The revelation from 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, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. John,To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. “Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” – Revelation 1:1-8
“I am the Alpha and the Omega”. So begins the book of Revelation and the final “reach” of my float through the bible exploring water passages. The author, John, was apparently a Jewish christian exiled on the island of patmos. It looks like this was an island in the Aegean Sea that was very remote and isolated. The Roman empire was still the dominant force in the region when this letter was written and many of the events described probably had connections to the specific Roman rule and rulers but there are layers of meaning and timeless qualities that argue for a certain amount of time-bending.
The word translated as “revelation” was apokalypsis in the original Greek, meaning “unveiling” or “revelation”. In English we derive the word apocalypse from this Greek word. In modern usage, and in my experience, the words “unveiling” and “apocalypse” do not have very similar meanings. Unveiling sounds decidedly more positive than an apocalypse. I associate apocalypse with the end of the world as a result of anything from asteroids to zombies and everything in between.
As I have pondered this duality in meaning it occurs to me that it may have been used for a deeper reason. Whether one views an event or series of events as an apocalypse or an unveiling is somewhat dependent on your spiritual vantage point and perspective. If you are invested in the physical world here on earth then events that bring your earthly life to an end would seem apocalyptic, but if your real home was in the spiritual realm which is largely hidden here on earth then the “end” would actually be the beginning. The “real world” would be unveiled or revealed to you. Jesus was the window between these worlds when he walked the earth and He is also a window here in this letter.
The author uses imagery and language reminiscent of the gospels when he says “Look, he is coming with the clouds”. Back in Matthew 24:26-31 this very same language was used to describe the return of Jesus in the midst of apocalyptic times. The Gospel of Mark 13:24-27 also uses very similar language in describing Jesus returning at the end of all things. Clouds represent a confluence of sorts between the spiritual and the secular realms which was personified in Jesus coming to earth. He described Himself as the Alpha and the Omega and it is clear that He is at the beginning and the end of all stories.
This passage was a gentle float into the book of Revelation. I am thankful for this somewhat tame transition into what I anticipate will be a raucous romp through rapids and whitewater. I feel a bit like the rafter who congratulates himself after running a class II rapid only to look downstream and see an approaching class IV rapid. No turning back when floating a river, one simply has to choose a line and push on through.
Jesus’ arrival on earth was the beginning of something new and the ending of something we have known. Whether we view His return as an unveiling or an apocalypse, a sunrise or a sunset, is really up to us.
Prayer: God help me to navigate this book of unveiling, revelation, and apocalypse with humility, wisdom, and grace.