Revelation 12-15 is a major section of the book patterned in the same style as the other three sets of seven in the book (seals, trumpets and bowls). Each unit begins with “and I saw” (καί εἶδον). The seven units have the same 4 + 2 + 1 pattern with a brief interlude between the sixth and seventh unit. The larger section is framed by the word “sign” (σημεῖον) in 12:1, 3 and 15:2. Revelation 11:19 refers to the opening of the doors of the temple, Revelation 15:5-8 refer to the opening of the sanctuary of the tent in heaven.
Opening of the doors of the heavenly temple (11:19)
- 12:1-18 The War of the Dragon (vs. 1, 3 a great sign, σημεῖον)
- 13:1-11 The First Beast, from the Sea (καί εἶδον)
- 13:11-18 The Second Beast, from the Earth (καί εἶδον)
- 14:1-5 The Lamb and the 144,000 (καί εἶδον)
- 14:6-13 The Three Angels (καί εἶδον)
- 14:14-20 The Son of Man’s Harvest of the Earth (καί εἶδον)
- (Interlude: 15:1, introduction of the seven vials)
- 15:2-4 The Saint’s Victory over the Beast (καί εἶδον; 15:2, third sign, σημεῖον)
Opening of the sanctuary of the tent in heaven (15:5-8)
This outline is drawn from Greg Beale’s commentary, although I have added the opening of the two heavenly sanctuaries. Craig Koester also considers 11:19-15:4 as a unit describing “the conflict between the Creator and the destroyers of the earth” (Revelation, AB, 523).
Some commentators group chapter 15 with chapter 16 since the pouring of the bowls is introduced in 15:1 and executed in chapter 16. Buist, for example, calls Revelation 12:1-14:20 “Two further interludes” (Revelation, 402). Osborne specifically rejects Beale’s suggestion, observing the phrase “and I saw” (καί εἶδον) is a general formula used often in the book. For Osborne, 15:1-8 parallels the introduction to the trumpets in Revelation 8:2-5 (Revelation, 452, n. 1). Massyngberde Ford takes 11:6-19 as an introduction to seven signs in 12:1-14:20 (the woman, the dragon, the beast of the sea, the beast of the earth, the lamb and virgins, the seven angels (Revelation, AB, 194). For each of her septets, the seventh contains the next set so there are really only six signs.
Regardless of the boundaries and structure of the unit, the main theme of Revelation 12-15 is the source of evil that is tormenting the God’s people. This is the first time John reveals explicitly who is behind the persecution: “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan” (12:9).
In addition, the nature of the persecution God’s people must endure intensifies. Prior to Revelation 12 demonic activity was implied (6:8 and 9:11), but the devil himself was never mentioned. Revelation 11:7 mentions the beast for the first time, but who or what the beast refers to is not developed until Revelation 13. Those who choose to follow this beast (and receive his mark) will “drink the wine of God’s wrath” (Rev 14:10). Those who refuse the beast’s mark will no longer be able to buy or sell (13:17) and those who are marked by God (14:1) will face persecution and death (13:7). But “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on” (Rev 14:13).