THE SEVEN SONGS OF REVELATION
Enjoying Seven Lyrical Strain of Revelation
by Jason Overman
The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ does not just signal the end
of the Bible; it discloses the very end of time. If the apparent
doom it forecasts does not discourage us from further
examination, then the bizarre imagery clinches it. The book is
formidable, to be sure.
It is peculiar that a volume this obscure should be called
Revelation. Despite the avoidance of many, I am drawn to it. It
is as incandescent as it is searing, as illuminating as it is
disorienting. If we can endure the initial cacophony of its
symbolism, we may detect a rhythm to Revelation, that it is as
much beginning as end. Like a woman in labor, the melody of
travail contains both sorrow and joy - culmination and
inauguration. If we are to see the birth of new heavens and new
earth, we must first navigate the exertion that is the end of the
old. Such a task is not for the faint or comfortable: The songs
of the Apocalypse are as fearsome as they are demanding.
The seven tunes that greet us in chapter 1 are simple
themes, and they direct much of the cosmic concert we call
The Apocalypse offers a reward: "Blessed is he who reads and
those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things
which are written in it; for the time is near" (1:3). Revelation
grants seven blessings to those who risk reading, watching, and
obeying (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7,14). For all its
dread and difficulty, this book above all others bids us to take
notice, to hear its strange music, and to embrace its burning
I can no more refuse it than master it, as the epic
proportion and audacious color that is the apocalyptic spectacle
compels me to "Come and see" and to "hear what the Spirit says to
the churches." My mind aches in wrapping itself around the
images, and I wonder, "Is not the meaning of it as beyond me as
is the blessing?"
I take comfort in Jesus' words to those who asked the
meaning of one parable: "Blessed are your eyes for they see, and
your ears for they hear" (Matthew 13:16). The blessing in
Revelation commences when we are inquisitive enough to ask, to
break from all distractions, and, like the novice taking up a new
instrument simply begin.
The Apocalypse speaks the lyrical language of dream; our old
senses cannot comprehend it. As with the seers Ezekiel and Daniel
before him, what John sees defies rational explanation. To be "in
the Spirit" is to be transported out of the prosaic confines of
the literal and logical into the startling world of metaphor and
mystery (1:10; 4:1; 17:3; 21:10). Seven times in twenty-two
chapters (1:3; 11:6; 19:10; 22:7,10,18,19) Revelation describes
itself as prophecy. God will "show His servants - things which
must shortly take place" (1:7; Amos 3:7).
But the future that John experiences and conveys is not
brute history but more poetry. The divine glimpse of reality has
urgency and grandeur that conventional discourse cannot contain.
Heaven opens, human expression fails, and only inscrutable awe
remains. Beauty is indefinable and melody unexplainable; they
must be experienced, not translated, to be known.
Revelation is such a melody. It calls us to be a prophetic
people, not just far-sighted but capable of mediating in the
Spirit the melodious beauty of encounter with the divine
( 1 Corinthians 12:10; 14:1-39; 2 Corinthians 12:1-7).
If Genesis is the alpha of time and Scripture, Revelation is
the omega - the finale. These two poles - origin and destiny -
are intimately linked. The end is the beginning writ large.
Revelation expresses this with the number seven, significant
from the Creation. God's seven-day work and rest forever imprint
upon seven this idea: completion of divine project. In the
Apocalypse, seven churches and seven spirits of God (1:4) are
arrayed against the seven-headed dragon and beast (chaps.12-13).
The Spirit of God and the old serpent were both active in Eden.
Now each is augmented to the ultimate proportion of seven.
Revelation employs this number often as orchestrates the crowning
crescendo - from seven churches (chaps.1-3) to seven seals (4-7)
to seven trumpets (8-11) to seven plagues (15-16), on the way to
a "new heaven and a new earth" (21-22). The apocalyptic choir is
amplified more and more until a Lamb with seven horns reigns: "It
is done!" (5:6; 21:6). This prodigious chant of finality checks
our tendency to live futureless lives, to scoff, as some do, that
no end is in sight.
The Apocalypse weaves the fabric of vision from the thread
of memory. John states that his prophecy is the "word of God," a
phrase he uses seven times in the book (1:2,9; 6:9; 17:17; 19:9,
13; 20:4). But this new song is taken from the old (5:9; Psalm
96:1). Hardly a verse in Revelation does not echo the story and
style of the old Testament.
