March 30, 2014

THE MESSAGE AND ITS DESTINATION

Revelation 1:4—6

This is John writing to the seven churches which are in Asia. Grace be to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits which are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the witness on whom you can rely, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and who set us free from our sins at the cost of his own blood, and who made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever. Amen.

REVELATION is a letter, written to the seven churches that are in Asia. In the New Testament, Asia is never the continent but always the Roman province. It had been the kingdom of Attalus III, who had willed it to the Romans at his death. It included the western sea coast of Asia Minor, on the shores of the Mediterranean, with Phrygia, Mysia, Caria and Lycia in the hinterland; and its capital was the city of Pergamum.
The seven churches are named in verse 11–Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. These were by no means the only churches in Asia. There were churches at Colosse (Colossians 1:2), Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13), Troas (2 Corinthians 2:12; Acts 20:5), Miletus (Acts 20:17), Magnesia and Tralles, as the letters of Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch, show. Why did John single out only these seven? There can be more than one reason for his selection.
(1) These churches might be regarded as the centres of seven postal districts, being all on a kind of ring road, or gyratory system, which circled the interior of the province. Troas was off the beaten track. But Hierapolis and Colosse were within walking distance of Laodicea; and Tralles, Magnesia and Miletus were close to Ephesus. Letters delivered to these seven cities would easily circulate in the surrounding areas; and, since every letter had to be handwritten, each letter would need to be sent where it would reach most easily the greatest number of people.
(2) Any reading of Revelation will show John’s preference for the number seven. It occurs fifty-four times. There are seven candlesticks (1:12), seven stars (1:16), seven lamps (4:5), seven seals (5:1), seven horns and seven eyes (5:6), seven thunders (10:3), seven angels, plagues and bowls (15:6—8). The ancient peoples regarded seven as the perfect number, and it runs all through Revelation.
From this, certain of the early commentators drew an interesting conclusion. Seven is the perfect number because it stands for completeness. It is, therefore, suggested that, when John wrote to seven churches, he was, in fact, writing to the whole Church. The first list of New Testament books, called the Muratorian Canon, says of Revelation: ‘For John also, though he wrote in the Revelation to seven churches, nevertheless speaks to them all.’ This is all the more likely when we remember how often John says: ‘Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches’ (2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:29, 3:6, 3:13, 3:22).
(3) Although the reasons we have offered for the choice of these seven churches may be valid, it may be still more valid that John chose them because in them he had a special authority. They were in a special sense his churches–and by speaking to them he sent a message first to those who knew and loved him best, and then through them to every church in every generation.

Barclay, W. (2004). The Revelation of John, Volume 1 (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated). The New Daily Study Bible (32—34). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.

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