Towards Understanding Revelation

12/15/22 REVELATION 1:1a, PART 3

We’re still in the 19th century, looking at the first phrase of the first verse: The Revelation of Jesus Christ.

“The name applied to this book is instructive, though I must say not a few Christians practically interchange it with another name of opposite import. The first half of the one name is like that of the other in sound but the whole meaning of the one is diametrically opposite to that of the other. One is the Apocrypha, which means what is hidden the other is the Apocalypse, which means what is revealed and made known. The Apocrypha is the title given to those books which are adopted by the Church of Rome, of human origin, and of no value in deciding what is truth; the Apocalypse is the name of the divine and inspired book made known to John in Patmos. On the Apocrypha I am silent, or speak only to condemn it; on the Apocalypse I would that I were far more learned and eloquent, in order that I might adequately illustrate and recommend it.

“The words which are rendered in our version, ‘the revelation
of Jesus Christ’  have been misapprehended. It does not mean the revelation made by Jesus Christ, but the revelation of Jesus Christ himself. In other words, it does not mean Christ the revealer, but Christ the revealed; a revelation, or apocalypse, or portrait of Christ, which was communicated by Christ to John the seer, in Patmos. And that I am correct in this interpretation will be plain, I think, to your comprehension, from passages where the original word occurs and the word apocalypse occurs very frequently in Scripture; but unhappily, in our admirable translation…there is a change of rendering, though there be none in the original. For instance: in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, the first chapter, at the seventh verse, it is in our version —‘So that ye come behind in no gift ; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’.  Now in the original it is — ‘waiting for the apocalypse of our Lord Jesus Christ’”

Here is one of the writers who disagrees with Moses Stuart, who said that the Greek indicated that Jesus was the subject of the line, in other words, the revealer rather than the revealed. This writer, John Cumming, is saying the exact opposite. Mr. Cumming does not seem to base his theory on a superior knowledge of Greek, but on surveying how the word “apocalypse” has been translated in various other places in the New Testament. This is not a bad way to proceed, although it’s discouraging to see it come to the opposite conclusion. We’ll continue to observe what future writers will be saying about this.

Let’s continue with Mr. Cumming’s quote:   

“…And here I may remark how great a pity it is that the same word should be the subject of a variety of translations. If it had been translated in one way throughout the New Testament, it would have made the beauty and the force of the meaning of the Spirit of God evolve more vividly. We read, in the First Epistle of Peter, the first chapter, and the seventh verse —‘That it might be found unto praise, and honor, and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.’ In the original it is — ‘in the apocalypse,’ in the revelation ‘of Jesus Christ.’ And, in the thirteenth verse of the same chapter — ‘Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.’ Here again it is in the original —‘in the apocalypse of Jesus Christ.’ And in all these past apocalypse passages it means, not a disclosure, or revelation, or manifestation made by Christ, but made concerning or of Christ. In other words, the title of this book is not Christ the revealer, but Christ the revealed; and this revelation of Christ, we are told, was also given by Christ to John his servant, in the isle of Patmos. 

“This book, then, is an inspired portrait of the Son of God; it is, if I may use the expression, the epiphany of Jesus the full description of his personal glory, to which prophets and martyrs looked forward with waiting hope an apocalypse so brilliant that the sight of the Jew was dazzled by its distant splendor, so much so that he could not see the intervening valleys of Gethsemane and Calvary, through which Christ had to pass, in order to emerge and inherit his predestined glory…”

When I first read this paragraph, it almost sounded anti-Semitic. But on closer inspection, I began to see it as the author’s wish that when the non-believing Jews see Jesus in His Second Coming, that He will be so brilliant that the Jewish non-believers will forget any possible guilt of their ancestors’ role in His suffering and will just believe. This is a welcome change from the writers of the Middle Ages, who were anxious for the Jews to suffer maximum guilt and pain over their ancestors’ role against Jesus: forgetting that the Apostles that they had canonized were also Jewish.

And the last paragraph of this quote:

“The distinction between the revelation of Christ in the Apocalypse,  and the revelation of Christ in the Gospels, is briefly this: the Gospels represent Christ the sufferer, the Apocalypse depicts Christ the conqueror. The Gospels detail ‘his agony, his cross, his passion, his bloody sweat,’ — the Apocalypse described his throne, his ‘many crowns,’ and prostrate saints adoring….In the Gospels we see the shadow of the cross, deep, dark, and palpable to all — in the Apocalypse we behold the luster of the crown shining forth in unearthly brilliancy. In the Gospels we have Christ a priest at the altar — in the Apocalypse we see Christ a king upon his throne; in the one we have Christ in the robes of Aaron — in the other we have Christ in the royalties of David…” [from APOCALYPTIC SKETCHES, LECTURES ON THE BOOK OF REVELATION, by John Cumming, the lectures were given from 1849 to 1851 and then published in 1851]

I’ve read so much now that I get confused about who said what when (which is a big reason why I’m doing this blog), but I think this is the first time we’ve seen this type of comparison of Christ in the Gospels vs Christ in Revelation. Mr. Cumming goes into more depth in his comparisons, but we will see far more of this as we go on because this idea really takes root in the minds of future commentators. And, this idea alone tends to give weight to Mr. Cumming’s take on his thought that Christ is being revealed in Revelation.

