3. Special RevelationRelated Media
We have been talking about how we know that God exists. Is there evidence? What are the ways that God has revealed himself?
The first thing we looked at was general revelation. God has given revelation to all people showing that he exists. There are two primary aspects of general revelation, and the first is creation. We see his witness very clearly in his creation. Creation boasts that there is a God. David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). When we look at creation and how beautiful, complex, and dynamic it is, it boasts of a greater being and intelligent design. To think that it all happened by accident is foolish. The Psalmist says, “The fool says in his heart there is no God” (Psalm 14:1). It is foolish to think that there is no God.
The second form of general revelation is natural law or the conscience of man. Because God has made man in his image, there remains a conscience, a moral code among all men. In every nation, despite different cultures and experiences, we naturally have the same laws: do not steal, do not kill, etc. This comes from God and it witnesses explicitly of him. Romans 1:29 says, “Because that which is known about God is evident within them” (NASB). The knowledge of God is within man, being revealed through the conscience.
What other evidences attest to the existence of God?
In this lesson, we will look at special revelation. “Whereas general revelation is available to all people generally, specific (or special) revelation is only available to specific people and at specific times and places.”1 We will be looking at six primary ways which God has chosen to reveal himself specifically to people throughout history.
The first aspect of special revelation comes in the form of angels. Throughout the Old and New Testament, we have seen many accounts where God revealed himself through angels. What are angels?
Ministers to the Saints
“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14)
Angels are spirits sent from God to minister to those who are saved. Since they are spirits, they typically cannot be seen unless God chooses to reveal them. First Corinthians 11:10 tells us that they are involved in church services in some manner.
“For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head” (1 Cor 11:10).
He calls women to wear a sign of authority over their heads so that they will not lose the ministry of angels. It seems the wives were disrespecting their husbands by taking off their covering, which would keep them from receiving angelic ministry. God has always used angels to serve the saints, though most times it is done invisibly.
We saw this form of revelation in the story of Lot in Genesis 19. In response to the prayers of Abraham, God sent two angels to warn Lot and lead him out of Sodom and Gomorrah as God was about to judge the city. This revelation of God through angels was given, specifically, to Lot and earlier to his uncle Abraham (Gen 18). They watched God move and intervene to save his elect.
We also saw a special revelation of angels with Elisha in 2 Kings 6. In that narrative, King Aram’s armies were surrounding the house of Elisha while he and his servant were waiting inside. The servant was fearful so Elisha prayed for God to open the eyes of his servant. As his eyes were awakened to special revelation, he saw angels surrounding the camp with horses and chariots of fire to protect them. The angels then struck the soldiers with blindness, and Elisha and his servant were protected (v.17).
This may seem unique, but the Bible teaches that angels are always protecting us as well. Listen to what Psalm 91:1 says, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” Christ, in fact, said this about angelic protection, “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven (emphasis mine) always see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matt 18:10). Throughout history because of this some have even believed in “guardian angels.” We know the early church did. Look at what the church said when Peter showed up at their door after being released from prison.
When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!” “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.” (emphasis mine)
We are always being protected by them, though we do not see it. This is a unique revelation of God.
In addition, the Bible shows angels being messengers of his words. Scripture says that even the Law of Moses was given through angels. Acts 7:53 says this: “…you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it” (emphasis mine).
Another time we see God using angels to give his revelation was with the births of John the Baptist and Jesus. In Luke 1, an angel reveals himself to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, to share that he would have a son whose name would be John. Around the same time frame, the angel Gabriel was sent to share with Mary that she also would soon give birth to a baby who would be the Son of God. After the birth of Jesus, another angel announces the birth of Christ to shepherds in a field in Luke 2. God sent angels to prepare people for the birth of his Son and also for John the Baptist who would prepare the way for his Son.
In the book of Daniel, we also see an angel delivering a message. In Daniel 10, Daniel had been praying for two weeks that God would deliver his people from the rule of Babylon and send them back to their land, and at the end of two weeks, an angel appeared giving him a prophecy about the future of Israel.
