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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: God Has Spoken to Us

Don Stewart :: What Is the Doctrine of Revelation?

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What Is the Doctrine of Revelation?

God Has Spoken to Us – Question 1

One of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith is the doctrine of revelation. The doctrine of revelation is essential to properly understand a number of things. This includes: what Christians believe, where Christian beliefs come from, and why people should trust these beliefs as being true.

Revelation Defined: God’s Disclosure of Truths We Would Not Otherwise Know

Revelation is the process by which the living God has made Himself known to humanity. It can be defined as “God’s supernatural disclosure to human beings of truth they would not otherwise know and are incapable of discovering on their own.” This communication may be either oral or written. Revelation is usually understood as God’s written communication to humankind.

The Old Testament Idea of Revelation

There are a number of words in the Old Testament that are used for God revealing His truth. One of the main words is gala. It comes from a Hebrew root meaning “nakedness or uncovered.” The idea is unveiling something that has been previously hidden. For example, we read the following in Samuel.

“O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, I have been bold enough to pray this prayer because you have revealed [gala] that you will build a house for me—an eternal dynasty!” (2 Samuel 7:27 NLT)

The same idea, although not the same Hebrew word, is found in the Book of Isaiah. It says,

The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:10 RSV)

The Lord “bared” or “uncovered” His holy arm; He revealed it. Again, the idea is revealing something that had previously been hidden.

The New Testament Idea of Revelation

In the New Testament, the term “revelation” comes from the Greek word apokalupsis, which means “a disclosure” or “an unveiling.” This same Greek word was used in some contexts to describe the unveiling of a statute upon its completion. It also has the idea of disclosing something that was previously unknown.

Important Truths about the Doctrine of Revelation

There are a number of basic truths about the doctrine of revelation that need to be understood. They include the following.

1. Revelation Consists of Both Words and Deeds from God

It is not enough that God has revealed Himself in words only, or in deeds only. God’s revelation of Himself has been given to humanity by both deeds and words. It consists of God progressively unfolding His character, His mighty acts, and His purposes in history. The revelation may occur in a single, instantaneous act, or it may extend over a long period of time.

Divine revelation is given in words that can be understood by human beings. This makes it possible for human beings to enter into a relationship with the living God.

It is important that we understand that the miracles, and other great events, that God performed in history were always accompanied by some spoken word of explanation. No miracle, or divine event, was ever left to speak for itself.

Neither were the people to come up with their own conclusions about what the divine event, or miracle meant. Instead, God made certain that the significance of the event was explained by one of His appointed spokesmen; a prophet.

2. Divine Revelation Is the Reverse of Human Reasoning

Revelation is the opposite of scientific research or human reasoning. The knowledge that God has revealed about Himself to humankind could never be attained through any type of scientific experiment or logical reasoning. It is entirely a supernatural disclosure from God. This point must be understood!

3. Revelation Consists of Truths Revealed by God Alone

Therefore, only God reveals the truths of revelation. He alone is the source of knowledge about Himself and His plan. Revelation is, therefore, an act of God. Jesus said,

“All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” (Matthew 11:27 NKJV)

John the apostle said that the ultimate source of revelation was God the Father. In the introduction to the Book of Revelation, he wrote the following:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants what must soon take place; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John... (Revelation 1:1 RSV)

Simon Peter was the first of Jesus’ disciples to acknowledge that He was the Messiah. Jesus said to Peter it was by divine revelation that he knew this.

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17 ESV)

The fact that Jesus Christ is God the Son can only be known through divine revelation—it could not be attained through any human means.

We humans simply do not know the thoughts of the Lord. The Lord has made this clear. The prophet Isaiah recorded Him saying,

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. (Isaiah 55:8 KJV)

The Message puts it this way,

“I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.” God’s Decree. (Isaiah 55:8 MsgB)

Only God knows what He is truly like; He is the only being that fully knows Himself. What we know about God is based solely upon what He has revealed to us.

4. Divine Revelation Is a Work of the Holy Spirit

God reveals these truths through the Person of the Holy Spirit; the third Person of the Holy Trinity. Paul wrote the following about Holy Spirit and divine revelation:

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9, 10 NRSV)

Peter spoke of divine revelation in this manner:

Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20, 21 NET)

Therefore, divine revelation is a work of God the Holy Spirit. It is not something which was self-initiated by the writers of Scripture.

5. God Revealed Himself through His Chosen Spokesmen: The Prophets

God chose a select group of people to be the human channel of revelation. They are known as the prophets. In the Book of Amos, we read the following:

Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7 NKJV)

The Bible often records God giving His revelation to the prophets. For example, He revealed Himself to the prophet Samuel. We read about this in First Samuel. It says,

The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord. (1 Samuel 3:21 NRSV)

The Apostle Paul wrote of God giving truth to him by means of divine revelation. He wrote the following to the church at Ephesus:

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. (Ephesians 3:1-5 ESV)

Paul’s gospel was not of human origin; it was divinely revealed.

