Summary: This is the introductory message for series that looks at the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. This message provides the background and examines the relevance of these letters.
In 1955, Assistant US Postmaster General Joseph Cooper introduced the concept of certified mail or letters. A certified letter is guaranteed by the postal service to be delivered to the recipient. A form is filled out at the post office that contains the name of the sender and the person and address where the letter is sent. Each piece of Certified Mail is assigned a unique label number which serves as an official record of the mailing of the item by the Postal Service and the sender receives a receipt and can request they be notified when delivery is made. When delivery is made a person must sign for accepting the mail. The cost is more than ordinary postage, but it gives the sender proof of having sent the material. The letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation is much like modern day certified letters. Each letter was sent to a specific group of believers and they were responsible to act upon the information the letter contained. There were no excuses of not having received the letter, the Lord made sure that there was proof of delivery. Before we dive in to the seven letters we need to understand some important background about John’s situation and the book of Revelation as a whole. The way we approach the book as a whole determines how we handle the information that we read. Our goal today is to get better acquainted with John and the situation in the Roman world at this time.
I. Background information makes it easier to understand Revelation as a whole.
A. The historical setting for the book of Revelation.
1. The persecution of Christians that began under Nero’s reign is continuing to escalate under the reign of Domitian who reigned from 81-96.
2. The Romans would ascribe divinity to emperors after their death. However Domitian claimed to be the Savior and Lord of the earth and expected to be worshipped as a god.
3. Domitian demanded the people address him as “master” and “god” which would come into direct conflict with Christian beliefs.
4. Domitian hated Christians with a passion because they worshipped Jesus in the way He desired to be worshipped.
5. Domitian's reign came to an end in 96 when he was assassinated by court officials. The same day he was succeeded by his advisor Nerva. After his death, Domitian's memory was condemned to oblivion by the Roman Senate, while senatorial authors such as Tacitus, Pliny the Younger and Suetonius published histories propagating the view of Domitian as a cruel and paranoid tyrant.
B. John’s circumstances as he receives the revelation from the Lord and writes it down.
1. John is living in exile because of his faith on a small Roman penal island known as Patmos.
2. Patmos lies about thirty-seven miles west-southwest of Miletus, in the Icarian Sea. Consisting mainly of volcanic hills and rocky ground, Patmos is about ten miles long and six miles wide at the north end.
3. Roman historian Eusebius mentions that John was banished to the island by the emperor Domitian in 95 and released eighteen months later by Nerva
4. John held to the fact that God was using his situation to allow him to be able to receive this great revelation.
5. John introduces himself to his fellow Christians as someone that is going through the same persecution and suffering as they are.
C. The situation surrounding the other believers throughout Asia Minor.
1. As John patiently endures his exile on Patmos, he fears that his fellow believers throughout Asia are going through even more. During this time persecution was severe and happened socially, economically and politically.
2. The churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea were established directly or indirectly through Paul’s ministry.
3. The seven churches are all located on the great Roman road that begins in the port city of Ephesus.
4. In view of the symbolic importance of the number seven throughout the book of Revelation, it is likely that these seven were intended to represent all of the Asian congregations, and perhaps all Christian congregations everywhere.
5. John is to take a papyrus scroll and write down everything that he has sees in this vision and send it to these seven Churches.
6. John is also given a special message to record for each individual congregation.
II. Important things that John wants understood about his experience on Patmos.
A. John is not ashamed of his faith or situation.
1. John is very careful to let his readers know that he is not superior to them and he facing the same things that they are.
2. The term “in Jesus” is very significant as it presents both John and his readers as remaining faithful and obedient to Christ.