Following the throne room vision, John introduces the first of three sequences — the seven seals. The seventh seal introduces the next sequence — the seven trumpets. Visions following the seven trumpets finally unveil the ultimate source of evil and its earthly agents — the Dragon, the Beast from the Sea and the Beast from the Land — and those who defeat these monsters. This then leads to the final sequence — the seven bowls.
The three sequences — seals, trumpets and bowls, and their associated visions — are not chronological nor sequential. Rather, they are different angles of the same complex reality of God’s plan to restore his broken creation. All three sequences are simultaneous perspectives of the fullness of evil being confronted by the fullness of God’s kingdom. And in each sequence, God is establishing his rule through his people who loyally embody, demonstrate and announce the Lion-Lamb.
The seals symbolically reveal that to restore his good creation, God must expose and extract the full extent of humanity’s arrogance and wickedness while ultimately bringing his people safely through the crises.
The trumpets symbolically reveal that to restore his good creation, God must let the forces of destruction do their worst so that he can then establish his kingdom fully over the world.
The bowls symbolically reveal that to restore his good creation, God must inflict horrific plagues upon the wicked world. Like the plagues of Egypt, God will rescue his people and ultimately confront and vanquish the dark powers that have enslaved them.
And through all the sequences, Jesus’ people, God’s royal priesthood, implement the Lion-Lamb’s victory through their faithful and sacrificial love, even unto their death. Since King Jesus holds the keys to death and hades, they can trust him to carry them through death and into restoration.
These three sequences result in God eternally conquering the powers of evil and ushering in the final vision. This final vision unveils the climax to God’s project — the full renewal and merging of heaven and earth, now filled with God’s glory and presence among people.
It’s important to note that the closing scene of the Bible is not of God destroying his current creation and replacing it with something new. Rather, he renews rather than replaces. It’s the “old order” that passes away. His creation has always been good. In this final vision, as God takes up residence in and with his creation, creation’s “goodness” is fully realized as it becomes the good receptacle of his glorious presence.
Also, the closing scene of the Bible is not about human beings going up to heaven as many people imagine. Rather, it’s about the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth. It’s the answer to the Lord’s prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.” And humans now dwell on God’s renewed earth fully merged with heaven and full of God’s glory.
And there is work to be done in God’s New Creation. Jesus’ people remain a royal priesthood. That does not end with the New Creation, but finds it’s fullness. From the New Jerusalem, which is the Lamb’s Bride, the Lamb’s people, flows healing to the rest of the world. Jesus’ followers will continue to be stewards over creation as from the beginning, implementing God’s mercy and healing to all of his creation and its inhabitants.
As with the initial vision of King Jesus, the vision of the New Jerusalem is equally intimate and majestic. God, who has mightily confronted and destroyed evil steps down from his throne and tenderly wipes away every tear from people’s eyes. This remarkable intimacy is the core of the entire Revelation — humans in community with God and with one another.
This final vision of God’s New Creation is of its consummation, its fullness and finality. This same New Creation was inaugurated at Jesus’ resurrection. John uses Revelation to help us hold these two moments in our imaginations. The images of the resurrected Jesus in chapter 1 and God’s throne room in chapters 4 and 5 are the vision of Jesus initiating the New Creation. The images of the New Jerusalem and the New Heaven and New Earth are the vision of Jesus completing the New Creation. We, living between these two events, are God’s royal priesthood. By embodying the Lion-Lamb’s sacrificial love, God is moving everything from the first vision toward the second. Therefore, we must hold both visions before us so we are not distracted, disillusioned or discouraged. Amidst the dark and deadly powers, our faithfulness is strengthened and reinforced by the visions of God’s New Creation so that we may overcome. And by overcoming, God’s kingdom comes and his will is done on earth as in heaven.