Revelation 1:4 and the Seven Churches in Asia

(4)  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;

 

    The identity of the man (John) would be understood by the churches throughout Asia without need for further description. He is simply “John,” and he is sending this letter to seven churches in Asia, because this is what Jesus told him to do (v.11).

Understanding that this book contains prophecies of the vengeance of God upon his unfaithful people, the Jews (see my section of dating the book), why then would the Lord instruct John to send this letter to Asia? Why not Judea? Why not Jerusalem? It would be in Judea and Jerusalem where much of this book will see its fulfillment. So, at first glance, it seems odd that this letter was written to the churches in Asia, but let’s consider a few points that will prove otherwise.

As the textual evidence places this book to be written in 68 or 69 A.D., this dating explains why the book absolutely could not have been written to any location in Judea, for the Christians would have already evacuated that entire region by the instruction of Jesus. When Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, just prior to his death, he spoke freely of the coming fall of Judea. At one point he said “when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled” (Luke 21:20-22). The Lord’s instruction was for his servants to leave Judea when they saw the Roman and allied forces marching against Jerusalem. This would not have been in 70 A.D. when Jerusalem fell, but much earlier, about six years earlier. By the order of Nero, the Romans encompassed Jerusalem in 64 A.D. This would be around the time when the Christians began their exodus out of Judea. So any letter to Christians during the mid to late 60’s would not be addressed to churches in Judea. Peter’s epistles and James’ letter are good examples of this. Both Peter and James refer to the problems of the Jewish nation and their impending doom, and both write specifically to Christians who are Jews, but they do not send their letters to Jerusalem or Judea, but to “the dispersion” or “the scattered.” Why are these Jews scattered? Some may suggest that they are dispersed due to the Babylonian captivity that happened around 500 years beforehand. This is possible, but considering the context of these letters, how they deal with the Jewish conflict of their time, it is more likely to understand the scattering/dispersing to have been a more current event. These have followed the instruction of the Lord and fled Judea, taking abode in a land foreign to them. While James wrote to the “dispersion” without specifying any common locations, Peter does specify the dispersion to be in Asia, Pontus, Bithynia, Galatia, and Cappadocia. Notice that Jesus instructed John to write to the churches in Asia, and Peter also wrote to the scattered exiles in Asia. Peter’s letter was probably written in the early stages of the dispersing of these Christians, as he reports that there are still brethren in Jerusalem: “The church that is at Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13). Babylon is in reference to Jerusalem (see comments on 14:8). Some believe that “Babylon” is Rome, but Rome is no place Peter, who was an apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2:7-8). It is more likely that Peter was referring to brethren still residing in Jerusalem along with himself. Not to mention all the other details later in Revelation that identify Babylon as Jerusalem.

 

Secondly, although written specifically to seven churches in Asia, Jesus continued to say “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). The Lord makes it clear that this book, while seven churches are singled out, is for everyone “who has an ear.” This is not a “FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” book to only seven churches, this was for all.

 

So why the seven churches then? Why not start with this greeting: Dear, “he who has an ear?” These churches were some of the closest local churches to the island of Patmos, each along good Roman roads and important trade routes. These cities were also the middle ground for Rome and Jerusalem, populated with both Roman temples and Jewish synagogues (2:9; 3:9). This was a central area for conflict which the Christians would receive from both Roman and Jewish sources (2:13; 2:10). So it is logical, considering the information in these last few paragraphs, that these seven churches were the perfect original recipients of the book. But there were other churches in the region that we know of, such as the church in Colossae, the church in Hierapolis, and the church in the house of Nymphas (Colossians 4:13, 15). But this goes back to the “he who has an ear” statement; this book was indeed for all the churches. So again, why seven? Because a quick search through Revelation and the rest of the Bible will display the number seven as a special figure used by God, and this is after all a book which has been “signified” (1:1). In the beginning of the creation, God rested the seventh day when everything was complete. The first seventh day started the pattern for the seven-day week, where the seventh day of each week completes the week. This is a number of completion and fullness. It gets deeper than that, but we can talk about other aspects of the number when we see its use in other places of Revelation. This is enough for now to understand that the seven churches in Asia, although real local churches with real local problems and real local successes, symbolize the complete church on earth. Again, this relates back to Jesus’ statement at the end of all seven letters in chapters two and three: “he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This book is for all the churches, and I imagine that the local issues found in the seven churches are also the same issues faced throughout the brotherhood. That can be argued a little stronger by considering the words of Peter, who also wrote to the churches in Asia, telling them that their struggles were also facing the brotherhood around the world (1 Peter 5:9).

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