Saturday, June 8, 2013

General, Full and Special Revelation

Revelation 1:16 "In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength."

Bible teachers for centuries have used three categories to describe how God communicates His will and existence to human beings: general revelation, Fullness of revelation and special revelation.  The above passage demonstrates all three categories: it uses the sun, which is part of God's general revelation.  Second, the sun is used to illustrate the more profound and Supreme Fullness of Revelation - Jesus Christ.  Then thirdly, the verse itself is part of God's special revelation - the Bible.  In today's post we will aim to briefly define each of these terms and discover how God has ordained all three of them to work and function together in the revelation of His work of salvation and wonder of glory.

1. General Revelation: Information about God, made available to everyone in general
In the above picture you are seeing the picture of the sun as it appeared yesterday to scientists operating the "Solar Dynamics Observatory" that is in current orbit around the sun.  The sun itself is quite a fascinating object in our solar system.  For one thing, the volume of the sun is big enough to hold 1100 earths.  The sun itself is a million miles in diameter, compared to our planet earth which is roughly 7500 miles in diameter.  The energy output of the sun in one second could light a city like New York for 500,000 years.  At a distance of 93 million miles, the energy we receive from the sun is billions of times smaller than the energy emitted from its surface.  The sun is a huge thermo-nuclear ball that is constantly converting Hydrogen into Helium.  

Now why is any of this information pertinent? Because the sun is part of what we call God's general revelation about Himself.  Psalm 19:4b-6 states about our universe - "...In them He has placed a tent for the sun, (5) Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a strong man to run his course. (6) Its rising is from end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat." Romans 1:20 states - "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."  The sun is but one star in an ocean of an estimated 200 billion stars populating our Milky Way Galaxy, which in turn is but one galaxy in an ocean of over an estimated 100 billion galaxies strung across the visible universe.  Unless we conclude that the universe was created to display the glory of God, there is no other explanation for its size, complexity and displays of power.  

Revelation 1:16 uses the lesser glory, lesser general revelation of the shining of the sun to illustrate the Fullness of revelation - Jesus Christ.  

2. Fullness of Revelation - Jesus Christ, The Incarnation of God revealed as Savior and Lord
John's whole point in the book of Revelation is to reveal, unveil the Person and glory of Jesus Christ.  We see Jesus Christ and His Church (1-3); Jesus Christ and His throne (4-5); Jesus Christ and History (6-18); Jesus Christ and His Coming Reign (19-20) and Jesus Christ in Eternity (21-22).  The Holy Spirit states in Hebrews 1:1-2 "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, (2) 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."  1 Timothy 3:16 in the KJV reads -  "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory."  

To say that Jesus Christ is the full revelation of God as God in human flesh (incarnation meaning of course "in the flesh") leads to two other exclusive truth claims of Christianity: that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation and that the Bible alone has specifically revealed Him. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 summarizes the doctrinal truth of Jesus Christ as the fulness of Divine Revelation: Christ is the eternal Son of God. In His incarnation as Jesus Christ He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus perfectly revealed and did the will of God, taking upon Himself human nature with its demands and necessities and identifying Himself completely with mankind yet without sin. He honored the divine law by His personal obedience, and in His substitutionary death on the cross He made provision for the redemption of men from sin. He was raised from the dead with a glorified body and appeared to His disciples as the person who was with them before His crucifixion. He ascended into heaven and is now exalted at the right hand of God where He is the One Mediator, fully God, fully man, in whose Person is effected the reconciliation between God and man. He will return in power and glory to judge the world and to consummate His redemptive mission. He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord.

Jesus Christ is the apex of Divine revelation since He is the Source and Object of it.  All of creation points to Him, since all of creation is upheld and held together by His power. (Colossians 1:16-17).  As theologian Abraham Kuyper once stated - "there is not one square inch of creation that Christ does not proclaim "mine"! 

So with general revelation being information about God in creation and Jesus Christ being the Incarnation of God in human flesh, where do we go to find out specific information about Jesus Christ, creation and salvation? This leads us to our third category: The special revelation of the Bible.

3. Special Revelation - Specific information from God in words, specifically revealing Jesus Christ, salvation and creation's purpose
General revelation is "general" in the sense that all people have access to it and can discern information about God.  However, general revelation is "non-saving", meaning that it by itself cannot lead to salvation.  In order for salvation to occur, there must be the presence of God's Special revelation - the Bible, which reveals the fullness of revelation - Jesus Christ.  Psalm 19:7 tells us - "The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple." 1 Peter 1:23 communicates - "for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God."  

How General, Special and Fullness of Revelation work together while still being distinguished
The Bible is "special revelation" because of the fact it is the "specific" source the Holy Spirit uses to communicate God's will and saving purposes.  Romans 10:17 reminds us that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God."  In terms of how general revelation and special revelation work together, if a person will but agree with what general revelation is telling them about God, then the Spirit will send a missionary or believer to communicate the scriptures and the Spirit through the scriptures can in turn bring them to saving faith in Lord. (Acts 17:22-34; Romans 10:8-10; James 1:18).  However if a person rejects the "lesser light" of general revelation, then they have demonstrated their persistence in unbelief and thus will not be receptive to special revelation of the fullness of revelation Jesus Christ - hence leaving them without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)  

Think of an illustration of a darkened room.  In darkness, my eyes are completely adjusted.  However if you suddenly were to turn on the lights, the light would sting and cause pain. I may conclude I do not want you to turn on the lights.  However let's say you brought in the dim light of a night-light.  After seeing the benefits of the night-light, I would then be open to further light.  You then come and turn on the overhead lights, prompting me in turn to come to you and trust you, since a lighted room is far better than a darkened one.   

Only in the specific confines of the Bible do we come to know the fullness of Revelation - Jesus Christ.  The Books of Mormonism and the Koran do not contain any information whatsoever about the fullness of revelation Jesus Christ - since they are nothing but religious reflections and opinions of unbelieving, unconverted men.  The Jesus of Mormonism and the Koran is not the same as the Jesus of revealed scripture. This is yet another reason we term the Bible "special revelation", since it alone reveals who Christ is, God's saving purposes in Him and His glory to be revealed at Christ's return. 

May God be glorified as we enjoy the information we receive about Him from general revelation, explore the Truth of His will in the Inspired special revelation of His Word and embrace the fullness of revelation of the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ, that we derive from the Bible's pages.