Revelation – J. P. M. Sweet — Review and Commentary

I’ve been reading several commentaries on the Book of Revelation. Many people think it’s a coded message describing world history in detail. But Sweet’s commentary says it’s a broad picture of the Creator God’s plan to save people from the penalty of their sins, destroy evil, and recreate His paradise in which He will dwell with mankind forever.

Revelation, Sweet says, describes the cyclical rise and fall of empires and the beastly nature of those emperors. He uses those emperors (e.g., presidents, prime ministers, etc.) to chasten those who will repent, and He lets them destroy those who will not repent. Those who follow the leaders (beasts and false prophets) don’t realize that they lead them to destruction. Those who reject the leaders’ domination obey God’s moral law to the end and show and tell others of His sacrificial love to those who follow the beast, if perchance, they repent, too.

At a time of His choosing, when all those who will be saved are saved, the Creator God will intervene and call a halt to these cycles of destruction. Then God will mete out rewards and punishments to everyone for deeds they’ve done. Those found in the Book of Life enter His presence forever in the new earth and those who are not found in that book are driven into the outer darkness away from His presence forever. God as the Creator has the right to re-create a new earth in which He will dwell with mankind.

This is a simpler, more straightforward, and even countercultural understanding of a misunderstood and maligned book. Sweet emphasizes that the one whose Christian witness and moral practice endures to the end will be saved. On the flipside, he wrestles with Calvinism, attributing it, at one point, to unwarranted smugness. He also caters to a liberal understanding of the Book of Daniel but that can be overlooked.

Sweet makes some very strong points that organize our understanding of Revelation. First, that the book says it’s meant to be read out loud. Therefore, hearers would be listening to the rhythms and cadences of the book while picking up on verbal markers linking the book together and with Old Testament sources. Just like Jesus’ exclamation, “I thirst,” calls to mind Psalm 69, John’s symbols refer to and sometimes reinterpret Old Testament stories and images. He argues that the book was made to be apprehended by those who hear it, though textual analysis provides further depth.

Numbers also take on significance in the book. As an example, concerning Rev. 7:4, he says, “Twelve is the number of tribes of Israel, a thousand intensifies it (and is itself a military formation), a squared number expresses perfection: twelve times twelve thousands, therefore, means that the sealed are the totality of God’s Israel, brigaded for His service.”

Another organizing principle Sweet advances is that what John says he sees is interpreted by what he hears. He says, “What is heard, the ‘voice’, represents the inner reality, the spirit; what is seen, the ‘appearance’, represents the outward, the flesh.” Sweet is careful to say this is neither a gnostic nor Platonic understanding, but rather, “To the Jew the outward world is the locus of God’s ‘speaking’, His self-revelation and action, so that there is a dialectical relationship between inward and outward, spirit and flesh, hearing and seeing.”

He cites several examples. Sweet says,

Thus the slain Lamb (which John sees) is interpreted by the Lion of Judah (of which he hears): its death is not weakness and defeat, as it seems to be, but power and victory (cf. 1 Cor 1:23 ff).” Also, he says, “In Rev. 7 John hears (Rev. 7:4) the number of the 144,000 who are ‘sealed’ (i.e., the spiritual truth of Israel’s ‘election’), which interprets what he sees (v. 9), a multitude drawn from all nations: i.e., ‘salvation is of the Jews’. But the outward reality of the church, in which there cannot be distinctions between Jews, Greek, and barbarian (Col. 3:11), reinterprets the traditional theological truth of Israel’s priority.

Sweet says that the letters (Rev. 2, 3), “show that the church’s chief dangers are internal: complacency, somnolence, and compromise with worldly values.” However, Sweet says, there is also danger from external attack: false jews who attack faith in the Messiah and false prophets and Nicolaitans (Niko-laos means Conquer–people) who adulterate it with heathen religion and morals. The false prophets and Nicolaitans are associated with Balaam (Bala‘–’am means Destroy–people,) Balak, and Jezebel. Balaam and Balak, Sweet points out, are one of several Old Testament representatives of the false prophet and beast king of Revelation.

Sweet points out that within his four septets structure (i.e., letters, seals, trumpets, and bowls) there is another feature crucial for understanding the book. He says,

The visions of destruction (Ch. 6–20) are bracketed by the overarching vision of God the Creator and Redeemer (Ch. 4–5,) who makes all things new (21:1 – 22:5): carnage and chaos are within the divine plan and lead through into the fulfilment of man’s destiny in final union with God.

