Progressive Parallelism in Revelation

While preaching through the book of Revelation, we have mentioned the understanding of Progressive Parallelism.  Here is a more full description of this hermeneutic from Anthony Hoekema.  This is taken from a broader article that he wrote explaining chapter 20 verses 1-6 and the understanding of the Millenial reign.  Here is a link to the full article: http://www.the-highway.com/amila_Hoekema.html

The Interpretation of the Book of Revelation


To see the background for the amillennial view of the millennium, we should first of all concern ourselves with the question of the interpretation of the book of Revelation. Let us assume, for example, that the book of Revelation is to be interpreted in an exclusively futuristic sense, referring only to events that are to happen around or at the time of Christ’s Second Coming. Let us further assume that what is presented in Revelation 20 must necessarily follow, in chronological order, what was described in chapter 19. We are then virtually compelled to believe that the thousand-year reign depicted in 20:4 must come after the return of Christ described in 19:11. But if we see Revelation 20:1-6 as describing what takes place during the entire history of the church, beginning with the first coming of Christ, we will have an understanding of the millennium of Revelation 20 which is quite different from the one just mentioned. For this reason it will be necessary first to say something about the way in which the book of Revelation should be interpreted.

The system of interpretation of the book of Revelation which seems most satisfactory to me (though it is not without its difficulties) is that known as progressive parallelism, ably defended by William Hendriksen in More Than Conquerors, his commentary on Revelation. According to this view, the book of Revelation consists of seven sections which run parallel to each other, each of which depicts the church and the world from the time of Christ’s first coming to the time of his second.

The first of these seven sections is found in chapters 1-3. John sees the risen and glorified Christ walking in the midst of seven golden lampstands. In obedience to Christ’s command John now proceeds to write letters to each of the seven churches of Asia Minor. The vision of the glorified Christ together with the letters to the seven churches obviously form a unit. As we read these letters we are impressed with two things. First, there are references to events, people and places of the time when the book of Revelation was written. Second, the principles, commendations and warnings contained in these letters have value for the church of all time. These two observations, in fact, provide a clue for the interpretation of the entire book. Since the book of Revelation was addressed to the church of the first century A.D., its message had reference to events occurring at that time and was therefore meaningful for the Christians of that day. But since the book was also intended for the church through the ages, its message is still relevant for us today.

The second of these seven sections is the vision of the seven seals found in chapters 4-7. John is caught up to heaven and sees God sitting on his radiant throne. He then sees the Lamb that had been slain taking the scroll sealed with seven seals from the hand of the one who was sitting on the throne. The various seals are broken, and various divine judgments on the world are described. In this vision we see the church suffering trial and persecution against the background of the victory of Christ.

The third section, found in chapters 8-11, describes the seven trumpets of judgment. In this vision we see the church avenged, protected and victorious.

The fourth section, chapters 12-14, begins with the vision of the woman giving birth to a son while the dragon waits to devour him as soon as he is born—an obvious reference to the birth of Christ. The rest of the section describes the continued opposition of the dragon (who stands for Satan) to the church. This section also introduces us to the two beasts who are the dragon’s helpers: the beast out of the sea and the beast out of the earth.

The fifth section is found in chapters 15-16. It describes the seven bowls of wrath, thus depicting in a very graphic way the final visitation of God’s wrath on those who remain impenitent.

The sixth section, chapters 17-19, describes the fall of Babylon and of the beasts. Babylon stands for the worldly city — the forces of secularism and godlessness which are in opposition to the kingdom of God. The end of chapter 19 depicts the fall and final punishment of the dragon’s two helpers: the beast out of the sea, and the false prophet, who appears to be identified with the beast out of the earth (see 16:13).

The seventh section, chapters 20-22, narrates the doom of the dragon, thus completing the description of the overthrow of the enemies of Christ. In addition, it describes the final judgment, the final triumph of Christ and his church, and the renewed universe, here called the new heaven and the new earth.

Note that though these seven sections are parallel to each other, they also reveal a certain amount of eschatological progress. The last section, for example, takes us further into the future than the other sections. Although the final judgment has already been announced in 1:7 and has been briefly described in 6:12-17, it is not set forth in full detail until we come to 20:11-15. Though the final joy of the redeemed in the life to come has been hinted at in 7:15-17, it is not until we reach chapter 21 that we find a detailed and elaborate description of the blessedness of life on the new earth (21:1-22:5). Hence this method of interpretation is called progressive parallelism.

There is eschatological progression in these seven sections, not only regarding the individual sections but also regarding the book as a whole. If we grant that the book of Revelation depicts the struggle between Christ and his church on the one hand and the enemies of Christ and the church on the other, we may say that the first half of the book (chapters 1-11) describes the struggle on earth, picturing the church as it is persecuted by the world. The second half of the book, however (chapters 12-22), gives us the deeper spiritual background of this struggle, describing the persecution of the church by the dragon (Satan) and his helpers. In the light of this analysis we see how the last section of the book (chapters 20-22) falls into place. This last section describes the judgment which falls on Satan, and his final doom. Since Satan is the supreme opponent of Christ, it stands to reason that his doom should be narrated last.