This is another post written for Christians interested in end times theology. It is the first in a six part series of posts on the structure of the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation.
I have hesitated to put these posts in the public domain. The reason being they are of special interest only to Christians and even then their technical nature will, I suspect, discourage many from a thorough reading. I really would prefer a wider readership of this web side than just the Christian Community. The contrary argument is their importance. I am firmly convinced that end time theology is severely compromised by an inadequate understanding of structural issues in interpretation, especially of Hebrew text.
In our view, the importance of structure in the prophetic books, especially Daniel and Revelation is severely underestimated. It is often assumed that for each scholar to come up with their own structure for the book of Revelation is the norm. In our view, John must have written Revelation with a structure in mind and that for correct interpretation we need to determine what that structure is.
Our understanding is that the book of Revelation records the visions John received in the order they were received. There is little disagreement with this in the literature. However, it’s the follow on two key questions which are crucially important
1. Does the fulfilment of the visions occur in the same order as they are written?
2. If the answer to question 1 is no, then what is the structure of the visions?
Our observation would be that those who strongly emphasise that the interpretation should be literal, often assume that literal interpretation implies the chronological ordering of the fulfilment of the visions. In fact, there is no necessary connection between literal fulfilment and a requirement for chronological order. In fact, when we examine the content of the visions, a literal interpretation strongly suggests that some of the visions are chronologically in parallel. This is most evident when we see that a literal interpretation of the vision of the seven seals, the seven trumpets, the seven plagues and Revelation 12-14 would seem to lead us to conclude that they all finish at the end of the age, suggesting that these passages describe visions that are fulfilled chronologically in parallel not sequentially.
Most interesting and very important is the outcome of comparing the structure of the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation. No one that we know disputes that the visions and dreams in Daniel are fulfilled chronologically in parallel. We note that there are four of these when we exclude the seventy sevens prophecy in Daniel 9 which is uniquely different. These are
1. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 which pictures 4 earthly kingdoms which we interpret as the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Grecian and Roman Empires followed by a spiritual kingdom which God will begin to set up during the Roman Empire, but will eventually replace the others and last forever.
2. In Daniel 7, Daniel had a dream depicting the same 4 earthly kingdoms followed by the leader of a fifth one whose kingdom will last to the end of the age, but which will eventually be destroyed and be replaced by God’s eternal kingdom.
3. In Daniel 8, Daniel had a vision of the Medo-Persian and Greek Empires followed by a leader who emerged out of the region of the Greek Empire. This leader we are told, starts off small, becomes great and will be very successful until destroyed at the end of the age, so he must be the end of the age ruler.
4. In Daniel 10-12, Daniel had a final vision depicting the Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman Empires which is cut short at this point because the it was closed to Daniel and sealed until the “time of the end”. In fact, this vision is incomplete and as we will see it is completed by John’s vision in Revelation 11. An earlier post showed that the time of the end begins with the Roman Empire and extends to the end of the age, roughly corresponding to the period of the book of Revelation.
Further examination of the structure of the book of Daniel shows that it divides into two halves. All scholars agree on this, but the majority make the division between chapter 6 and 7 and recognise that chapters 1 to 6 are history and chapters 7 to 12 prophecy. When divided this way, the events in chapters 1 to 6 are written in chronological order and the visions in chapters 7 to 12 are also recorded in the order they were received. However, there is another, more hidden and very informative way to divide Daniel into two, which leads to two balanced, halves. The first half from Daniel 2:4 to 7 was originally written in Aramaic and the rest in Hebrew. Each of these two parts are framed by two visions with a centre part revealing the persecution and suffering of God’s people.
Daniel’s preparation (1) (605 BC)
I. Gentile Focus: in Aramaic from 2.4b to 7
A Four Empires (2) (603 BC)
B The present affliction of God’s people (3-6)
A’ Four Empires and a little horn to the end (7) (552 BC)
II. Jewish Focus: in Hebrew (8 to 12)
A Two Empires and a little horn to the end (8) (550 BC)
B The future affliction of God’s people (9) (538 BC)
A’ Three Empires (10-12) (535 BC)
We will see that the book of Revelation, very naturally, contains the same broad structure, although it is substantially more complex. We will argue that John deliberately structured the book of Revelation to be like that of Daniel. We believe what Daniel is to the Jews, Revelation is to all God’s people, Jews and Christians alike. We argue that the book of Daniel smoothly merges into Revelation to form a complete prophecy; Daniel fits into Revelation like a hand in a glove. For these reasons, it is impossible for the fulfilment of the visions in Revelation to be in chronological order. We argue that when this structure is recognised, the ambiguity in the interpretation of Revelation disappears since only one interpretation becomes possible. We argue that this is so clear that many previously plausible interpretations are ruled out and the understanding converges to a single, unified interpretation. We argue that confusion is removed when this is done.