This is the revelation revealed by Jesus Christ, the revelation which God gave to him to show to his servants, the revelation which tells of the things which must soon happen. This revelation Jesus Christ sent and explained through his angel to his servant John, who testified to the word sent to him by God and attested by the witness borne by Jesus Christ everything which he saw.
This book is sometimes called Revelation and sometimes the Apocalypse. It begins with the words 'The revelation of Jesus Christ', which mean not the revelation about Jesus Christ but the revelation given by Jesus Christ. The Greek word for revelation is apokalupsis, which is a word with a history.
(1) Apokalupsis is composed of two parts. Apo means away from, and kalupsis means a veiling. Apokalupsis, therefore, means an unveiling, a revealing. It was not originally an especially religious word; it meant simply the disclosure of any fact. There is an interesting use of it in the writings of the Greek historian Plutarch (How to tell a Flatterer from a Friend, 32). Plutarch tells how Pythagoras once severely rebuked a devoted disciple of his in public, and the young man went out and hanged himself. 'From that time on, Pythagoras never admonished anyone when anyone else was present. For error should be treated as a foul disease, and all admonition and disclosure [apokalupsis] should be in secret.' But apokalupsis became especially a Christian word.
(2) It is used for the revealing of God's will to us for our actions. Paul says that he went up to Jerusalem by apokalupsis. He went because God told him he wanted him to go (Galatians 2:2).
(3) It is used of the revelation of God's truth to men and women. Paul received his gospel not from a human source but by apokalupsis from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12). In the Christian assembly, the message of the preacher is an apokalupsis (1 Corinthians 14:6).
(4) It is used of God's revealing to men and women of his own mysteries, especially in the incarnation of Jesus Christ (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:3).
(5) It is especially used of the revelation of the power and the holiness of God which is to come at the last days. That will be an unveiling of judgment (Romans 2:5); but for Christians it will be an unveiling of praise and glory (1 Peter 1:7), of grace (1 Peter 1:13) and of joy (1 Peter 4:13).
Before we remind ourselves of the more technical use of apokalupsis, we may note two things.
(1) This revelation is connected especially with the work of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:17).
(2) We are bound to see that here we have a picture of the whole of the Christian life. There is no part of it which is not lit by the revelation of God. God reveals to us what we must do and say; in Jesus Christ he reveals himself to us, for whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father (John 14:9); and life moves on to the great and final revelation in which there is judgment for those who have not submitted to God, but there is grace and glory and joy for those who are in Jesus Christ. Revelation is not a technical theological idea; it is what God is offering to all who will listen.
Now we look at the technical meaning of apokalupsis, for that meaning is particularly connected with this book.
The Jews had long since ceased to hope that they would be recognized and upheld as the chosen people by human means. They hoped now for nothing less than the direct intervention of God. To that end, they divided all time into two ages—this present age, wholly given over to evil, and the age to come, the age of God. Between the two, there was to be a time of terrible trial. Between the Old and the New Testaments, the Jews wrote many books which were visions of the dreadful time before the end and of the blessedness to come. These books were called Apocalypses; and that is what Revelation is. Although there is nothing like it in the New Testament, it belongs to a class of literature which was common in the period between the Testaments. All these books are wild and unintelligible, for they are trying to describe the indescribable. The very subject with which Revelation deals is the reason why it is so difficult to understand.