Perhaps the two most important things to know about any passage of scripture are who is speaking, and who is being spoken to. Not every passage applies to us in the same way. God told Noah, “Make thee an ark of gopher wood” (Genesis 6:14), so that he could save his family. We learn from this the general principle of obedience to God, but we would not expect to build an ark to save our families today.
While some claim that the book of Revelation was sealed until today, the book had a special meaning for first century Christians of the “seven churches” of Asia. It is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John” (Revelation 1:1). It is from Christ, delivered through John. The recipients to whom the book was specifically revealed, is found in Revelation 1:4-5: “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; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth.” Revelation 1:11 further identifies those specific seven churches: “What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.”
Chapters two and three contain letters from Christ to each of the seven churches in turn, dealing with specific strengths, weaknesses, problems, and opportunities. There is an emphasis in each letter from the Lord that “I know thy works” (Revelation 2:2; 2:9; 2:13, etc.). Each of the letters also has meaning for the other churches, as well. The letter to the church at Ephesus ends with the admonition, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). There was a message to “the churches” [congregations, not denominations], as well as to the specific congregation.
Christians in the early years of the church underwent horrible persecution. They needed the message of comfort and victory Revelation provided for them. They needed the admonition the Lord gave to the church at Smyrna, “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
The message of the book of Revelation strengthens and encourages us as well. It offers this blessing to all: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand” (Revelation 1:3). It is not a message hidden away until our time, though, but one specifically for the early Christians, and then all who would serve Christ.
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