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Don Stewart :: What Is Progressive Revelation?

Don Stewart

The things that God revealed to humanity were not all given at once. His revelation was given in stages. This is known as progressive revelation. The Apostle Paul wrote.

Now to the One who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith (Romans 16:24,25).

Paul made a distinction between the revelation which God formerly gave and that which He was presently giving.

The Old Testament Is Incomplete

Progressive revelation means that God did not unfold His entire plan to humanity in the Book of Genesis or, for that matter, in the entire Old Testament. The Old Testament revelation, though accurate, is incomplete. The fullness of certain teachings cannot be found in the Old Testament.

There Are Predictions That Remained Unfulfilled

In addition, the Old Testament records predictions that were still to be fulfilled. For example, the Old Testament ends with the promise of the coming of Elijah who will prepare the way for the promised deliverer - the Messiah.

See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse (Malachi 4:5,6).

The Old Testament Is Not Less True

Progressive revelation does not mean to say that the Old Testament is somehow less true than the New Testament. The progress was not from untruth to truth - it was from less information to more full information. It merely states that the revelation found in the New Testament is complete. Jude wrote.

I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which has once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

The faith has now been once and for all delivered. Nothing needs to be added to it and nothing should be subtracted from it.

The New Revelation Did Not Contradict The Old

It is important to understand that progressive revelation does not contradict previous revelations but rather clarifies and develops the things previously revealed. Jesus said the Law would be entirely fulfilled, not broken.

For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:18).

Jesus did not contradict the Old Testament law - rather he fulfilled it.

A Distinction Is Made Of Events Before And After Christ

The Bible makes a distinction between the time before and after Christ.

For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).

The writer to the Hebrews said.

God, who at various times and in different 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 (Hebrews 1:1,2).
There Was Limited Knowledge Before Christ Came

Before Jesus Christ died and came back from the dead, the things He revealed to His own disciples were limited. It would have been impractical for Jesus to give a full explanation of His death and resurrection before they actually occurred. After His resurrection the meaning of his death became more and more clear. God continued to explain the meaning of the cross and the resurrection to His people in the remainder of the New Testament era.

Jesus Promised More Revelation To Come

Consequently Jesus promised them that more revelation from God was to come after He left this world.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now (John 16:12).

This Would Give Believers Further Information About God

Jesus gave further revelation about God. He said.

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. he will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you (John 16:13-15).

Jesus' Disciples Would Bear Witness Of Him

Jesus told His disciples that would bear witness of Him to the world.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Christianity Is Now The True Faith

In the past, Judaism was the true religion. Today it is not. It is through Jesus Christ that God speaks to humanity. The Bible says.

No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known (John 1:18).

The Old System Faded Away

Paul wrote about the old system fading away.

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns humankind is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! (2 Corinthians 3:7-11).

John made it clear who it is that can personally know God the Father.

No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also (1 John 2:23).

Therefore one can only know God the Father today through the person of Jesus Christ. There is no other way.

The Bible Would Seem Contradictory If Progressive Revelation Is Not Understood

If one does not recognize the progressive nature of God's revelation to humankind then they will be forced to admit contradictions in Scripture. There are a number of passages that are at odds with each other if not understood in their historical setting. We will provide a few examples.

Abraham's Descendants Were Commanded To Be Circumcised

In the Old Testament period the all the newborn males of Abraham's descendants were to be circumcised. The Lord said.

This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised (Genesis 17:10)

In the New Testament we are told that circumcision means nothing.

Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you (Galatians 5:2).

Israel Was Commanded To Observe The Sabbath

The Lord told Israel to observe the Sabbath - the seventh day.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8).

In the New Testament age, the believers met on the first day of the week.

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight (Acts 20:7).

In addition, the laws connected with Sabbath are not something that believers are commanded to observe. Paul wrote.

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ (Colossians 2:16,17).

This Message Was To Jews Only

For example Jesus told His disciples to only go to the Jews with his message - they were not to go to the Gentiles.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: "The kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 10:5-7).

He also told a Gentile woman that He was not sent to their people.

He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel" (Matthew 15:25).

Later He told them to preach His message to all nations.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you. I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus Sent Out His Disciples With Limited Resources

When Jesus first sent out His disciples He told them to go out with limited resources.

And he said to them, "Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics apiece (Luke 9:3).

Shortly before His death Jesus told them something different.

And he said to them, "But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one" (Luke 22:36).

If a person rejects progressive revelation, then these passages will have to be considered as contradictory if one accepts them at face value.

We Are Not Told Why God Did It This Way

Finally we must note that the Scripture nowhere tells us why God chose to reveal His Word in sixty-six separate books over a fifteen hundred year span. Since He has not told us why He has revealed Himself in this manner, then we cannot really know why this is the case.

Summary

The Scriptures testify to a progression of God's revelation of Himself to humanity. He did not reveal the fullness of His truth in the beginning, yet what He revealed was always true. Each portion of Scripture was built on the previous one.

In the Old Testament God was saving people through the testimony of the nation Israel. However this is no longer the case. Only through Jesus Christ can a person now be saved. Christianity is now the true faith.

If one does not understand the progressive nature of God's revelation, then the Scripture will seem to be contradictory at a number of points. Once progressive revelation is understood, then the so-called contradictions disappear.

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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