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