The Romans believed that there was a thin line between humanity and divinity, and their gods were often depicted as petty, conniving, dysfunctional principalities just as humans are. Thus, they demanded that people worship their Emperors.
Now, here comes a new “religion” in town that is rebelling against and disrupting the status quo. These followers challenged the loyalty and conformity of Rome and what it meant to be a Roman by claiming Christ as Lord and citing and pronouncing judgment of God for the Roman‘s oppressive ways. Revelation itself is an oracle of judgment on the oppressor and cryptic language of Babylon, Edom, and Kittim, referring to Rome. Consequently, the Romans considered this new Christian sect as subversive and the persecutions began under Nero who was paranoid about those who he considered subversive for fear of assassination. Then, the persecutions escalated with the other Emperors and came to fruition with Domitian, who was totally brutal. Faith, for the Romans, was seen in the state; Christians saw it in Christ. These two contradictory mindsets were not compatible in the market place of ideas. Faith is not in an institution or about false gods and Emperor worship. Rather, it is in the One True God who has a plan and purpose for us all.
Just as there was a new “religion,” now there came a new Emperor who was even more heinous than Nero, seeking to get Christians to worship him. The Romans were trying to force anyone who was devout and character-driven to worship their gods.
This started for the Jews under the Emperor Caesar. For the Christians, right off the bat during the beginning of the Church, there were several- first Caligula, then Claudius, Nero (54-68 AD), Tiberius (14-37), Galba, Vitellius, Otho, Vespasianus, and Julius Sabinus (these Emperors reined less than a year and were mostly assassinated via being lynched, executed, poisoned, murdered by soldiers, executed and the such. I guess Nero’s paranoia was based on some fact. Ironically, Nero committed suicide!), Titus (79-81 AD) and then Domitian. James and Peter dealt with Nero, Paul dealt with Titus, and then there was Domitian (81-96 AD) who was the worst of all. The persecutions continued provincially under Nerva (96- 98) and Trajan (98-117). These dates are significant. Since Nero predates or is current to Revelation even for an early writing, this would make the events depicted as being current as well as pointing to future troubles the readers would see and experience themselves. We know history often repeats itself, so we can also see them in various forms and in what is still to come.
Some of the Christians were compromising, even forsaking their faith, falling prey to their situations, and not trusting in our Lord. The temptation of making life easier by following the ways of the world were as persuasive then as in our day. The dedication and discipline their faith required was negated as temptations continue to lure them, just as they do in our day. The other problem is that false teachings inter-tangled in the churches too.
This is the same thing with which James and Peter dealt. Heretical teachings only glorify Satan and prove his ways of seeking to corrupt and distract people away from God (Rev. 2:2-4, 14-24; 3:1-17). Thus, the churches were in chaos; some were thriving, others were in apostasy, while others were being indifferent.
Revelation was also meant to teach them (and us) to remain in Christ, be faithful, and have security and contentment in Him.
Hence, what John has to say meant something significant and was understood. It is understandable and hopeful for us, too (Rev. 1:3; 22:10)!