AUDIENCE RELEVANCE IN REVELATION

PMT 2013-033 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Early ChristiansWhen interpreting any biblical book of the Bible it is important to understand the audience to which it is directed. The evangelical interpreter should understand a passage’s grammar in light of its historical context, not despite it. At least three factors in Revelation emphasize the original audience and their circumstances. These are quite important for and relevant to the preterist position.

Historic Churches

First, in Revelation John is writing to particular, historic, individual churches that exist in his day. Revelation 1:4 provides a common epistolary opening: “John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace [be] unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come.” In verse 11 he specifically names the seven churches to whom he writes: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodifcea. We know these cities as historical places containing actual churches.

In Revelation 2 and 3 John addresses these seven churches with individual exhortations and warnings. Interestingly, we may discover many historical, geographical, and political allusions in the letters, showing that John does, in fact, have his original audience in view. (See: Ramsey, Letters to the Seven Churches [1963]; Worth, Seven Cities of the Apocalypse and Greco-Asian Culture [1999] and Seven Cities of the Apocalypse and Roman Culture [1999]; and Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia [1989].


Four Views on the Book of Revelation (ed. by Marvin Pate)
Helpful presentation of four approaches to Revelation


Revelation 1:4 does not read: “John to the many churches which are in America in the Twenty-first century.”

Concerned Communication

Second, we learn that John writes to those churches in order to be understood. The first sentence of John’s work contains its title. And from that title we know John fully intends that his work be a “revelation” so that he might “show” his readers what must take place. The Greek word for “revelation” is apokalupsis, which means an “opening up, uncovering.” John intends for his book to open up divine truth for his original audience.

Furthermore, in Revelation 1:3 we read: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.” John expects the members of the seven churches to hear, understand, and keep the directives in Revelation. Revelation calls upon each church to give careful, spiritual attention to its words (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).

Revelation 1:3 does not read: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and pray for those who will live 2000 years from now so that they might keep those things which are written in it.”

Suffering Audience

Third, in his first chapter John also notes that he and the seven churches are already in “tribulation,” which anticipates the major focus of the book: the “great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). “I John, who also am your brother, and companion in the tribulation” (Rev 1:9a). Revelation 2 and 3 contain allusions to greater problems brewing on the world scene (Rev 2:10, 22–23, 25; 3:9–11).

So then: John is obviously writing to particular historical churches about their current, grave, and worsening circumstances. We must not overlook the original audience factor; Revelation’s message must be relevant to them. This is especially significant since, as noted in my previous email, Revelation is filled with notes stating the prophecies will occur shortly (e.g., Rev 1:1, 3).

Revelation 1:9 does not read: “I John, who also am your brother, and companion in relatively comfortable times.”


In this brief series that I am beginning, we will see how important these observations are for interpreting this most abused book.
Book of Revelation Made Easy (by Ken Gentry)
Helpful introduction to Revelation presenting keys for interpreting it.


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