What We Believe
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The Writings of Meredith G. Kline on the Book of Revelation: Chapter 6, “The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ” (1992)

Danny E. Olinger

Nearly a half century after his Westminster Seminary thesis on the structure in the book of Revelation,[1] Meredith Kline returned to an examination of the same topic in a June 1992 Sunday school class at the then First Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Ipswich, Massachusetts. In the 1946 thesis, Kline put forth the following structure for Revelation:

Rev. 1:1–8 — Introduction
Rev. 1:9–3:22 — The Church Imperfect in the World
Rev. 4:1–8:1 — The Seven Seals
Rev. 8:2–11:19 — The Seven Trumpets
Rev. 12:1–14:20 — The Deeper Conflict
Rev. 15:1–16:21 — The Seven Bowls
Rev. 17:1–21:8 — The Final Judgments
Rev. 21:9–22:5 — The Church Perfect in Glory
Rev. 22:6–21 — Conclusion

In presenting the lesson to the class in 1992, he handed out the following outline:[2]

A comparison of Kline’s 1992 outline of Revelation with his previous student outline reveals both continuity and discontinuity. Kline still affirmed that the contrast that is central to understanding Revelation is found in the two terminal sections that bookend the interior scheme, The Church Imperfect in the World / Church in the World and The Church Perfect in Glory / Church in Glory. What Kline changed was where the first of these terminal sections started. In the 1946 outline, he placed the start of the first terminal section at Rev. 1:9 with the end at Rev. 3:22. In the 1992 outline, he saw the first terminal section starting at Rev. 2:1 and ending at Rev. 3:22.

Another change came in The Final Judgments / Final Judgments on World section immediately prior to Rev. 21:9–22:5. In the earlier outline, he proposed Rev. 17:1–21:8. In the later outline, he added Rev. 17:1–19:10 to the preceding section, Judgments of Seven Vials on World and Great City so that the Final Judgments on World section was now Rev. 19:11–21:8.

G. K. Beale

Kline’s tweaking of the outline was during the same time that his then Gordon-Conwell colleague Gregory Beale was putting together what would become the New International Greek Testament Commentary on the book of Revelation. In the chapter dealing with “The Structure and Plan of John’s Apocalypse,” Beale acknowledges Kline’s “A Study in the Structure of the Revelation of John.”[3] He agrees with Kline that it is possible that Revelation 17:1–21:8 is intended as a broader, distinct section. This is because in this section all the main figures introduced earlier in the book either undergo final judgment or receive a final reward—Babylon and the beasts, 17:1–19:21; Satan, 20:1–10; unbelievers, 20:11–15; believers, 21:1–8.[4]

In the end, independent of any consultation with Kline, what Beale maintains are the two most plausible outlines for the book of Revelation chiefly match what Kline had proposed in his 1946 and 1992 outlines. For Beale, the book divides credibly into either seven sections—1–3; 4–7; 8:1–11:14; 11:15–14:20; 15–16; 17:1–21:8; 21:9–22:21, or eight sections—1–3; 4–7; 8:1–11:14; 11:15–14:20; 15–16; 17:1–19:10; 19:11–21:8; 21:9–22:21.[5] Beale then adds, “It is hard to know which is better. Possibly, John intends that both outlines be discerned.[6]

Beale also notes that Kline in his “A Study in the Structure of the Revelation of John,” like Hendriksen before him in More Than Conquerors, made no attempt to enumerate any subdivisions. In the 1992 outline, Kline not only provided subdivisions, but also showed how the subdivisions fit into a chiastic pattern.

Introduction and Conclusion of Revelation—Covenant Sanctions

Kline first noted the parallels that exist in the Introduction, Revelation 1, and Conclusion, Revelation 22:6–21. Both point to the coming of the faithful Witness with covenant sanctions. For Kline, the appearance of the covenant sanctions testifies to the covenantal character of the kingdom order that God had established from creation and was bringing to completion with the coming of Jesus Christ. 

