Lesson 3 of 6
In Progress

Background of Revelation

rev. by Kristofer Phan Coffman (01/2023)

Revelation is addressed to churches in seven cities in the Roman province of western Asia Minor (modern Turkey). It presents visions that John says he received while on the island of Patmos, in the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Asia Minor. John had apparently been exiled to Patmos because of his Christian witness (1:9-11). John recounts the visions in his own words, giving the visions clear literary form. He writes in his own peculiar Greek style that sometimes clashes with the usual forms of Greek usage.

The opening chapters show that the Christians in the churches addressed by Revelation faced several types of challenges: First, those in Smyrna and Philadelphia faced threats of persecution. Some in each city apparently verbally denounced Christians, placing them in danger of imprisonment and possible death. These readers receive encouragement to remain faithful in the face of hostility (2:8-11; 3:7-13). Second, readers in Ephesus, Pergamum, and Thyatira were confronted with questions of assimilation into the wider non-Christian culture. One specific issue involved eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. Some in those communities thought it acceptable to eat such food, but they are warned that doing so means compromising their faith too far (2:1-7, 12-29). Third, readers in Sardis and Laodicea seemed successful and prosperous, yet were spiritually dead or complacent. They are called to renewed zeal for the faith (3:1-6, 14-22).

These early Christian readers lived in the Roman Empire. Worship of the emperor was part of social life, and many cities in Asia Minor had temples to the emperor as well as to other gods. People often participated in imperial worship because Rome provided new levels of prosperity and opportunities for social advancement. The visions in the latter part of Revelation challenge this benign view of the world by pointing to ways in which the ruling power fostered false worship, engaged in violence against the faithful, and was obsessed with wealth. As an alternative to the oppressive powers personified as the beast and Babylon, Revelation calls readers to remain faithful to Christ the Lamb and to the city of God, the new Jerusalem.