Revelation's Target Audience

Church in Iceland Photo by Milind Kaduskar on Unsplash
 - The book of Revelation was addressed to seven actual churches in the province of Asia in the first century A.D

The opening paragraph of Revelation presents the book as a record of the vision received by John while on the isle of Patmos. It labels its contents “the prophecy,” singular, and summarizes them as “what things that must come to pass soon” - [Photo by Milind Kaduskar on Unsplash].

John was commanded to write the vision in a scroll and send it to seven first-century churches located in key cities of the Roman province of Asia. In its entirety, the book was addressed to these seven congregations. At the outset, Jesus proclaimed blessings to the one “who reads, and they who hear the words of the prophecy” - (Revelation 1:9-11).

The first vision included seven letters addressed to the “seven churches.” Each letter included commendations, corrections, warnings, and promises for its congregants, and each letter ended with the admonishment to “hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches,” plural.

The “seven churches of Asia” do not drop out of the picture after chapter 3 of the book. The promises found in each letter include verbal links to the final vision of “New Jerusalem.” Likewise, the exhortation to “hear what the Spirit is saying” at the close of each letter also occurs in the middle and at the end of the book:
  • (Revelation 13:9-10) - “If anyone has an ear, let him hear.”
  • (Revelation 22:16) - “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches.”
This does not mean that the book was only applicable to these seven ancient churches. At the time, there were more than seven congregations in the province of Asia, plus dozens more throughout the Roman Empire. Plural terms like “churches” and descriptions of saints from “every nation” anticipate a much wider audience. However, the original seven churches remain a part of that audience, however large it may prove to be in the end.

The number seven is used symbolically throughout the book to signify completion; a complete group. Thus, the “seven churches” represent a larger whole, although the seven are included in it. Likewise, the concluding admonishment of each letter to hear what the spirit is saying to the “churches” indicates a broader audience.
Although the message of the book is to a broader audience, any interpretation that makes the “seven churches of Asia” irrelevant to its visions does not do it justice.
Ignoring the historical setting of Revelation creates significant problems. For example, if the promise to keep the church of Philadelphia “out of the hour of trial” refers to an escape from any “tribulation” in the remote future, then it had no relevance to the very congregation to which Jesus himself gave the promise - (Revelation 3:10).

Passages from the book of Revelation must be interpreted first and foremost in their historical contexts. What was the imminent “hour of trial” facing the church at Philadelphia? To what did Jesus refer when he told the church at Smyrna they faced “tribulation ten days?” Who and what were the Nicolaitans? What was the "throne of Satan" in the city of Pergamos?


Popular posts from this blog

Persecution, Suffering, Discipleship

Wrath of God in Revelation