Kline’s argument exegetically for covenant sanctions can be found in every book he published but is most clearly articulated in his Kingdom Prologue. There he argued that God’s creating man in his image meant that the creating of the world was a covenant-making process. He stated, “There was no original non-covenantal order of mere nature on which the covenant was superimposed.”[7] Rather, God’s creation of man in his image, and God’s bringing about the pre-fall kingdom order through his divine speech and deeds and making it subject to the sanctions of divine blessing and curse—all characteristic of the substance of berith—affirm that the kingdom order described in Genesis 1–3 was a covenantal affair from the beginning.[8] Further, Kline argued that the divine sanctioning of blessing and cursing—the curse of death threatened against any breach of fealty and the blessing of life promised for loyal obedience—are integral not only to the covenant of creation (works) in Genesis 2:16–17, but also to all biblical covenants.[9]

In language reminiscent of Geerhardus Vos’s comments upon pre-redemptive special revelation and the eschatological goal of full communion with God set before Adam at creation,[10] Kline wrote regarding the blessing sanction:

Blessing sanction promising a consummation of man’s original glory as image of God was thus built into man’s very nature as image of God. This eschatological prospect was in-created. It was an aspiration implanted in man’s heart with his existence as God’s image. That being so, to restrict man to the mere continuation of his original state of beatitude would be no blessing at all, but a curse.[11]

Kline concluded that the blessing sanction of the covenant of creation (“our equivalent of the customary Covenant of Works”[12]) was “no artificial addition to the covenant but already involved in man’s God-like eschatological-sabbatical nature and essentially nothing other than the perfecting of that nature.”[13]

In the Genesis account, Kline maintained that the blessing sanction promising a consummation of man’s original glory as image of God was symbolized by the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life did not hold out to Adam the prospect of a continuation of the life that was his at creation, but life consummated through eschatological transformation. In Genesis 3:22 after the fall into sin, the Tree of Life is mentioned in connection with the consequences of failing the probation. In that verse, the Tree of Life is regarded as a seal of everlasting life. 

Kline observed how the Tree of Life reappears at both the beginning and end of Revelation. In Revelation 2:7, the Spirit declares to the one who conquers that the Spirit will grant to eat of the Tree of Life, which is in the paradise of God. In Revelation 22:2, in the middle of the heavenly city with the river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God, there the Tree of Life is also.

But Kline also noted that there was a sanction of curse to the covenant of creation and to the symbolism of the Tree of Life. He explained:

Blessing belonged properly to the Covenant of Creation. In its created condition that covenantal order was one of beatitude and the eschatological perfecting of that beatitude was its proper goal. Nevertheless, a threat of curse was included within the total disclosure of the terms of this covenant. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat thereof you will surely die” (Gen 2:17).[14]

Death was threatened for disobedience. Death was failure to realize the eschatological potential of the image of God; it was frustration of the hope of completion of man’s mission signaled by the Sabbath ordinance; and it was denial of the consummation of life signaled by the Tree of Life. 

According to Kline, such curse sanctions continue throughout the Scriptures. To prove his point, he turned to the imprecation that appears climactically in Revelation 22:18–19 (Kline’s trans.):

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.[15]

In the parenthesis following the citation of Revelation 22:18–19, Kline indicated that the reader should also see Revelation 1:3 (NASB), “Blessed is the one who reads, and those who hear the words of the prophecy and keep the things which are written in it, for the time is near.” He concluded that there was an appropriateness of the sanctions of blessing and curse not only to the book of Revelation, but to canonical Scripture as a whole.

