Upon his appointment as Professor of Biblical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary on May 8, 1894, Geerhardus Vos addressed the President and Board of Directors with these words: “In his sinful condition, while retaining some knowledge of God, man for all pure and adequate information in divine things is absolutely dependent on that new self-disclosure of God which we call supernatural revelation.”1 If man is to be saved, supernatural revelation is indispensable; it is absolutely necessary; we cannot do without it.
The book of Revelation is supernatural revelation. The opening words of the book underscore its supernatural character: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:1). The Greek word that is translated “revelation” - and which serves as the title of the book - is apokalypsis, from which derives the English word “apocalypse.” The verb form of the word (apokalypto) means to remove a veil or covering in order to reveal that which lies behind it. Thus, the book of Revelation is an “unveiling” – it removes the veil in order to reveal.
But just what does the book of Revelation reveal? Verse 1 answers that question: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” The book of Revelation is an unveiling of Jesus Christ. It is important to bear that in mind. Though the book of Revelation is at times rather baffling and strange – containing such enigmatic images as the four living creatures, the twenty four elders, the four horsemen, the 144,000, the number 666, Armagedon, and so on – it is meant to be an unveiling of Jesus Christ, a revealing of Jesus Christ. The book is not intended to seal up, but to disclose; it is not meant to hide, but to reveal.
This is the Revelation of Jesus Christ. But how are we to understand that? Some have argued that Jesus Christ is the One who reveals Himself in this book: it is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, that is, Jesus Christ is the One who reveals Himself. Others have maintained that Jesus Christ is the One who is revealed in this book: it is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, that is, Jesus Christ is the One who is revealed.
Which is it? Is Jesus Christ the One who reveals Himself in this book or is it Jesus Christ who is revealed in this book? The answer is both! Jesus both reveals Himself in this book, and is Himself the One who is revealed in this book! Jesus Christ is both revealer and revealed. That Jesus Christ is revealed in the book of Revelation is evident from such passages as the vision of 1:10–20. That Jesus Christ is the revealer in the book of Revelation is evident from such passages as 5:5 and following. There Jesus is the One who opens the seals. Jesus Christ is both revealer and revealed. In every sense of the word, this is The Revelation of Jesus Christ.
As Jesus Christ is revealed to us in this book, and as Jesus Christ reveals Himself to us in this book, He unveils and reveals the arena in which He lives. In other words, heaven itself is opened before us in the book of Revelation – heaven itself is unveiled before us in the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation is an unveiling of the heavenly world – that world to which Christ has ascended – that world in which Christ lives.
The book of Revelation was given to us to draw us into that world. God has spoken to us on earth from heaven that He might draw us into heaven. The book of Revelation is heaven’s account of the history of the Church as she lives in the midst of this world between the first coming of Christ and His return. Revelation was not written, then, to inform us of those events that transpired in and around the year 70 A.D., with the fall of Jerusalem, nor was it written to inform us of the plot-line of events at the end of time.2
Revelation was written to set Christ before us, and in setting Christ before us, to set heaven itself before us. Revelation reveals to us that world that lies above. As you make your way through the book, it is as though you were walking about Zion. It is as though you were going all around Zion. It is as though you were counting her towers. It is as though you were marking her bulwarks. It is as though you were considering her palaces.3 The book of Revelation teaches us that there is another world above this world (a world after which this world is patterned, and to which this world will give way). It unveils the heavenly world to us. It opens heaven for us. It summons us to look above.
Through its imagery and beauty, the book of Revelation grabs hold of us and brings us into the heavenly world. It is a book that sets our minds on things above. It is a book that teaches us to find our life hidden with Christ in God. It is a book that brings us into the world to come. It is a book that opens heaven to us and feeds us with the Christ of heaven. It is truly supernatural revelation!
1 Vos, Geerhardus.
The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos: Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation. Edited by Richard B. Gaffin Jr. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1980. p. 5.
2 That plot-line has already been given to us by Christ Himself in the Olivet discourse of Matthew 24, as well as by the Apostle in his letters to the Thessalonians. That plot line very simply stated is this: Christ at His first coming has inaugurated the kingdom, and with it the beginning of sorrows; those sorrows will intensify as the increase of wickedness continues on the earth; throughout this time the spirit of antichrist will grow, reaching its culmination in a great antichrist figure; the antichrist-crisis will be immediately followed by the second coming of Christ, and the final establishment of His kingdom. Revelation does not deviate from this order, nor does it add to this order.
3 Cf. Psalm 48.
Rev. Brian Vos is the Pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Caledonia, Michigan. He is also the President of the Board of Reformed Fellowship.