When John writes of the pierced One coming in the clouds
(1:7), we hear an echo of Daniel and Zechariah. When he sees the
First and Last (v.17), it is these again plus Exodus, Isaiah, and
Ezekiel. The apocalyptic themes are ancient: The dragon wars in
Genesis 3:15; Babylon falls in Jeremiah 51:8; kings and priests
reign in Exodus 19:6; new heavens and earth are seen in Isaiah
65:17. On a new stage, the script is well worn; the law and
prophets have long anticipated this end. Like the living
creatures with eyes before and behind (Revelation 4:6; Ezekiel
10:12), Revelation sees what God will do from what He has done.
We look forward by looking back, and vision is memory.
In God, tomorrow and yesterday are one; the eternal,
recurring Word is like its Author, who is and was and is to come
(Revelation 1:8; Exodus 3:14).
The Apocalypse discloses Christ; its witness is from Him and
to Him. The "testimony of Jesus" is the heartbeat of Revelation
(1:2,9; 12:17; 19:10), the Lamb its central character. Both
appear in multiples of seven, fourteen and twenty-eight times
each. Like the Word of God, this testimony looks both forward and
backward. Jesus is not just He who is coming but also He who
first "loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood"
(1:5-7). The Christ who comes quickly is never far removed from
the Lamb slain (3:11; 5:12).
For the New Testament writers, the end is always near
because Jesus lives and is Lord already. The apocalyptic throng
sings the song of the Lamb. They have made His testimony their
own, and they bear witness as a living refrain. Christ crucified
and coming has defeated and will defeat dragon and death alike
(12:11; 15:3). The "testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy"
because all God's Word points to the "Lamb ... slain from the
foundation of the world" (19:10; 13:8).
The Apocalypse sings the praises of endurance, to trust and
obey despite circumstances. Patience appears seven times in
Revelation (1:9; 2:2, 3, 19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12). The first finds
John on Patmos as our "companion in the tribulation and kingdom
and patience of Jesus Christ." Patience rebukes those bewitched
by the now, for it is a word bound to a future. In the New
Testament, this future is conditioned by kingdom expectation. In
the context of great persecution and Christ's coming, Jesus says,
"By your patience possess your souls" (Luke 21:19). For Paul,
tribulation produces patience; by it we persevere, "eagerly
waiting for ... the redemption of our body" (Romans 5:3;
8:22-25). James calls us to "be patient ... until the coming of
Like the prophets who suffered or the farmer who looks for
the early and latter rain, we wait patiently and "count them
blessed who endure" (James 5:7-11). Revelation's last nod to the
ballad of prophetic endurance calls the "patience of the saints"
those who "keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus."
Resisting the beastly enticements of the immediate, the saints
are the real dragon slayers.
The concussion that is the apocalyptic warning pierces the
air with a wail: the voice of a trumpet (1:10; 4:1). Its tempo
disrupts, its urgency grips; it upends our complacency and
demands our attention. The intensity is palatable, the beat bold,
as it shows what "must shortly take place," for "the time is
near" (1:1-3; 22:6-10). Seven angels with trumpets prepare to
sound, "God is coming!" (8:6).
The sound of the trumpet was heard as Israel awaited her
encounter with God at Sinai, growing in volume until God
came down (Exodus 19:13-19). Later the prophets embodied the
blast as they gathered, warned, and called Israel to repentance
in preparation for God's comings (Isaiah 58:1; Jeremiah 4:5;
Ezekiel 33:3; Joel 2:1). Then Jesus predicted the sign of His
coming, the end of the world, and "a great sound of a trumpet"
(Matthew 24:2,31) that announces the ultimate return and
resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). As
Revelation concludes, it insists thrice that Jesus is coming
quickly (22:7,12,20). This is the rhythm of the saints; we stand
ready. Our reply, no less than John's, is "Even so, come, Lord
The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ is not just the last book of
the Bible; It is a way of looking at the whole.
The world-shattering, world-forming Christ event called for
an explanation of apocalyptic dimensions. The cosmic significance
of Christ crucified and risen stands behind and within every word
of the New Testament Revelation is but the crescendo of this
orientation. Now more than ever, we need visionary eyes like
John's to distinguish dragons from living creatures, Babylon from
Zion, to be moved in worship and wonder at our Lord Jesus Christ.
Revelation bears witness to this truth. It is a score that
dazzles and disturbs, pulls and provokes, alters and expands as
it confronts and denounces all false security with the brightness
of His presence.
The Apocalypse has much to say to the churches, but it is at
least blessing for all who read, prophecy for all who see,
completion for all who labor, the word for all who remember,
testimony for all who follow, patience for all who hope, and
trumpet for all with ears to hear.
Jason Overman serves the Church in Jasper, AR, with his wife,
Stephanie, and their five-year-old twins Tabitha and Isaac. He
also works for a local newspaper.
December 2007 "Bible Advocate" - a publication of the Church of
God (Seventh Day), Denver, CO. USA.
Entered on this Website December 2007