Heaven's Final War

We've been studying the book of Revelation this quarter, and as Adventists, we often fixate on the minutest details of this apocalyptic book, zooming in to make prophetic interpretations of single verses and even individual words. But Revelation also has a large-scale structure, a surprisingly modern narrative plot. It is the story of a King going to war.

Chapter 1 introduces Christ as the main character, an otherworldly king who claims that he can unlock the prison of death and that he was first and will be last. The rest of Revelation's story attempts to prove those theses. But before the war begins, Christ sends diplomatic letters to his allies, the seven churches, informing them of their strengths, warning them of their weaknesses, promising rewards for loyalty and punishments for disloyalty (chapters 2 & 3). Then, in chapters 4 & 5, our narrator is transported to the heavenly throne room and a minor conundrum: a sealed scroll that no one can open. When the King-Lamb demonstrates in chapter 6 that he can open it, heaven begins to mobilize. Four warhorses are summoned with riders bent on conquest and destruction. The rationale for this war footing is given as the martyred saints whose blood must be avenged, and the expected result of the war is that all ranks of society will wish for death. The story has reached its first turning point. End of Act I.

Act II cuts to the Earth and a scene of a 144,000-strong army on parade, each person receiving God's kingly seal of approval (chapter 7). Chapter 8 begins with a gauntlet thrown down (really a censer) and the war begins with a celestial bombardment of the Earth followed by a ground invasion in chapter 9. In chapter 10, Christ stakes a claim on the land and sea. Then comes the enemy's counter-attack. Two of Christ's operatives on Earth are assaulted and killed in chapter 11, and the King promises retribution. In chapter 12, a dragon and woman appear in mano a mano combat, but the woman consistently escapes harm. In chapter 13 the dragon raises two allies and begins an indirect war of sophistry and deception, one that promises to be the undoing of those who received God's seal, unable to buy and sell. All is lost. End of Act II.

The third and final act presents the King's ultimatum, the three angels' messages of chapter 14. The assault on the oppressors of his people escalates in chapters 15 & 16 as God's heavenly forces fight through the henchmen of the wicked all the way to the throne of the arch-villain. But chapter 17 pulls back the curtain and shows a villain behind the villain, a woman drunk on the blood of God's people. The woman's great and terrible city is destroyed, its ruin lamented by the wicked in chapter 18 and celebrated by the righteous in chapter 19. Heaven's final war concludes in a graphic battlefield scene of the King personally slaying the wicked, his garments stained with blood. The Earth lies desolate for a thousand years in chapter 20, followed by the wicked being tried for their crimes and punished. Revelation concludes in chapters 21 & 22 with the creation of a new heaven and a new Earth, death destroyed, Christ having proved his claim to be the first and the last. He was here before evil, and he will be here after.

While Revelation is often studied for its cryptic statements and bizarre imagery, it is also a complex work of literature, a deeply interconnected knot of meanings with roots in almost every book of the Old Testament. It deserves to be read as an overarching whole, not merely a set of disconnected images, and I hope you discover new life in your study of Revelation.