A revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what things must soon take place. ~REVELATION 1:1
Apokalypsis–The Greek word which opens this book comes from the verb apokalypto. Apo meaning away or away from, and kalypto meaning cover or veil. So it means to uncover, to reveal, to disclose. Thus our translation to Revelation or Apocalypse.
Interesting that the name of this book we find so confusing actually means an unveiling of necessary information, rather than a deliberate concealment of it.
Why so confounding then?
Well, part of that answer seems to come in this very first verse. The revelation is to show what must soon take place. Already we have our first of over 240 allusions to the Old Testament. The wording has its roots in Daniel 2:28-30,45-47 with the exception of the word soon. Daniel was writing (a few hundred years or so before Revelation) about what would transpire “in the latter days”, but John rewords it to say that these events will happen soon. John reiterates in verse 3: “the time is near.” What Daniel expected to occur in the last days, John is announcing as imminent, or beginning to occur now.
From G.K. Beale’s commentary:
There is no doubt that John saw the resurrection of Christ as fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel regarding the inaugurating of the kingdom of God. This indicates that what is about to be written concerns not just the distant future, but what is before us here and now….Therefore, John’s book is a prophetic work which concerns the imminent and inaugurated fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about the kingdom in Jesus Christ.
This book we call Revelation was indeed written to, and immediately for, believers around Asia Minor living in the late first century under Roman domination—a starkly different context than our own in 21st century America.
And this is one reason it is a bit odd to us today. Being the only apocalyptic book of the New Testament, it uses language and imagery pretty foreign to us, but not so much to its intended first readers. As William Barclay commented, “it uses all the familiar imagery. It may often be difficult and even unintelligible to us, but for the most part it was using pictures and ideas which those who read it would know and understand.”
Another reason for our deciphering difficulty is that all apocalyptic literature is necessarily cryptic because it is attempting to describe the indescribable, to paint the unpaintable. John, like a good artist or poet, is painting a vivid picture in order to startle, challenge, and call to action–to be dissident disciples of Jesus Christ under the cruel rule of Domitian who demanded Caeser worship.
It seems to me that much of the book of Revelation is to encourage believers to persevere through brutal Roman rule, recognizing Babylon when they see it, and to absolutely avoid any collusion with it. This of course applies to believers in every generation and culture, so it isn’t like we have nothing to glean from this fantastic book. And it doesn’t seem that everything in the book has already happened either. . .