Who is Revelation written to?
Like every book in the Bible, Revelation was written to two audiences. The first audience was the seven churches of Asia Minor in the first century AD (Revelation 1:4-5). Revelation 2-3 goes into more depth for each of the churches.
These were the churches that John was called the Elder in and spent most of his life ministering in this area. It’s believed that his home base was in Ephesus. These seven churches listed throughout those two chapters are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
The letter of Revelation traveled a circuit on the Roman roads in the province of Asia Minor between the seven churches.
The common practice of each church was to read it to the congregation and also the churches in the region of the city before passing it on to the next city. It’s possible that someone also copied the letter so that the church had its own.
When you look at a map of this Roman province, the road works in such a way that these cities line up along one road as it winds through the province. So each of these seven churches and all of the people in the regions around them heard this letter read out loud.
But we must not forget that every book of the Bible has a second audience, the audience throughout time of the countless saints and churches that have read these letters. Today, anyone who reads the letter of Revelation is part of that audience.
You and I are modern-day readers of the book of Revelation. We are counted in the great sea of the audience of this book, and the rest of the books of the Bible. We have a little more work to do then the original readers in the first century.
There are symbols within the book of Revelation that we must go back and do our best to interpret for today. John has places in the book where he intentionally made it cryptic, which is why it is called an apocalypse, a book of hidden things that are revealed.
Since we are over 2000 years removed from the original audience, their circumstance, their culture, and everything else about them, we must do hard interpretive work to understand what they intuitively knew as they read or listened to Revelation.
I must confess there may be a few things we still will not understand. One example of what we may never recover is the meaning of the beast’s number, 666. In the context of giving this number, John says that the reader must have wisdom to interpret the number.
However, even though there are things we will not understand in the book, the main theme and message of Revelation is clear. It is a revelation of Jesus Christ in the time of the end, the sovereign Lord who sits on the throne despite the tribulations that will happen on the earth in that time.
Jesus is the victor, the conqueror, the winner of the final showdown between him and the devil. And we also are victorious with Christ. These things can be understood without understanding every symbol and part of the book of Revelation. We do our best work in interpretation but we can always apply the meeting of the book to ourselves today.