Have you ever had an “aha” moment? Aha, I remember where I put my keys. Aha, the last piece to solve the puzzle.
Christianity is a religion that rests on “aha” moments. That is, we need revelation from God in order to know and obey Him. When it comes to knowing God, no one is without excuse. Why? Because God took action to make Himself known. When it comes to obeying God, no one is without excuse. Why? Because God put all of the ingredients needed to obey Him into the sixty-six books of the Bible. It is our task to put all of the ingredients of revelation together. The ingredients of revelation can be summarized under the areas commonly referred to as general and special revelation.
General revelation is a “term used to declare that God reveals something about the divine nature through the created order.” Have you ever been asked to prove God exists? The first thing that pops into my mind when asked this question is “open your eyes and look around”!
In a general way, God reveals Himself to every creature on this planet.
God reveals Himself to all through nature (Ps. 19:1). This is what we call natural revelation. In Romans 1:20, Paul said God’s “invisible attributes are clearly seen.” How? “By the things that are made.” A common argument presented to validate this truth is the Cosmological Argument. The universe is an effect and therefore must have a cause. As we look out, we ask, “What caused the universe”? Natural revelation says God created the universe.
God reveals Himself to every creature on this planet through providence. Paul said God made every natural resource (Ac. 14:15-17). He went on to say God gave “witness” of Himself through “doing good, giving us rain, and fruitful seasons.” Teleology has reference to purpose or design. Thus, the Teleological Argument basically asks, “Is there design in nature”? General revelation confirms there is design in nature.
God reveals Himself to every creature (specifically homo sapiens) through the humanconscience. Humans have an intellectual and moral nature making us unlike any other animal. We are inherently concerned with right and wrong. In Romans 2, verses 14 and 15 the apostle Paul pointed out that although the Gentiles did not have a specific written law from God, they “by nature” did the things in the law. It was a “law written in their hearts.” The Anthropological Argument has to do with the intellectual and moral nature of man. It basically asks and answers the question, “Why are we all similar in nature”? We are made up of both physical and immaterial parts. Each one of us has a body, intellect, emotions, will, morality, and conscience. General revelation rationally concludes we must have been created by Someone with similar characteristics.
As great as general revelation is, however, it is incomplete in and of itself. As great as general revelation is, it is simply not enough. Therefore, God has seen fit to give man a second type of revelation.
Special revelation is the name given designating the revelation God provided within the Bible. Although it is possible to know there is a god through creation, it is impossible to know the nature of that god. Because of the problems that plague this world, one may assume the god who created the world was an evil god. It is only through the scriptures that we know the nature of Jehovah God, and it is only through the scriptures we learn our responsibilities to Him as our Creator.
In a specific way, God reveals Himself to every creature on this planet.
God specifically (or directly) revealed Himself to His prophets. Over a period of roughly 4,000 years God made His will known directly to prophets (2 Pet. 1:20-21). Sometimes He did this audibly (Gen. 2:16; Ex. 19:9; 1 Sam. 3:4). Other times He did this through dreams (Num. 12:6; 1 Sam. 28:6), or visions (Isa. 6; Dan. 1). Prophets often began their messages with “Thus says the Lord,” and confirmed their revelations through miracles, wonders, and signs (cf. Mk. 16:17-20; Heb. 2:1-4).
God specifically reveals Himself through the words of the apostles and prophets. Many prophetic utterances were delivered orally and then written down. Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Nathan, Jeremiah, and several others were all writing prophets (Jos. 24:36; 1 Sam. 10:25;). Jesus declared the writings of these men to be divinely authoritative (Mt. 4:4), without error (Mt. 22:29; Jn. 17:17), and historically reliable (Mt. 12:40; 19:1-5; 24:37-38). Not only did Jesus commend the authority of the Old Testament, He also promised to inspire the New (Jn. 14:26; 16:13). This promise was fulfilled in and through the apostles and prophets of the first century church (Mk. 13:11; Lk. 24:44; Ac. 2:1-47). Their words formed the foundation of the early church (Eph. 2:20), and they continue to do so today (Mt. 28:18-20; 1 Tim. 3:15; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
God specifically revealed Himself to every creature through the incarnation of His only begotten Son. Theophanies are times where God appears to man (cf. Gen. 15:17; Ex. 3:2; Ps. 78:14). Theophany reached its highest point during the incarnation in which Jesus Christ became flesh and dwelt among men (Jn. 1:1, 14, 18; Col. 1:19; 2:9). Jesus told Philip, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen My Father” (Jn. 14:9). Jesus said “His word” would judge us in the Last Day (Jn. 12:48). God audibly confirmed these truths by saying, “This is My Son. Hear Him” (Mt. 3; 17).
Of all the content we’ve considered today, Jesus is essential to fully understanding the doctrine of Revelation. Not only did He have a part in establishing general revelation (Col. 1:16-17), He embodied, initiated, and fulfilled God’s special revelation (Jn. 1:1-4; 14-16). The Hebrews writer sums up our discussion with these words:
“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” (Hebrews 1:1–4, NKJV)
While the Bible was written and compiled over a period of about 1,600 years, only roughly 425 of those years would be considered times when God spoke or worked miracles through His prophets. Period One: From Moses to Solomon (a span of approx. 250 years – sporadic at times). Period Two: From Elijah to Elisha (a span of approx. 100 years). Period Three: From John the Baptist to John the Apostle (a span of approx. 75 years).
It is the view of this writer that all direct prophetic revelation from God to man was fulfilled and discontinued by the end of the first century A.D. That is, God does not speak to man directly today. God speaks to us indirectly through the Bible.
Shane Robinson is the minister for the Chicamauga church of Christ in Chickamauga, Georgia