Understanding the Apocalyptic Imagery and Symbols of The Book of Revelation

Given that the Book of Revelation is at one and the same time an apocalyptic, prophetic, and futuristic text, it should come as no surprise that the book is filled with symbols and imagery laced with alternative meaning. Church elders and scholars have debated for nearly 2,000 years about what all the signs and symbols of Revelation mean. We’ll point them out for you and give you links to learn more…

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a larger series about The Book of Revelation. This article focuses only on the imagery and symbols of Revelation. For more on the diverse characters, the meaning, verses, definitions, and other interesting tidbits about The Book of Revelation, please see Revelation – the Meaning, the Mystery, the Verses, and More…

Symbols & Imagery of Revelation

The symbols and imagery are organized with the flow of the Book of Revelation. The chapters/verses that discuss the symbols are provided for you to learn more. 

7 Churches of Asia

Revelation 1: 11

Location of the 7 Churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea. All of these are in Asia Minor. 

A message for each church is given in Revelations Chapter 2 (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira) and Revelation Chapter 3 (Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea).

Book of Life

The Book of Life is essentially the Roll Call of Heaven – if your name is written in the book, then you’ve got a ticket to ride to heaven. If not, you’re doomed to the fires of Hell. 

In Revelation, the Book of Life is referenced in the following locations:

  1. Revelation 3: 5
  2. Revelation 13: 8
  3. Revelation 17: 8
  4. Revelation 20: 12-15
  5. Revelation 21: 27

The Book of Life is not unique to Revelations. It’s also referenced in Psalm 69, in the New Testament books of Luke 10: 20, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 4: 3, and Hebrews 12: 23. Additionally it plays a role in multiple apocryphal texts including – The Book of Jubilees, The Book of Enoch, The Second Book of Baruch, and the Ascension of Isaiah

In The Last Temptation of John, numerous references are made to The Book of Life and Mary Magdalene is the present keeper of this famous tome. The Book is the cause of great sorrow to Mary for she is repeatedly distressed to see names disappear from the book as it continues to be reduced down to the prophesied number of just 144,000 raptured souls. 

Throne of God

Revelations Chapter 4 brings us into the throne room of God, where the Supreme Being is attended to by 24 Elders. Also on hand are the 4 Living Creatures: a lion, an ox, an eagle, and a man. Most importantly, the Lamb of God is given the Scroll with Seven Seals in Revelations Chapter 5 – this is the scroll that will release the various catastrophes of Revelation as each of the seven seals are broken.

Revelations Throne of God - Matthias Gerung

Did you know?

The Throne of God motif is not unique to Revelation — it plays a key role in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Other holy books say it can be found in the Seventh Heaven and that is is also known as  is Araboth (Judaism), and al-‘Arsh (Islam).

Links to learn more about The Throne of God

7 Seals of Revelation

The 7 Seals as a group are one of the most important symbols in Revelation and they are detailed in Revelation Chapter 6, Chapter 7, and Chapter 8

A seal is a device used to keep a document shut (for example a wax seal) and the 7 seals of Revelation are just that – protective guards that keep shut portions of a secret scroll that John saw in his visions. The only person that can open the seals is Lion and the Lamb (AKA Jesus). 

As the Lamb opens each of the 7 seals a new judgement is released upon the world.

  • The first 4 seals of Revelation release the dreaded 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
  • Seal 5 calls for the Wrath of God. Seal 6 releases a Day of Wrath (earthquakes, etc around the world).
  • Seal 7 triggers an entirely new set of catastrophes involving the 7 Trumpets, 7 Golden Bowls, and more. 

Did you know?

In the Last Temptation of God book trilogy, the Seals of Revelation are started to be opened as early as Book I – The Pawns of Prophecy – with devastating results for the world. 

Links to learn more about The Seven Seals of Revelation

7 Trumpets of Revelation

The 7 Trumpets are sounded after the 7th Seal is broken. The catastrophes associated with the various trumpets are described in Revelation Chapter 8, Chapter 9, and Chapter 12

Trumpets 5, 6, and 7 also signal the coming of the 3 Woes. 

Links to learn more about The Seven Trumpets of Revelation

Golden Censer

After the seven angels blow their seven trumpets in Revelation Chapter 8, an eight angel brings out a golden censer filled with fire from the heavenly altar, and throws it to the earth – unleashing peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake. 

Links to learn more about The Golden Censer

The Wormwood Star

Revelations Chapter 8 tells how the star called “Wormwood” fell from the sky after the third angel blew his trumpet. The result: “a third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.”

Did you know?

Wormwood is mentioned seven times in the Hebrew Bible, always with the implication of bitterness. The Hebrew term לענה (la’anah), means “curse.” 

The Cloisters Apocalypse, c 1330

Links to learn more about The Wormwood Star

The 3 Woes of Revelation

The 3 Woes are catastrophes and plagues that are triggered by the final 3 of the 7 Trumpets. They are detailed in Revelation Chapter 9 and Chapter 11. The 3rd Woe triggers the beginning of the release of the Bowls (and so the party continues!)

The Mighty Angel & The Little Scroll

Revelation Chapter 10 is actually considered a kind of ‘interlude’ as the people of earth are given a slight reprieve from all the catastrophes caused by the breaking of the Seven Seals and the blowing of the Seven Trumpets. During this break in the action, John of Patmos is given the little scroll by the mighty angel – as instructed, John eats the ‘bitter’ scroll. This will become a source from which he can prophesy what he knows to all peoples and all nations. 

Johannes verschlingt das Buch "Might Angel and Little Scroll" c 1530

Did you know?

In the Last Temptation of John books, this scroll is referred to as The Scroll of the Illuminated Angels. Although tiny in size, it promises to play a major role in helping to defeat the Antichrist. 

7 Bowls of Revelation

After the Seven Spiritual Figures of Revelation are discussed in chapters 15, humanity is again forced to endure more plagues – this time with the Seven Bowls. Revelation Chapter 16 describes what happens when the 7 Angels of Revelation pour out the contents of their 7 Bowls. The basic gist is that each bowl contains a Wrath of God. 

Links to learn more about the Seven Bowls of Revelation

How do the 7 Seals, 7 Trumpets, 7 Bowls, and 3 Woes relate to one another?

Here’s a handy chart that puts it all together for you along with a timeline of events….

I would love to credit the source of the chart but it's unclear who this is so if anyone knows please contact me so I can update. 

See the action unfold as each of the Seven Seals are broken in The Last Temptation of John’s final book – Golgotha Revisited. The Seven Angels, their seals, woes, and trumpets are part of the exciting climax of the entire trilogy. Read it today

The New Jerusalem, New Heaven, and New Earth

Although there is a brief reference to the New Jerusalem in Revelation 3: 12, it is Revelation Chapter 21 that details how the New Heaven and Earth will replace the old, and tells how God will come to dwell with humanity in the New Jerusalem.

"The New Jerusalem" c1900 Giclee

The importance of Chapter 21 as the key message of hope in Revelation cannot be over-estimated – the emergence of the New Jerusalem is the climax of the entire book. 

Links to learn more about The New Jerusalem

River of Life and Tree of Life

Revelation Chapter 22, the final chapter of the book, depicts the restoration of Eden – which includes the rebirth of the River of Life and the Tree of Life. All nations and peoples are healed and the curse of sin is destroyed forever. 

"Christ Enthroned Over the River of Life" c 1220

Links to learn more about The River of Life

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