There have been so many excellent works on this mysterious book of the NT, one might wonder, why another commentary on Revelation? The reality, however, is that of all the works written on Revelation and the Seven Churches no commentary, to this point, has examined all the messages to the seven churches considering the ancient Near Eastern Vassal treaty (ANEVT) structure. The notion of the influence of the ancient Near Eastern vassal treaty structure was not new to me, but goes back over 35 years to when I was an undergraduate student and reading about Meredith Kline’s work on this subject in relation to the OT. Then during the research for my Ph.D. dissertation, David Aune suggested that the seven messages were influenced by Imperial Edicts. While this intrigued me, it never truly satisfied my impression that they were first and foremost influenced by the OT Torah. The vassal treaty structure common to both the OT and what I believed to be evident in the messages to the churches in Revelation, naturally lent itself to further investigation. This present commentary has been fifteen years in the works.
This volume is an outworking of my Ph.D. dissertation completed at Highland Theological College and the University of Aberdeen under the supervision of Professors I. Howard Marshall, Jamie Grant, and Alistair Wilson. My original dissertation “The Influence of Ancient Near Eastern Vassal Treaties on the Seven Prophetic Messages in Revelation with Special Reference to the Message to Smyrna” was defended in 2008 and published shortly thereafter in 2009 by Gorgias Press under the title The Seven Messages of Revelation and Vassal Treaties: Literary Genre, Structure, and Function in the Gorgias Dissertations Biblical Studies Series 41. In my dissertation, the message to the city of Smyrna was examined, and included in this commentary with the kind permission of Gorgias Press, but left the six remaining messages to the churches to be dealt with in this fashion.
David Chilton did write a commentary on the entire book of Revelation called The Days of Vengeance (1987), using the ANEVT structure as the five divisions of his work. According to Chilton the structure of the seven messages of Revelation (SMR) “follows the same general pattern” and “each message itself recapitulates the entire five-part covenant structure” (p. 85). But Chilton considered the SMR as the Historical Prologue element of the overall ANEVT structure he used for his commentary. Ray R. Sutton in Appendix 5 of his work, That You May Prosper: Dominion by Covenant (1987), outlines the book of Revelation using the ANEVT structure and describes the structure in the messages using Ephesians as his example identical to Chilton (p. 253). They only dealt with the elements of the ANEVT structure in the message to Ephesus, and neglected the remaining cities. While they contribute to the discussion of the ANEVT structure and the book of Revelation, their material on the SMR needed further development.
So with only Smyrna and Ephesus treated according to the ANEVT structure, this volume was written to consider all of the SMR in light of the covenantal lawsuit motif following the ANEVT structure. This, it is hoped, will shed new light on the text and bring the messages to light for the reader in a new way.
Several trips were undertaken to visit the ruins of the cities of the seven churches in Turkey and to explore the museums that now house many of their remains. Then early in my research for my dissertation my supervisor, I. Howard Marshall, encouraged me to pursue a defence of William Ramsay’s work of identifying local references in the text which was taken up by Collin Hemer, but I was too far along in my research on the ANEVT structure to give it my attention at that time. In subsequent years, I published several articles on the local references in the SMR and have included the essence of the material here with the kind permission of the editor of Bible and Spade and with new developments in archaeology added. This work will combine the historical references and the vassal treaty structure in one commentary achieving in part what I. Howard Marshall had requested. My only regret is that he did not live to see the finished commentary, passing away one year before its completion.
The purpose of this volume is not only to provide the reader with exegetical and background information on the messages to the seven churches of Asia Minor, but to help the reader analyze the genre, structure and function of these proclamations. Therefore, there is a great deal of interdisciplinary data in the book that is becoming increasingly necessary in academic research. Although this commentary is based on the Greek text of Revelation, I have usually provided a transliteration and English translation in parenthesis after the Greek words or phrases in order that those who are not proficient in Greek would be able to benefit from reading the commentary. Also, primary sources, of three entries or more, were moved to a footnote to aid in the readability of the text.
The online Jesus Speaks companion website is free for everyone and accessible through this link. The website provides photos from the book, enlarged and in color, external web links, and an extended bibliography for research, along with additional bonus material that could not be put into the book due to space limitations and to keep the cost down for students.
My hope and prayer is that this research will lead not only to a deeper understanding of the seven messages to the church, but also that it will enrich our understanding of the covenant relationship between Christ and his church.
David E. Graves, Ph.D.
April 12, 2017
- Ch. 1 – Literary Context
- Ch. 2 – Cultural Background
- Ch. 3 – Covenantal Framework
- Ch. 4 – Elegant Ephesus
- Ch. 5 – Extinct Ephesus
- Ch. 6 – Supreme Smyrna
- Ch. 7 – Steadfast Smyrna
- Ch. 8 – Polytheistic Pergamum
- Ch. 9 – Praised Pergamum
- Ch. 10 – Tireless Thyatira
- Ch. 11 – Threatened Thyatira
- Ch. 12 – Stalwart Sardis
- Ch. 13 – Sedate Sardis
- Ch. 14 – Prosperous Philadelphia
- Ch. 15 – Faithful Philadelphia
- Ch. 16 – Luxurious Laodicea
- Ch. 17 – Lukewarm Laodicea
- Back Cover
- ECM Company
Kunsthistorisches Museum (no. IX A 79) Photograph by James Steakley, PD Roman cameo of Gemma Augustea (AD 9–12). A depiction of Emperor...
Primary Sources Abegg, Jr., Martin G., Michael O. Wise, and Edward M. Cook. The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation . San Francisc...
© 2017 David E. Graves Ephesian Boulētarion/Odeon (concert hall), not to be confused with the larger theater/stadium.
© 2017 David E. Graves The theater in Ephesus with the colonnaded street, The Arcadian Way, leading down to the now silted harbour.