Ted Grimsrud—December 10, 2011
The first thing to notice when we begin to look at the messages to the seven churches of Asia that make up chapters two and three is that they are part of the same vision that began in 1:9 when John hears a “loud voice” telling him to write this book that records what he will see and “send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea” (1:9-11).
John turns “to see whose voice it was that spoke to me” (1:12), at which point the first vision of the book begins. John learns that the voice speaking to him is Jesus. In the immediate vision, John sees many images that put together form a kind of Christology. Many of these images are then incorporated in the seven messages to come. As we move on to chapter two, we should not be misled by the chapter break in our English translation. The original did not have such breaks, and it would have been clear to the first listeners/readers that this one vision of Jesus that begins the series that John will report on throughout the book includes both the word-picture of Jesus presented in 1:12-20 and the messages this same Jesus gives to the seven churches in chapters two and three.
These messages, thus, tells us several crucial things for understanding the book as a whole, including not least a fleshing out of the picture of Jesus—the one who John announces with the first words of the book is the subject of the one “revelation” the book gives. These messages are not of interest only for what they tell us about the seven churches and their environments but also for what they tell us about the giver of the messages. They also, clearly, by their place in the larger narrative of the book, set the agenda for the book as a whole. If we want to understand the later visions, we must always return to these seven messages that provide the context for the visions that follow. Continue reading