The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: R

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Rev in the first century, interpreting

Suppose you were a believer in Ephesus in the first century, and your congregation has just received and read the book of Revelation. Would you not eagerly set about trying to understand the contents of the book? The document would be there to study at length. What background information and reference material might you bring to the study? Here are some suggestions:

You belong to an established church, or ecclesia, founded by the apostle Paul. It was born in controversy and grew in the midst of adversity (Acts 19). So you have several experienced members to confer with.
You have read the letter from Paul to the Ephesians, and therefore have been given insights into:
  • the heavenly places with Christ,
  • being saved by grace through faith,
  • deliverance from the prince of the power of the air,
  • the glorious opportunity for Gentiles,
  • the need for unity,
  • the conflict with darkness,
  • the need to make the most of the time (for the days are evil),
  • the need to pray for persecuted saints,
  • the need to witness boldly (knowing that victory in Christ is certain).

  • c.
  • You have heard the report of the elders who last met with Paul (Acts 20:17-35), and you know about the price of witnessing, the warnings of apostasy, and the exhortation to hold fast.
  • d.
  • You have had Timothy as an elder for some time; you will have undoubtedly seen the results of Paul's pastoral letters to him, eg:
  • Stand up for your beliefs,
  • Resist heretics,
  • Serve the living Christ who is the Savior of the church, or ecclesia,
  • Be warned of times of stress to appear in the ecclesial world in the last days, and
  • Preach Christ.

  • e.
  • You would be aware of the spread of the Gospel in Asia, but also of the work of the Judaizers (eg, Gal 2:4,5), who were out to undermine Paul.
  • f.
  • You probably have a copy of some of the New Testament writings, especially the Mount Olivet prophecy by Jesus, and almost certainly a copy of the Septuagint (the Old Testament in Greek).
  • g.
  • You would be aware of the Jewish uprising against Rome (keenly so if the Revelation were written just before AD 70). Given the background information and reference material, you would be able to identify with much of the Revelation content, especially the basic conflict between Christ's disciples and the many "enemies" of the Truth.
Now come to interpreting the Revelation itself. Would you not assume that the whole message was relevant, since Jesus had just sent it to you? In the first place, the message was explicitly sent to your church. Ephesus had held out against false teachers, but had also lost its first love. Is this true? Of course -- Jesus said so. And if true of you personally, then you need to repent.

Next, there are messages sent to other churches. Can you learn from them? Of course. We can always learn from the mistakes of others, and be warned against making the same mistakes ourselves.

What about the visions (from Rev 4 onwards)? Many points are directly relevant to you and your church (see above): (a) Resist false prophets. (b) Hope for the tree of life. (c) Overcome through the blood of the Lamb. (d) Be ready for the Second Coming.

As to points pertaining to Israel: Assuming a date of writing prior to AD 70, you might guess that Israel was in for a very difficult time with Rome, and that a great tribulation would come upon that land as a result of the rebellion. However, according to your awareness of Old Testament prophecy (and the Olivet prophecy?), the ultimate outcome must be the oppressor's destruction and the faithful remnant's restoration in the Kingdom of God.

In the meantime, you must faithfully endure (like the martyred Antipas and the exiled John), for Jesus is coming soon.
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