The Revelation of Christ's Coming

What is the meaning of the term "apocalypse"?

By J. N. ANDERSON, Professor, Union College, Nebraska

In previous articles we have seen how the Greek terms parousia and epiphaneia de­cisively point out the literal, the personal, and the manifest or forth-shining character of Christ's second coming. Both of these terms were technical words with a well-nigh fixed meaning in the Greco-Roman New Testament period. It might seem that the New Testa­ment writers deliberately chose these highly specialized words (indeed, what else could they have done?), and laid them under tribute to do service for the new faith. This was in direct opposition to the message the words commonly bore in that intensely religious world of heathenism, later so marvelously de­veloped and unified over a period of a thou­sand years. Missionaries to India and China for the past century and more, have been passing through just such an experience with the languages of these and other lands. One pioneer missionary said, "Our first task is to convert the Chinese language."

One more word bearing on the topic of our Lord's return remains to be dealt with. It is the Greek word apokalupsis. This term, which has been taken over with almost no change into the English language (as in the word apocalypse), is distinctively, though not wholly, a Biblical word.

Etymologically, apokalupsis signifies "an un­covering," "a laying bare," "a making naked," "a disclosing," of something hidden or only partly understood. This meaning in a non­religious, physical sense is quite common in classical texts and in the Septuagint, or Greek Old Testament. In the New Testament it carries almost exclusively a religious meaning.

In the long range of its use in the entire Greek Bible, this term moves steadily forward across the many centuries with a remarkable crescendo of force and illumination until it reaches its logical climax in the parousia­revelation of Christ's second advent.

In the gloomy days of the judge, Eli, when the lamp of God burned dimly, a disclosure of the divine will was made to the boy Samuel. The psalmist sings of God's righteousness as "openly showed in the sight of the nations." Ps. 98:2. Looking centuries into the future and beholding God's self-revelation in the sacrificial offerins, on the cross, .Isaiah cries out, "To whom bath the arm of Jehovah been revealed?" Likewise in the case of Nebuchad­nezzar, the God of heaven disclosed—revealed. —the great events of the coming ages. (See Dan. 2:22, 28.) In the apocryphal book of Sirach (22 :22 ; 42:1), the word is applied to the revelation, the laying bare, of man's deeds in the hour of death.

After this rather limited survey, let us now trace the word apokalupsis in the New Testa­ment, where it carries its full-orbed message. Naturally it is employed in portraying that greatest of all events in human history, the incarnation. If ever in the long sweep of the life of humanity, God disclosed or laid bare the mysteries of His own Being and of His eternal kingdom, it' was when in the person of His beloved Son He became one of us. In the language of the devout Simeon, as he held the Babe in his arms, the Father then and there was bringing into this dark world "a light for revelation  (apokalupsis) to the Gentiles [margin, "the unveiling of the Gen­tiles"], and the glory of Thy people Israel." Luke 2:32. Obviously the thought is that Christ in His incarnation was God's supreme light, specifically an apokalupsis, set for the illumination of the Gentile world; and in this way He became, in the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testa­ment, Israel's crown of "glory." For is it not true that Israel's one mission as an elect nation was the carrying of God's white light of spiritual healing to the Gentile nations?

In full accord with the above striking use of the word apokalupsis, we find the apostle Paul employing it in nearly all his epistles in that higher spiritual sense. He stoutly main­tains that he received his gospel message through the revelation of Jesus Christ. (See Gal. 1 :12.) His great call to fully inaugurate and promote the Gentile mission was "made known" to him by a "revelation"—a revelation that laid bare "the mystery of Christ; which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it bath now been revealed unto His holy apostles and 'prophets in the Spirit; to wit, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel." Eph. 3 ;3-6. In­deed, according to Paul, the entire "gospel and the preaching' of Jesus Christ" [concerning Jesus Christ], was "according to the revela­tion of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal, but now is mani­fested, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, is made known unto all the nations unto obedience of faith." Rom. 16:25, 26. And what was this revelation of gospel pene­tration into all the world but the vision of Simeon, coming true in Christian history ?

But all this revealing, this disclosing of the divine mysteries as reflected in the Old Testa­ment and made concrete in New Testament times, as portrayed even in that unique series of unveilings bearing the very title, "The Apocalypse,"—all these unveilings, wonderful as they were, and are, must, in the very nature of things, be only a partial revelation of the Father and the Son, suited to man in his finite and limited state. Humanity awaits the final and full apokalupsis,—"waiting for the revela­tion of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Cor. 1:7, 8), when "the Son of man is revealed" (Luke 17:30) in all His glory and power.

This final revelation, coming at the parousia of Christ, will be the climax of the entire series of divine unveilings throughout the span of human history. It will be the cul­minating apokalupsis of our Lord Jesus in His supreme power and majesty, His final and infinite unveiling "from heaven with the angels of His power in flaming fire," to visit complete destruction on all evil and opposi­tion (2 Thess. z :7, 8), to bring in the perfect cosmos and the full harvest in the fullness of "grace" and "joy" to the faithful. (See I Peter I:7, z3; 4:13.) And as for mankind, the apostle declares that Christ's final apoka­lupsis involves the apokalupsis of "the sons of God," whose deliverance into the "glories of their inheritance" will then be consummated. (See Rom. 8:18-22.)

In summation, we have then: First, there was the word parousia, a Greek term carrying the general meaning presence, coming, arrival. When applied to Christ's second coming it plainly conveys the idea of arrival or coming, rather than presence, as the contexts abun­dantly show. And this conclusion is all the more obvious when the word parousia is viewed in the light of, its special and technical sense as applied to the royal visits of emperors and kings. Obviously, parousia was used in this sense in the New Testament to carry the idea of Christ's second advent. Negatively, we find that parousia was never used to ex­press the idea of a spiritual, mystical, invisible presence, an idea commonly portrayed by John and Paul when they spoke of the ever-present, invisible, indwelling Christ.

Secondly, there was the Greek word epiph­aneia, a term frequently used in the ordinary affairs of that ancient world. But more particularly it was a word drawing attention to a striking manifestation attending the parousia of a royal personage, especially that of a deity. Hence in the New Testament it refers to God's special intervention on behalf of His people, causing His "face to shine" on them, notably in His unique manifestation in the incarnation. But in a very special way, epiphaneia stands for that supreme manifes­tation of our God and His Christ in the day of the great parousia, the manifestation that will also "bring to nought" the "man of sin" with his whole empire of darkness.

Thirdly, there is apokalupsis. In the main, this is a Biblical term, though of course it came out of the Greek world and carries its own etymological force and connotations. It reminds us that along with the parousia and epiphaneia, there will also be a final revelation of the eternal God and His purpose, in the person of His Son. Throughout human his­tory God has in different ways and at different times unveiled Himself and His plan for humanity; but His perfect apokalupsis, His final and full self-revelation, will be con­summated in that "one far-off divine event, to which the whole creation moves."

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By J. N. ANDERSON, Professor, Union College, Nebraska

October 1938

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