We can be sure that when God is speaking to us through the Bible, sermons, or through other people, his angels are often involved, even though we don’t see them. But sometimes, God allows his angels to be visible and for his people to receive revelation directly through them.
Angels are a form of special revelation which he only gives at times to specific people.
Proof of Angels
Do we have any proof that angels exist? Yes, we do.
Interestingly, the Bible is not the only resource that teaches about angels. Before the Bible was even created, belief in angels always existed. Ancient ruins show us that virtually all ancient societies believed in angels. Ancient Egypt, ancient Phoenicia, and ancient Babylon all have figures of winged people, animals, and combinations of them throughout their ruins.2
One specific ancient ruin we should consider is that of ancient Babylon, which lies right in the place where most believe the Garden of Eden was located. According to Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve sinned, God kicked them out of the Garden of Eden so that they would not eat of the Tree of Life and live forever in their sin. But what is interesting is that God placed a cherub in front of the garden to guard the way to the tree (Gen 3:24). In Babylon, ancient ruins have been found of winged creatures with the face of bulls and lions, which are two of the faces of a cherub. Cherubs actually have four heads according to Scripture as seen in Ezekiel 1:10.
Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle.
All this supports the belief that there are real angels and that God has, throughout history, chosen to give special revelation through them to some people.
Prophets and Apostles
What other forms of special revelation do we have? We have the prophets and apostles who spoke authoritatively for God throughout the history of Scripture. They were the primary writers of Scripture. The prophets wrote the Old Testament, and the New Testament was written primarily through the apostles.
In the Old Testament, God would speak through people called prophets such as Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah who gave the people God’s Word for them to follow. A common phrase of the prophet was, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says” (Ezekiel 13:3, 21:16, 34:11), as they often gave the instructions of God verbatim. The prophets would correct the nations of their sin and call them back to following God’s commands.
Are there still prophets today?
In the New Testament, there were still prophets ministering in the early church (Acts 13:1), and Scripture indicates that people still receive prophetic gifts today (1 Cor 12:10). However, these would not be the same as the Old Testament prophet. The Old Testament prophet was to be without error in his ministry, and if he did commit an error, he was to be killed because that would prove he was not a prophet of God (Deut 18:20–22). Hebrews says that the prophets stopped speaking when Christ came (Hebrews 1:1–2), and Jesus said the last prophet was John the Baptist (Matt 11:13). After the prophets, Christ came to speak and his ministry was continued through his apostles. Prophets today would not be equivalent to the Old Testament prophet. Their primary ministry would be to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the church (1 Cor 14:3).
The apostles are the New Testament counterpart to the prophets in the Old Testament. They were witnesses of the resurrection (1 Cor 9:1) and established the foundations of the church both by their teaching and mission work (Eph 2:20). They also were the primary writers of the New Testament and spoke with the authority of the Lord. The apostles were the twelve, Paul, James, and maybe a few others.3
Where the prophets often spoke verbatim, exactly what God said, God spoke through the apostles in Scripture by using their personality, experiences, and education, and, yet, their writing remained without error. This is clearly demonstrated through the books in the New Testaments. They show different styles of expression and different writing abilities. God spoke through them without circumventing their personalities.
Are there still apostles today? The word apostle in the Greek just means “sent one.” There are apostles today in the sense of those who are sent as missionaries to plant churches and to serve in various ministries. However, Scripture seems to indicate that Paul was the last apostle in the sense of establishing the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20). Look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:4–9:
That he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (emphasis mine)
In talking about Christ’s resurrection, Paul shares that Christ revealed himself to “all the apostles” and “last” to him, as one “abnormally born” (v.7). Paul seems to be saying that he was the “last” and that his calling to apostleship was “abnormal.” All the other apostles had been with Christ from the beginning of his ministry (cf. Acts 1:21) but Paul became a follower after his resurrection through a vision in Damascus (Acts 9). It seems from Paul’s teaching that he was the last official member of the apostles who served a special role in establishing the church. The prophet and the apostle were a form of special revelation given by God to reveal himself.
