Recapitulation: Interpreting the Book of Revelation?

I have read about recapitulation and the Book of Revelation. Is there a chart or something that helps to lay this out in a more friendly manner?

This chart is provided by Lowery in his work entitled, Revelation's Rhapsody (see below).

John is not a chronologist in the sense that he is setting forth in great detail the events that are to take place before Christ's final coming. . . .

I believe it helps us to see John as a composer. His Theme is stated - a message of warning for those who do not worship God and a message of hope for those who do - and then it is restated in different ways. In composing a musical piece based on the form of Theme and Variations, elements of the Theme - its melody, rhythm, and instrumentation - will be varied while retaining the theme. Accordingly, if John's Theme is the end of the world (an end which brings either salvation or punishment), then each series of seven (seals, trumpets, and bowls), and even the interlude found in chapters 12-14, is a Variation that adds to the composition. Each series of seven, as well as the interlude, moves the reader closer to the end. This is not because each follows the preceding series in a purely chronological sense, but because each heightens and intensifies the final and climactic confrontation between God and his people and Satan and his allies. The fate of Satan and his allies is eternal punishment. But God and his people will dwell together forever.

The following outline illustrates this:

The Structure of Revelation Reflecting Its Emphasis on the End of the World

Rev 1:13:22
The Messages to the Seven Churches, each ending with a promise to the overcomer, a promise that will be completely realized when the new heaven and new earth are established (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26-28; 3:5, 11b-12, 21).
Rev 4:1-8:5
The Seven Seals lead up to the end, with Rev 6:12-17 depicting the fate of those who are not followers of Christ. They (along with the rest of creation) will experience the wrath of God. With regard to the fate of the redeemed, they are sealed and will be able to stand before God (Rev 7:1-17). Note also that there is an interlude in Rev 7:1-17 that stresses the security of God's people on the Day of Judgment. In the midst of the chaos, God's people are secure.
Rev 8:6-11:19
The Seven Trumpets lead up to the end of the world, with the end depicted in Rev 11:17ff. in which God is praised: We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. It is significant that unlike Rev 1:4, 8, and Rev 4:8, the clause who is to come is omitted. Why? Because God has come and his perfect reign has begun. Note again that there is an interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets from Rev 10:1-11:14, with an emphasis on the responsibility of John and the church (symbolized by the two witnesses) to witness to God's power despite the hostile world's response. In the midst of evil forces that attempt to destroy the church, God's people must be faithful in their witnessing.
Rev 12:1-14:20
This is an interlude introducing the main antagonists of God and his people. It is found between the seals and trumpets (which have taken the reader up to the end, but in showing that only one-fourth or one-third have been affected by the judgment, John has indicated that he is not ready to bring the revelation to a close just yet.) The purpose of this interlude is to take the readers deeper and introduce them to the true nature of the conflict they are involved in. It is not merely Rome who is opposing them but the Dragon (Rev. 12) and its two allies (anti-Christian government and anti-Christian religion the imperial cult) along with Babylon the Great (Rev 14, the whore, i.e., Roman culture in all its manifestations). Thus, John introduces us to the key antagonists. Their fate will be explored more fully with the pouring of the seven bowls (Rev 15:1-16:21) that in turn leads to an even more detailed description of the complete defeat of the above evil powers. But in the meantime, those who worship the beasts will be punished (Rev 14:9-20), still another reference to the end.
Rev 15:1-16:21
The Seven Bowls lead up to the end of the world, depicted in Rev 16:17-21. There is a final interlude, albeit brief, in Rev 16:15 in which there is an exhortation to be vigilant and faithful. As the forces of evil gather to make one last effort to destroy the church (Rev 20:7-10), God's people must be watchful and loyal.
Rev 17:1-20:15
The seven bowls and their emphasis on total judgment are a transition to the total judgment on Babylon, the two beasts, and the Dragon (in the reverse order in which they were introduced).
Rev 21:1-22:5
John is given a description of the new heaven and new earth and the people of God symbolized by the bride and the New Jerusalem.
Rev 22:6-21
The epilogue brings the revelation full circle, emphasizing the books genres and a final call to obedience.

The chart provides a summary of the whole book, supporting the theory of recapitulation. This view suggests that the events in Revelation do not all form a continuous series but the series of sevens (seven seals in Rev 6:1-8:5, seven trumpets in Rev 8:6-11:19, and seven bowls in Rev 15:1-16:21) repeatedly bring us to the end of the world, when Christ comes in judgment to either reward or punish. As noted earlier, even the interlude of Revelation 12-14 begins with the first coming of Christ (Rev 12:1ff.) and ends with the Final Judgment (Rev 14:14-20). There is"chronology" in the sense that within each series of seven (the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls), and also within the interlude of Revelation 12-14, the reader is brought to "the end." Thus, once again we see that a chronological reading of Revelation is not possible.

Imagine the following scenario. After John received the revelation, no doubt copies of it were made by hand. Let's say that over the decades, for whatever reasons, Rev. 8-22 had been omitted by those responsible for copying the document. If Revelation had ended at Rev 7:17, readers would have been satisfied. The big picture is found in the first seven chapters: God judged the wicked and rewarded his faithful followers. Indeed, the book could have ended at numerous points, namely, Rev 11:15-17; 14:14-20; 16:17-21; and Rev 17:1-20:15. Therefore, if the book could have ended at Rev 7:17, we have another indication that the book is not to be read in a purely chronological way.

Another way of viewing Revelation is to say that there is a spiraling effect in Revelation in the sense that each section returns to the point from which it began, but higher up, so to speak. Each series of seven moves the reader closer to the end, not because each follows the preceding series in a chronological sense but because each heightens and intensifies the final and climactic confrontation between God and the forces of evil.

Moreover, even though the visions are parallel in many respects, they are also cumulative visions of history. Evil will grow worse and worse along with increasingly severe judgments on the world until there is a point of no return. But the point of no return is not the point when evil has the final victory, but when God has the last word. All of God's judgments on evil cultures through the centuries are leading up to the Final Judgment.


Lowery, R. (2006). Revelation's Rhapsody: Listening to the Lyrics of the Lamb: How to Read the Book of Revelation. Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.

Suggested Books:

Beale, G. K., and David H. Campbell. Revelation: A Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015. (essentially the same material as the other book by Beale below, except for the grammatical exegesis. This a much easier read, especially for a person who does not have a working knowledge of the languages.

Beale, G.K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (1999).

Hendriksen, William. More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Baker Books (1998).

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).