Archive for 4. Literary features

An “inventory” of Revelation 4

Imagery and symbols (‘this is that’ or ‘this is like that’)

  • Voice like a trumpet (Rev. 4.1)
  • appearance of jasper and carnelian (Rev. 4.3)
  • A rainbow, resembling an emerald (Rev. 4.3)
  • seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God (Rev. 4.5)
  • sea of glass, clear as crystal (Rev. 4.6)
  • The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. (Rev. 4.7)

Names for God

  • the Spirit (Rev. 4.2)
  • One sitting on the throne (Rev. 4.2, 4.3)
  • the seven spirits of God (Rev. 4.5) / God
  • the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come (Rev. 4.8)
  • him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever (Rev. 4.9, 4.10)
  • our Lord and God (Rev. 4.11)

Cast of characters

  • the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet (Rev. 4.1)
  • twenty-four elders (Rev. 4.4, 4.10)
  • four living creatures (Rev. 4.6-9)
  • All things (Rev. 4.11)

Literary elements

  • Hymns (Rev. 4.8, 4.11)
  • Action and dialogue (Rev. 4.1-2, 4.8-11)
  • Description of people and things (Rev. 4.3-8)
  • Reasons (Rev. 4.11)
  • After this I looked, and there before me (Rev. 4.1)
  • I was in the Spirit (Rev. 4.2)
  • there before me (Rev. 4.2)
  • What John hears (Rev. 4.1b)
  • What John sees (Rev. 4.1a, 4.2-11)

Visual elements

  • a door standing open in heaven (Rev. 4.1)
  • what must take place after this (Rev. 4.1)
  • The throne (Rev. 4.2, 4.3, 4.4, 4.5, 4.6, 4.9, 4.10)
  • Jewels (Rev. 4.3)
  • Rainbows (Rev. 4.3)
  • White clothing (Rev. 4.4)
  • Crowns (Rev. 4.4, 4.10)
  • Lamps (Rev. 4.5)
  • Lightning, rumbling, thunder (Rev. 4.5)
  • Sea of glass (Rev. 4.6)
  • Eyes (Rev. 4.6, 4.8)
  • Lion (Rev. 4.7)
  • Ox (Rev. 4.7)
  • Eagle (Rev. 4.7)
  • Wings (Rev. 4.8)
  • Day and night (Rev. 4.8)

Themes and theology

  • God (Rev. 4.2, 4.3)
  • God as king (Rev. 4.2, 4.3, 4.4, 4.5, 4.6, 4.9, 4.10)
  • The Holy Spirit (Rev. 4.2, 4.5)
  • God’s beauty and glory (Rev. 4.3)
  • Worship (Rev. 4.8-11)
  • God’s holiness (Rev. 4.8)
  • God’s power (Rev. 4.8)
  • God as past, present, future (Rev. 4.8, 4.9, 4.10)
  • Glory, honor (Rev. 4.9, 4.11)
  • Thanks (Rev. 4.9)
  • Worthiness (Rev. 4.11)
  • Creation (Rev. 4.6-9, 4.11)
  • Possibly omniscience and omnipresence (Rev. 4.6, 4.8)

Source: author’s personal study

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27 songs in Revelation

Many people think Revelation is a dark, frightening book. But despite this initial appearance because of the plagues and disasters in the book, Revelation really is a joyful book, filled with songs and rejoicing. In the list below, I have counted as songs every section where the NIV has set the text apart visually from the narrative.
  1. In Revelation 1.5b-6 John praises the God who saved us and made us a kingdom of priests.
  2. In Revelation 4.8 the four living creatures praise God’s holiness.
  3. In Revelation 4.11 the 24 elders sing that God is worthy because he is the Creator.
  4. In Revelation 5.9-10 the elders and the living creatures say that the Lamb is worthy because he is the Redeemer.
  5. In Revelation 5.12 the angels, elders and living creatures exclaim that the Lamb is worthy.
  6. In Revelation 5.13b every creature praises God and the Lamb.
  7. In Revelation 5.14 every creature says Amen.
  8. In Revelation 7.10 a great multitude sings that salvation belongs to God and the Lamb.
  9. In Revelation 7.12 the angels ascribe praise, glory, etc to God.
  10. In Revelation 11.15 heavenly voices say that the kingdom has passed to  God and his Messiah.
  11. In Revelation 11.17-18 the 24 elders thank God for reigning and for beginning to judge.
  12. In Revelation 12.10-12 a heavenly voice calls the heavens to rejoice and the earth to lament, because the dragon has been thrown from heaven to earth.
  13. In Revelation 14.3 the 144,000 receive a new song that only they know.
  14. In Revelation 15.3-4 the ones who conquer sing about the works of God.
  15. In Revelation 16.5-6 an angel sings that God is just for judging the persecutors of the saints
  16. In Revelation 16.7b the martyrs exclaim that God is just.
  17. In Revelation 18.2-3 an angel sings that Babylon has fallen.
  18. In Revelation 18.4-7 a voice calls out for people to flee Babylon.
  19. In Revelation 18.10 the kings of the earth sing a lament for Babylon.
  20. In Revelation 18.16-17a the merchants sing a lament for Babylon.
  21. In Revelation 18.19 the sailors and sea travelers sing a lament for Babylon.
  22. In Revelation 18.20 someone (the author?) calls the saints and apostles to rejoice over Babylon.
  23. In Revelation 18.21-24 a powerful angel sings that Babylon has fallen.
  24. In Revelation 19.1b-3 the great multitude praises God for condemning Babylon.
  25. In Revelation 19.4 the elders and living creatures sing Amen, Aleluia.
  26. In Revelation 19.5 a voice from the throne calls God’s servants to praise him.
  27. In Revelation 19.6b-8 the great multitude praises because God reigns and the wedding supper of the Lamb has arrived.