Various Methods: Visions, Dreams, Research, Study, Etc.
How else has God revealed himself throughout history?
God has revealed himself throughout history in various ways. He would speak through dreams as with Joseph (Gen 37:5). Sometimes, he would speak through visions as with Daniel (Daniel 8:1). Sometimes, he would speak verbally as with Abraham (Gen 12:1–3). Sometimes, God would speak to people in regular methods like doing historical research as we see with the writers of the gospels. Listen to what Luke said about his writing in Luke 1:1–3:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus (emphasis mine)
Luke was not sitting in his room and God gave him a miraculous vision. He studied and looked at primary and secondary historical resources like a researcher and yet was guided by God in the writing of his Word.
For others, their writing or revelation seems to have been developed in the same way a sermon was. They studied the Old Testament, looked at historical events, found applications, and wrote a letter demonstrating these insights.
For example, the book of Hebrews is essentially a topical book comparing the old covenant to the new covenant. It argues that the new covenant and Christ are better than the law and the shadows of the old covenant. The author quotes the Old Testament more than any other New Testament author. The writer obviously thoroughly studied the law yet, at the same time, clearly received special revelation from God while studying and writing. He expands on previously taught concepts such as Christ’s new role as high priest who prays daily for believers in heaven (cf. Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 7). God used both irregular and regular methods to give revelation to the writers.
Wayne Grudem sums up the process of revelation nicely in this quote:
In between these two extremes of dictation pure and simple on the one hand, and ordinary historical research on the other hand, we have many indications of various ways by which God communicated with the human authors of Scripture. In some cases Scripture gives us hints of these various processes: it speaks of dreams, of visions, of hearing the Lord’s voice or standing in the council of the Lord; it also speaks of men who were with Jesus and observed his life and listened to his teaching, men whose memory of these words and deeds was made completely accurate by the working of the Holy Spirit as he brought things to their remembrance (John 14:26). Yet in many other cases the manner used by God to bring about the result that the words of Scripture were his words is simply not disclosed to us. Apparently many different methods were used, but it is not important that we discover precisely what these were in each case.
In cases where the ordinary human personality and writing style of the author were prominently involved, as seems the case with the major part of Scripture, all that we are able to say is that God’s providential oversight and direction of the life of each author was such that their personalities, their backgrounds and training, their abilities to evaluate events in the world around them, their access to historical data, their judgment with regard to the accuracy of information, and their individual circumstances when they wrote, were all exactly what God wanted them to be, so that when they actually came to the point of putting pen to paper, the words were fully their own words but also fully the words that God wanted them to write, words that God would also claim as his own.4
Considering all this, one might ask, “Does God still speak through dreams and visions?” Certainly, God is done speaking in the sense of adding to the revelation of Scripture (cf. Rev 22:18–19, Jude 1:3), but does God still speak in charismatic ways?
There is no clear Scripture that declares God will never speak in these ways. However, his primary method of speaking will always be through his completed Word. Scripture presents many of these various methods as unusual such as Jesus giving a vision to Paul and him being miraculously converted (Acts 9:3-6). With that said, we are hearing stories of Muslims being converted through visions all the time. Often, these stories are very similar to Paul, these people are typically very antagonistic towards Christianity, and yet God shows mercy and saves them. Look at what Paul says about himself: “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief” (1 Tim 1:13).
No doubt, when God saves this way, it is an act of mercy as well. Even though this may not be the normal method or our daily bread, we should not exclude this as a way that God may choose to speak to his saints. God still chooses to speak to his people miraculously; however, these forms of revelation can be counterfeited, and therefore, must be tested and approved by God’s written Word (1 John 4:1).
Are there any applications we can take from God often choosing to use various methods throughout history to speak to people?
One of the encouraging applications I think we can take from the various methods of special revelation is that God speaks and sometimes ministers to people differently. Some people may have very charismatic experiences where God speaks to them through dreams, visions or an audible voice, but to others, God speaks primarily through less dramatic ways such as: his sovereignty over circumstances, strong impressions (cf. 2 Cor 2:12-13), and studying or researching his Word.
