There are as many different outlines of Revelation as commentaries on the book of Revelation. The outline below is somewhat arbitrary, as all are. Each reader may want to make his or her own outline after studying the book.
Those with only a casual acquaintance with Revelation might assume that it has a progressive and strict linear chronology of events. However, the book is more complicated than that. Revelation takes us to the end of the end-time several times. Then, it backtracks to pick up and expound other important themes. For this reason, the student should not assume that the outline below describes a straight-line chronological progression.
Nevertheless, an outline can be a helpful and handy guide as we study the book. We offer the following outline:
Prologue and Vision of Christ. The book begins with an introduction that includes personal greetings from John and points out his divine commission to write the book. This is tied to an inaugural vision of the glorified Christ. This fixes the book’s message as both from Christ and in him. (1:1-19)
Seven Letters to God’s People. Revelation gives the contents of seven stylistic letters to seven church congregations in the Roman province of Asia. These letters include commendations for godly behavior, encouragement to persevere in the faith and warnings to repent where necessary. (1:19–3:22)
Universal Court of Heaven. The scene then switches to the universal throne of God, where the reader experiences his measureless authority in two visions. God is worshiped as the Creator and the Lamb as Redeemer. The latter is alone is worthy to open the scroll. (4:1–5:14)
First Six Seals. We then see the first six of the seven seals unleashed by God’s authority. These include the famous four horsemen of the Apocalypse as well as the martyrdom of saints and shattering heavenly portents. The latter inaugurate the great day of the Lamb’s wrath. (6:1-17)
The 144,000 and Great Multitude. Then we see the security of God’s people in the midst of a world in tribulation and under God’s wrath. The vision describes the sealing of the 144,000 martyrs and the great multitude in white robes. They represent the full number and universal nature of the company of God’s people. (7:1-17)
First Six Trumpet Plagues. Meanwhile, the seventh seal is announced and the first six of its seven trumpet plagues are unleashed. The first four plagues destroy a third part of whatever on earth each plague strikes. In symbol, these plague visions show that a significant, though not major part of the earth is affected. (8:1-9:21)
The Mystery of God and John as Prophet. A short chapter tells the reader that there will be no more delay. The seventh angel is about to sound, announcing that the mystery of God is about to be accomplished. Meanwhile, John is told not to write about one vision he saw but to prophesy about the rest of the visions to many nations and kings. (10:1-11)
The Two Witnesses. Next, the end-time work of the two witnesses is described. Whoever is represented in this vision warns a world in spiritual disarray that God is ruler of all things. They herald the coming of God’s universal authority in Christ to this earth. (11:1-14)
The End Announced. A few verses then serve as an important transition. They tell us to expect the speedy end of the world system dominated by evil. The seventh trumpet sounds and a loud voice proclaims that the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of God and Christ. (11:15-19)
The Powers of Evil and the Church. If we now expect to see a vision of the final plagues and Jesus’ return, we must wait a little longer. Revelation shifts its gaze to describe the historical and end-time conflict between Christ and the church, and the powers of evil. The church is represented by the woman, while the forces of evil are the red dragon (Satan), the monster from the sea (world political-military power) and the beast from the earth (world religious deception). Satan’s attempt to destroy the church fails and it is described in a state of spiritual security with the Lamb. (12:1–14:5)
The Fall of Babylon Again Announced. At the same time, our minds are refocused on the end of the anti-God system. The coming of God’s government to earth is announced by an angel proclaiming it to the world as the good news. The fall of Babylon is proclaimed, as well as the harvesting of the earth and the winepress of God’s wrath. (14:6-20)
The Seven Last Plagues Strike. The next vision announces the seven last plagues. The end has truly come. We see the plagues being poured out on a world that refuses to do God’s will and repent. The plagues echo those poured out on Egypt as God rescued Israel. The seventh angel announces, “It is done!” The destruction of the forces that oppose God will now occur. (15:1–16:21)
Babylon the Great: The Woman and the Beast. This chapter describes a symbolic city. She is every city and no city. Babylon represents human-constructed political, religious and economic systems that have been seen in type throughout history. Their demonic version will dominate the world in the end-time. (17:1-18)
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
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This article was written by Paul Kroll in 1995 and updated in 2013. Copyright Grace Communion International. All rights reserved. If you'd like to learn more about the Bible, check out Grace Communion Seminary. It's accredited, affordable, and all online. www.gcs.edu.
The Fall of Babylon. The destruction of the world system, called Babylon in symbol, has been announced several times. Now, we see her fall, but in a surprising manner. She is mainly pictured as a worldwide economic power that comes to a shattering end. (18:1-24)
God’s Reign Announced and Lauded. The final victory of God is then announced and described. The multitudes of heaven are shouting, “Hallelujah!” because God has acted to exercise his universal authority on earth. (19:1-10)
The Messiah Returns to Establish God’s Kingdom. Next, a vision shows the appearance of the Messiah, symbolically pictured as the rider on the white horse. This is a pivotal vision that leads to the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. What follows are the effects of Christ’s return. The enemies of God—the armies of the nations, the beast, and the false prophet—are destroyed. Satan is symbolically chained and prevented from inciting evil. This makes possible God’s kingdom on earth and the salvation of the world. Only those who are not written in the book of life are destroyed in the lake of fire, symbolic of the annihilation of the wicked. At the end, the last enemy—death—is also destroyed. (19:11–20:15)
All Things Made New. We finally see the New Heavens and New Earth. New Jerusalem comes to earth and God dwells with his people. This represents the eternal kingdom of God’s immortal people. (21:1–22:5)
Epilogue and Final Words. John closes by encouraging hearer-readers to do the will of God and put their trust in the salvation of Christ. Christ himself announces his speedy return (22:6-21)