Revelation as Encouragement and
Warning

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Question
What is the historical setting of the book of Revelation?
Answer
The historical setting of the book of Revelation is that it is addressed to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia, which is on the west coast of what is now Turkey. Probably, the dating is in the, certainly it's in the latter half of the first century. Some believe it's as early as the reign of Nero in the 60s. I think most scholars believe it's closer to the reign of Domitian, the Emperor Domitian, in the 90s, and we have early church tradition that dates it at that period. It's a period where there is some violent persecution of the church by Roman governmental officials in some places in the empire, not consistent yet. There is also other types of violence, lawless violence, against Christians as well. And we find reference to churches that are undergoing great persecution of a violent nature, especially in Christ's letters to Smyrna and to Philadelphia. But the church is also under pressure to conform to the society in a variety of ways. There are false doctrines that are being taught by the Nicolaitans, for example, in Ephesus and elsewhere. There is the appeal of wanting to fit in with the culture, to conform, and the references to meat offered to idols is a reference probably to participation in Roman trade guilds that would involve feasting in honor of various gods that were the patron gods of the guilds. There's just the temptation that the church of Laodicea faces to be comfortable in affluence as well. So it's a variety of churches facing a variety of challenges to their faith, some obvious, overt violence, some far more subtle. And Christ gives his revelation to John, who tells us in the first chapter that he's on the island of Patmos. We know that that was used by the Romans as kind of a prison island, especially for political prisoners. John is sharing in their suffering, then, in order to encourage the church, as well as, to warn the church against the more subtle dangers of conformity with the culture.

Answer by Dr. Dennis E. Johnson

Dr. Dennis E. Johnson is Academic Dean and Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in California.