HAS GOD SPOKEN?
THE DOCTRINE OF REVELATION
A. TWO TYPES OF REVELATION.
God is different from man. This seems rather obvious, but we need to emphasize this point. God is separate and apart from His creation. This means it would be impossible to know God were it not for the fact that He has taken the initiative and revealed Himself to man. He has does this in two ways.
1. General Revelation.
...that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20).
This is also described as "natural" revelation. This does not mean that it merely comes naturally. Rather, it means that it is revelation that takes place within the realm of nature.
God's invisible attributes
By what had been made
Are clearly seen
Here is the thing that we must understand about revelation. It is REVELATION. The signs of God's presence in the realm of nature are only visible to us because God has revealed them to us.
The other thing that we should realize is the limitation of this general revelation. No one ever looked at a sunset and deduced the doctrine of the Trinity.
This passage states that there are two specific aspects of God's existence which are revealed in creation.
a. His eternal power.
b. His divine nature.
2. Special Revelation.
Yet we do not speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, "Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him." (1 Corinthians 2:6-9).
There are certain things which have never been seen or heard by mortal man. Such things have not entered any realm of human observation.
But that is not all. These things have not even entered the heart of man. Such things cannot be deduced through a process of rationalization.
What are these things that cannot be discovered through observation or through rationalization? They are the workings of God and the blessings that He has promised to those who are His people.
If these things cannot be perceived by the five senses and they cannot be discovered through reasoning, then how can we know about them? It is only through specific revelation.
For to us God has revealed them through His Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. (1 Corinthians 2:10).
Man was originally created to have fellowship with God. But I would suggest that even pre-fallen man required special revelation if he were to know anything about God. That special revelation was provided with God when He communicated His will to man in the Garden.
At the same time, man is unique in that he alone is said to be created in the image and likeness of God. Man is unique in that he alone is all of creation has a God-consciousness. You have never seen a rooster worship the Lord. A tiger does not ask a blessing on the food he is about to eat. Even a praying mantis does not pray. Only man is made to have fellowship with God.
B. THE EFFECTS OF THE FALL ON REVELATION.
Manís fall into sin broke his fellowship with God. The lines of communication between God and man were broken. Because of man's fallen condition, he could do nothing to repair the situation.
Thus, not only is man helpless to know God on the basis of being a limited creature, he is in an even further state of helplessness due to his sin. This means that God must take the initiative in restoring fellowship with man. In both salvation and revelation, it is GOD who takes the initiative.
C. THE PLACE OF THE PROPHET IN REVELATION.
God, after He spoke long ago to the father in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son... (Hebrews 1:1-2a).
The underlying premise of the Bible is that God has spoken. In Old Testament times, this was accomplished through His PROPHETS.
What is a prophet? The Prophets served as a mouthpiece for God. He spoke through them.
1. Old Testament Designations for "Prophet."
Now the acts of King David, from first to last, as written in the chronicles of Samuel the SEER, in the chronicles of Nathan the PROPHET, and in the chronicles of Gad the SEER. (1 Chronicles 29:29).
a. Prophet (Genesis 20:7 - first usage; Exodus 7:1).
b. Seer (1 Samuel 9:9).
c. Man of God (used of prophets and especially of Elisha).
2. The Dependence of the Prophets upon the Spirit of God.
But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20-21).
In verse 20 we have the negative aspect of revelation - what revelation is NOT. It is not a matter of man's own invention.
In verse 21 we have the positive aspect of revelation. This is what revelation IS. Revelation is that which is spoken by God. A superficial reading of this passage would seem to indicate that the author is referring to INTERPRETATION of the Scriptures.
However, the issue in this context is not interpretation, but rather one of ORIGIN. Notice the statement of verse 21.
For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will... (2 Peter 1:21).
The contrast is obvious. The message of the prophets did not originate with the prophets. That message came from God.
3. This Revelation was Multi-faceted.
God, after He spoke long ago to the father in the prophets in many portions and in many ways... (Hebrews 1:1).
The Greek text of this passage places the phrase the emphasis in a different place.
In many portions and in many ways, God spoke to the fathers in the prophets... (Hebrews 1:1).
The Old Testament records many different ways in which God revealed Himself to men. Abraham saw Him as a "smoking oven and a flaming torch" (Genesis 15:17). He spoke to Joseph in dreams. He appeared to Moses in a burning bush. To Samuel he was a voice calling in the night. To Elijah he was a still, small voice.
4. Godís Revelation Coincides with His Redemptive Work.
Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7).
God always speaks when He institutes redemptive activity. When He is not engaged in redemptive activity, there is generally no need for God to speak.
This is why there was a 400-year period of silence between the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is not that God has gone on vacation, but rather that He was not engaged in any new redemptive work. In the same way, it is why there is no on-going revelation today.
5. The Cessation of Old Testament Prophets.
The Old Testament does not make an announcement that its revelation is now at a close. However, it became generally recognized by the Jews that this was the case.
So there was a great affliction in Israel, the like whereof was not since the time that a prophet was not seen among them. (1 Maccabees 9:27).
Josephus, in his work Contra Apion where he defends the trustworthiness of the Old Testament Scriptures, says that...
...our history has been written since Artaxerxes, very particularly, but has not been esteemed of the same authority with the former by our forefathers, because there has not been an exact succession of prophets since that time. (Contra Apion 1:8).
6. Jesus - the Ultimate Prophet.
Jesus fulfilled the promise of Moses that there would come one who would be a prophet of his caliber (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).
Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God. It is for this reason that He is called "the Word" (John 1:1, 14). He is the living word of God. God has communicated Himself to us by becoming man.
D. CHARACTERISTICS OF REVELATION.
1. Revelation is Progressive.
The way that God revealed Himself in the Garden of Eden to Adam and the woman does not seem to have been as detailed a revelation as that which is presented in the New Testament epistles.
Instead, God has gradually revealed greater and greater measures of His truth over a long period of time as He spoke "at many places and in many ways" (Hebrews 1:1).
Each aspect of revelation was based upon those which had been given prior. Thus, when Jesus stood in the Temple in Jerusalem and said, "Before Abraham was, I AM," it was presupposed that those who were listening knew that God had once told Moses, "I AM THAT I AM."
The revelation that Jesus was God in the flesh was based upon a prior revelation of who God was.
2. Revelation is Partial.
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29).
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12).
God has not chosen to reveal all truth to us. There are many puzzles which are not explained; many questions that are not answered. These are the secret things. They belong to the Lord. There is coming a day of complete revelation. There is coming a day when we shall know fully.
The important point is that those things which have been revealed to us belong to us. They have been given to us. And they ought to be a prized possession.
3. The Results of Revelation.
Now I want to ask you a question. It is the question that you should ask at the end of any Bible study. It should be asked of any teaching and after any sermon. What are the practical applications of this teaching of revelation? Or to put it in plain language - So what?
The humanist seeks to do one of three things when he is confronted with the question of God.
- he denies the existence of God.
- he claims that God cannot be known.
- he tries to regulate God to a little storage cabinet among the other details of life.
But God has spoken. It is foolish to deny the existence of someone who is standing there talking to you.
He can be known because He has made Himself known. He has revealed Himself to us.
Our lives dare not remain unchanged by the fact of revelation. It should make all the difference in the world.