Q&A: The Urban House Churches Who First Heard the Book of Revelation

The Urban House Churches Who First Heard the Book of Revelation

Why is it important to understand the historical setting of the book of Revelation?

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Answer

One of the things I like to emphasize with my students when I teach through the book of Revelation is that the historical setting is absolutely vital to understanding the book, because John the apostle is writing certainly to the church for all ages, but he's especially writing to people that he knows, who he has in mind. So when we read through Revelation 2 and 3, we get a sense of the historical setting that he has specifically in mind. And so every time you read through each of the churches, in Revelation 2 or 3, you're getting a sense of who it is that he's writing to and, therefore, how we should interpret the book. We should put ourselves back in the place of people who were in that original audience, if you would. And that audience would have been in the churches, the major urban centers of Asia Minor in the first century, urban centers that were full of pagan worship, that had imagery of the worship of the pantheon of deities that were worshiped in the Roman Empire, but also the worship of the Roman emperor himself. Urban centers that also had Jewish places of worship in it as well. And so, many in these early churches probably came out of Jewish worship centers and were attracted to early Christianity and, therefore, when they encountered persecution, they might have even been attracted back into early Judaism. But these were also urban centers that had a great deal of wealth, and that would attract people, and perhaps, lure them away from the worship of Christ. And you see all of that represented in those two chapters. It's very important to, as it were, kind of picture yourself back in those churches in the day, in those small, little house churches, hearing the word of Revelation read for the first time.

Answer by Dr. David W. Chapman

Dr. David W. Chapman is Associate Professor of New Testament and Biblical Archaeology at Covenant Theological Seminary