Kline had already come to this conclusion regarding covenant sanctions extending throughout the Bible in his first published book in 1963, Treaty of the Great King. In his exegesis of Deuteronomy 29:20 (Kline’s trans.), “Then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man,” Kline wrote,

As for the root of the trouble, the individual who hypocritically mouthed the self-maledictory oath of the covenant (v. 19b), Yahweh would not hold him guiltless for having taken his name in vain. Though the individual think himself hidden in the assembled host of Israel and suppose his hypocrisy concealed within his own heart, Yahweh, avenging divine Witness of the oath, would single him out and mercilessly pour on him all the curses he had idly invoked. On verse 20b, cf. Revelation 22:18, 19.[16]

In his next book, his 1968 By Oath Consigned, Kline took up again the theme of covenant sanctions and the book of Revelation. He said:

The decisive and clear historical fact is that both blessing and curse are included in the administration of the true New Covenant. The Christ who stands like the theophanic ordeal pillar of fire in the midst of the seven churches addresses to them threats as well as promises, curses as well as blessings.[17]

In the accompanying footnote referencing Revelation 2 and 3, Kline asked rhetorically, “Do we see in the figures of the messengers (angels) of the churches the messengers of the covenant lawsuit?”[18]

It was in the first chapter of Revelation, however, that Kline saw a connection between the covenant judgment in the exodus, whereby Israel was vindicated and Egypt doomed, and the covenant judgment brought forth by the exalted Christ. In the exodus, Yahweh, himself a consuming fire, was present in the judgment in his theophanic embodiment in the pillar of smoke and fire. In Revelation 1:15, the exalted Christ, a veritable incarnation of the theophanic glory pillar of the exodus, is present for judgment (Rev. 1:13) accompanied by the ordeal elements of the water and the sword.[19]

Kline pressed the covenant sanctions of the exodus and Revelation in detail even further in Revelation 15. He suggested that the imagery in Revelation 15:2, which seemingly draws upon the Red Sea triumph, combines elements of sea and fire with the flashing glory of the theophanic smoke-cloud in Revelation 15:8 to the end of introducing the mission of seven angels who pour out the divine wrath in Revelation 16:1. The result is that the earth is brought to its final ordeal in which Babylon, the harlot-city is destroyed and the bride-city Jerusalem is exalted. The angel-messengers announce the outcome of the judicial ordeal upon the harlot-city in Revelation 17:1 (“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters”) and upon the bride-city in Revelation 21:9 (“Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’”).

Kline’s analysis of this theme of sanctions in the book of Revelation continued in his 1980 Images of the Spirit. In it, he observed that in Revelation 1 the faithful Witness is the Lord of the covenant, the one who comes “to pronounce judgment on the work of his servants in words replete with echoes of the scene in Eden and identified as what the Spirit says to the churches.”[20] Revelation 1:14 and its description of the exalted Christ as the Glory-Spirit incarnate, his eyes search-beams that penetrate the darkness with light, further identify the sanctions with the judicial exposure of Genesis 3:8.

In Kingdom Prologue, Kline also noted the connection between Revelation 1 and the Glory-Spirit of Genesis. He said,

The Book of Revelation pictures the consummation of creation’s history as involving a reappearance of the Glory-Spirit of Genesis 1:2, now enveloping the incarnate Son, his hand lifted in oath to heaven as he swears by himself, the Creator, that the mystery of God was to be completed (Rev. 10:1, 5–7; cf. Rev. 1:15; 2:18).[21]

Prelude, Vision, Interlude

The other unique feature of Kline’s 1992 outline of Revelation is his detailed expansion of the five inner sections identifying a prelude to the vision of the section, the vision itself, and interlude for each. The shared theme of each prelude is that of heaven. The Lamb-lion of Revelation 4:1–5:14 is on the throne of heaven; the seven angels of Revelation 8:2–6 receive a heavenly commissioning; heaven is opened in Revelation 11:19 and the ark of the covenant is seen; the seven angels of Revelation 15:1–8 receive a heavenly commissioning; Revelation 19:11–16 presents the warrior-Word with the armies of heaven. 

The focus of the interludes is primarily on the blood-purchased bride-church that the Spirit recreates for life in heaven. In chiastic fashion, working out from the central section, Revelation 11:19–14:20, the interludes resemble the story of the history of redemption.