On to the next commentator:

The name Apocalyptic (in the use of which we are justified by Rev. i. 1), already signifies that the divine communication and revelation are more prominent in the prophet than the human mediation and receptivity ; for…revelation signifies a divine, prophecy (Weissagung), a human activity.”   [from THE PROPHECIES OF DANIEL AND THE REVELATIONS OF ST JOHN, VIEWED IN THEIR MUTUAL RELATION, by Carl August Auberlen, 1856]

Another take on the difference between revelation and prophecy.


“The Revelation.—The name given to this book in our Bibles is the English form of the Latin equivalent of the Greek title (Apokalupsis). This Greek title is as old as the book itself, and forms the first word of the original text, where it constitutes an essential member of the opening sentence and paragraph. It was consistent with the Hebrew cast of the whole document that the Hebrew fashion of naming books by their initial words should be followed in this instance; but the classical and modern method of designating a literary work by the name of its principal theme happened here to lead to the same result…In the Vulgate version the Greek word is retained, both in the title and at the commencement of the text. Its proper Latin equivalent, however, is not found by merely writing it in Latin letters, apocalypsis, but by combining the Latin renderings of its two component parts, taking re to represent (apo), and velatio as synonymous with (kalupsis). According to the etymological genius of the respective languages, just as the simple substantive velatio, or kalupsis, signified the act of covering with a veil, so the compound re-velatio or (apokalupsis), meant the act of removing, turning back, or taking off the veil, in such a manner as to dis-cover what previously was hidden from view.

“The Latin compound, unaltered except by the Anglicizing of its termination, has become thoroughly naturalized in our English language; and on that account it is, for biblical and ministerial use, preferable to the original title, which, even in its Anglicized form, ‘Apocalypse,’ has never ceased to be ‘Greek‘ to ordinary English ears.”

I have never been very good at languages; I scraped by in high school and college French. I even took a semester of Latin in high school to try to improve my French, and while I found it interesting, it didn’t do much for my French. Nevertheless, I really do find language interesting. I think that looking at the language of a people can tell you something about how their minds work, and on a deeper level than exploring their culture. That’s as far as I’m going to go down this rabbit hole, but I could have a lot of fun going further…

The current quote is from THE PULPIT COMMENTARIES which was a series of books covering the entire Bible and used by pastors in the English-speaking world to inform their sermons. It’s probably still in use today. I really appreciate the depth to which they pursue the language and meaning of every word. Let’s continue:

“Of.  In the English title the preposition ‘of’ must be taken in the sense of ‘to’ or ‘by.’ The revelation was made by Jesus Christ to his servant John, and then the record of it was penned by John for the information of other servants of God. 

“The Revelation of Jesus Christ.…It means the revelation which Jesus Christ makes, not that which reveals him. John is the writer, Jesus Christ the Author, of the book…Christ is both the Mystery and the Revealer of it. He comes to reveal himself, and in himself the Father, whose Image he is. Thus in its opening words the book takes us beyond itself. What is revealed is not secrets about the future, but a Person. And the Revealer is not man, but God; not John, but the Divine Son, commissioned by the Father. Forever the unincarnate Word receives from the Father that which he reveals.”  [from THE PULPIT COMMENTARIES: REVELATION, by Spence & Excell, 1856]

As much as I appreciate the detail, there is a tiny problem here. The authors have said: “It means the revelation which Jesus Christ makes, not that which reveals him.” And then, in the same paragraph, they say: “He comes to reveal himself…” The contradiction is confusing.  And while they backed up the meaning of ‘Revelation’ with information on the language, they did not do that with this issue, so we are left confused.

Lastly, I take exception to “What is revealed is not secrets about the future…”  It’s unclear why the revelation can’t be both the Person and the future. Obviously I think it’s both, and again, I’ll let you know if they change my mind.

…[regarding whether Jesus is the subject or the object] questions, some of them at least, more difficult than important, into which we need not enter. A translation, especially of the divine oracles, ought not to be more explicit and determinate than the original…” [from A COMMENTARY ON THE HOLY SCRIPTURE: CRITICAL, DOCTRINAL AND HOMILETICAL, WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO MINISTERS AND STUDENTS, by John Peter Lange, 1857]

I found this comment interesting. It was in the footnotes. His implication is that the Greek is not specific as to whether Jesus is subject or object, and so he disagrees with Moses Stuart on this topic.