However, often, people come to God and expect him to speak very miraculously. They expect him to clearly answer questions such as: “Who should I marry?” “What school should I go to?” “What job should I take?” “What car should I buy?” Sometimes, people have these expectations because they have met people whom God ministers to more charismatically. It is good to remember that God sometimes chooses to minister to his children in different ways. This should help keep us from becoming discouraged when we don’t receive something unique or prideful when we do.
Example of Peter and John
Don’t be discouraged about how God relates to others or how they experience him, trust God’s faithfulness to you. We see an illustration of this when Christ restored Peter at the end of the Gospel of John. In John 21:19–22, Christ told Peter the manner in which he was going to die. He was going to die a martyr’s death. Afterwards Peter responded, “What about him?” in referring to John the Apostle. Let’s look at the passage:
Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (emphasis mine)
Christ said, “What is that to you? You must follow me.” This is important because God works and sometimes speaks differently to his children. If we spend our time focusing on others, we may find ourselves discouraged, wanting their experiences. Or you may find yourself prideful because of how God ministers to you.
Sometimes, we see this inclination with certain gifts like tongues or prophecy. People find themselves desperate to have tongues when that may not be a gift that God chooses to give them. Others find themselves prideful over their gift, and they are always seeking a place to display or bring honor to themselves. We must be careful about desiring other people’s experiences or relationship with God. We are unique and God deals with each of us uniquely.
Jesus told Peter, “What is it to you how I choose to work in this man’s life? You must follow me.” For one false prophet named Balaam in the OT, God chose to speak to him through a donkey in order to get his attention (Numbers 22). It wasn’t because this man was special, but because this man wasn’t listening. His extra revelation wasn’t an honor; it came because he wouldn’t listen any other way. Like with Paul’s conversion, sometimes, a dramatic revelation is the only way to get a person to respond.
Ask any person who has multiple children, and they will tell you that good parenting necessitates ministering to each child in different ways simply because they are unique. God is the same way with us. I think that’s a lesson we can gain from looking at the unique and various ways God has revealed himself throughout the history of the Bible.
Are there other special revelations? Yes, there are theophanies.
Theophanies are manifestations of God in ways that are tangible the human senses. In its strictest sense, it applies to visible or auditory appearances of God often, but not always, in human form.5 What identifies a theophany is typically a sudden and temporary appearance of God in order to deepen his relationship with his people. At times, in the Old Testament, we would see God appear as an angel, a man, or in some other form to reveal himself to his people.
God Appeared as Men
We see this with Jacob wrestling with a man who is called God (Genesis 32:24–32). The new name given to Jacob was Israel, “one who has wrestled with God and prevailed.” Jacob wrestled with God in human form.
We also see this with Abraham right before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Look at what Genesis 18:1–2 says:
The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. (emphasis mine)
This text says that God appeared to Abraham, and he did it through three men. As the story goes on, it becomes clear that two of these men were angels and one was God. In Genesis 19:1, we see that the two angels went down to Lot’s house while God stayed and talked to Abraham. Again, God showed up as a man in this text.
We see another one in the book of Daniel with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. They were thrown into the fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. But while in the furnace, they were not burned, and Nebuchadnezzar saw another person in the fire. Look at how he responded:
He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.
Daniel 3:25 (KJV)
He responded, we put three in there, but we see four and the other looks like the son of God. It would seem again that God shows up in the form of a man to protect his faithful servants.
Angel of the Lord
We also see God choosing to reveal himself as an angel at times in the Old Testament, specifically the Angel of the Lord. This happened with Gideon as he was called to lead Israel in rebellion against the Midianites. Let’s look at Judges 6:11–16,
The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” “But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.” The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” “But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.” (emphasis mine)
It is clear that Gideon did not initially recognize that this man was an angel. At some point in the conversation, Gideon recognized that he was in fact the Angel of the Lord and began to cry out with fear to God (v. 22-23). However, what’s interesting about this discourse is the fact that the narrator begins to address the Angel of the Lord as God. In verse 14 the narrator says, “The LORD turned to him and said” with capital letters, which means it was God’s covenant name YAHWEH. The Angel of the Lord was God.
