Revelation as an Epistle
John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace,
from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne ...
The Book of Revelation is the last of the twenty-two New Testament Epistles
which constitute the seventh and final canonical division of the Holy Bible. When colored on the Bible Wheel,
these seven divisions form a perfectly symmetric pattern
- the Canon Wheel -
that echoes the traditional tri-radiant halo of Christ which is used as the Sign of His Deity
throughout Christian iconography. The Canon Wheel is an overwhelmingly powerful, top-level, super-obvious witness of the divine design of the Holy Bible.
Just look at it! Its perfect symmetry unites the symbolic meaning of the Number Seven
(completion and perfection)
with the ancient Christian iconographic Sign of Deity (tri-radiant halo) with the whole structure
sealed from Aleph Tav to echo the Living Word of God Who
identifies Himself as the Alpha Omega. Anyone who knows anything about the origina and natural history of the
Bible knows with perfect certainty that no human or group of
humans could have conspired to compose the Canon Wheel, since its essential elements
(the books, their order, content, and integration with the
Hebrew Alphabet and the Alphabetic Verses) span the millenia.
The supreme clarity and overwhelming power of the Canon Wheel as a witness to the divine design of
the Holy Bible makes it one of the of the primary targets of those who oppose God's Word.
It's just too obvious - if the Canon Wheel is valid, then the Bible was designed by God. There are no two
ways about it. Unfortunately for the opponents, they have very few points from which to even attempt an attack.
(see Answers to Critics of the Canon Wheel).
They are forced to grasp
at straws as they struggle against being drowned under the overwhelming weight of evidence supporting the Canon Wheel.
One of thinnest of such straws is their attempt to deny
that Revelation is a letter. If they could prove that Revelation is not "really" a letter, or that
its nature as letter is a secondary feature, they could form an argument against the sevenfold structure of the Canon Wheel.
It is, therefore, necesary and beneficial to take a close look at the genre of the final book.
The testimonies from a wide variety of teachers, preachers, pastors and
scholars are presented below. They supply more than anyone should ever need to support the fact that
the Book of Revelation is indeed an epistle. As you read the quotes, you will see that there is a profound
hermeneutical significance to the proper understand of the genre of Revelation.
It is a letter intended to be read by all Christians at all times, and so it always has had and will always
coninue to have, real meaning
and real value as a comforter and guide to the body of Christ which
always has been subject to great tribulations in this wicked world.
When we contrast its true value with the absurd notion that it was written in a "secret code"
where locusts are really helicopters, falling stars are nuclear bombs, and the beast is a supercomputer,
the purely futuristic interpretation is revealed
to be literally meaningless to all who lived before those advanced technologies were invented.
As such, the purely futuristic interpretation of Revelation reduces the book to utter insignificance to all
Christians throughout most of church history. This seem to me to be the antithesis of its true significance
as the Capstone Book of the Bible in which everything that has gone
before is united in a single majestic tapestry.
The epistolary nature of Revelation is immediately evident by its opening and closing salutations
which are identical to the pattern seen in Paul's epistles. It opens with
"John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace" and closes with
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen." There also are many places in Revelation (primarily
in the seven letters and the closing chapter) where the readers/hearers are spoken to directly
as "you" or "thee" (second person pronouns). Like such titles as "Song of songs" and "King of kings," the book
of Revelation is literally an "epistle of epistles" because it contains seven epistles within it.
As we will see in the testimony of our first witness, the understanding of Revelation as a letter the the universal
church is as old as the book itself.
- David E. Aune, Professor of New Testamant, University of Notre Dame
David E. Aune is one of the leading scholors on
the Book of Revelation. The quote below is from page lxxii of his massive three-volume
commentary he wrote for the Word Biblical Commentary series.
