|Satan Evicted: Progressive Parallelism|
Progressive parallelism divides the Book of Revelation into seven sections with each running parallel to the others (occurring within the same time period). Each section reveals specific eschatological progress with the later sections describing events closer to the end. Each section reveals a specific facet of the church age from the resurrection of Christ, to his second coming, to the renewed universe.
The Seven Divisions of Progressive Parallelism
1. Revelation 1-3: The Seven Churches: Addresses events, people, and places that were meaningful to the Christians in the first century; however, its message is still relevant today.
2. Revelation 4-7: The Seven Seals: Proclaims the various divine judgments on the world and the sufferings and persecution of the Church centered on the victory of Christ.
3. Revelation 8-11: The Seven Trumpets: Announces judgment along with an avenged, protected, and victorious church.
4. Revelation 12-14: The Woman, Dragon, and Beasts: Describes the birth and resurrection of Christ, continued opposition of Satan, and introduces the two beasts who are the Satan’s assistance.e.
5. Revelation 15-16: The Seven Bowls of Wrath: Graphically depicts the final visitation of God’s wrath on the remaining impediments.
6. Revelation 17-19: The Fall of Babylon & Beasts: Describes the end to those forces who oppose God and the final punishment of the beasts.
7. Revelation 20-22: New Heaven & Earth: Describes the end of Satan, the final judgment, the final triumph of Christ and his church, and the renewed universe.
What is the Progressive-Parallelism?1
adapted from “The Progressive-Parallelism or Recapitulation of the Book of Revelation” by Chad Knudson
Each vision or cycle parallels or re-tells (recapitulates) previous visions or cycles, but progressively reveals more about the future (multi-perspectival in information, emphasis, aspect, or detail); thus, spending more time describing the future and less time describing the past. The multi-perspectival nature of the future by each vision also applies to how each vision re-tells the past or present.
Amillennialism employs progressive parallelism in order to explain how the Book of Revelation supports an already established theological belief system. In their view, John’s Revelation does not reveal any new theological ideas but simply reinforces (supplements) the existing ideas presented in the other books of the Bible:
The theological system does not permit an actual kingdom on this earth over which Christ reigns; therefore, certain passages cannot be interpreted literally.2
For an amillennialist, Christ’s work was essentially completed at the cross, and the time between Christ’s resurrection and the final judgment is a “mopping up operation” – provide sufficient time for the predetermined number of Christians to be born and then shut down the entire operation.
In partial support of progressive parallelism, some authors claim that the John’s Revelation is obscure, enigmatic, and symbolic. They assert that the book is encrypted and can only be deciphered using “clear” passages from previous scriptures:
from “The Millennium of Revelation 20”3
David A. Sherwood
One of the basic principles of biblical interpretation is that obscure passages of Scripture should be interpreted in light of clear passages of Scripture, not the other way around. With respect to eschatology, we should first find out what the Bible teaches with relative clarity about the end times and then seek to find out how the more difficult texts may be understood in light of what is clear.
Superficially, this seems to be a sound, logical assertion; however, progressive parallelism, as applied by amillennialism, doesn’t necessarily use other scriptures to clarify but rather uses their existing belief constructs to define Revelation’s passages:
There is this age and there is the age to come. This age is characterized by the inauguration, the partial fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. The age to come will be characterized by the consummation, the complete fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. The clear witness of the Scriptures seems to be that, after this present age, the only major epoch will be the final state.4
This seems to be a very narrow, telescopic view that sharply limits the ability to significantly expand concepts presented within the Synoptic Gospels or adopting new understandings from the epistles and John’s Revelation. We should be very cautious of such narrow approaches remembering that the Jewish religious leaders during Christ’s earthly ministry failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. They were looking for an incarnation of King David who would rule an earthly kingdom with an iron rod.
This narrow interpretation approach tends to look at the end results of God’s plan (the final judgment) without considering the complexities involved in arriving at that point. If God’s entire message could have been contained within a single book, there would have been no need for sixty-six Bible books. God, however, chose to reveal his message progressively – one piece at a time with each new piece adding detail and clarity to the previous pieces. Each Bible book provides a unique perspective and various elements that when pieced together paints a complex but unified portrait of God’s message to man.