We also see an appearance of the Angel of the Lord in a fiery bush speaking to Moses in the book of Exodus. Look at Exodus 3:1–4:
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” (emphasis mine)
Here we see that Moses saw the Angel of the Lord in the bush and after that the narrator said, “God called to him from within the bush” (v.4). The Angel of the Lord and God were the same person.
It would seem that these appearances of God in human or angelic form were always for the purpose of some special calling or for grace to be bestowed upon a servant. They were not normal at all.
Many would suggest that when God showed up in the form of the Angel of the Lord, who seemed to always appear as a man, those appearances were actually early sightings of the Son of God. Why do they believe that? It is simply biblical reasoning. After Christ came to the earth, we still have appearances of angels but no appearances of the Angel of the Lord. Also, it would seem logical that since Christ has always eternally existed, he was active and would have manifested himself in the world at various times. Many believe Christ commonly did this as the Angel of the Lord.
However, God did not only appear in human or angelic form, he appeared in various forms. For example with Abraham, God appeared as a smoking fire pot to confirm the covenant of making his descendants a great nation (Genesis 15:17). When God was leading Israel through the wilderness, he appeared as a cloud by day and a fire by night (Exodus 13:21).
Tabernacle and Temple
Another form of a theophany is God’s appearance to Israel in the glory cloud in the tabernacle and then later in the temple. Look at Exodus 33:9:
As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the LORD spoke with Moses. (emphasis mine)
This verse speaks of the tabernacle by calling it a tent. God’s presence would descend in a cloud to meet with Moses in the tent. This was God’s temporary dwelling for traveling with Israel. As Israel moved, God went with them; wherever they went, he went as well. God wanted to be with his people in peace, in battle, in rain, and sunshine. God dwelt in the midst of Israel.
When they took over the land of Canaan, it was then that his permanent dwelling, the temple, was built. In 2 Chronicles 7:1–3, we see the glory of God fill the temple:
When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “He is good; his love endures forever.” (emphasis mine)
Though the tabernacle and the temple are not theophanies themselves, they were the place that God would appear in a theophany and make his presence known to Israel. These dwellings demonstrated God’s desire for intimacy with man. Many people see the tabernacle and temple as very similar to the Garden of Eden. It was in the garden that God walked among the people and had intimacy with them.
However, this desire for intimacy is taken to an even higher level in the new covenant as the body of individual believers becomes his temple. We see this in 1 Corinthians 6:19:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.
Though we may not classify this as a theophany, because it is a permanent manifestation, it is still a revelation of God. He has chosen to make his home in the body of his saints.
Throughout history, God has made himself known through theophanies, temporary appearances of his glory. He appeared as a human, an angel, a fiery bush, a glory cloud, etc. He appeared to Israel on a regular basis at the tabernacle and the temple. However, in one sense, we experience him in an even greater way than a theophany because he has chosen to permanently dwell within us.
God’s ultimate special revelation was seen in his Son coming to the earth. The Jews knew that no one could ever look upon God and live because of his glory, beauty, and holiness. They always sought to see the Father but knew that it was impossible. God told Moses nobody could see his face and live (Exodus 33:20). In fact, people lived in fear of seeing the presence of God. But in Christ, the impossible became possible, the God of heaven and earth could be clearly seen and known.
John says this about Jesus: “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).
How did Jesus make the Father known? How did he reveal more about God?
Jesus brought the revelation of God in many ways, but we will look at three primary ways.