However, Sweet struggles to reinterpret all the destruction of chapter 6 through 20 as sacrificial love instead of vengeance, but ends up concluding rightly, with Farrer, “No other New Testament writing presents such embarrassing pictures…yet to a large extent Revelation merely colors in what was everywhere taken for granted…And as for divine vengeance, no New Testament Christian felt any qualms about it. God’s mercy was outpoured to save as many as would repent; but the triumph of His power over irreconcilable hostility was to have all the splendor of a victory.”

Finally, he analyzes the book and presents the following outline. Others, who agree with the symbolic interpretation, differ with the breakdown for textual reasons.

Revelation Verses


Synoptic Gospel Verses – Matthew 24:


Opening address



Vision of the Son of man



2, 3





State of churches: deception, lawlessness

4–5, 9–12


Ephesus: false apostles, Nicolaitans



Smyrna: false jews, tribulation



Pergamum: witness, idolatry



Thyatira: Jezebel, fornication



Sardis: sleep, soiled garments



Philadelphia: false and true jews



Laodicea: affluence, nakedness










Assurance and endurance



God the creator – rainbow and sea



God the Redeemer – Lamb’s conquest unseals book



Four horsemen = beginning of birth-pangs



First seal – conquest (the Gospel?)



Second seal – war



Third seal – famine



Fourth seal – death (pestilence)



Fifth seal – comfort for martyrs



Sixth seal – cosmic demolition

(‘wrath of Lamb’)



Sealing of true Israel (144,000)



Final ingathering from all nations



Seventh seal – silence (birth of New Age)



8:2 – 14:20





Idolatry and witness



Heavenly altar of incense



First four trumpets: destruction of nature



Eagle – three woes



Fifth trumpet = first woe: locust–scorpions



Sixth trumpet = second woe: lion-cavalry

Self–destruction of idolatry; impenitence



Little scroll (= the gospel)



Measuring of temple, two witnesses

Church’s witness; penitence


Mark 13:9–13

11:14 – 13:18

Seventh Trumpet = third woe (12:12)



Heavenly worship



Defeat of dragon in heaven leads to



Flight of woman (= church)



Kingdom of beasts on earth



Sea beast: war on saints



Land beast: deception



144000 – first fruits



Eternal gospel; consequence of refusal



Coming of the Son of man

Final ingathering: harvest and vintage



15:1 – 22:5





Fornication and purity: Bridegroom comes



Song of Moses and the Lamb



Heavenly Temple



First four bowls of wrath: cf. trumpets



Fifth bowl: beast’s kingdom darkened



Sixth bowl: Armageddon



Seventh bowl: beast’s city destroyed



Harlot destroyed by the beast



Doom of the harlot = Babylon = Rome



Marriage supper of the Lamb



Coming of the Son of man, as Word of God



Destruction of beasts



Binding of Satan, rule of saints –

Thousand years (millennium)



Release and final destruction of Satan



Last judgment



New Creation, expounded as



Adornment of bride – holy city


21:22 – 22:5

Ingathering of nations

Tree of life – paradise restored



22:6 – end

Final attestation


Four Horsemen of the Apocalype
Death on a Pale Horse is a version of the traditional subject, Four Horsemen of Revelation, 1796, Benjamin West (1738 – 1820), in the public domain in the US

Writing for Story – A Review

Jon Franklin, two-time Pulitzer prize winner, wrote: Writing for Story – Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction to teach authors his methods. Franklin illustrates his technique with annotated versions of his two essays: “Mrs. Kelly’s Monster” and “The Ballad of Old Man Peters,” the first of which won the 1979 Pulitzer prize. The goal of his technique is to impart knowledge and truth to readers. To paraphrase Franklin:

The secret to professional writing is a fusion of learned craftsmanship with artistic vision born of experience. The successful writer is the one who grasps the separate parts of their story and sees how those components work together to produce a compelling and dramatic tale.

Franklin’s writing process consists of three parts: outlining, roughing in the draft, and polishing. Outlining concerns the conceptual associations between the character and action which, for a short story, consists of a time sequence of five major focus narratives: the beginning complication focus, three development focuses which constitute the story body, and the ending resolution focus. Roughing in the draft (i.e., the structural level) involves the internal makeup of major focuses: sequence, emphasis, pacing, and orientation of action. Polishing entails good grammar, word usage, imagery, and principles of sentence and paragraph structure. More details of this process, abstracted from Franklin’s book, are described next. First, he describes the object of his process: the story.

Content of a Story

A story consists of a chronological action sequence that a captivating character undertakes and/or endures to solve a complication that they face. The flow from the complication’s introduction, through the action events, to the resolution constitutes a fiction story’s plot or a non-fiction story’s structure.

The resolution results, often, from a character’s flash of insight as to how to solve their problem rather than directly from the action. A story is said “to work” when a real character struggles diligently to solve a significant problem that confronts them, overcomes the problem, and becomes a changed character as a result.

