trumpets of judgment (Rev. Rev. 8:6+-Rev. 11:15+). This appears to be precisely the case. . . . The seventh trumpet likewise is not immediately followed by any specific events on earth (Rev. Rev. 11:15+ff.), except for an earthquake and a hailstorm (Rev. Rev. 11:19+). However, just before the seventh trumpet is sounded, we read, “The second woe has passed; the third woe is coming soon” (Rev. Rev. 11:14+). When the seven angels prepare to pour out “the seven last plagues,” symbolized by the bowls, we read that with these bowls “God’s wrath is completed” (Rev. Rev. 15:1+, Rev. 15:7+). Thus it seems reasonable to identify the content of the seventh trumpet with the seven bowls of judgment (Rev. Rev. 16:1+-Rev. 19:1+).5

Another reason why the bowl judgments cannot represent a recapitulation of the previous trumpet or seal judgments is found in the difference in access to the heavenly Temple during the period of the judgments. Due to the great significance of the final bowl judgments, the heavenly Temple is closed for their duration (Rev. Rev. 15:8+). Yet in the midst of the seal and trumpet judgments, the Temple is not sealed (Rev. Rev. 7:15+; Rev. 11:19+; Rev. 14:15+, Rev. 14:17+; Rev. 15:6+). This indicates that the bowl judgments (Rev. Rev. 16:1+) cannot be merely descriptive of further detail related to the corresponding trumpet or seal judgments, but are unique in themselves and must occur at an entirely different period of time which follows upon the opening of the seals and sounding of the trumpets. See commentary on Revelation 15:8 and Revelation 16:17.

One of the frequently-heard criticisms of the sequential view is that it lacks sensitivity to the literary form or apocalyptic genre of the book.6

As the reader recognizes by now, the single largest factor which divides interpreters of the book is how literal one takes its contents. Whenever literary genre, apocalyptic similarities, and devotional qualities are elevated in importance over a literal interpretation, the result will most likely be non-futurist and embrace significant recapitulation.

By adopting a recapitulation view, it can be argued that one of the key values of the book of Revelation is forfeited, its guidance in organizing related passages:

The value of the book of Revelation is not that it provides a lot of new information, but rather that it takes the scattered Old Testament prophecies and puts them in chronological order so that the sequence of events may be determined. . . . This is the reason for so many references to the Old Testament.7

Perhaps one of the simplest sequential organizations offered is that of Morris.8

Sequential Chronology
ChaptersDescriptionDuration
Rev. Rev. 1:1+-Rev. 3:1+Church AgeUnknown Duration
Rev. Rev. 4:1+-Rev. 19:1+Period of JudgmentSeven Years
Rev. Rev. 20:1+Kingdom AgeOne Thousand Years
Rev. Rev. 21:1+-Rev. 22:1+Eternal AgeEndless Years


Notes

1 Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), 155.

2 “This article argues for the successive view of the septet judgements, that is, the trumpets sequentially follow the seals, and the bowls sequentially follow the trumpets. The successive structure does not negate a recapitulation of other visionary scenes that preview eschatological events to come (Rev. Rev. 7:9-17+; Rev. 14:8-13+).”—John A. McLean, “Structure of the Book of Revelation,” in Mal Couch, ed., Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 373.

3 Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 118-120.

4 McLean, “Structure of the Book of Revelation,” 374.

5 Alan F. Johnson, Revelation: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 71.

6 “The main objection is that it interprets Revelation without sufficient sensitivity to its literary form, giving a straightforward, literal reading of the book, rather than using a figurative approach, which would be more appropriate to the book’s symbolic genre.”—Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, 161.

7 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, rev ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 10-11.

8 Henry Morris, The Revelation Record (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983), 28.