Jesus Revealed God’s Teachings
The first way that Jesus made God known was by his teaching. Listen to what he said to Philip in John 14:10:
Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. (emphasis mine)
When Jesus said God was doing his work, he was referring to his own teachings as coming directly from God. God was speaking through Jesus on the earth. Christ taught this truth at various times. He declared:
“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” (emphasis mine)
In fact, this is best illustrated by the name John called Christ. Listen to John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
When John called Jesus the “Word”, the name is an expression of one of the functions or purposes of Jesus. “Word” essentially means that Christ was the communication of God. One of the reasons that Christ came was to communicate God’s words to us—he was the “Word” of God incarnate.
When we look at the teachings of Jesus, we see the very words of the Father. When Jesus taught to love your enemy and pray for them, when he taught that hatred was equivalent to murder, that lust was equivalent to adultery, we hear the words of God. In Christ’s words, we find a standard that is much higher than our own because it is divine. In Christ’s words, we see the revelation of the Father.
If we want to know God’s word on how to live, how to choose a career, how to be saved, how to make decisions in life, it all comes through God’s Word, and Christ came to reveal his word in a greater way.
Jesus Revealed God’s Person
The second way Christ revealed God was simply through his person. The Bible says he is the physical representation of God. Listen to Colossians and Hebrews:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (emphasis mine)
Philip said, “show us the Father and it will be enough for us. We just want to see God and that will be enough, that will satisfy us.” Jesus told Philip, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9 paraphrase). People could not look upon God face to face in the OT, but we have beheld him in the image of Christ.
Only one time in the gospels did Christ fully reveal his God-head and power. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Christ took three disciples up the mountain and there he was transfigured. Consider the account in Luke 9:28–36:
About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.) While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen. (emphasis mine)
The Scripture says that he shined as bright as flashes of lightning (Luke 9:29). This lightning probably symbolized his deity. We see that God similarly revealed himself through lightning at Mt. Sinai (Ex 20:18). On the “Mount of Transfiguration”, God was making himself known through Christ. The disciples saw God’s glory in Christ, and there the Father said, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased.” What Christ shielded in his human body was all at once revealed: he was the full representation of God in human flesh.
Since Christ is the exact image of God, we not only saw God’s glory, but also his power in Christ. Jesus calmed storms; he demonstrated power over nature. He cast out demons, showing his power over the spirit realm. He healed physical diseases and even showed the ability to suspend his own laws in multiplying bread and making water from wine. When we saw Christ, we saw God.
Philip said that seeing God the Father would be enough, it would be the greatest experience of life. Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen him.” If we want to know God and see him, we must see him in Christ. He is the person of God.
We know that Christ revealed God, but what did Christ reveal about God that wasn’t fully revealed previously?
God Is a Servant
He revealed many things not known fully about God. Paul said this about Jesus in Philippians 2:6–7:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (emphasis mine)
The word “nature” in this text means an “outward expression of an inward nature.”6 Christ did not become a servant at his incarnation. He just demonstrated what he always was as God. Jesus was the prototype of a servant, not only did he serve God in doing his will (John 6:38), but he served man. Look at what Mark 10:45 says: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (emphasis mine).
Jesus revealed that God is a servant and that we serve a servant-God. It’s a phenomenal concept that we could never understand without Christ. Jesus bent down and washed the feet of his disciples, something only the slaves would do (John 13:1–17). Peter was so shocked, he said, “You will never wash my feet.” He found this hard to understand about God.
Jesus served us by dying for us. Look at what Paul says: “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:8).
Jesus humbled himself by becoming a man and then dying. But Jesus didn’t simply become humble in the incarnation. He revealed what he has always been as God. We worship a humble Creator.
How does Jesus and thus God still serve us?
Ephesians 5:25–27 says that he washes the church with the Word of God to make us a pure and holy bride.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (emphasis mine)
When we spend time in our devotions, when we hear sermons at church, Christ is present. He leans over, as he did with Peter, and washes us. He washes sin off of us, he removes discouragement and anger. If you have received his Word, then you have been washed by our servant-God.
But that’s not it. He also serves us through prayer. Listen to the writer of Hebrews: “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (emphasis mine)” (Hebrews 7:25).