Revelation 7:1–17 — Redeemed of the Lamb arrayed in white robes
          Revelation 10:1–11:13 — Witness-church and apostate church
                     Revelation 14:1–13 — Covenant sanctions
          Revelation 17:1–19:10 — Harlot-church and bride-church
Revelation 21:1–8 — Bride of the Lamb adorned for her husband

The interludes resemble the history of redemption because they cannot be separated from the redemptive-historical significance of the center section of the visions, Revelation 12:1–14:20.[22] Kline argued in Glory in Our Midst that it is in this “center-section of the Apocalypse that the conflict of the ages is directly and dramatically revealed as the contention of Christ with Satan over the church.”[23] In Glory in Our Midst, this meant showing how the prophecy of Zechariah 3 foretold the victory over the accuser and the deliverance of the people of God by the Suffering Servant.

But, Kline did not stop there with the identification of Revelation 12:1–14:20 to redemptive-history. He also believed that Revelation 12 was related to the events of Genesis 3. In Kingdom Prologue, he explained:

The portrayal of the mission of Christ in Revelation 12 may be singled out as rich in clear allusions to Genesis 3:15. In this vision a great dragon appears, identified as the ancient serpent, the devil (v.9). There is also a woman who gives birth to a son, and the passage speaks too about the rest of the “seed” of the woman (v.11). The history of the child born to the woman is described in messianic terms: he attains to the world-rule of the anointed Son foretold in Psalm 2 and fulfills the Daniel 7 vision of the Son of Man, for his encounter with the dragon culminates in his ascension to the throne of God (v.5), a victory celebrated as a coming of the salvation and kingdom and authority of the Christ of God (v.10). As for the dragon-serpent, though he sets himself to devour the child (v.4), he is doomed to defeat. When the messianic son is caught up to heaven in triumph, Satan is cast down out of heaven into the prison of the abyss and at last into the lake of second death (v.9; Rev 20).[24]

Kline further noted in Kingdom Prologue that the sequence of the visions in Revelation 12 is significant in understanding the prophecy. It is only after the son born to the woman suffers in the conflict with the dragon that issues into his ascension to glory (Rev. 12:1–5) that Michael may wage war and prevail against Satan (Rev. 12:7ff.). The brethren overcome their accuser only through the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 12:11).[25]

The interludes that surround the center section, Revelation 10:1–11:13 and Revelation 17:1–19:11, present the co-existence of the harlot-church and bride-church prior to the consummate life of heaven. But, as the outer two interludes testify, the day of no more tears is coming for the white-robed redeemed of the Lamb, Revelation 7:1–17, the bride of the Lamb adorned for her husband, Revelation 21:1–8.      

Lastly, Revelation 14:13, the concluding verse of the center section of the interludes, held special value to Kline. He declared that

so complete is the triumph of the stronger One over the draconic foe, he who has the power of death, that dying, for the Christian martyr-witness, is transformed into a ‘first resurrection,’ an entrance into a sabbatical resting (cf. Rev. 14:13) and reigning with their Savior-Victor.

Much like the enclosure of the ark in Noah’s day, the experience of death for God’s people is a sanctuary from the wrath of God abroad in the world.[26]

Endnotes

[1] Meredith G. Kline, “A Study in the Structure of the Revelation of John” (Master’s thesis, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1946), published in Ordained Servant Online (Dec. 2021), https://opc.org/os.html?article_id=933.

[2] Outline courtesy of Meredith M. Kline. The outline format—A, B, C, D, C, B, A—displays a chiastic pattern, which is explained further below.

[3] Beale’s awareness of Kline’s thesis on the structure of Revelation did not come through personal interaction with Kline at Gordon-Conwell, but earlier through interaction with Peter Steen when Beale was teaching at Grove City College from 1980 to 1984 in Western Pennsylvania. Steen, a lifelong Orthodox Presbyterian, had taught at Geneva College in the mid-1970s. At the beginning of the 1980s he was active in evangelism on the campuses of Westminster and Grove City colleges as he pursued gospel ministry in the OPC. Shortly after his being licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Ohio in 1983, he died of lymphoma. Gregory Beale, email to author, April 21, 2021.

