To Show His Servants

From start to finish, the Book of Revelation is addressed to the “seven churches of Asia,” and they do not fade from the picture after its third chapter. While the Book may include a larger target audience, Revelation is first of all a message intended for those seven first-century assemblies, and the significance of its visions cannot be understood apart from them. And it begins by describing itself as an unveiling of information for the “servants” of God.

The purpose of the Book is to show God’s “SERVANTS what things must soon come to pass.” And Revelation is very specific regarding the identity of these “servants,” namely, the seven “churches” or “assemblies” of Asia, a Roman proconsular province in what is today western Turkey - (Revelation 1:1-11).

Church - Photo by John Cafazza on Unsplash
[Photo by John Cafazza on Unsplash]

The “
revelation of Jesus” is also called “the prophecy,” the “word of God,” and the “word of testimony of Jesus Christ.” In each case, the noun is singular, and the Book pronounces everyone who hears and keeps it “blessed.” It is not a collection of individual and unrelated visions, but one vision and message intended for the “assemblies.”

And so there is no doubt, the Book’s prologue includes “greetings” from God, the “Seven Spirits,” and from Jesus, the one who “loved us and loosed us from our sins by his blood.”

In short, the Book of Revelation is a message intended for followers of the same Jesus who was crucified by his enemies (“the faithful witness”) but raised from the dead by God (“the firstborn of the dead”) - men and women who have been redeemed by his death.

TO THE ASSEMBLIES


In John’s first vision, he sees a glorious figure “like a Son of Man” walking among seven golden “lampstands.” The Book then interprets the vision. The “lampstands” represent or symbolize the seven assemblies of Asia.

The “Son of Man” then sends seven letters to the seven “messengers” of the assemblies. Each letter includes commendations and corrections for the “seven messengers.”

And while each letter contains information specific to its assembly, each also promises rewards to the one who “overcomes,” singular, and each exhorts the audience to “hear what the Spirit is saying to the assemblies,” plural.

Thus, the exhortations and warnings of each letter are intended for the entire church, or at least, for these seven first-century congregations. And they do not disappear from the picture after the letter to Laodicea in Chapter 3. The promises for “overcomers” include verbal links to the vision of “New Jerusalem” at the end of the Book, and the exhortation to “hear what the Spirit is saying to the assemblies” also occurs in its central and concluding sections - (Revelation 13:9-10, 22:16).

When the “slain Lamb” is introduced in Chapter 5, the entire creation pronounces him “worthy” to take and open the Sealed Scroll BECAUSE by his death he redeemed men from EVERY nation, people, tribe, and linguistic group, and he constituted them a “kingdom of priests.”

This image represents the redeemed people of the Lord, and it is NOT identical with any nation-state or ethnic group. What qualifies anyone to belong to this priestly company is the “blood of the Lamb” - (Revelation 5:6-14).

This redeemed group is seen again in Chapter 7 in the vision of the “innumerable multitude” that is standing before the “Lamb” and the Throne. It is comprised of men who are “coming out of the Great Tribulation,” present tense, men “from every nation” who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

TO THE ENTIRE CHURCH


None of this means the Book of Revelation is only applicable to the seven “churches of Asia” or limited to first-century events. At the time John received his vision, there were more than seven congregations in the province, plus dozens more scattered across the Roman Empire. Plural terms like “assemblies” and references to saints from “every nation” indicate a much wider target audience.

But the original seven congregations remain a part of that audience. And in the Book, the number seven is used symbolically for completion. And so, these “seven churches” represent a larger whole, although they are included in it. Likewise, the concluding admonishment in each letter to hear what the Spirit is saying to the “churches” points to a much broader audience.

Furthermore, the vision of the vast “innumerable multitude” of men from every nation celebrating in “New Jerusalem” certainly envisions something far larger and grander than just the seven marginalized congregations of Asia.

In short, Revelation presents a unified message that is applicable to the entire church throughout the present age. It is addressed to everyone who has “washed his robes in the blood of the Lamb.” Any interpretation that writes the “seven churches” out of the picture or pushes them to the side does not take the Book’s self-portrait seriously.


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