I’ve shared this quote a few times this week in talking about Revelation, so why not share it here, too? I’ve been reading from NT Wright’s commentary on Revelation and he describes the view he has on the events that take up a large segment of the book. This quotation comes as he describes chapter six, with its seals, but it applies to where we are now and what is to come. He thinks that the events in Revelation aren’t all chronological and can be understood as restatements from a different perspective. Beyond describing this view, he confronts the issue of evil and its role within God’s plan, which he sees as having been given its chance to rule so that when God defeats evil, he will do so completely with no doubt to the sufficiency of his victory.
This is one of the differences between writing something with words and writing it with music. In music, you can have several lines which all happen at the same time; but with words you have to say everything in sequence. This sevenfold sequence (four down, three to go, so far) is not chronological. It is an exposition of a sevenfold reality.
In the same way, we should not suppose that this sevenfold sequence of ‘seals’ being opened is supposed to take place before the subsequent sequences of the trumpets (chapters 8—11) and the bowls of wrath (chapter 16). Rather, each of the sequences – and the material in between, too – is a fresh angle of vision on the same highly complex reality. If we look at the problems and pains of the world from this angle, God’s answer is to draw out the arrogant wickedness of humans to its full extent and show that he is bringing his people safely through (chapter 7). If we look at those same problems and pains from the next angle of vision, God’s answer is to allow the forces of destruction to do their worst, so that he can then establish his kingdom fully and finally over the world (chapters 8—11). And if we take a deep breath and begin the story again from yet a third angle of vision (chapters 12 and 13), we see the full depth and horror of the problem, to which God’s answer will be to inflict on the rebellious world the equivalent of the plagues of Egypt, before finally rescuing his people and judging the dark powers that have for so long enslaved them (chapters 12—19).
Then and only then can the darkest power of all be dealt with (chapter 20). And then and only then can the new heaven and the new earth be established, without any fear that there may be lingering sicknesses still unhealed, buried sadnesses still to produce grief. Revelation 6—20 is not what we wanted to hear, just as the news from the doctor or the pastor may not be what we wanted to hear. But it is what we must hear if the world is to be healed.
Wright, N. T. (2012-05-22). Revelation for Everyone (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 63). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.