Behind the Curtain

Elliot Ritzema

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the things that must soon take place” (Rev 1:1).

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When we hear the word “revelation,” our minds can drift to fantastic images found in the last book of the Bible, like battles, beasts and blood. But revelation isn’t just a name for the spectacular visions John saw. The English word “revelation” simply refers to the act of revealing, of making something known. In the New Testament, whenever this word appears, God is doing the revealing. And while God’s revelation does include unveiling things other than Himself (the battles, beasts and blood), even this information is offered with the goal of making Himself known.

The Word and Its Ancient Use

Using the ESV English-Greek Reverse Interlinear, we find that the word translated “revelation” in Revelation 1:1 is the Greek word ἀποκάλυψις (apokalupsis). This is where we get the English word “apocalypse,” which refers to the complete and final destruction of the world. If you are using print books for your study, you can look it up in Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Take note of the Strong’s Number (602) and look it up in a reference book keyed to Strong’s Numbers, like the Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament. When we look it up, we find that its meaning is simply “uncovering” or “disclosure.” We also find that the verbal form of apokalupsis (“revelation”) is apokalupto (ἀποκαλύπτω; “to reveal”).

Usage in the Greek Old Testament and New Testament

We can use Bible software or Biblia.com to search for other occurrences of this word within the New Testament and the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint). It occurs in its most general sense, for example, in the Septuagint of 1 Samuel 20:30, where it is usually translated “nakedness.” In Daniel 2, however, God reveals “mysteries” and “deep and hidden things” (Dan 2:19, 22). New Testament writers use apokalupsis exclusively in this sense: God is pulling back the curtain to show His work in the world.

Apokalupsis is often associated with the last book of the Bible. However, of the 44 occurrences of the word in the New Testament, only one appears in Revelation. In other usages, apokalupsis often relates to Jesus’ future second coming, as in 1 Corinthians 1:7 (“as you wait for the revealing of the Lord Jesus Christ”) and 2 Thessalonians 1:7 (“when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels”).

However, the New Testament writers often have other divine unveilings in mind. There is the revelation of Jesus at His first coming (Luke 2:32; Rom 16:25), as well as Jesus’ revelation of Himself to believers between His comings (1 Cor 14:6; Gal 1:16). Paul prays that the Ephesians will be given the “Spirit of wisdom and of revelation”—that God would speak to them and show them what they need to do (Eph 1:17). The Corinthians have revelations when they meet together—when God’s people will respond to Him in light of their salvation (1 Cor 14:26). Creation itself waits for “the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom 8:19). What do these usages all have in common? God is the one doing the revealing, and what is revealed always points to the work He is doing.

What Is Being Revealed?

So when Revelation 1:1 introduces the last book of the Bible as “the revelation of Jesus Christ,” what does it say about the content and purpose of this book? Jesus is unveiling something; He is showing what is real about the world. The seven churches who were the original recipients of the book were currently experiencing, or were about to experience, persecution. Jesus wanted to show them what was going on “behind the scenes” so that they would have the strength to endure it. In addition, the book ultimately points to Jesus. The events point to what He is doing now and what He will do at His second coming. We should not be disturbed by anything we read in it because Jesus, the victor, is the focal point.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 5

The Cost of Comfort

John D. Barry

Isaiah 39:1–40:31; Luke 14:1–35; Job 9:12–19

“ ‘[You all] comfort; comfort my people,’ says your God. ‘Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and call to her, that her compulsory labor is fulfilled, that her sin is paid for, that she has received from the hand of Yahweh double for all her sins’ ” (Isa 40:1–2). God directed this command at the prophet and a group of people—possibly all those remaining in Israel. They were to speak comfort to the exiled Israelites, to call them home again.

Sometimes we feel the need for this kind of comfort. Like the prodigal son in the pig sty, we feel exiled and alone; we have paid our sentence, and we want to go home. We’re not even asking for joy—just comfort. Despite their sins, God responded to the Israelites. But God did not merely restore them to their former state. He sent the Suffering Servant, prophesied later in Isaiah (Isa 52:13–53:12), to die on behalf of the people, to pay for the sins that resulted in exile in the first place. God does this so that all our sins—past, present and future—might be paid once and for all.

But God requires much from those to whom much has been given, which is all of us. The great news of the Suffering Servant, Jesus, is not only that we find comfort and peace in Him, but also that we are empowered to act—free from sin. As Jesus’ disciples, we must live the way that He has called us to live, being willing to make the sacrifices that discipleship requires (e.g., Luke 14:25–35).

The grace we receive from God is free, but a great price was paid for it. We must live fully in it. We must embrace it with our entire being. For when we do, we become not just a comforted people, but a restored people, instruments of God’s work in the world.

What is God calling you to sacrifice? How can you take joy in the comfort He has brought you, and then show others that joy?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.


John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus’ Economy, a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. To empower the extreme poor, Jesus’ Economy also has an online fair trade shop. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the former editor-in-chief of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about John’s work with Jesus’ Economy at www.jesuseconomy.org.

Shelf Life Book Review: The Jewish Gospels

William Varner

The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ
The New Press, 2012

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Daniel Boyarin argues that Jews in Jesus’ time were looking for a divine messiah who would also suffer for Israel’s sins, an idea that challenges many assumptions that have recently prevailed in Jewish circles.

Boyarin argues convincingly that Jews from ancient times believed the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 describes a coming messiah. This counters many modern Jewish objections to Jesus—namely that He could not have been the messiah because His suffering and claim to deity were foreign ideas to ancient Judaism. In light of these claims, he argues that we need to reexamine the neglected literature of Daniel 7, Enoch, and 4 Ezra, along with the “Son of God” and “suffering Messiah” texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls to understand what first-century Jews thought about the Messiah.

