What we call the book of Revelation was a letter, written by John to seven churches in Asia Minor. (Rev 1:4) The letter was written in the first century, so whatever the letter says must have had relevance to the first people who received it. John was addressing the members of those churches back in those days. So, the first question we ask when interpreting the message of Revelation, is what did the letter mean to those people who first heard it?
It is true that not everything written in the Old Testament was fulfilled in the days in which it was written. Much of it spoke about the coming of Christ and what God would achieve through the gospel. However, in Revelation there are statements that show the 2 content concerns events that were to take place during the lifetime of those people who first received the letter, such as, “the time is at hand” and “the things that must shortly come to pass.” (Rev 1:13)
For example, when John wrote about the identity of the beast, he said, “let the reader understand, the number of his name is six hundred and sixty-six.” (Rev 13:18) When this letter was read out in the original seven churches, I think it is fair to say that the hearers then would have thought that this person was identifiable in their own day. They were told that the person was then alive, at that time.
It is also clear, as we read through Revelation, that images and symbols the letter uses have direct relationship to events that occurred in the first century, during the days of the first churches.
We will look at this as we go through our commentary below. Take, for example, where Daniel was told to seal up the vision, for it was for many days in the future. (Daniel 12:4) In contrast to this, John was told not to seal up the vision, for the time was then near. (Rev 22:10) To the normal hearer in the churches where Revelation was first read, this could only have meant that the vision of Revelation was something that was for those people in those days.