Word of the Week
November 19, 2022
Apokalupsis: A Look Behind the Screen
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John.
On Fixer Upper, a popular home repair show, Chip and Joanna Gaines begin with a broken down, unattractive home and transform it into a spectacular showpiece. The climax of the show is the “Big Reveal,” the moment when the customers are standing in front of a huge rolling screen displaying the image of the original, homely home. Chip and Joanna say, “Are you ready to see your new home?” Then they pull the screen aside so the owners can see the transformed house that has been prepared for them.
You might say that God is the ultimate Fixer Upper. He has taken a ruined race, hopelessly entangled in sin, and constructed a plan that provides salvation for this sorry bunch.
We could never guess what God devised for our good and His glory, but He is in the business of Big Reveals. All through the Bible, the Lord pulls back the curtain that blocks our view of the unseen world, allowing glimpses of spiritual reality.
The Greeks had a word for it, of course. And we can learn a lot about God’s plans by following the New Testament uses of the Greek word for “revelation.”
The most obvious place to look is the book of Revelation that closes the New Testament canon. The first phrase in the book is “revelation of Jesus Christ.” In Greek, that’s the apokalupsis of Jesus Christ. That’s why some Bibles call it “The Apocalypse.”
Apokalupsis comes from two shorter Greek words: apo, “away from” and kaluptō, “to cover, to hide.” Put them together and you get the basic idea: to take away the covering that hides something.
Classical Greek used kaluptō for physical objects. You might hide something by burying it or putting a cloth over it. In the New Testament, Jesus and His disciples were once caught in a storm so furious that the waves “covered” the boat (Matthew 8:24).
Our primary interest is the figurative meaning of the word – not stripping off a physical covering, but taking away the barriers to knowledge – particularly the knowledge of God.
Secular Greeks seldom spoke about apokalupsis, because their gods were fickle and unpredictable. You couldn’t expect Zeus to reveal his character or his will for man in a systematic way. You simply tried to stay out of his way.
The God of the Bible, however, chooses to reveal Himself. He laid down the Law at Mount Sinai and proclaimed His will to the prophets. The word apokalupsis seldom appears in the Greek Old Testament, but it is clear that every book describes a God who exists and who communicates to His people. It appears 18 times in the New Testament, supplemented by the verb apokaluptō (26 times). It consistently describes the Lord revealing truth about Himself which we could never have discovered with our unaided reason or resources.
Just look at all the ways in which God has pulled the screen aside to reveal Himself:
- The aged Simeon predicted that the infant Jesus would become a revelation that would remove the veil of darkness that kept Gentiles from seeing God (Luke 2:32).
- God allowed Paul to catch a glimpse of heaven (2 Corinthians 12:1, 7).
- Paul first came to Galatia because of a revelation from God (Galatians 2:2).
- God uses spiritual gifts like prophecy to reveal His will for the church (1 Corinthians 14:6, 26).
- The apostle prays that the Lord would provide a revelation of His character that would reveal the depth of his glory and greatness (Ephesians 1:17)
- God gave a unique revelation to Paul of a great mystery which had remained hidden in the Old Testament: God was going to open the doors to allow Gentiles access to His presence without going through the path of bondage to the law (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:3).
- God’s judgment will ultimately be revealed (Romans 2:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:7).
- In the end when we are glorified, God will pull back the curtain and reveal us to a waiting creation (Romans 8:19).
- When Christ returns, His full glory will be revealed (1 Corinthians 1:7, 13; 4:13).
No wonder God uses apokalupsis as a title for the book of Revelation, the climactic unveiling of His plans for the climax of history!
Why is revelation crucial? Because there is so much about God that we could never deduce or discover on our own. We can’t read His mind. We only know what He is thinking when He tells us (see 1 Corinthians 2:11).
God’s Great Reveal is summarized in 1 Corinthians 1:9-10:
Just as it written, Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the human heart, all that God has prepared for those who love him(verse 9).
There is no way to peek behind the screen with our own eyes or ears.
For to us God revealed them through the Spirit (verse 10).
But God pulls the screen aside far enough to reveal everything that we need to know!
It is all there in the Scriptures!
The matching verb apokaluptō offers an opportunity to take this study deeper. You can do your own investigation by looking up these references:
Matthew 10:26; 11:25, 27; 16:17; Luke 2:35; 10:21, 22; 12:2; 17:30; John 12:38; Romans 1:17, 18; 8:18; 1 Corinthians 2:10; 3:13; 14:30; Galatians 1:16; 3:23; Ephesians 3:5; Philippians 3:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 6, 8; 1 Peter 1:5, 12; 5:1.
You may have noticed that we used the etymology, or history, of the word to explain the definition. You have to exercise caution when you base the definition of a word on the two or three shorter words used to construct it. Meanings can change over the years, so the origin of a word can be misleading. In this case, the centuries-old origin of the word remains a good match to the way it was used In the first century, so I felt comfortable using it to explain apokalupsis.
Q – Here is a condensed version of a comment I received on the Ezra Project Web site:
There are not two words petros and petra. In Greek, like most Indo-European languages there is only one stem that determines the definition. [He gives an example from Lithuanian.] The stem petr- gives it the meaning “large rock.” Putting masculine endings on it means it will be used for a masculine use like a man’s name or a throwing rock or war rock. If I add the feminine ending, it will be used for a feminine use, like a place or fixed object. In reality, the dictionary entries should be just the stem, but normally they use the nominative singular form.
A – This is a rather technical point, but the writer has a point. If we approach Greek as a linguistic scholar would, it might be more accurate to say that you should look at the stem or base of a word to get the basic meaning. One example is our word for this week. Apokalup- is the base which means “uncover”; putting different endings on it turns it into a noun or a verb with slightly different meanings.
At the level of Greek that we are studying, it makes the most sense to stick with the way your Greek dictionary handles this issue, treating each variation as a separate word.
Sometimes we enjoy a quiet happiness, a pleasant sense of piece. At other times, we won’t settle for less than a full-fledged “whoop-de-doo.” Next week we’re going to look at a Greek word that describes the rowdier kind of joy!
©Ezra Project 2022
In Ephesians 2:8 is the “this/that” (depending on the translation) making reference to salvation itself being God’s free gift (which of course it is) or is reference being made to faith as the gift of God? Or is the “this/that” referring to both?
Good question! The pronoun in question (this/that) has a neuter ending. “Faith” is feminine and so is “grace,” so it doesn’t match either word. My conclusion is that it is referring to the whole process of salvation that Paul has been discussing.