The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


The big reveal

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John (Revelation 1:1).

Makeovers are all the rage on television shows, from someone's appearance to someone's kitchen, bath, or entire house. Each makeover episode concludes with the Big Reveal. The audience is finally offered a glimpse of the new look. There is an ancient word that means the Big Reveal: apocalypse!

To our modern ears, apocalypse has an entirely different meaning than it did for our predecessors. Indeed, our modern interpretation of this word has totally colored our perception when we come upon scriptural examples. In the verse above, revelation is actually the word apocalypse. Anyone hearing that word today will picture violent, cataclysmic events. The Greek definition for the word, however, was more benign. A compound word, apokalypsis, is constructed from the preposition, apo, meaning off or away from, and the verb kalypto, which means cover or conceal. Putting the two together results in an uncovering, an unveiling, or revelation, i.e. the Big Reveal.

An apocalypse is a literary genre, much as a parable is a genre, or type of literature. It was never intended as a timetable for catastrophe. Mark's 13th chapter and Matthew's 24th chapter both fit into this genre, as do sections of Daniel and Zechariah. The last chapters of Ezekiel are maybe our earliest examples of apocalyptic literature. Features of the genre include a setting of crisis, conflict on a cosmic scale, extensive symbolism (including colors, creatures, and numbers), and often a heavenly interpreter. Another characteristic is what I call the "apocalyptic tense": taking an event from the past, predicting it as the future, in an effort to warn those in the present of an existing evil. For both John of Patmos, as well as the author of Daniel, the past event was the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians. John's contemporary evil was persecution from the Romans; Daniel's evil was Antiochus Epiphanes, who viciously persecuted God's people. The future event for both authors was a coming Day of the Lord.

Too many readers get stuck trying to pinpoint a calendar date for this coming Day of the Lord. Now for the Big Reveal. Though the verb coming certainly denotes movement, the movement is not toward annihilation. The movement is always by God toward his people, and it is ongoing and never-ending.

Thanks be to God. 


Marie Smith

Marie Smith

Posted at 7:18 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/7/2011

I'm puzzled by people using verbs as nouns. Reveal is not a noun. Shouldn't revealing, the gerund, have been used?

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