The Book's Recipients

From start to finish, the Book of Revelation is addressed to the “Seven Assemblies of Asia.” These congregations do not fade from the picture in the later sections of the Book. While it may include a larger target audience, Revelation is first and foremost a message for those Seven Assemblies, and the significance of its visions cannot be understood apart from them.

The opening paragraph presents the Book as a record of the visions received by John while he was exiled on the Isle of Patmos. It calls itself “the prophecy” in the singular number, and its contents concern “what things that must come to pass soon.” Its first recipients would have understood the time reference “soon” from their perspective.

Stone Church - Photo by Ken Cheung on Unsplash
[Photo by Ken Cheung on Unsplash]

John was commanded to record his visions in a scroll, and then to send the document to seven congregations located in key cities of the Roman province of Asia. Moreover, according to the promise of Jesus, those who “
read hear the words of the prophecy” are pronounced “blessed.”

John sent the “Book,” singular, to the “Seven Assemblies, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea” - (Revelation 1:1-11).

Its first vision includes seven letters addressed to the “Seven Assemblies of Asia.” Each letter includes commendations, corrections, warnings, and promises specific to its addressed congregation, and each concludes with the admonishment to “hear what the Spirit is saying to the assemblies,” plural.

These seven congregations do not disappear after the letter to Laodicea. The promises for “overcomers” in each letter include verbal links to the vision of “New Jerusalem” at the end of the Book. Likewise, the exhortation to “hear what the Spirit is saying” also occurs in its central and concluding sections - (Revelation 13:9-10, 22:16).


The daily struggles of the “Seven Assemblies” with opponents, sin, and deception echo the larger battles described in the Book’s later visions. For example, the false “prophetess Jezebel” who “seduces my servants to commit fornication” is a local version of the “Great Harlot, Babylon” who makes the “inhabitants of the earth…drunk with the wine of her fornication” - (Revelation 2:18-24, 17:1-5).

None of this means that the Book of Revelation is only applicable to these congregations in first-century Asia. At the time John received his vision, there were more than seven churches in the province, plus dozens more scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Plural terms like “churches” and references to saints from “every nation” indicate a much wider intended audience.

But the original seven congregations remain a part of that audience, and in the Book, the number seven is used symbolically for completion.

Thus, the “Seven Assemblies” represent a larger whole, though they are included in it. Likewise, the concluding admonishment in each letter to hear what the spirit is saying to the “assemblies,” plural, also suggests a broader audience.

Furthermore, the vision of the vast “innumerable multitude” of men from every nation who were seen celebrating in “New Jerusalem” certainly envisioned something far larger and grander than just the seven marginalized congregations of Asia.

Nonetheless, those seven churches are included in that glorious vision, and their members also will find themselves “rendering divine service” before the “Lamb and the throne” in the “Holy City, New Jerusalem.”

Ignoring the book’s historical setting creates significant problems. For example, if the promise to keep the church in Philadelphia “out of the Hour of Trial” refers to escape from a “tribulation” in some remote future, then it has no relevance to the very congregation that first received the promise.

Passages from Revelation must be interpreted in their historical contexts. What was the imminent “Hour of Trial” facing the Assembly in Philadelphia? What was the "throne of Satan" in the city of Pergamos?

The Book uses the real-life experiences of these first-century churches to set the stage for its visions. Thus, any interpretation that writes the “Seven Assemblies of Asia” out of the Book or pushes them to the side does not take its self-description as a message for those churches seriously and is doomed to go awry.



Destruction of Babylon

The Little Horn