The book of Revelation reads like an Old Testament book – and for good reason. Most of its symbols and imagery are found in the prophets. To a discerning reader, it should be clear that Jesus’ messages to the assemblies (ἐκκλησία) in Revelation 2 and 3 were not Christian (i.e., Pauline churches). The language the Lord used towards them has no correspondence to the language or the concepts Paul had received and communicated to Christian churches. John wrote to these seven Jewish assemblies to encourage them in the tribulation they were experiencing (Rev 1:9). Of the seven cities Jesus mentioned, only three are found elsewhere in the Bible:
- Ephesus (Acts 18:19, 21, 24, 19:1, 17, 26, 35, 20:16, 17; 1 Cor 15:32, 16:8, Eph 1:1, 1 Tim 1:3; 2 Tim 1:18, 4:12)
- Thyatira (Acts 16:14)
- Laodicea (Col 2:1, 4:13, 15-16; 1 Tim 6:21).
We have no information about Smyrna, Pergamon, Sardis, or Philadelphia. The events of Revelation remain future. Those who have attempted to make church history correspond with the messages to these churches (historicists) or worse, have tried to fit the events into a pre-70 A.D. timeframe (preterists), have replaced sound exegesis with fantasy.
The character of these assemblies is Jewish. No Church (i.e., body of Christ) doctrine is present within them. The Lord’s message to them is wholly different from the language He gave to Paul for the body of Christ. No hint of the gospel or the doctrines of grace may be found in Jesus’ words to these assemblies. Jesus’ refrain is “he who has an ear, let him hear” and His command is to persevere and endure. None of this is present in Paul. The warnings Jesus gave the assemblies echo His warnings to the Twelve on the Mount of Olives. In that address, He warned them not to be deceived and to endure to the end (Mt 24:4, 11, 24, 13). The great temptation that will confront Israel, as well as the world, during the period of time foretold by Revelation, will be to accept a false Messiah. This will involve the worship of Satan, the beast (Satan’s man, the Antichrist), the Antichrist’s image, and the taking of his mark (Rev 13:4, 8, 15, 16-17). Jesus’ refrain to the seven assemblies is repeated in Revelation 13:9. In Revelation 14:9-11, God’s angel warned of the consequences of submitting to the temptation. Revelation 14:12 describes the “patience,” “perseverance,” or “endurance” Jesus described in the Jewish assemblies in Revelation 2:3, 19, 3:10. During this period of time salvation is possible only through endurance (Mt 24:13). Jesus’ words about salvation during this period are as straightforward as words can be: only by enduring to the end (i.e., the end of one’s life (martyrdom)), or until He returns, is salvation possible.
Since the book of Revelation is primarily about Israel and reads like the Old Testament, one conclusion remains: that is what it is.