We’ve all had the experience of waking up after a strange dream and wondering what it all meant. The images of a dream often seem to come and go quite randomly and usually we can’t make sense of it all. Superficially, the book of Revelation can have the appearance of a bizarre and chaotic dream. According to Richard Bauckham, nothing could be further from the truth:
“The Apocalypse of John is a work of immense learning, astonishingly meticulous literary artistry, remarkable creative imagination, radical political critique, and profound theology… Revelation has been composed with such meticulous attention to detail of language and structure that scarcely a word can have been chosen without deliberate reflection on its relationship to the work as an integrated, interconnected whole.” (1)
“Numerical patterns have theological significance in Revelation,” writes Bauckham (2). For example, there are seven beatitudes scattered throughout the book of Revelation. Since seven is the number of completeness in the bible, this specific number of blessings is included to indicate “the fullness of blessing to be bestowed on the reader or hearer who faithfully obeys the message of Revelation” (3):“Happy is the one who reads this book, and happy are those who listen to the words of this prophetic message and obey what is written in this book! For the time is near when all these things will happen.” (Rev 1:3)
“Happy are those who from now on die in the service of the Lord!’ ‘Yes indeed!’ answers the Spirit. ‘They will enjoy rest from their hard work, because the results of their service go with them.’” (Rev 14:13)
“Happy is he who stays awake and guards his clothes, so that he will not walk around naked and be ashamed in public!” (Rev 16:15)
“Happy are those who have been invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” (Rev 19:9)
“Happy and greatly blessed are those who are included in this first raising of the dead. The second death has no power over them; they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they will rule with him for a thousand years. (Rev 20:6)
“Happy are those who obey the prophetic words in this book!” (Rev 22:7)
“Happy are those who wash their robes clean and so have the right to eat the fruit from the tree of life and to go through the gates into the city.” (Rev 22:14)
In addition, seven times the word “prophecy” is mentioned, seven times Christ reassures us that “I am coming” and there are myriads of additional numerical patterns and symmetries from the 144,000 to the New Jerusalem that has 12 gates and the dimensions of a perfect cube to the corresponding time periods of 1,260 days, 42 months, 3 and ½ days and times, time and half a time.
Most of the numerical patterns in Revelation are significant, however, because of what they say about God. Three important designations for God each occur seven times in the book of Revelation:
- “The LORD God Almighty” occurs seven times. In the Old Testament this title for God was usually used to indicate His unrivaled power. According to Bauckham, the term “Almighty” “…indicates not so much God’s abstract omnipotence as his actual control over all things” (4).
- “The One who sits on the throne” occurs seven times in the book of Revelation. The throne room is one of the key images in the book of Revelation because it centers on God’s character and the issue of worship. At the “middle” or center of the throne, God’s character is most clearly revealed in the form of a slaughtered Lamb. Since “true knowledge of God is inseparable from worship of God” (5), Revelation’s throne room scene invites us to consider, “Are we worshiping God as Jesus revealed Him to be? Is our picture of God self-sacrificial love personified?”
Bauckham describes the careful construction of the throne room imagery in heaven such that the Lamb “becomes the center of the circle of worship in heaven, receiving the obeisance of the living creatures and the elders. Then the circle expands and the myriads of angels join the living creatures and the elders in a form of worship…Finally, the circle expands to include the whole of creation…It is important to notice how the scene is structured that the worship of the Lamb leads to the worship of God and the Lamb together” (6).
God is ultimately seen to be worthy of all worship and adoration based on what was revealed about God through Jesus Christ. “By placing the Lamb on the throne and the seven Spirits before the throne it gives sacrificial love and witness to [this] truth the priority in the coming of God’s kingdom in the world” (7).
Meanwhile, the beast also stakes his claim to the throne and appears successful given the worldwide scope of worship that the beast receives in Revelation 13 and 14. Since the beast is depicted as using tyranny, force and coercion to implement his agenda, we can also ask, “Does our picture of God include a God who uses these methods?”