[4] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 110–111.

[5] Ibid., 114. The differences in Beale’s seven-section outline and Kline’s 1946 outline are Beale’s inclusion of Kline’s Introduction (Rev. 1) and Conclusion (Rev. 22:6–21) into the opening and closing sections, Beale’s placing of Rev. 8:1 in the Seven Trumpets section, and his starting of the middle section at Rev. 11:15 instead of Rev. 12:1. The differences in Beale’s eight-section outline and Kline’s 1992 outline include the same three points.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue (South Hamilton, MA: M. G. Kline, 1991), 57. In Images of the Spirit, Kline declared, “Discovery of the biblical nexus between the concepts of image of God and divine covenant validates Covenant Theology’s identification of the Creator’s relation to man at the beginning as a covenantal arrangement.” Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 55. Interestingly, Kline footnotes this statement with a reference to pages 26 and following in his By Oath Consigned (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), which is arguably the most Geerhardus Vos-indebted section in the Klinian corpus.

[8] Kingdom Prologue, 10.

[9] Ibid., 12.

[10] See Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 22–23.

[11] Kingdom Prologue, 57.

[12] Ibid., 10.

[13] Ibid., 58.

[14] Ibid., 63.

[15] Meredith G. Kline, Structure of Biblical Authority (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1972), 36–37.

[16] Meredith G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1963), 131.

[17] Meredith G. Kline, By Oath Consigned, 77.

[18] Kline, By Oath Consigned, 77.

[19] In Kingdom Prologue, Kline connected the Glory-cloud of the Exodus with the covenant sanctions. He wrote, “God’s Glory-Presence was the executor of both the dual sanctions. Thus, in Israel’s exodus history, the same Glory that functioned to bless Israel was the divine Agent to inflict God’s curses on the Egyptians. The Glory-cloud was a protective shade to one, a bewildering darkness to the other. The Glory-fire was a guiding light to one, but to the other a blinding, consuming blaze” (64).

[20] Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit, 123.

[21] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 11.

[22] In Glory in Our Midst: A Biblical Theological Reading of Zechariah’s Night Visions (Overland Park, KS: Two Age Press, 2001), 97, Kline stated that it is in this section that “the depths of the redemptive-historical process are explored and exposed.”

[23] Ibid.

[24] Kline, Kingdom Prologue, 89.

[25] Ibid., 91. Kline was acutely aware that the movement from humiliation to exaltation for the child born to the women in Rev. 12 was the pattern for the people of God in all ages. As an example, in his commentary on Genesis, he referenced Rev. 12:1–5 in regard to the events surrounding Moses and Joseph. “From slave to vizier of Egypt—astonishing, but a trifle to the God who brings the promised seed from barren wombs and life from the dead. The Lord would later repeat such triumphs in the days of Israel’s slavery in the land of Ham—in the rescue of the infant Moses from the Nile to be adopted into Pharaoh’s household and in the subsequent prevailing of Moses in ordeals of wisdom and power against the court magicians. These were early intimations of the ultimate triumph of the messianic man child caught up from the cross and his ordeal with the dragon to the throne of God to rule all nations (cf. Rev. 12:1–5).” See, Meredith G. Kline, Genesis: A New Commentary, ed. J. Kline (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2017), 126–127.

[26] The scriptural citation of Isa. 16:20 on page 38 in Kline’s Genesis in connection with Rev. 14:13 is erroneous. The correct citation should be Isa. 26:20.

Danny E. Olinger is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as the General Secretary of Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Ordained Servant Online, December 2021.

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Ordained Servant: December 2021

A Congregational Charge

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A Charge to the Congregation

New Polish translation of the Westminster Confession of Faith

A Study in the Structure of the Revelation of John

Commentary on the Form of Government of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Chapter 23, Part 1

Swain and Poythress on the Trinity

Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption by L. Michael Morales

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman

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