The book of Revelation consists of a Prologue, the Vision Proper, and an Epilogue. The Vision itself falls into four recognizable divisions, each starting with an episode in which John finds himself “in the spirit” in a new location where he receives a new vision.
The first vision begins with John on the isle of Patmos where he “came to be in spirit.” This section describes how his visionary experience began. His sudden transition “in the spirit” marks out the first major literary section of the book. Of relevance is the clause, “I came to be in spirit,” and the location, “on the isle of Patmos.”
After finding himself “in the spirit,” John receives his first vision in which he sees the glorified “Son of Man” walking among “seven golden lampstands.” The lampstands represent seven churches to which the Risen Christ sends “letters” with corrections and instructions for each congregation (Revelation 1:9-3:22).
The second literary section begins when John saw “a door opened in heaven” and heard the same voice from his first vision summon him to “come up here.” At once, je again “came to be in the spirit” and received a vision of the Divine Throne at the center of the Cosmos. This division is characterized by three sevenfold series, the seven seals, trumpets, and the seven “bowls of wrath” (Revelation 12:1-16:21). A lengthy section is inserted between the trumpet and bowl series that presents the cosmic enemies of the Lamb. These forces wage war on the saints – the Dragon, the Beast from the sea, the Beast from the earth, and Babylon (Revelation 12:1-14:20).
John sees all the visions of the second division while located “up here,” that is, before the Divine Throne at the center of the Cosmos. The contrast between locations is deliberate; the local situation in Asia is viewed from John’s exile on the isle of Patmos; the Cosmic pictures is seen from the perspective of the Divine Throne.
The third division begins when John is “carried away in spirit” into the Wilderness by one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls of wrath (Revelation 17:1-21:8). A different Greek verb is used, “carried away” instead of “came.” John now finds himself “carried away to the wilderness” to see a vision of the Great Harlot, the city of “Babylon.”
In the third division, John watches the judgment of the enemies of the Lamb unfold, however, in reverse order from their introduction: Babylon, the Beast from the earth and the Beast from the sea, and the Dragon. This structure should warn the reader not to assume the chapters of Revelation are laid out in a chronological sequence.
In the fourth division, again, John is “carried away in spirit” by one of the same seven angels as before, only, this time to a “high mountain” where he watches another “city,” the New Jerusalem, descending from heaven to the earth.
The four divisions form two distinct pairs, the first two by the clause, “I came to be in spirit.” The second pair is marked by the clause, “he carried me away in spirit.” On some level, each member of either pair runs parallel to its partner. The first pair looks at the present reality of the churches in Asia; the second pair compares “Babylon” and New Jerusalem.
Four Main Divisions of Revelation
DIVISION I – Inaugural Vision of the Risen Christ (1:8-3:22)
DIVISION II – The Church in Hostile Territory (4:1-16:21)
DIVISION III – The Destruction of Gods’ Cosmic Enemies (17:1-21:8)
DIVISION IV – New Jerusalem: Bride of Christ & City of God (21:9-22:7)
EPILOGUE – Final Warnings, Exhortations, Salutations (22:8-21)