The next author:

“Revelation — An apocalypse or unveiling of those things which had been veiled. A manifesto of the kingdom of Christ. The traveling manual of the church for the Gentile Christian times. Not a detailed history of the future, but a representation of the great epochs and chief powers in developing the kingdom of God in relation to the world. The Church-historical view goes counter to the great principle, that Scripture interprets itself. Revelation is to teach us to understand the times, not the times to interpret to us the Apocalypse, although it is in the nature of the case that a reflex influence is exerted here and is understood by the prudent (Auberlen)…Daniel foretells as to Christ and the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, and the last antichrist. But John’s Revelation fills up the intermediate period, and describes the millennium and final state beyond antichrist. Daniel, as a godly statesman, views the history of God’s people in relation to the four world-kingdoms. John, as an apostle, views history from the Christian Church aspect…Christ taught many things before His departure; but those which were unsuitable for announcement at that time He brought together into the Apocalypse. (Bengel)…The Gospels and Acts are the books, respectively, of His first advent, in the flesh, and in the Spirit; the epistles are the inspired comment on them. The Apocalypse is the book of His second advent and the events preliminary to it.”  [from THE PORTABLE COMMENTARY: COMMENTARY, CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY, OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS, NT, VOL 2, by A. R. Fausset, 1863]

The “Church-historical view” would seem to be what we now know as the historicist, or the continuist, view. The person with this view understands the book of Revelation as a ‘history’ of Christianity from the time of John to the present. Amazingly, the commentator with this view usually sees the major events of the Christian church foretold right up to his time, no matter when that time is. And, as Mr. Fausset observes, it does indeed go “counter to the great principle, that Scripture interprets itself.” Yet, Mr. Fausset had already called Revelation: “The traveling manual of the church for the Gentile Christian times.”

He goes on to say that “John, as an apostle, views history from the Christian Church aspect.” I’m not convinced this is true. My understanding is that the Apostles saw themselves, and Christ, as Jewish, and that the descriptor “Christian” had not been used widely during the Apostolic times. While John was involved in setting up worship centers that we call “churches,” I’m not sure that even at the time of Revelation John was separating Judaism from the following of Christ in his mind. And it is decidedly not clear that Jesus was separating them within the book of Revelation either.

Commentators frequently use some version of the quote: “Revelation is to teach us to understand the times, not the times to interpret to us the Apocalypse.” In a general sense I agree with this statement; but I think there is much about the book of Revelation that was not meant to be fully understood until the time was near. Therefore, my opinion is: until the time is near, this statement is certainly true. Once the time is near, and I believe it is quite near now, then Revelation and the times begin to interpret each other.

Our next commentator was well-known and oft quoted through the middle of the last century:

“By a ‘revelation’ is meant the taking off of a veil. In Scripture it intends the disclosure of secrets of God incapable of being divined by man. It is also called a ‘prophecy’…Jesus, when Israel blasphemed the Holy Spirit, clothed himself with a seven-fold veil of parable. Matt, xiii. But the Revelation is the taking off of that veil.”

10And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”  11He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be take away from him. 13Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, And seeing you will see and not perceive; 15For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’ (Matthew 13:10-15; NKJV)

“But if it be the taking off a veil from the future, then it must be written in a way capable of being understood before the things predicted occur. And it is thus probable that it would in the main consist of representations to be taken literally. For these are most easily understood. It is when Jesus would hide himself from the comprehension of unbelieving Israel, that He uses parables of emblems. Mark iv. 11,12.”  [from THE APOCALYPSE EXPOUNDED BY SCRIPTURE by Robert Govett, 1864]

10But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. 11And He said to them, ‘To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12so that ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them’” (Mark 4:10-12; NKJV)

I find these Bible passages very compelling, and the parables as well. To me it has never seemed terribly hard to understand the basic meanings of the parables so, for a while, I didn’t see them as a deterrent. But, I have come to realize that in order to come to that basic understanding I had to spend time really thinking about them. And if I were lazy, dull, or just not interested, I wouldn’t have put that time in…and I wouldn’t understand.

It should be mentioned here that the parable, or mashal in Hebrew, is a short religious allegory (though the word mashal can also refer to other forms in rhetoric, like the fable). Parables appear in the Bible, (both Old Testament and New Testament), as well as in post-Biblical literature, such as the Talmud.1 Where parables are most common is in the Midrash. “Midrash is an interpretive act, seeking the answers to religious questions (both practical and theological) by plumbing the meaning of the words of the Torah. (In the Bible, the root d-r-sh is used to mean inquiring into any matter, including occasionally to seek out God’s word.) Midrash responds to contemporary problems and crafts new stories, making connections between new Jewish realities and the unchanging biblical text.Personally, I read as many midrashim as I can find in English. I’m sure that they would be even more amazing in Hebrew, but even in translation they are uplifting and informative. I particularly like the midrash aggadah, which interpret biblical narrative (midrash halacha interprets law and religious practice and can be harder for a non-Jewish person like me to understand).

Back to the quote: the second/last paragraph of the quote is a good explanation of why Revelation should be taken literally. And, while the veil was lifted, it’s again important to realize that our current world is helping to explain more and more of Revelation.

Next time we will continue in the 19th century.

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