Sources: Mark S. Wilson, Charts on the Book of Revelation. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), pp. 74-75, augmented by the author’s personal study.

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Four ways in which the number seven appears in Revelation

  1. The most prominent sevens in Revelation are the five series of sevens
    • The seven churches in chapters 1-3
    • The seven seals that are opened by the lamb
    • The seven trumpets
    • The seven thunders
    • The seven bowls
  2. Also visible are many mentions of seven articles found together
    • Seven lampstands (Rev. 1.12, 1.20, 2.1)
    • Seven spirits (Rev. 1.4, 3.1, 4.5, 5.6), which are seven lamps (Rev. 4.5) and seven eyes (Rev. 5.6)
    • Seven stars (Rev. 1.16, 1.20, 2.1, 3.1)
    • Seven horns (Rev. 5.6)
    • Seven heads (Rev. 12.3, 13.1, 17.3, 7, 9), which represent seven hills (Rev. 17.9)
    • Seven crowns (Rev. 12.3), which represent seven kings (Rev. 17.9-10)
  3. Perhaps not as noticeable are the three lists in which a total of seven items appear:
    • Rev. 5.12: Power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and praise
    • Rev. 6.15: The kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, every slave and every free man
    • Rev. 7.12: Praise, glory, wisdom, thanks, honor, power, and strength
  4. Finally, there are items that appear throughout the book that if you add them up they come to seven:
    • Seven beatitudes (Rev. 1.3, 14.13, 16.15, 19.9, 20.6, 22.7, 22.14)
    • Seven angels (Rev. 8.2, 6; 15.1, 6-8; 16.1, 17.1, 21.9; the seventh angel is mentioned in Rev. 10.7, 11.15 and 16.17.
    • Some find exactly seven scenes of worship (Rev. 4.2-11 y 5.8-14, 7.9-17, 11.15-18, 13.1-15, 14.1-5, 15.2-4, 19.1-8)
    • Some find seven symbolic beings in chapters 12-14: the woman, the dragon, the child, Michael, the first beast, the second beast, and the Lamb
    • Some find seven defeated enemies in chapters 17-20: The whore of Babylon, la beast, the false prophet, Satan, Gog / Magog, death, and hell

Sources: Calvin Theological Seminary course notes from Dr. Dean Deppe; Mark S. Wilson, Charts on the Book of Revelation. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), p. 47-48

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51 literary features found in Revelation

