The 7 Churches Of Revelation

I have recently begun some personal study into the book of Revelation and have got no further than the specific issue of the 7 Churches. I am troubled. I am toubled by the concept of the 7 churches being viewed as a description of the ‘7 ages of church history’, by which it is often concluded that currently we are in the ‘age’ of the church of Laodicea. It appears, superficially at least, to be quite a tempting theory and I can see how church history may be made to fit figuratively and retrospectively into each of these 7 churches respective letters. My problem however is the exegetical methods employed to achieve this. Quite simply I cannot understand what these methods may be. My initial thoughts are as follows:

In trying to approach Revelation correctly it would be incumbent upon us to study the original situation and attempt to discover what precisely John was attempting to communicate and what his readers would have understood him to be communicating to them. Part of this process would of course be to proceed mindful of literary genre. It has recently occurred to me upon reading Revelation that whilst it contains lots of apocalyptic/prophetic material, in essence perhaps the entirety is presented much like an epistle. It has an opening and closing section not dissimilar to some of the other NT epistles and the document itself, whilst not diminishing the futuristic element, would certainly be occasional in nature, addressing specific issues, and one which was circulated to the 7 churches mentioned and perhaps a wider audience also.

The point I am trying to make then is this: the believing members of the 7 churches would have received and understood their letter section of Revelation very much as say the Corinthian church would have received Paul’s letters to them, ie. addressed to their specific situation. This being the case they would surely have no concept of the stages of church history theory. In fact this section seems to me to be a relatively straight forward series of encouragements/warnings/commendations etc specific to each church. Surely then our exegesis should proceed accordingly. I just can not make (what seems to me at least) to be a massive exegetical leap from there and then to the church history theory.

Am I missing something really clever, or worse still, am I missing something really obvious??

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The 7 Churches Of Revelation

  1. I believe that the book of Revelation was written during a terrible time of persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire. The author was addressing that time. John used apocalyptic images and symbols from Old Testament apocalyptic literature in prophesying the end of the Roman Empire, and a new world in which Christians would be free of persecution. He was not talking about a world two thousand years into his future. The first time I realized this was in reading an out-of-print book called, The Message of Revelation by Cady H. Allen. What this means is that, although our world could end in an apocalypse, it doesn’t have to.

  2. jobtwenteewun1to3

    I somewhat agree with your comment. The author was certainly addressing his time. He also certainly used OT apocalyptic images – particular reference to the book of Daniel is apparent. Further to this it seems evident that Revelation is also very ‘Jewish’ in thought. I am not certain that Christians will ever be free of persecution in this world, with or without the Roman empire though.

    It seems to me though, that one of the pitfalls in attempting to understand Revelation is chosing the correct method of hermeneutics. Essentially in Western thinking we see ‘prophecy’ in terms of prediction and fulfilment. Consequently the debate becomes focused on whether the predictions of Revelation or the Olivet Discourse etc have already been fulfilled or not. The Preterist v Futurist argument. Yet if we are to correctly understand the NT authors we must surely attempt to utilise their Hermeneutic methods. 2nd temple period Jewish Hermeneutical approach to propehcy didn’t think in terms of simple prophecy/fulfilment BUT approached prophecy in terms of repeated pattern. Hence ‘the abomination of desolation’ of Daniel had already been fulfilled prior to Jesus’ day. It was further fulfilled in 70AD & 135AD and awaits an ultimate fulfilment. In this sense both preterist and futurist interpretations are correct. Likewise John in Revelation predicted an immediate fulfilment AND a future fulfilment. The problem of course arises when sound exegesis is replaced by eisegesis and modern day Christendom reads itself into scripture.

    I would be most interested in reading the book you alluded to. I wonder if it is possible to obtain one.

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