- Revelation contains three phrases to describe God that are each considered to be equivalent: “the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” In total these also are listed seven times in the book of Revelation. These seven titles are used in four verses, twice at the beginning of the book (end of prologue and at the beginning of the vision) and twice at the end of the book (at the end of the vision and the beginning of the epilogue). This structure results in the deliberate formation of a chiasm (A – B – B¹ – A¹) as follows:
|end of prologue||beginning of vision||end of vision||beginning of epilogue|
|Alpha and Omega||Alpha and Omega||Alpha and Omega|
|first and last||first and last|
|beginning and end||beginning and end|
The structure of the chiasm has the climax in 22:13, where only Christ contains all three titles.
“As a way of stating unambiguously that Jesus Christ belongs to the fullness of the eternal being of God, this surpasses anything in the New Testament…This pattern underlines the identification of Christ with God which the use of the titles themselves expresses…It shows that the identification of Christ with God implied by the titles is not the result of an adoptionist Christology, in which the mere man Jesus is exalted at his resurrection to divine status. Important as the resurrection is for Christ’s participation in God’s lordship, these titles he shares with God indicate that he shared the eternal being of God from before creation…It does not designate him a second god, but includes him in the eternal being of the one God of Israel…The importance of John’s extraordinarily high Christology for the message of Revelation is that it makes it absolutely clear that what Christ does, God does…Revelation’s Christology must be incorporated in our account of its understanding of God…God is related to the world not only as the transcendent holy One, but also as the slaughtered Lamb” (8).
Revelation also emphasizes the humanity of Christ. The word “Christ” (or Messiah) occurs seven times in Revelation. The word ‘Lamb’ occurs 28 times (7 x 4), and seven of these are coupled with the phrase “God and the Lamb.” According to Bauckham, “Four is, after seven, the symbolic number most commonly and consistently used in Revelation. As seven is the number of completeness, four is the number of the world (with its four corners (7:1; 20:8) or four divisions (5:13; 14:7)). The first four judgments in each of the series of seven affect the world. The 7 x 4 occurrences of the ‘Lamb’ therefore indicate the worldwide scope of his complete victory. This corresponds to the fact that the phrase by which John designates all the nations of the world is fourfold (‘peoples and tribes and languages and nations’: the phrase varies each time it occurs, but is always fourfold) and occurs seven times (5:9; 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6; 17:15). Its first occurrence establishes its connection with the Lamb’s victory (5:9).” (9)
To reinforce this concept of the Lamb’s victory, Revelation also has four references to ‘the seven Spirits.’ “The seven Spirits are the fullness of God’s power ‘sent out into all the earth’ (5:6). The four references to the sevenfold Spirit correspond to the seven occurrences of the fourfold phrase which designates all the peoples of the earth. They also correspond to the 28 (7 x 4) references to the Lamb which…indicate the worldwide scope of the Lamb’s complete victory. The seven Spirits are closely associated with the victorious Lamb: the four references to them indicate that the Lamb’s victory is implemented throughout the world by the fullness of divine power” (10).
How does the Lamb achieve this great victory? According to Bauckham it is through the Christ-like, self-sacrificial witness that is revealed by the lives of Christ’s followers. Revelation contains seven occurrences of “the witness of Jesus” and seven occurrences of “the witnesses of Jesus.” According to Bauckham, “what matters most about the humanity of Jesus in Revelation is the witness which he bore and which his followers continue…if God is not present in the world as ‘the One who sits on the throne’, he is present as the Lamb who conquers by suffering. Christ’s suffering witness and sacrificial death are, in fact…the key event in God’s conquest of evil and establishment of his kingdom on earth. Even more than the judgments which issue from the throne in heaven they constitute God’s rule on earth” (11).
Revelation is not a chaotic dream without meaning. It is a book that points to Jesus as the perfect reflection of who God is. Beyond that, Revelation promises that the Good News about God will someday be revealed through His followers – clearly, with great power, and to lighten the entire world with the message of the Cross.
– Written by Dr. Brad Cole
- Richard Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation, 1993, ix, x
- Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, 1993, pg. 26 3. Ibid., pg. 26
- Ibid., pg. 30
- Ibid., pg. 32
- Ibid., pg. 60
- Ibid., pg. 164
- Ibid., pg. 56-58, 63, 65
- Ibid., pg. 66, 67
- Ibid., pg. 109
- Ibid., pg. 64, 66