  1. Abrupt introductions of new characters (John introduces several characters for the first time as if we already know them)
  2. Alternation between hearing and seeing (John hears, then he sees, then he hears…)
  3. Alternation between heaven and earth (the vantage point from which John writes alternates between heaven and earth)
  4. Appeals to hearing (Revelation is a noisy book filled with trumpets, loud voices, roaring lions, weeping, singing, rushing waters, etc)
  5. Appeals to sight (Revelation is a visual book, using many colors and blinding lights)
  6. Appeals to taste and smell (Revelation mentions incense, sulphur, bitter scrolls, etc)
  7. Beatitudes (Blessed is the person who…) (see here for the list)
  8. Benedictions (blessings)
  9. Chiasms (ABA, ABCBA and similar patterns)
  10. Sharp contrasts (see here for the list)
  11. Divine passives (the use of the passive voice, e.g. “he received”, to indicate God acting without using the name of God)
  12. Doublets
  13. Embedded textual units
  14. Euphemisms
  15. Exhortations (there are not as many commands as one might expect in Revelation – but see especially chs. 2-3, 22)
  16. Extremes and epic scale (from heaven to the abyss, from joy to mourning, from good to evil, etc)
  17. Folklore motifs (damsels in distress, dragons, heroes on white horses, weddings in a beautiful palace, etc)
  18. Hapax legomena (there are 128 words found in Revelation that are not found in the rest of the NT)
  19. Hybrid creatures
  20. Hymns, songs, laments
  21. Hyperbole (exaggeration)
  22. Imagery, symbolism (the book is filled with animals, weather patterns, minerals, jewels, military imagery, architectural imagery, sexual imagery, stars and other items that stand for something else, etc)
  23. Inclusio (“bookend” elements that frame a section of the book)
  24. Intensification (judgments and cosmic phenomenon escalate or intensify as the narrative moves along)
  25. Inversion (Many things are viewed with an inverted or upside down perspective, like the ‘rich’ Laodiceans who are viewed as poor)
  26. Irregular Greek (John’s Greek is not very good. Was Greek his second language? Was he writing choppily to force the reader to slow down and notice the  details?)
  27. Lengthy, even compound titles for God
  28. Letters
  29. Mentions of the act of writing
  30. Merisms (mentioning the first and the last items of a list in order to represent the whole list – Alpha and Omega)
  31. Narration
  32. Numbers, symbolic, and gematria (3, 7, 12, 666, 1000 and many other symbolic numbers)
  33. Paired angelic revelations
  34. Paired characters
  35. Parataxis (imitating Old Testament Hebrew narrative, the author places the word “and” between clauses and sentences)
  36. Parody
  37. Personification
  38. Places, symbolic
  39. Promises and fulfillments
  40. Props, symbolic
  41. Rapid shifting of setting and imagery
  42. Reaction shots of the author (see the list here)
  43. Recapitulation (where the same chronological period or actions are repeated in the book and viewed from a different perspective)
  44. Repeated phrases
  45. Reversal of causes and effects (sometimes John mentions an effect before mentioning its cause)
  46. Semitisms (in many places the Greek of Revelation uses grammatical constructions that are found in Hebrew and Aramaic, but not in normal Greek)
  47. Two-step progressions
  48. Verbal threads
  49. Vice lists (lists of sins and/or sinners)
  50. Victor sayings (“To the one who conquers…”)
  51. Visions

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The seven beatitudes of Revelation

There are precisely seven beatitudes in this book of sevens:

Verse Beatitude Reason
Rev. 1.3 Blessed are those who read and who hear the words of this prophecy Because the time has come
Rev. 14.13 Blessed are those who die in the Lord Because they will rest from their labors
Rev. 16.15 Blessed is the one who stays awake with his clothes in his hand They will not be ashamed of their nakedness
Rev. 19.9 Blessed are those who have been invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb
Rev. 20.6 Blessed are those who take part in the first resurrection The second death has no power over them, and they will be kings and priests
Rev. 22.7 Blessed is the one who keeps the words of this prophecy
Rev. 22.14 Blessed are those who wash their clothes They will have access to the tree of life and will enter the city of God

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John’s five ‘reaction shots’ in Revelation

  1. In Revelation 1.17 John faints upon seeing the glorified Christ.
  2. In Revelation 5.4-5 John weeps because there is no one worthy to open the scroll
  3. In Revelation 17.6 John gasps when he sees the great prostitute drunk with the blood of the saints
  4. In Revelation 19.10 John attempts to worship an angel
  5. In Revelation 22.8-9 John again attempts to worship an angel

Source: David Aune, Word Biblical Commentary: Revelation 1-5. (Waco, TX: Word, 1997)

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Seven major contrasts in the book of Revelation

  1. The beast from the sea is a deliberate imitation of Christ the Lamb. They both have crowns, they both receive worship, and they both die and come back to life.
  2. The beast from the land, or false prophet, is an imitation of the Holy Spirit. He points to the first beast just as the Holy Spirit points to Christ (John 16.13-14), and he breathes life and inspires prophecy.
  3. The dragon who makes the beast is contrasted with God the Father to complete this evil parody of the Trinity.
  4. The whore of Babylon is in direct contrast to the Bride of Christ.
  5. The city of Babylon is contrasted with the new Jerusalem.
  6. The mark that the first beast gives to his followers is contrasted with the seal that the Lamb places on the 144,000.
  7. Heaven and earth are contrasted throughout the book until they are finally reunited at the end.

Source: Adaptation of “Revelation, book of” in the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998).

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