Overview of Revelation: What does Revelation mean Anyways and What exactly is Apocalyptic Writings?

What does “Revelation” mean?

I’m a language and etymology buff.  I love Greek and Latin and wish in my earlier days I had studied both more.  The word revelation is from the Greek word ἀποκάλυψις apokalypsis, meaning “unveiling” or “revelation”.  The Greek word is formed from two Greek words “apo” meaning away from and “kalyptein” meaning to cover.  Hence, the word literally means “uncover.”  More fully, “an uncovering or disclosure of knowledge”, and “unveiling of knowledge.”

Hence, our English word “apocalypse“.  This word originally referred to the Bible and its prediction of imminent cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the ruling powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in the messianic kingdom.  Recently, it’s been broadened to mean the end of the world as we know it and not necessarily by God’s hand.

How did we get the word revelation from apocalypse?  Well, it’s Latin.  Revelation comes from the Latin word “revelare” meaning to “lay bare”, “unveil”, or “uncover”.  Hence, thanks to the monks of the Middle Ages, we use the Latin form of the word as the modern day title but we can also thank the Greeks for the word apocalypse.

The word apocalypse and revelation is the same Greek word just translated differently. The words’ meanings have evolved over the millennium but for our study both refer to the visions John received on the Island of Patmos.

Armageddon.  Originally in Hebrew, this word is “Har–Magedon” or “Har Meghiddohn”, means “Mountain (or hill) of Megiddo (the city).  Armageddon (Ἁρμαγεδών in the Greek) means a mountain or range of hills.  This word is used only once in the Bible in Revelation 16:16 and it refers to the GATHERING PLACE of  the forces of good and evil–NOT THE ACTUAL BATTLE.  Traditionally, this has been at the foot of Mount Megiddo in the Valley of Jezreel where some historians say more wars have been fought here than in any other location in the world.  This word like apocalypse has been broadened to mean the end of the world.

The final battle will take place outside Jerusalem in the Kidron Valley or Valley of Jehoshaphat (Joel 3:2, 9-16) against Jesus Christ (Revelation 14:14-20; 16:14; 19:11-21; Joel 3:12-14).

Scholars disagree as to the actual location of the final battle.  Some take it literally.  Some figuratively.  Some say it will be world-wide.  Others argue the translations and the semantics.  In my mind all that matters is there will be a final battle of good versus evil and God will win.  Does it really matter where it will take place?

What is apocalyptic writings or literature?

Apocalyptic writings focus on the revelation of God and His plan for our world.  They always talk of future events and visions of the future.  Most discuss God’s triumph over evil.  And interestingly, God himself rarely speaks in these writings.  God’s word is usually communicated through angels or others God chooses.

Between 200 BC and 200 AD, apocalyptic writings were actually quite common and quite popular amongst Jews and early Christians.  Apocalyptic writings abound in symbolism, which is what makes the Book of Revelation so hard to understand especially to modern readers.  Symbols change and meanings are lost so a lot of what we will be studying had completely different meanings almost 2000 years ago and we just flat out don’t know what the symbols were supposed to mean either.

Apocalyptic writings came about in the era between the writing of the Old Testament and the New Testament.  God had stopped talking to His people, creating a void in the Jewish community.  Evil rulers were in power at this time (Rome and Greece and Persia before) and God’s people wondered where He was.  Hence, various writers began to write to fill this void and encourage the people that God’s kingdom is indeed still coming especially after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.  God’s people couldn’t understand how such a catastrophe could befall them.

Apocalyptic writings can be seen in the Old Testament in the books of Joel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Chapters 24-27 of Isaiah and chapter 33, and the Book of Daniel.  This was continued with the Book of Revelation in the New Testament.  The main difference between the Book of Revelation (the ultimate apocalyptic writing) and others is visions are left unexplained.  Hence, the difficulty and hence our challenge in studying it.

Furthermore, early noncanonical writings (many discovered with the Dead Sea Scrolls) were imaginary–not based off of actual visions from God.  Hence, I’m assuming we will only be studying what is in the Bible in BSF.

Rest assured, the one theme we will see in Revelation:  the ultimate victory of God.  Evil will be overthrown and God will reign.  This is our hope.  This is God’s promise.  His glory to us all.


One thought on “Overview of Revelation: What does Revelation mean Anyways and What exactly is Apocalyptic Writings?

  1. A to Z Mom,

    Last year I wrote to the Global Headquarters of Bible Study Fellowship concerned about the approach that they would be taking in this year’s study of Revelation. Todd Wethall, Director of Materials Development on February 20, 2015 had this to say:

    “Thank you for writing and sharing your concern about next year’s study of Revelation, which will focus on the Lord Jesus Christ and the consummation of all of God’s promises. In the BSF study, the major themes of Revelation, rather than specific interpretations, will be the focus of each lesson, thereby fostering unity within the Church.

    While BSF holds a premillennial position, our classes and materials will also present other views in a balanced, gracious and open-minded way, allowing class members to form their own opinions. BSF will not teach any dispensational system, such as the timing of the rapture or time lines of other events.

    . . .It has been a tremendous blessing, not just refining the material but in increasing our anticipation for the Lord’s return and the establishment of His eternal Kingdom. With that excitement is a since of urgency to share His Good News so others may hear, know and believe in our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

    The questions to Lessons 1-11 have already been posted on the BSF web site. My prayer is that all of us who are studying Revelation in BSF this year will come to a better and more complete understanding of what the Apostle John through the guidance of the Holy Spirit was wanting his generation and future generations to know about how God guides the course of human history and makes it “His Story”.

    May God through His Holy Spirit, guide each of us in every lesson. May we go into each and every lesson in prayer and submission to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

    Sincerely and with the love of God,
    Rod Girdler


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