II. Revelation as a Letter
Revelation clearly has a formal epistolary framework in 1:4–5 and 22:21 and contains separate
proclamations, often labeled "letters," addressed to each of the seven churches of the Roman province of
Asia (Rev 2:1–3:22). The Canon Muratori 57–59
recognized the epistolary character of Revelation,
which is understood to mean that the seven individual churches to whom John wrote, when taken together,
represent the universal Church: Et Iohannes enim in Apocalypse, licit septem ecclesis scribat, tamen omnibus dicit,
"For John too, though he wrote to seven churches in the Apocalypse, nevertheless speaks to all."
Aune then devotes a number of pages to discuss the history of the scholastic disputations concerning
the significance of the epistolary form of Revelation.
He notes that the opinions range from those who assert that the epistolary features
"constitute merely a superficial or secondary formal feature essentially external to the body of Revelation" to those
who assert that "the whole Book from 1:4 to its close is in fact an Epistle." Our next witness
corrects the error of those who discount the epistolary character of Revelation.
- Jurgen Roloff, Professor of NT, University of Erlangen, Germany
Jurgen Roloff was a member of the Evengelical Lutheran Church of Bavaria. His commentary was considered a "standard work" on
the European continent soon after its publication. Its available online through
Google books .
The Epistolary Character of Revelation
The research of the last two hundred years has so one-sidedly focused on the relationships between
Revelation and Jewish apocalypses that it completely neglected another aspect: the epistolary character of
Revelation. The book opens with an epistolary address that strikingly resembles the openings to the
Pauline letters (1:4-8), and it concludes with an ending that is customary in letters (22:21).
Furthermore, its first main section (1:9-3:22) consists of a series of specific addresses to the churches in Asia
- the seven letters.
By no means may one, as frequently happens,
regard these epistolary elements as insignificant additions to the "true" apocalypse in
the later main sections (4:1-22:5), or even as secondary ornamentation. Closer examination shows instead that they are
inseperably connected to the rest of the book by various thematic references. The letters in the first
section are intended to prepare the churches to understand the seies of visions in the
later sections as messages of the exalted Lord to them;
conversely, the series of visions in the later sections referes directly to the problems of the churches that
are addressed in the first section. The epistorlary structural elements at the beginning (1:4-6) and the conculsion (22:21)
are strongly reminiscent of the formula in Paul's letters. Conscious imitation may be present here.
But nothing justifies the assumption that these epistolary elements occur merely because
of external adaptation to a letter tradition that became firmly rooted since Paul.
After all, Revelation is not a monolgue that was subsequently expanded around several epistolary elements but
part of a dialogue in which th author engaged with teh chruches in Asia Minor.
As in any genuine letter, it can be understood only when one is accquinted with the recipient's point of view.
... In summary, Revelation is a prohetic writing that contains
numerous apocalypitic motifs and elements of style,
but whose form is chiefly characterized by the purpose of epistolary communication.
Pastor Leon Ben Ezra is from Faith Reformed Church in Erie, PA, USA. This excerpt is from his article
Revelation: An Overview available online. The whole article should be
read on his site. It clearly explains why it is so important to understand the nature of Revelation as a letter.
There are ways in which Revelation is very much like any other book
of the Bible. You need to see that so that some of the mystery that has been
placed on the book might be removed. But then there are ways in which
Revelation is not at all like the other books of the Bible. You need to see
why this is also so that you can overcome those obstacles to your
understanding. Keep in mind the goal of all of this. To grasp what it is
that the Spirit has written here for our good so that we all might be
Let's start with some general statements. First, Revelation is a letter. It
is a letter much like the other letters of the New Testament. You can see
that in the way that it starts. ...
Now, you also need to see that this is a letter that was sent to certain
churches, the seven churches of Asia Minor. John even says so in His
introduction. This is a very important anchor in understanding the message of the book.
Whatever the book is about, it is intended, first of all, for
these churches. The book of Revelation was sent to these seven churches. So,
whatever the beast is, or whatever the seven trumpets are about, these
things were, first of all, for the benefit of these churches.