The Book of Revelation is an equal and legitimate book of the Bible. We must read John’s Revelation with an open mind and accept expanded or new understandings as they are revealed. To the book as a mere supplemental text is an error and ignores John’s stern warning:
Revelation 22:18-19: …If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book.
Rebuttal of Arguments
The Seven Trumpets Appear and the Seven Seals
The most glaring difficulty of the progressive parallel paradigm is found in Chapter 8:1-2:
And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets. (KJV)
When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. (NIV)
When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. (NASB)
In progressive parallelism, the seven seals belong to section two and the seven trumpets belong to section three. Since the sections run in parallel sequence, the breaking of first seal and the blowing of the first trumpet occur in close proximity – sometime at the beginning of the Church age.
However, a natural reading of Revelation 8:1-2 seems to indicate that the seven trumpets immediately follow the breaking of the seventh seal. Throughout the narrative combinations such as “and I looked,” “and I saw,” and “and I heard” provide what may be natural transitions from one vision to another, but that is not the case here. The word “and” connecting verses 1 and 2 seems to be a normal conjunction -- kai: and, even, also.5 I found no attempt to explain this apparent difficulty within my reading though one author cited it as a potential problem.
William Hendriksen’s Explanations
Several of the articles that I encountered appealed to William Hendriksen’s book More Than Conquerors for justification of progressive parallelism.6 I purchased the book as a Kindle e-book and read the introductory sections which were beautifully written.
The chapter entitle “General Analysis” was more descriptive of progressive parallelism than argumentative, and I hesitated to use these descriptions as a foundation for analysis. However, at the conclusion of the first section, Hendriksen asserts:
A careful reading of the book of Revelation has made it clear that the book consists of seven sections, and that these seven sections run parallel to one another.
The following analysis makes no attempt to prove that Hendriksen’s descriptions are wrong; however, it does attempt to uncover the weaknesses in his argumentation and illustrate that alternative views are viable.
Section 1: Revelation 1-3: The Seven Churches
William Hendriksen claims that since Jesus Christ is seen walking among the seven lampstands representing the seven churches that we may conclude that this section extends throughout the current age:
As this number seven occurs again and again in the Apocalypse and is everywhere symbolical of completeness, we may safely take it for granted that such is the case here, and that it indicates the entire Church throughout the full span of its existence to the very end of the world.
Hendriksen’s argument does not follow sound logical argumentation. While is premises (statements of fact) are true, the conclusion does not stem (result) from the premises.
a) Seven lampstands represents the seven churches [True premise]
b) The number seven represents completeness [True premise]
c) The number seven is repeated throughout Section 1 [True premise]
The conclusion contains the key element “full span of existence to the very end of the world.” Unfortunately, that element is not found in any one of the premises. Hendriksen seems to assume that “completeness” and “full span of time to the very end of the world” are synonymous, but they may not be. A premillennialist could just as easily argue that “completeness” and “full span of time to the very end of the church age” are synonymous.
Because of the literary nature of biblical texts, it is necessary to make some assumptions – not every biblical concept can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. However, we should guard against leaps in logic whenever possible. In this case, I don’t think we can “safely take it for granted” that Section 1 extends from Pentecost to the final judgment. In this case, I think we need additional information.
Section 2: Revelation 4-7: The Vision Of Heaven And The Seals
William Hendriksen asserts that this section also spans the entire age:
It should be carefully noted that this section also covers the entire dispensation, from the first to the second coming of Christ. The very first reference to Christ pictures Him as having been slain and as now ruling from heaven (5: 5,6).
Unfortunately, Hendriksen’s claim is somewhat distorted. He states, “The very first reference to Christ pictures Him as having been slain and as now ruling from heaven.” However, the first reference to Jesus Christ in this section is not of a slain lamb:
Revelation 5:5: And one of the elders saith unto me, “Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.”
This very first reference to Christ alludes to the nation of Israel and Christ’s ascension to the throne of David. This allusion seems to be a very strong reference to the Jewish messianic tradition rather than the early Christian church.
