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??