Pastor Leon then gives exampls of how various NT Epistles and shows how they relate to Revelation, and
sums up his intent with these words:
Now, I went through all of that to show you that Revelation is like all the
other letters of the New Testament. Seeing it in this light helps as you
work to understand and apply its message.
Ronald L. Dart is the teacher on Born to Win
radio broadcast and teaching ministry.
Below is a transcript from his May 17, 2007 broadcast
called Revelation #7 .
Note that he confirms the symbolic meaning of the Number Seven
which was used to interpret the Seven Churches as
representing the whole church in the Canon Muratori (2nd century),
as discussed by David Aune above.
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: these things say He that is holy,
He that is true, He that has the Key of David, He that opens and no man opens, and shuts and no man opens.
Thus begins the sixth of the seven letters to the seven churches of Asia in the mysterious book of Revelation.
If you haven't got any background in this, these are found in the second and third chapters of the book of Revelaiton,
an what many do not understand is - they are used to the epistles of th Apostle Paul, the epistles of Peter,
the epistle of James - not many realize that of all the epistles in the New Testament, one of them is the
book of Revelation. It's a letter. It's a long letter,
and within the long letter are seven letters written to seven churches.
Real churches, on the ground in Asia Minor, in the first century. Someone took this letter from John,
went to each of these churches, stood before the group, and read the letter aloud for them to hear since John says,
"Blessed is he that reads, and blessed is he that hears, and does the things that are written inthe book."
And so it is that this letter, penned by John, contains within it seven letters to seven churches.
And they are sent around to be read, not just one letter in each church, but all the letters to each of the
churches with special emphases on each one of them. Now, these are historical churches, and we have to
realize that as they were read, they probably understood them a little better than we do.
Some of the references within these books were people that they knew, were circumstances they recognised,
were doctrines that they had heard actually preached or espoused outside of their church services or what have you.
But, they heard things, that meant things to them, in them, at that time.
There are seven of them, and seven is the number in the bible of wholeness, or completeness,
[see The Biblical Meaning of the Number Seven] and so there's an assumption
that somehow these seven churches represent the whole church. And because of the nature of the book of Revelation,
its fair to assume then that they represent the whole church at the end time, therefore all of us who call
ourselves "Christians" would do well to hear what the Spirit says to each of these seven churches.
J. Sidlow Baxter was a pastor and author of the maginificent six-volume overview of the entire Bible called
Explore the Book .
When discussing the genres of the various books of the Bible, he noted the obvious "Revelation ... is
really an epistle of our Lord Himself, see the opening verse." (Vol. 1, page 19).
Ted Noel has is the webmaster of The Bible Only website.
Professionally, he is an anesthesiologist, a graduate of Loma Linda University School of Medicine,
with twenty-one years of private practice in the Orlando. His comments are excerpted from his online article
called The Structure of the Book of Revelation .
Revelation is a message of hope for God’s people in times of trouble. That is its core.
Everything else is an expansion of this message. And just to make sure that everyone who
heard it recognized this feature, John added a specific form of greeting. In 1:4-5,
John specifically greets the churches in the standard manner of an epistle.
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who
is and who was and who is to come; and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne; and from Jesus Christ,
the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To Him who loves us, and released us from our sins by His blood,
When he ends the book, he again uses a standard epistolary signature ( 22:21).
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
The book of Revelation is an epistle to the churches.
It is designed to bring the hope of redemption to them as a divine certainty. But unlike the letters of Paul,
or even of John himself, this large letter is designed to convey something larger.
It is presented in symbols, the content of the visions related between the prologue and the epilogue.
The current troubled times in which the churches are found will not last forever.
At a divinely determined time, and in a divinely determined way, the saints of God will be
rewarded for their faithfulness, and the wicked will be destroyed. Good will then rule forever.