There is no specific mention of Christ actually ruling from the throne. In fact, throughout most of John’s Revelation, the Father is on the throne and Jesus Christ seems to be elsewhere. In this case, verse 6, the Lamb appears among the four creatures in the midst of the throne area, not on the throne. 7
Premillennialists might argue that although Jesus Christ has earned the right to ascend to David’s throne (de jure), he has not actually done so (de facto). They might also claim that the breaking of the seven seals is the first concrete step necessary to physically assume that throne.
Hendriksen also asserts that Christ’s second coming towards the end of the section:
Towards the end of this section the final judgment is introduced. Notice the impression of the second coming on unbelievers. ‘And they say to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One sitting on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb!
However, the verse Hendriksen quotes is Revelation 6:16 and occurs just past the halfway point within the section. A mid-tribulationist might argue that this verse describes the rapture of the Church and reflects the anguish of those who understand that they’ve missed it.
My critique of Hendriksen’s description of the second section may be viewed as nitpicky; however, Hendriksen tends ignore details that do not fit within the image he wishes to see. For example, he fails to mention the sealing of the 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel another reference that seems more descriptive of the nation of Israel rather than the Christian Church.
Section 3: Revelation 8-11: The Seven Trumpets
William Hendriksen asserts that Revelation 11:15-19 describes the final judgment:
Also at the close of this section there is a very clear reference to the final judgment… Having reached the end of the dispensation, the vision ends.
However, premillennialists could just as easily assert that Revelation 11:15 is descriptive of Christ establishing his earthly kingdom in preparation for his Millennial Reign:
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”
Section 4: Revelation 12-14: The Persecuting Dragon
In general, premillennialists would probably agree with most of Hendriksen’s description within this section. They would probably even agree that the latter portion refers to Christ’s second coming. Their main contention, however, is with what occurs after that second coming.
Hendriksen recognizes that the “male child” is a direct reference to the birth of Christ and that the “caught up” refers to Christ’s resurrection. He does not, however, seem to recognize that the woman who gave birth to Christ was Israel and that she is protected in the wilderness for an extended period of time.
Section 5-6: Revelation 15-22: The Bowls of Wrath and the Fall of Babylon
Hendriksen provides no justification for these sections running parallel with the other sections.
Section 7: Revelation 20-22: The Great Consummation
Although Hendriksen asserts Chapter 20 “definitely begins a new section and introduces a new subject,” he provides scant evidence in support of the claim that Chapter 20 begins a new section. He implies that the casting down of Satan to the earth in Chapter 12 is equivalent to Satan being bound and thrown into the abyss, but there is no binding mentioned in Chapter 12 and the earth is distinct from the abyss.
Premillennialist would argue that the events of Chapter 20 are the direct result of the events in Chapter 19, and Hendriksen provides no explanation of why this argument would be in error.
Other Justification: Repetition Of 1,260 Days In Two Sections
Hendriksen asserts that Section 3 and Section 4 must run concurrently because they describe the same duration:
Revelation 11:2: But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.
Revelation 11:3: And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.
Revelation 12:6: And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
Revelation 12:14: And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.
I tend to agree with Hendriksen that these time periods probably run concurrently. However, premillennialists would argue that these time periods represent literally three and one-half solar years not the entire Church age which has been close to 2,000 years. There is also the potential problem of dual-fulfillment – prophetic events can be fulfilled more than one time, e.g. the “abomination of desolation” was fulfilled by Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 BC, by Roman legions in 70 AD (according to amillennialism), and once again when the Antichrist sets himself up as God within the third Jewish temple (according to some premillennialism).
The Seven Trumpets and the Seven Bowls of Wrath Are Parallel
Hendriksen claims to “prove” that Section 3 and Section 5 are parallel by comparing the seven trumpets to the seven bowls of wrath. Let’s first look at how Hendriksen aligns the two sections:
Next, let’s look at a very brief outline trumpet and bowl of wrath as describe in the text:
There does seem to be some similarities among the trumpets and bowls of wrath; however, Hendriksen’s oversimplification tends to be misleading. For example, he claims the first trumpet and bowl affects the earth, but that could be true for all fourteen. The fourth trumpet and bowl seems to be opposites – one results in darkness the other in scorching fire.
