Revelation opens with an exhortation for the readers of this prophecy to "keep it" (1:3). "If John primarily intended to dispense information about the future, we might have expected 1:3 to speak of the blessing that comes on those that 'understand' this book...To 'keep' the message of Revelation's prophecy means to 'worship God' (22:9)" (Pg. 47).
Next, we note in 1:4 that this letter has recipients, and those intended recipients - the audience - to whom John wrote this series of exhortations and visions was "the seven churches that are in Asia" (1:4). The churches:
Chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation contain specific messages for these specific churches and issues. Koester notes, however, that "Revelation is an open prophetic letter that is sent to seven particular congregations, yet it contains a message that applies to the church as a whole." The fact that these seven churches and not the churches in Colossae, Hieropolis, or Troas were recipients and that seven churches were chosen implies that the message of this letter is for the church as a whole.
Koester is careful to point out the analogous way in which John communicates what he saw in the book. Observe how he writes about the hard to describe figure he sees in 1:14-16:
"His head and hair were white as wool...his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze...his voice was like the sound of many waters...and his face was like the sun."
"The repeated us of 'as' and 'like' indicates that John was describing something that did not fit within the confines of ordinary speech."
If there is one area where most commentators seem to be able to come together, it is in reading the actual words of the letters to the seven churches. Most are willing to read their exhortations plainly and "without horns." As such, I will not dwell on the seven letters or emphasize Koester's exegesis of the letters to the churches, except to point out that they follow the same basic pattern:
- Address from Christ
- Words of rebuke and encouragement
- Summons to listen and promise to the conqueror
Many commentators want to go from chapter 3 to chapter 4 and assume John foresaw a jump in the subject matter of two thousand years. As we prepare to look at the opening of the seven seals in our next installment, let us keep in mind that the intended audience (the seven churches) has not at any point changed.