Boyarin defines technical terms in simple language, making this book accessible for the everyday student of the Bible.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 5 No. 1

Bible Study and the Holy Land

Mike Howerton

The geography of Scripture first came alive for me when I visited the Holy Land. During the trip, I was rarely without my Bible. It acted as a guidebook as I made connections between the words on the page and the tangible, sensory experience around me. Since visiting Israel, I’ve continued to draw on that experience as I dig into the Word. It was valuable for these reasons:

The Sensory Experience

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I quickly realized how the mental pictures and storybook images that I had previously developed proved to be inaccurate or incomplete. Most often, these images were two-dimensional, non-realities of desert lands. Today, I no longer imagine the pastoral lands around Galilee; I remember them. I’ve seen the boats the disciples would have cast their nets from. I watched shepherds lead their flocks over the hills of Bethlehem with just the sound of their voices. All of my senses were engaged, and to some degree they are reengaged every time I read God’s Word. Now that I’ve experienced the land for myself, I’ve left the flannel board and cut-out characters behind.

The Cultural Insight

While wandering around the Mount of Olives, my group saw a large tomb that housed hundreds of boxes that were a yard long, 8 inches high and 8 inches wide. Our guide filled us in on a tradition that goes back thousands of years. Being buried on the Mount of Olives was an honor, but space was extremely limited. After several months to a year, families would exhume the bones and place them in small rectangular boxes, burying them in a less prominent tomb on the mount. This practice is called “second burial” and may have been the practice referred to by the disciple in Matthew who said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (8:21). Jesus bluntly tells the disciple, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (8:22). Jesus wasn’t referring to leaving one’s father dead or unburied—which would have been a dishonor of the Law and culture.

The Sharper Image

Jesus came to seek and save the lost, but He emphasizes that He was sent to the lost sheep of Israel. I always assumed this made sense: He was Jewish. He lived in Israel. But I never realized how easily Jesus could have taken His message to other cultures. There were vibrant Hellenistic cities in Israel at that time. Herod the Great admired Rome and built cities paying homage to its architecture and culture. He built Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast near Joppa. Beth Shan, a Hellenistic center in Israel, was along the road from Galilee to Jerusalem. Jesus must have passed that city in His ministry, but purposely avoided it because He was primarily focused on His ministry to Israel. Paul and the other disciples would later model that intense focus in their mission to the Gentiles.

If you visit the Holy Land, do so with your Bible open. In Israel, the Bible provides clarity and direction. Sometimes, we underestimate how far-reaching its influence really is.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 5

666: What Theories Add up?

Michael S. Heiser

If there’s one part of the Bible virtually everyone has heard of, it’s 666—the “number of Beast.” And if there’s one thing no one can agree upon, it’s what that number stands for. We find the number in Revelation 13:18: “let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.” The wording here is important: John tells readers that the number needs to be “calculated,” which means there must be a hidden meaning behind it. But how do we calculate it?

Calculating Symbolism

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One option for solving this biblical riddle is gematria, the idea that numbers have symbolic meaning. While some have called gematria a tool for speculation, it actually derives from an ancient convention in languages like Greek and Hebrew where letters of the alphabet are used to represent numbers.

But gematria is not limited to just Revelation; the New Testament contains several other symbolic figures. The 153 fish of John 21:11 could be interpreted as ancient symbolism for the Church, the body of Christ, and the Old Testament sons of God as analogous to believers in the Church. The Greek word for “dove,” like the dove that descends on Jesus at His baptism, has a numerical value equivalent to the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, thus symbolizing the Alpha and Omega (Rev 1:8).

Calculating 666

When it comes to 666, one gematria explanation is that the number represents Nero Caesar. The Greek Neron Kaisar adds up to 1,005, but when the name is transliterated into the Hebrew letters nrwn qsr, the sum is 666. Nero Caesar also would explain the variant number of the Beast (616) found in some New Testament manuscripts. Transliterating the Latin Nero Caesar into Hebrew, nrw qsr, yields 616, suggesting John may have been thinking of the well-known Nero Redivivus myth when writing about the Beast (i.e., that Nero would rise from the dead to destroy Christians).

The gematria solution presents three major problems: it could be viewed as cheating with the spellings (the usual Hebrew spelling for Caesar is q’st, not qsr, although the qsr form does exist). It assumes that readers knew Hebrew well enough to do the transliteration from Greek back into Hebrew. And, perhaps most tellingly, the early Christian commentators who knew of the Nero Redivivus myth never identified 666 with Nero.

Ancient Sudoku

There is another possibility: 666 is a magic square. From very ancient times, philosophers and mathematicians were fascinated that the numbers 1–36 could be arranged in squares so that each row and diagonal would add up to the same sum (the same principle as modern Sudoku). One magic square has four rows and two diagonals that each add up to 111. The six lines of 111 = 666. Each magic square in ancient Jewish and Greek tradition was also associated with a celestial body. In the case of the 666 square that body was the sun, which was associated with Zeus, the highest god in the Greek pantheon.

Zeus was often associated with Baal and the mythological north (tsaphon) of Canaanite religion. Most relevant to the Beast of Revelation is Baal’s (and Zeus’) title, “lord of heaven” (Baal-shamem). It is possible that the “abomination of desolation” (shiqquts-shamem) in Daniel 9:27 is a play on Baal-shamem, since the Old Testament writers sometimes substituted words that meant “shame” or “abomination” into proper names that formerly contained “Baal” (e.g., Mephibosheth, Ish-Bosheth). This would mean 666 is a symbol for the abominable Baal, the dark lord of the Old Testament world—satanic power in New Testament thinking.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 5