While interesting, Hendriksen’s comparison does not prove parallelism. Unfortunately, his faulty comparison tends to lessen his credibility rather than prove his point.
The Same Parallel Structure Is Found In Daniel’s Vision
Our final argument in support of the parallelistic position is the fact that we find exactly the same thing in the prophecies of Daniel, which has been called the Apocalypse of the Old Testament. Thus the parts of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (chapter 2) correspond exactly with the four beasts of Daniel’s dream (chapter 7).1 The same period of time is covered twice, and is seen from various aspects.
I agree with Hendriksen that one portion of Daniel parallels a second section, but Hendriksen is incorrect to claim that they are “exactly the same.” Progressive parallelism divides an entire book into seven sections with each section discussing multiple topics… that is a far cry from Daniels two visions on a single topic. While Hendriksen makes an interesting observation, it has little value in validating progressive parallelism.
I find the argumentation for progressive parallelism less than compelling.
The first difficulty arises when the Book of Revelation seems to be treated as a supplemental text rather than full fledged book of the Bible. Rather than forcing John’s revelations to conform to established doctrine, I believe that his visions expand and enlighten other scripture – I believe a forward looking approach is more appropriate.
The second difficulty arises in the subdividing the book into seven parallel sections. The most glaring problem occurs in the break between the seven trumpets and the seven bowls of wrath – the text seems to indicate that the seven bowls are a subset of the seventh trumpet. To artificially divide these two elements and force them to run concurrently seems to destroy the primary narrative. Without sufficient justification, this error calls into question the entire seven section scheme.
The third difficulty arises out of the tendency to make statements that are possibly misleading. This is most notable in Hendriksen’s description of the second section, seventh section, and again when he compares the seven trumpets with the seven bowls of wrath. While we all tend emphasize the things that support our opinion, we should be cautious not to ignore those things that contradict our view.
The fourth difficulty arises when there is a lack of justification. This is most notable in Hendriksen’s description of the second section, the fourth section, and the 1,260 days. Hendriksen provides little substance that would indicate that an amillennialism view is preferable to the prevailing premillennialism view.
In conclusion, a natural reading of the Book of Revelation tends to reveal one long narrative with periodic interruptions that provide supplemental details. An alternative framework should be considered if there is sufficient justification that the alternative is preferable. The scriptural evidence and reasoning supporting progressive parallelism is less than compelling and does not justify abandoning a more natural reading.
1 Chad Knudson, “The Progressive-Parallelism or Recapitulation of the Book of Revelation,“ The Road To Emmaus, July 2007. <http://theroadtoemmaus.files.wordpress.com/2007/07/the-recapitulation-of-revelation.pdf> Oct. 1, 2011.
2 Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1988. Pg 112. Quoted in Robert Gromacki, Cedarville University, “Revelation 20: A Premillennial Analysis,” Pre-trib research Center, NDA, <http://www.pre-trib.org/data/pdf/Gromacki-Revelation20APremille.pdf> Oct 1, 2011.
3 David A. Sherwood, “The Millennium of Revelation 20,” The Mountain Retreat, ND. <http://www.mountainretreatorg.net/eschatology/millennium_rev20.shtml> Oct. 17, 2011.
4 David A. Sherwood, “The Millennium of Revelation 20,” The Mountain Retreat, ND. <http://www.mountainretreatorg.net/eschatology/millennium_rev20.shtml> Oct. 17, 2011.
5 “kai,” Strong’s Concordance: Biblos.com, 2011. < http://concordances.org/greek/2532.htm > Oct. 17, 2011.
6 William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation, Mobi Edition, Baker Books: Grand Rapids, Michigan, July 2007.
7 mesos: middle, in the midst from “mesos,” Strong’s Concordance: Biblos.com, 2011. <http://concordances.org/greek/3319.htm > Oct. 17, 2011
With all glory, honor, and praise to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit...
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