Story Anatomy

Active images, built on action verbs, are the focuses of action. They are the smallest possible unit of story. Collections of these units form minor focuses. These join via simple transitions to form larger focuses glued together by increasingly complex transitions. Transitions guide the reader through changing times, places, moods, subjects, and characters. These larger focuses combine to form several major focuses that compose the principal subunits of stories.

There are typically five principal subunits in a short story and more in longer form copy. Each subunit has a specific role: the first is the complicating focus. The complicating focus consists of a series of subfocuses that grab the reader’s attention, introduce the characters, and reveal the complication that the story depicts. As examples, jokes may consist of a single image that doubles as a major focus whereas a psychological novel may consist of hierarchical image aggregations at multiple levels.

The next three development focuses (i.e., the story body) describe the actions that the character takes to resolve the complication. These are longer than the first or last focuses but easier to write. The first developmental focus enters deeper into the story and the third (last) developmental focus carries the story to the brink of the resolution.

The climax of the last developmental focus (at its end) is where the character has a “moment of insight” when they realize what they must do to solve the problem. Screenwriters call this flash of realization the second plot point. The complication is the first plot point.

The resolving focus which ends the story can be long or short but reads very quickly. This is possible because the necessary background has been laid and the character has made choices and taken actions to get them to this point. All that remains is the character’s psychological or physical action to clearly solve the problem.


The saga is a variation on the five focus short story. Sagas consist of a major complication and resolution; but, instead of having three developmental focuses it has five, more or less, interlinked substories (or episodes) with their own complications and resolutions. These episodes interlink by presenting the complication (or cliffhanger) of the next substory either before or after the resolution of the current substory. This preserves and reinforces the tension of the story as a whole.

The Writing Process

The practicing writer is concerned with three hierarchical processes: outlining, roughing in the draft, and polishing.


Outlining is based on complications and resolutions. There is one statement for each major focus (e.g., typically five for a short story) and every subfocus. Use a subject, active verb, and object (i.e., noun-verb-noun form) for outline statements to reduce the story to its essentials. In storytelling, the dramatic action that makes your point comes at the end of each section where the climax belongs. So each outline statement represents the focus ending.

The most dramatic aspect of any story is growth and change in the main character. The outline centers on this growth and change so that it will emerge as the story’s backbone. The outline presents the story’s drama via action that proceeds from complication to resolution.

The main advantage of constructing the outline first is in discovering structural flaws before any text is written. Structural problems can be simply resolved without wasted effort and emotional commitment. The outline is the psychological roadmap of your story and brings out eternal truths.

Rough Draft

Expanding the outline’s focus statements into rough copy marks the halfway point in story creation. Most of the creative work of the story is complete at the start of this stage. At the structural level, word choice is important only at dramatic high points.

This is where the writer constructs transitions, scene-settings, action sequences, and other products that enable the reader to slide through the story. Phrase order and sentence rhythms are not critical when roughing in the draft narrative.

Three Types of Narrative

There are three major types of narrative: transitional, preparatory, and climatic. Transitional narrative switches scenes and keeps the reader oriented. Preparatory narrative comes next and sets the reader up to understand the ensuing dramatic scene. Climactic narrative evokes the reader’s emotions via detailed action descriptions. After the climactic narrative ends, transitional narrative moves the reader to the next time and place so preparatory narrative can hasten them to the next climactic scene.

Transitional Narrative

Transitional narrative enables the reader to negotiate a story’s twists, turns, and changes without getting disoriented or lost. Good narrative makes the reader forget their reality and step into your character’s world. It establishes the time, place, character, subject, and mood at the story’s start and maintains “threads” of continuity through focus changes to the story’s end.

Three Transition Types

There are many types of transitions. Three major ones are: the break, the flashback/flash-forward, and the stream-of-consciousness appeal to emotion. The break transition breaks all five threads with typographic symbols, jars the reader, and is therefore weak. The cinematic equivalent is a fadeout or commercial break.

A flashback, if necessary, is best located immediately after the complication. It is used only once in short or medium length stories. The flashback’s danger is that it forces the reader to break with their experience of time flow, disrupting several threads and weakening others. It is a point of confusion for the reader.

The last transition method is psychological: a stream-of-consciousness emotional connection (e.g., rhyming, common movement, etc.) The human mind is easily directed by exploiting its emotional engine. Psychological transition is a very useful tool to associate images not usually brought together in order to display enduring truths.

Preparatory Narrative

Preparatory narrative follows a transitional narrative to prepare the reader intellectually and emotionally for a dramatic highpoint. An example of preparatory narrative is strong scene-building and character-strengthening text, preferably incorporating action, to help the reader understand and enter into the story.