If it weren’t for Christ, we would not have a concept of a God that prays for his people. To the pagans, that wouldn’t make any sense. Prayer is only offered to the deity; the deity doesn’t pray for man. However, we have a servant God who serves others and calls us to be servants as well (cf. John 13:14-15, Rom 12:13).
It’s a phenomenal concept. Christ didn’t become something he wasn’t already as far as his nature. He just demonstrated what he already was as God in human form, so we could better understand God. It’s phenomenal.
Are there any other ways God serves us? Yes, God will serve us in his coming kingdom. Look at Luke 12:35–37:
Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. (emphasis mine)
Look at what Christ said about God. He gives us a paradox. He shares the story of a servant who has faithfully served his master while he was gone. When the master returns, you might expect a thank you or, simply, for the master to go about his business. But not this master, the master dresses himself to serve, the servants sit at the table, and the master waits on them—he serves them (v. 37).
This refers, specifically, to the second coming of Christ. He will come and serve his people. He will reward them with crowns, authority, and property on the earth. As a master, he will refresh them through his service. We serve a servant God. These are phenomenal concepts that were not fully revealed until Christ displayed the exact representation of God.
How should we respond to this? Paul says in Philippians 2:5: “Let this mind be in you that was once in Christ Jesus.” We should serve others as well. Are we putting others first? In what ways are we seeking to serve those around us?
Jesus Revealed the Way to God
What else did Jesus reveal about God? He has revealed the way to have a relationship with the Father. He has revealed the way to true salvation. “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Listen to John 17:1–3:
After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (emphasis mine)
God gave Christ authority to grant salvation and eternal life to those who would come to God through him. He is the door to salvation; he is the door to spending eternity in heaven. Christ is also the door to continually knowing God for the rest of our lives, “This is eternal life: to know God.” All this was revealed through Christ.
Christ demonstrated God’s love for man when he died on the cross for the sins of the world. He also teaches us the way to receive this love, by faith, as we believe in his death, burial, and resurrection, and take him as Lord of our lives. Christ taught this especially through his apostles. Romans 10:13 says: “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
He is the only person we can call on to have eternal life and to have a relationship with God. This power does not exist in cultish gods such as Buddha and Muhammad. Acts 4:12 says: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
Have you come through the door of Jesus Christ? There is no other way to the Father; there is no other way to eternal life.
God so desired to have a relationship with mankind that he sent his Son to the earth. In fact, not only did he send him, he sacrificed him for our sins so we could have a relationship with a Holy God.
Even as followers, saved and redeemed by the Son, we still come to God daily through Christ. First Peter 2:5 says this: “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (emphasis mine).
Christ is not just the door but the atmosphere in which the believer worships and has a relationship with God. We offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God “through Jesus Christ.” We approach the throne room of God based on the competence of our high priest. Hebrews 4:15–16 says this:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
In fact, Christ taught that our prayers must be offered in his name (John 16:24), meaning that Christ is our daily sufficiency to come to God, and we must pray in alignment with his will. Christ is the doorway to God.
Christ revealed the “teachings of God,” he revealed the “person of God,” and he revealed “the way to know God and have salvation.” Christ is a form of special revelation, one of the primary ways God has revealed himself to us.
How should we apply this?
1. If we are to know God in salvation, we must realize it is only through Christ.
He is not a way among other ways. He is the way to the Father. His is the only name given among men by which we must be saved.
2. Second, we must daily relate to God on the basis of Christ’s work.
This should create humility in us as we seek to worship and glorify God. We are incapable of coming to God, even in sanctification, on our own accord. It must be through the Son. We pray through Christ, we approach the throne through Christ, we offer spiritual sacrifices through Christ. He is the atmosphere in which we worship the Father (cf. 1 Cor 1:30).
3. Third, if we are to know God, we must study Christ.
We must study his teachings. We must study how he lived because it is there that we know God. He only said the words of his Father; therefore, he is worth listening to and building our lives upon.
The guards were commissioned by the Pharisees to grab Jesus and take him, but they could not. Why? In John 7:46, they replied, “No one ever spoke like this.” This is because he spoke the very words of God. We should study his words for in them we come to know God.
