What Does Apocalypse Mean?

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What does apocalypse mean? How has the word found its way into popular culture? What is apocalyptic literature and where is it found in the Bible?

´╗┐Surprisingly, though frequently used in both Christian circles and popular culture, the English word apocalypse is not found in the King James Bible! It is also absent from most major Biblical translations such as the NIV, Holman Christian Standard, Holy Bible a Faithful Version and others. That said, the book of Revelation is commonly referred to as the Apocalypse in many Biblical commentaries and study guides.

Although apocalypse is not found in most translations, what is recorded in the original language of the New Testament is the word apokalupsis (Strong's Concordance #G602). Translated twelve times as "revelation," this Greek word means a revealing, uncovering or manifestation of information that was not previously known. Apocalypse is derived from apokalupsis and means the same thing.

Errorneous Use

The book of Revelation is sometimes erroneously referred to as the apocalypse of John. This reference is directly contradicted by the book's first verse, which states that it is God's revealing of his plans to Jesus who then has it conveyed to Christians through John.

The Revelation (apokalupsis) of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John (Revelation 1:1).

The word Apocalypse, outside the Bible, is many times used as a synonym for Armageddon, the climactic battle between the devil and his human army against a returning Jesus Christ. It is also sometimes used as a general reference to the end of the world or to an event that results in great destruction.

Apocalyptic Writings

Apocalyptic literature in the Bible focuses on events that must shortly come to pass (Revelation 1:1). These events, in which God is actively involved, cannot be stopped or altered significantly by humans.

This type of literature contains highly symbolic actions and events along with parables, allegories, visions and dreams. As such, the entire books of Revelation (the Apocalypse) and Daniel are considered apocalyptic in nature. Biblical sections in this class include parts of Ezekiel, Isaiah, Joel, Amos and Zechariah, as well as Jesus' Mount Olivet prophecies.

There are also many non-Biblical works that are classified as apocalyptic. These writings primarily focus on end of the world events or worldwide disasters. Quite a few of these are of a Jewish origin created roughly from the third century B.C. to the second century A.D. This type of literature includes the Apocalypse of Baruch, the books of Enoch and Jubilees, the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Sibylline Oracles, the Psalms of Solomon and others.

Further Study

The Biblical verses where apokalupsis is translated "revelation" or its plural (the basis for apocalypse) are Romans 2:5, 16:25, 1Corinthians 14:6, 26, 2Corinthians 12:1, 7, Galatians 1:12, 2:2, Ephesians 1:17, 3:3, 1Peter 1:13 and Revelation 1:1.

Did You Know . . .

What is called the zombie apocalypse is a fictional large-scale zombie outbreak associated with the collapse of society. A zombie, in popular culture, is a previously dead human whose body is somehow brought back to life. These undead corpses, as is commonly portrayed, seek to kill other humans who have not yet experienced death. The 1968 movie "Night of the Living Dead" is considered one of the originators of this type of fiction.

List of All Terms in
Dictionary of Biblical Words

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Holman Bible Dictionary
Tyndale Bible Dictionary