Foreshadowing is a powerful technique used in preparatory narrative. It unobtrusively inserts details early in a story that enable later dramatic scenes to be told without explanation of background details which would distract the reader from the ongoing drama.

Climactic Narrative

Climactic narrative expresses a story’s dramatic action and accounts for almost all of a story’s emotional impact. Climactic narrative focusses tightly on events and supporting details. It never tells how a character feels or what he or she does; it shows what happens, what the character does in response, and what happens next. The proverb: “actions speak louder than words,” reflects this understanding.

In climactic narrative, you see generalizations described with detailed action that would be explicitly stated in preparatory and transitional narrative.

Creating the Rough Draft

Start at the ending of a story in order to know what to foreshadow. Write the end of last developmental focus where your character’s point of insight occurs; then write the transitional and preparatory narratives that set up the first scene of the resolution. Finally, write the rest of the resolution scenes to the end.

Next, write the story complication (i.e., the first plot point); introduce your characters, set up the situation, and bring them face to face with the problem. Capture it in as few pages as possible. Once you have the beginning, write successive developmental focuses until you’ve completed your (short) story.

Whenever your story seems to be going wrong, stop, go back to the outline, and read it carefully. Determine why you deviated and modify the story or outline accordingly. This process of refining the story per the outline and outline per the story is called calibration. Once the story and outline match (and you like the story) stop.

Pacing and Intensity

Pacing consists of transitions leading to smooth preparatory narrative cascading into dramatic scenes. Pace is determined by how rapidly the narrative moves from climactic point to climactic point within a major focus.

Intensity is built by closely focusing on the characters and surroundings. The interplay between pace and intensity is complex and can produce a variety of effects.

Cutting Dead Wood

A critical part of the rough draft process involves throwing away words. Remove unnecessary text, no matter how well written and, therefore, distracting, if it doesn’t fulfill Chekov’s law (i.e., a shotgun described as hanging over the mantel must be fired by story’s end.)

Unless you are willing to redefine the story to incorporate the distraction and remove aspects of the original story, the dead wood must be removed.

At this point, the rough draft is finished. Take a few days off to let your subconscious process what you’ve written before conducting a read through.

The Read Through

The read through should ask questions that a reader would ask: who is the character, what happens to them, what does he or she learn from the experience? What does the story make you feel?

Look for errors: is a transition too long, is a scene shortchanged, does a flashback come too quickly after the complication because the transition is too short, etc. After you make any necessary structural corrections then you can retire the outline.


Polishing converts rough copy into clear, active, and integrated narrative that moves the story along without intruding into it.

The rules of polish are straightforward and not abstract. They are, however, one-part: logic, prejudice, authority, and tradition. The three rules of polish are: do it consciously, read and apply Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and read good writing voraciously.

Polish – Procedures

Polishing procedures, as opposed to rules, are similar to those for outlining and rough composition. Polish your story without regard to sequence, concentrating on the most critical scenes first and working from focus to focus in the order of their importance.

Once a story is completed, the lead or narrative hook is easier to rewrite. The lead helps the reader transition from their world to that of the character by establishing (or starting to establish) the story’s five threads.

Polish – Imagery and Sequencing

Polishing principles divide into image clarification and image sequencing. To achieve image clarity, make proper word choices and use strong verbs which cohere the words around it in only one way. Sequencing organizes the flow of paragraphs, images, and words to unfold the story image-by-image in a way that best accomplishes the story’s structural (i.e., dramatic) goals.

Complex sentences laden with prepositions and qualifiers alert the writer to inadequate or inessential images. If the copy seems confused, reorder the images as necessary, and rewrite them into new sentences. If the order of two images isn’t important (i.e., one doesn’t build on the other), one of them needs to be discarded.

Rhythm is important in sequencing. A series of long sentences, establishing a slow rhythm, may be broken by a short terse summation thereby adding impact to the conclusion. Rhythms such as blank verse can add psychological effect.


To sum up the results of Franklin’s process: active images build upon one another to reach an evocative statement at paragraph’s end. The drama drops off through a minor transition, if necessary, and starts rising again in preparatory text. Successive paragraphs rise and fall building towards the climax of a small focus consisting of that focus’s most dramatic images. This focus ends with a statement that summarizes the focus’s drama.

Small focuses transition one to another in sequence. Each one peaks with a dramatic summary statement. These small focuses build toward the major focus resolution where the focus statement is demonstrated. The narrative then passes through a major transition to start the next major focus. At the end of the story, the final few images of the narrative resolve the story’s complication and the story ends.

We heartily recommend Franklin’s method and urge you to read his book yourselves to discover his annotated essay examples and the numerous nuances that we, by necessity, left out.

Writing for Story - Franklin

Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction, by Jon Franklin