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Apocalyptic Literature

Is the Gospel an Apocalypse?

Are the Gospel accounts apocalyptic? In this episode, Tim and Jon break down the use of the word apocalypse in the ancient Jewish world and highlight examples from the Gospel accounts and the life of Paul.
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Episode Details

May 11, 2020
39 min

Episode Details

May 11, 2020
39 min

Show Notes


If you read the Gospels, what they are saying is that, in and of themselves, humans remain blind to the true nature of reality. We need the creator to pull back the veil, so to speak. And in the story of Jesus—his life, death, and resurrection—Jesus’ claim right here in Matthew 11 is that he is the one who pulls back the curtain to the nature of reality and the nature of who he is.


  • Ancient apocalypses happen outside the last book of the Bible. Tim lists several apocalyptic moments in the Old Testament as well as several Jewish apocalypses contemporary to the Revelation.
  • Jesus uses the word apocalypse to describe something that God does to us. We don’t have the power to see the world clearly within ourselves. God has to show us.
  • Paul also describes his own conversion story as an apocalypse that was given to him so that he might open the eyes of others.

Ancient Jewish Apocalypses

In part one (0:00–13:00), Tim and Jon continue their conversation on how to read apocalyptic literature. They begin by talking about the last book of the Bible, the Revelation. Most people associate the word apocalypse with the end of the world based on what they read in the Revelation.

However, many of Israel’s prophets also have apocalyptic dreams or visions about ultimate reality. Many of these prophetic books have apocalyptic sections within them.

There is also a body of Jewish meditation literature written around the same time as John’s Revelation that are called the Jewish apocalypses. Tim mentions biblical and extra-biblical apocalyptic moments, which are listed below.

Apocalypses in the Hebrew Scriptures:

  • Adam in Genesis 2
  • Abraham in Genesis 12, 15, 17, 22
  • Abimelech in Genesis 20
  • Jacob in Genesis 28
  • Moses in Exodus 3 and 19-24, 25-31, and Deuteronomy 32-33
  • Samuel in Shiloh in 1 Samuel 3
  • David in Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 7
  • Solomon in Gibeah in 1 Kings 3
  • Micaiah in 1 Kings 22
  • Isaiah in Jerusalem in Isaiah 6
  • Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1
  • Ezekiel in Babylon in Ezekiel 1, 8-11, and 40-48
  • Amos in Israel in Amos 8-9
  • Zechariah in post-exilic Judah in Zechariah 1-6
  • Daniel in Babylon in Daniel 1-7

Post-Biblical Jewish Apocalypses (Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, i.e. second temple literature and later)

  • 1 Enoch (consists of five distinct works): 3rd-1st century B.C.
  • The Revelation to John: 1st century A.D.
  • 2 Baruch: 1st-2nd century A.D. (after A.D. 70)
  • 3 Baruch: 1st-2nd century A.D. (after A.D. 70)
  • 4 Ezra: 1st-2nd century A.D. (after A.D. 70)
  • Apocalypse of Abraham: 1st-2nd century A.D.
  • Apocalypse of Zephaniah: 1st-3rd century A.D.
  • 2 Enoch: 3rd-6th century A.D.
  • 3 Enoch: 5th-9th century A.D.

The word apocalypse can refer to an event, a literary style, and a moment that happens to someone. In the ancient world, apocalypses were understood not as a genre, but with a few common conventions for describing dreams and visions. Apocalyptic moments in the Hebrew Bible are linked through common language, descriptions, messages, and symbolism. These biblical apocalypses always take place within the larger context of a book of the Bible.

Apocalypses in the New Testament

In part two (13:00–24:00), Tim and Jon look at New Testament examples of the word apocalypse.

Luke 8:16–17
“No one lights a lamp and covers it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be visible, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into visibility.

Matthew 11:25–27
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Tim says that the Gospel accounts are apocalyptic in a literal sense—they reveal the identity of Jesus. An apocalypse isn’t something we do ourselves—someone else has to show us. Our English word for this is revelation, the same translation as the title for John’s apocalypse.

Tim does a quick case study of the apostle Paul’s use of the word apocalypse.

Galatians 1:12
I did not receive it from any human, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by apocalypse from Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to apocalypse his Son in/to me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles….

The apocalypse that Paul received was meant to be carried to others through his preaching.

The Purpose of Paul’s Apocalypse

In part three (24:00–end), Tim and Jon further discuss Paul’s apocalyptic moment. Luke describes this moment initially in Acts 9.

Acts 9:3-9
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

When Paul looks back on this moment in the book of Galatians, he calls it an apocalypse. Paul understood his apocalypse as an experience to be passed on to others through his preaching.

Tim shares from the third time Paul tells his story in the book of Acts.

Acts 26:13-19
“About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of the Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are made holy by faith in me.’ So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.”

This revelation resulted in a moment of clarity for Paul. Tim and Jon then talk about moments of clarity that have happened to them. Jon shares about a moment of processing in prayer that resulted in sudden clarity, and Tim talks about getting away into nature.

In the next episode, Tim and Jon will highlight themes in the book of Revelation and then find their source in the Hebrew Scriptures. Tim calls this search, “the Jewish apocalyptic imagination.”

Show Music

  • Defender Instrumental by Tents
  • White Oak by dryhope
  • My Room Becomes the Sea by Sleepy Fish

Show produced by Dan Gummel.

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