6. The Act of Revelation Is Described in Scripture

The act of revelation is described in Scripture. In the Book of Ezekiel we read the following description of how the Spirit spoke to him:

Then the Spirit entered me when He spoke to me, and set me on my feet; and I heard Him who spoke to me. (Ezekiel 2:2 NKJV)

Ezekiel also gave this description of the Lord supernaturally speaking to Him:

...and I saw something in the shape of a human. This figure was like fire from the waist down, and it was bright as polished metal from the waist up. It reached out what seemed to be a hand and grabbed my hair. Then in my vision the LORD’s Spirit lifted me into the sky and carried me to Jerusalem. The Spirit took me to the north gate of the temple’s inner courtyard, where there was an idol that disgusted the LORD and made him furious. (Ezekiel 8:2, 3 CEV)

These passages give us some insights into the way God reveals Himself to the prophets.

7. Revelation Gives Humanity Sufficient Truth about God

The doctrine of revelation holds that God has revealed sufficient truths about Himself. The Bible is complete in the sense that it reveals everything necessary for humanity to know God. Scripture has been completely written. Nothing needs to be added. However, in another sense, revelation is only partial because it does not tell us everything about Him. There are many mysteries about God that have not been revealed.

8. Not Everything That God Revealed Was Recorded

Scripture itself speaks of things that God revealed but humans were prevented from recording. Paul wrote about this. He said,

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. (2 Corinthians 12:2-4 ESV)

This is an example of God limiting what He told humans; Paul was not allowed to tell what he experienced.

In the Book of Revelation, we read that John, the author of the book, was forbidden to write what he had heard:

And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.” (Revelation 10:4 TNIV)

In these instances God supernaturally revealed truth to humans, but He did not permit them to record it in Scripture. Therefore, it would be correct to say that the Bible is both partial and complete revelation. Many things about God have been hidden and unrevealed. Scripture is as complete as it needs to be. Indeed, the Apostle John made it clear that Jesus did many more things than the Scripture records. He wrote,

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30, 31 ESV)

John also wrote,

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:25 TNIV)

Consequently, we find that the Scripture only selectively reveals truths about God.

9. There Is More than One Method of Divine Revelation

God has chosen more than one method to reveal Himself to humankind. The writer to the Hebrews said,

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. (Hebrews 1:1, 2 NASB)

The New English Translation reads as follows:

After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. (Hebrews 1:1, 2 NET)

God spoke through various prophets at different times in history, and in different ways. Ultimately, He sent His Son to be His final revelation to humanity.

According to the New Testament, divine revelation also consists of God revealing secrets that had been hidden for long ages that are now disclosed. Paul wrote,

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that had been kept secret for long ages, but now is disclosed, and through the prophetic scriptures has been made known to all the nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be glory forever! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27 NET)

Paul also wrote to the Colossians about the secrets that had now been revealed. He wrote,

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:24-27 TNIV).

The Message translates these verses as follows:

When I became a servant in this church, I experienced this suffering as a sheer gift, God’s way of helping me serve you, laying out the whole truth. This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. (Colossians 1:25-27 MsgB)

Divine revelation is the key that unlocks these hidden secrets. They are no longer hidden because God has revealed them.

10. Revelation Deals with Those Things That Are Important to God’s Program

While divine revelation sometimes deals with the nature of the universe and events in history, it only does so when the events are important for our understanding of His plan for humanity. We do not find Scripture discussing science or history merely for their own sake. Therefore, any mention of scientific or historical matters is only incidental> to the main purpose of Scripture.

This is also true for the ministry of angels; they are only mentioned in reference to God’s overall plan. This list goes on. Nations that existed in the ancient world are only mentioned when they have some direct impact on God’s unfolding plan of salvation for humanity. Nothing else is said about them.

We never find Scripture recording science, geography, history, or information about angels for the sake of our curiosity. This is very important to understand!

11. Revelation Is Necessary Because of the Differences Between the Creator and His Creation

The Bible stresses the great gap between God the Creator and we humans; His creation. God is in an exalted position above everything. The psalmist wrote,

For you, O LORD, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. (Psalm 97:9 NLT)

We also read in the Psalms about how the Lord watches and sees everything that is occurring. The psalmist wrote,

“The foundations of law and order have collapsed. What can the righteous do?” But the LORD is in his holy Temple; the LORD still rules from heaven. He watches everything closely, examining everyone on earth. (Psalm 11:3-4 NLT)

The Bible also says that God knows everything that we think and that we do. The psalmist also wrote,

You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my every thought when far away. (Psalm 139:2 NLT)

The God of Scripture, the living God, knows everything.

These are some of the basic truths of divine revelation. The doctrine of the revelation assumes that Creator has revealed Himself and has revealed Himself clearly. Consequently, humanity has no excuse for denying His existence.

Summary – Question 1
What Is the Doctrine of Revelation?

Our knowledge of God is limited to what He has revealed about Himself. When God reveals to humanity truth that we would not otherwise know it is called “revelation.” Human reason, or intuition, could never know these truths—they can only be revealed by God Himself. The purpose for our existence, and the plan of God for our salvation, can only be known through divine revelation.

To bring this Word to humankind, the Lord chose a group of people to be the ones through whom He would speak. They were known as the prophets. The prophets revealed God’s truth to humanity over a long period of time and in a number of different ways.

Ultimately, God Himself became a human to let us know what He is like. The revelation given in Scripture tells humanity everything that it needs to know about God and His plan.

God’s Word to humankind is, therefore, both sufficient and complete. Indeed, nothing else is necessary.

Looking at the Various Ways He Has Communicated (Intro) ← Prior Section
How Is the Term Revelation Used in Scripture? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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