- Pastor William Arnold III
William Arnold III is a graduate of Christian Life College (B.A.) and is presently in the M.A.
in Exegetical Theology degree program at Western Seminary. He is the author of The Post-Tribulation Rapture
and is the webmaster for this site. He also pastors New Life Tabernacle in Key West, Florida.
The excerpt is from
Order and Scope of the Book of Revelation
Does This Book Apply to Us?
First, I would simply like to point out that the book of Revelation is an epistle,
written to churches. It begins with the same customary greeting usually found in the other epistles (1:4)
and ends with an exhortation as usual (22:10-21). The first verse states that the purpose of this book
is to show God’s servants the "things which must shortly take place" (1:1). Then three verses later we read,
"John to the seven churches that are in Asia" (1:4). It seems that, in context, the
servants he is referring to are those in the churches. Seven times Jesus exhorts us to "hear what the spirit
says to the churches" and then follows by "to him who overcomes . . ." ... It just seems logical to
conclude that the events written in this book are for the church.
- The People's New Testament by B. W. Johnson (1891)
Again, we have two important insights in the brief note. 1) Revelation is an epistle, and 2) the seven churches
represent the whole body of Christ. This excerpt is from the
online commentary available free from
[Comment on verse 1:4] "Grace be to you." The benediction, like that in the apostolic epistles,
shows that Revelation is an epistle also, addressed directly to seven churches and through them
to all the church.
Excerpt from The Revelation: The Covenant and the Christ: A chapter by chapter exegetical outline of how in Revelation,
available online here .
(2) Literary form – an apocalyptic circulating epistle.
Revelation is a late 1st century CE work written within the later Hebrew prophetic and intertestamental
apocalyptic traditions with an emphasis on symbols and typology, and also bears marks of a NT epistle:
Opening greetings of "grace to you and peace" to "seven church that are in Asia" (1:4) and closing
with "the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all" (22:21). (See Beale, 1999). Between the NT epistolary elements
of chs. 1-3 and 22, Revelation in the middle sections proceeds in the apocalyptic literary tradition. This suggests a
literary genre – an apocalyptic circulating epistle. Revelation seems to be a an apocalyptic
circulating epistle sent to seven prominent Christian churches in western Asia Minor in
a time of spiritual crisis and intermittent persecution for the church in the Roman Empire.
It was also a time when the last of the contemporary generation of believers and disciples who remembered Jesus
of Nazareth were passing from the scene. The 'circulating' character of the epistle seems to be supported by
the numerous manuscript fragments of Revelation reported to have been discovered in the ancient cities
of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (MT Olsen, pers. comm. to a member of JIF).
The first epistle of Peter also from the late 1st century CE seems likewise to have been a circulating epistle
addressed to the persecuted disciples as "strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia,
Asia, and Bithynia" (I Pet. 1:1, 6-7). Like 1st Peter, Revelation was written to real people with real
strengths and weaknesses in real places in a real times of historical crisis.
Any exegetical outline must begin here, with us seated (as far as possible) in those late 1st century
assemblies of hopeful Christian believers expectant and listening to the words of the Revelation.
- The Pastor's Poem, by Betty
And finally, we have a Christian poet named Betty
to sum up the matter for us (emphasis added):
He came to this town to teach God’s word
The people loved him and came every night.
Their heart’s were open to what the word did mean
They received his teaching on Revelation’s might.
The people listened as their hearts became clean.
The word of God was written in their minds
The meaning was made clear, their understanding opened.
God sent his son as his love token.
Each night it was explained that Revelation was a love letter.
Sent to his children to help them understand
They are his children, washed in his blood
Revelation is a letter telling of his love
That his children were safe from the evil flood
As long as they stood covered in his blood.
We have now heard the testimony of ten witnesses from four varieties of the Christian life
- pastor, teacher, scholar, and poet. This should be sufficient to settle the issue with even the most
calcitrant opponent, short of those who wilfully reject the truth.