4. Fourth, we must imitate Christ.
What does it look like for a man to live like God? We see it in Christ. He gave up everything, heaven, and the full display of his authority and power, to serve others. In Christ, we see a godly life and the secret to being exalted (Phil 2:6–11). It is the opposite of the world, who seeks exaltation by seeking to be first and the greatest. Christ became last and is now first.
Are you a servant like your God? If not, you are falling short of God’s image in your life (Rom 3:23). We see these characteristics in Christ, and they must be modeled. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5).
5. Finally, we must come to Christ for help.
As a servant, he desires to help us, and therefore, we should call on him. He understands us and knows exactly how to minister to our situation. We do not have a God that cannot sympathize, but one who hungered and thirsted just like us. Listen again to the writer of Hebrews 4:15–16:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (emphasis mine)
Some have said, “How can Christ help me if he never sinned? How can he relate to me” Here is a good illustration. Say you were seeking help to train in power lifting, and while at the gym, you saw two people pick up 200 lbs. and try to put it over their head for ten seconds. One picked it up but dropped it in two seconds, but the other held it the whole time. Who held more weight, the one who picked it up but dropped it, or the one who held it the entire time? The one who held it to the end is the one who held more weight. Christ bore the full weight of temptation without succumbing to it. He was tempted in the wilderness like Adam but did not fail. How much more can he help us defeat sin? He held the weight to the end and, therefore, can help us most in our time of need.
How do we know there is a God? We know because of revelation, God has chosen to reveal himself. He has revealed himself “generally” through creation but “specifically” throughout history in the means of angels, prophets and apostles, visions, dreams, theophanies, and in his son Jesus Christ.
The greatest thing about these revelations is the fact that we have a God that wants to be known. He wants us to know him. He is not hiding, but is seeking to reveal himself in various ways every day. However, it is typically those who are seeking him that truly find him. Look at what Jeremiah 29:13 says: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” He says this through James: “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8).
Our current knowledge and intimacy with God is proportional to our effort in seeking to know him. He is always trying to reveal himself to us, but we must respond by seeking after him. When we respond, he draws us even closer and reveals more of himself to us. Are you pursuing a relationship with the God who wants to be known?
He wants to be known so much that he broke into time by coming down as a man to reveal himself so that some may be saved. We must respond to God, and we must make him known to others.
In the next chapter, we will look at the last form of special revelation: God’s written Word.
- What is special revelation? What are some of the various forms of special revelation?
- Does God still reveal himself through dreams, visions, and prophecy? If so, how do we test such forms of revelation (1 John 4:1)? In what ways have you seen these forms of revelation abused?
- Who were the prophets and apostles? Are there still prophets and apostles today? Why or why not?
- One of the primary ways God has revealed himself is through Jesus Christ. What ways did Christ reveal God?
- Pray that God would continue to reveal himself and make himself known to all men. Pray that people would have a spirit of wisdom and revelation to know God better (Eph 1:17).
- Pray for the church to have discernment and protection from false forms of revelation (1 John 4:1).
- Pray for the church to be faithful in proclaiming his Word and making Christ known (Matt 28:118, 19).
Copyright 2014 Gregory Brown
The primary Scriptures used are New International Version (1984) unless otherwise noted. Other versions include English Standard Version, New Living Translation, and King James Version.
Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version ® (ESV ®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
1 Daryl Aaron. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book Group 2012), Kindle edition.
2 Harold L, Wilmington. Wilmington’s Bible Handbook (Carol Stream, IL. Tyndale House Publisher, 1981), 775.
3 John R. Stott. God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979). 160.
4 Wayne A. Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), 81.
5 Walter A. Elwell. Entry for Theophany. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Pub Group, 1997). LOGOS Bible Software.
6 Warren Wiersbe. The Bible Exposition Commentary (Vol. 2, p. 75). (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books. 1996) Logos Bible Software.
Related Topics: Theology Proper (God)