What is the sequence of the Book of Revelation?
This is a good question because the answers vary widely depending on who you ask. A sequence is slightly different than an outline of the book. An outline only tells you the contents, but the sequence of the book explains the events and significance of everything that happens in the end times.
For that reason, I can give you a couple of different takes on the sequence of the book without being able to give you any certainty of which one is correct. Since we have yet to experience much of the book of Revelation, we cannot be completely sure of the exact sequence of events.
The beginning of the book makes it easier to talk about sequence. It opens with an introduction to the book, calling it prophecy, referring to future times (Revelation 1:1, 3). Then John greets the seven churches of Asia Minor where he ministered (Revelation 1:4-8).
He proceeds to explain that he had a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ in all of his glory (Revelation 1:9-20). This is an apocalyptic vision of Jesus that is elaborated upon throughout the seven letters to the churches (Revelation 2-3).
We move from earth to heaven in Revelation 4-5. We see a vision of God on his throne in the midst of the persecution of Christians on the earth. Nothing surprises God. We need not fear any persecution from the world. It’s all in his hands.
Revelation 6 is where the seals begin to be opened that people may have a difference of opinion on as far as the sequence of the book. From here to the end of Revelation, people will differ on what comes when and how it can be interpreted and explained.
Some have joked that John must’ve eaten some bad pizza the night before he had his visions. There is some pretty crazy stuff in these chapters. Probably the biggest variance of difference happens on the seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls of judgment.
All of these contain the divine judgment of God against the world for its wickedness and its allegiance with the devil, the Antichrist, and the prophet of the Antichrist. The difference in opinions begins with when the Great Tribulation begins and what it contains to the rest of the judgments of God.
Some suggest that there are 21 judgments of God, adding up the seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls. This would be a linear sequencing of the events of the book of Revelation. Others suggest that this is a cyclical approach by John, explaining the seven judgments of God against the world as becoming more and more heated, violent, and terrifying from the seals to the trumpets to the bowls.
Many times your interpretive framework enters into the discussion and drives which way you understand the middle of Revelation. For instance, those who are futurist interpreters tend to follow the 21 judgments interpretation while people like the spiritualist or idealist approach gives them as cyclical.
But no matter how you slice it, whether there are 21 judgments of God in a row or seven judgments that continue to get more and more terrifying, the fact is that God will bring his judgment on the world.
Unlike any of his judgments before on the earth, even the flood, these final judgments will indeed be terrifying, violent, and final. Those who go for the cyclist view suggest that the end of the seals, the last trumpet, and the last bowl seem to be so violent and so final that there couldn’t be more judgments.
Those who follow the idea that there are 21 judgments through the seals to the bowls see the ever-increasing drama and violence, the holy terror of the holy God exacting his judgment upon a wicked earth. Everyone differs on which is which and what the sequence is.
As I caution anyone in eschatological matters of the end times, since we have not experienced everything that is going to happen during this time, we cannot presume to know if our interpretations and theories are correct.
Over the sequence of events in the book of Revelation, I would suggest that you see the entire message of the book. This is one of those times when it is good to study the trees in the forest, but it is better to remember that it is a forest before you see the trees.
Seeing the overarching message of God’s sovereignty and victory over the wickedness of this world despite its efforts to overtake him brings the desired message of the book to our hearts. No matter what terrors happen in the end times, God is on the throne and in charge. He will complete everything as he wishes and will protect his people from his wrath along the way.
The book ends beautifully with John’s vision of the new heavens and new earth, the New Jerusalem coming out of the heavens upon the new earth. It is a place only of righteousness, a home of the saints with our Lord Jesus forevermore. That is the final goal and message of Revelation.