In his classic study of The Paschal Liturgy and the Apocalypse , Massey Shepherd points to what he claims is a recurring pattern in Revelation’s heptamerous sequences: Apart from the seven letters at the beginning there is an “interlude” between “the sixth and seventh members of the series,” such that “the seventh and concluding item of each series is made identical with the first item of the succeeding series” (80).

Following Austin Farrer’s suggestion, he claims that “this numerology of six-pause-seven [is] symbolic of the Christian week. The seventh of the series, which represents the Jewish Sabbath, is held over, to be replaced by the first (or octave) of a new series, namely the Christian Sunday” (80). On a larger scale, this pattern is replicated through the whole book, where the “6000 years” of history are followed by the seventh millennium (ch. 20), but that is followed by the “second resurrection, final judgment, and inauguration of the world to come that shall last without end” (81).

The suggestion seems to be that the seventh/Sabbath position is evacuated in the structure of Revelation, as the sixth instead slips into an eighth which is also a first. But I’m skeptical about the structural claims.

What Shepherd calls “interludes” and “pauses” I think rather are extensions of the sixth of the sequence. The sixth seal doesn’t end with the cosmic collapse described in 6:12-17; rather, the sixth seal is consists of three scenes - the cosmic collapse (6:12-19), the sealing of the 144,000 (7:1-8), and the appearance of the innumerable multitude (7:9-17). The integrity of the passage is marked by verbal repetitions at the beginning and end: “who is able to stand?” (6:17) links with “a great multitude . . . standing” (7:9); the “wrath of the Lamb” (6:16) is matched by the “blood of the Lamb” (7:14) and the enthronement of the Lamb (7:17); terror at “Him who sits on the throne” (6:16) is contrasted to the multitude’s praise to “our God who sits on the throne” (7:11).

The other supposed pause lies between the sixth and seventh trumpet, a passage that Shepherd says contains the vision of eating the scroll (10:1-11) and the two witnesses (11:1-13). Again, these are better viewed as expansions of the sixth trumpet, which, like the sixth seal, unfolds in three visions - a supernatural army (9:13-21), the eating of the scroll, and the two witnesses. Again, verbal and visual echoes indicate that the section is an integrated whole: the horses breath fire and smoke (9:17) and so do the two witnesses (11:5); the army brings plagues (9:18) and so do the witnesses (11:6); there are two hundred million in the army (9:16), matching the dual witnesses.

For these reasons, I think Shepherd is wrong to describe these passages as “pauses.” Yet, his points stands in this sense: The seventh in each sequence is not a climax but melds oozily into the first of the next sequence. The seventh seal reveals angels with trumpets (8:1-2), who will take center stage in the next section of the book; and it’s hard to see what, if anything, happens when the last angel blows the seventh trumpet (11:15-19). At most, it seems to reveal the open temple in heaven (11:19). (Alternatively, chapters 12-15 can be seen as the overflow of the seventh trumpet; this is a plausible reading, but it’s still notable that the scope of the seventh trumpet is not obvious.)

It seems then that Shepherd (and Farrer) are right that the seven sequences have been modified in an eighth-day direction. A Jewish sequence of seven would likely put the accent on Day 7, where everything culminates. That John doesn’t, that he instead tends to “evacuate” the Sabbatical seventh, is an indication that the week of Judaism has been transcended and fulfilled in the eighth day of resurrection, the day of the church.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart