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Part Ia: REVELATION — Chapter One: The Challenge

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Preparing the Way

Can you answer these questions? Try them.

  1. What is the meaning of the words “reveal” and “revelation” as they are used in our Bible?
  2. Man is entirely dependent upon revelation from God for his knowledge in at least four major areas. What are they?
  3. What is the distinction between general and special revelation?
  4. General revelation comes to all men via three channels. Can you name them and support each one with Scripture?
  5. Where and when only is special revelation found?

Now for some answers!

One of the most exciting ministries God has ever entrusted to me was the privilege of teaching a Bible class for the members of the Dallas Cowboys football team. For two years we met each Wednesday night in the home of one of the players. What the class lacked in numbers, it more than made up in interest and controversy. Every class was an adventure. Week after week I faced men who seemed half my age but twice my size. Among them were some of the finest men I have ever met. They were men who struggled not only with fame and fortune, but also with the same deep personal problems that plague you and me. Some of the most stimulating hours of my entire life were spent in their company.

We began the class with an eight-week series entitled, Gods Plan for The Ages. I shall never forget the first night as long as I live. My wife and I arrived early, slightly nervous but very excited. We prayed together with the player and his wife who had opened their home for the class. We were trusting God to bring just the right men and their wives to the class and to have the right message for each of them. After a few uneasy moments, the first couple arrived. I stood before one of the finest ball players in the NFL. When he asked what we were actually going to be doing I explained that we would simply be studying what the Bible says about God’s plan for the ages. He confessed he had never before studied the Bible.

After that first class, one of the players lingered into the early hours of the morning, asking question after question that probed the deepest issues of life and drove us over and over again into the Scriptures.

If that first night is the most memorable, a very close second came just a few weeks later. That night an all-star lineman came to the class for the first time. After the study he took me back to square one and challenged the Bible.

Being an intellectual type, he had just read The Chariot of the Gods. He was impressed with the possibilities presented in the book. In his opinion it offered an explanation of our origins that had solid scientific support. Surrounded by his teammates, equipped with a sharp mind and armed with an arsenal of arguments, he stated his challenge succinctly, “How do you know the Bible is true?”

Here is a challenge that sooner or later will face every Christian who dares to live in the arena of real life. It is a challenge that cannot be ignored. It demands an honest reply. Do you have one?

To answer the questions we must understand, first of all, the historical process of how our Bible came to us. The initial step in this process is the revelation of truth, which God gave to man. It is revelation that bridges the gap between a thought in the mind of God and the minds of human authors of Scripture.

It is this step, this bridge — revelation — that is to be mastered in our first two chapters.

I. The Term

Revelation is simply the work of God communicating to men truth that was previously unknown and unknowable through any other means (Eph. 3:5, 6; Gal. 1:12; 1 Pet. 1:12).

II. Our Fourfold Need for Revelation

A few years ago a professor in the medical school of a large Canadian university startled his class with this statement, “It is impossible for a human to know what God is really like.” He was expressing the frustration of a finite man trying to comprehend an infinite God. Of course it is impossible if we are going from the creature to the Creator.

But reverse the process for a moment. Go from God to man and it is no longer impossible. For our knowledge of God we are entirely dependent upon the self-revelation of God. We can know nothing of God apart from what He uncovers of Himself to us.

The famed reformed theologian L. Berkhof establishes a crucial distinction at this point. Referring to a contemporary he notes,

Kuyper calls attention to the fact that theology as the knowledge of God differs in an important point from all other knowledge. In the study of all other sciences man places himself above the object of his investigation and actively elicits from it his knowledge by whatever method may seem most appropriate, but in theology he does not stand above but rather under the object of his knowledge. In other words, men can know God only insofar as the latter actually makes Himself known.1

Just as no one really knows you except your own personal spirit, so no one knows God except the Spirit of God. He it is who knows Him thoroughly, and He it is who reveals Him to us (1 Cor. 2:10, 11). Without that revelation it is indeed impossible for a person to know what God is really like. Our first need for revelation is for knowledge of God. But that is not all.

The Apollo flights are now history. One of the announced objectives of their exploration was to search the moon for answers to the origins of humanity and the universe. The long search for our origins has been an expensive and exhausting enterprise. The product has only borne out what a noted British scientist, Lord Kelvin, said a number of years ago, “There is nothing in science that reaches the origin of anything at all.”

Once again we are shut up to revelation. Theories come and hypotheses go but the question of origins remains unanswered by philosophy and science. Sir William Dawson, Canadian geologist, summed it all up when he said, “I know nothing about the origin of man except what I am told in the Scriptures that God created him. I do not know anything more than that and I do not know anybody who does.” In our search for our own origins lies our second need for revelation.

But come from the distant past to the clamouring present for our third need. What is our responsibility to God today? Surely we will agree that we have some responsibility to Him. If there is a God, and if we are the creatures of God, then it follows that we are responsible to Him. What is that responsibility?

How futile and arrogant it is for humans to attempt to devise ethical codes or religious systems and impose them upon ourselves. It is as ridiculous as an employee determining one’s responsibility to an employer, an individual citizen assessing one’s own obligation to the state or a student deciding one’s responsibility to the professors (which in some cases is no longer ridiculous). As the responsibility of the employee, citizen and student is determined by the one to whom the person is responsible, so our responsibility to God is determined by Him alone.

But how is it known? Only by revelation. God Himself must make it known to us. The syllabus of a course, the student handbook for dormitory residents, the orientations at college are all designed to inform the students of their responsibilities. The administration has a moral obligation to tell the students such things if they are to be held responsible for diem. Almighty God has a similar moral obligation to disclose to us the nature of our responsibility to Him. Once again we become very conscious of our tremendous need of divine revelation.

This is just as true of a fourth sphere. There never has been a time when there has been more interest in the future than today. Twelve million copies of The Late Great Planet Earth were printed in its first eleven years. Millions of Americans read their horoscopes, thousands consult mediums and dabble in the occult, all in an attempt to probe the future. There is something about our age that makes us ask as never before, Where are we going?

Since the eighteenth-century enlightenment, many attempts have been made to find some goal in the historical process. After reviewing the philosophies of history formulated by Kant, Hegel, Marx, Spengler and Toynbee, Dr. John W Montgomery concludes,

No man, from the secular, humanistic viewpoint, can answer the question “Where is history going?” All of us, to use Jack Kerouac’s phrase, are “on the road” and our historical searchlights are incapable of illuminating all of the path we have traversed. They continually meet a wall of fog ahead of us.2

The only meaningful and conclusive answer to the question of ultimate values and eternal destinies must come from One who is above and outside the historical process. For knowledge of the future, our fourth need, we are shut up to divine revelation.

Do we need it? Without it we can know nothing of God. Without it our origins are buried in the murky waters of the past. Without it we flounder with no idea of our responsibility to our God. Without it history has no goal and life has no purpose.

The very central contention of Christianity is that God graciously and satisfactorily met every one of these needs through revelation. This revelation has come in a variety of forms.

III. Two Major Classifications

By a careful consideration of the subject matter revealed and the manner of revelation, it is possible to speak of revelation in terms of two major classifications: general and special.

A. General Revelation

This is the divine testimony to the existence and character of God given to all people by means of creation, providence and conscience. It is discerned by human reason. It was designed to lead people, as they were created, to an enjoyment of the knowledge of God.

1. Creation

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. (Ps. 19:1, 2)

Because 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. (Rom. 1:19, 20)

The creation of God testifies to the existence of God and His character. The greatness of creation reveals His eternal power. The orderliness of creation reveals His divine nature.

2. Providence

And yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons satisfying your hearts with food and gladness. (Acts 14:17)

The rains are providential acts of God, revealing His goodness to all people. Without them there would be no crops, no harvests and no food. By the way, this is why a Christian gives thanks to God for his food.

3. Consciousness of God

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Gen. 1:26)

One aspect of being in the image of God is the human consciousness of God. Marred as the image was by the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, something of it is still retained in fallen humanity (1 Cor. 11:7; James 3:9). Historically there has been a consciousness of a Supreme Being in all people, among all tribes and peoples, which has been expressed in some form of religious life.

The courageous story of Helen Keller has thrilled the hearts of thousands. Although Keller was born deaf, a very patient teacher taught her to talk. After some time the teacher thought she should be taught about God, so invited Philip Brooks to come and teach her. As far as the teacher knew, this was the first time Keller had heard about God. Upon hearing, Keller said she always knew there was a God, but didn’t know His name. There is this consciousness of God in every person.

Several years ago our six-year old daughter confounded her father by asking if God had a birthday party. When I said, “I seriously doubt it,” she replied, “If He does, I sure hope He invites me sometime. I’d really like to know what He looks like!”

In general revelation we have quite a portrait of God. But it is only a partial picture!

B. Special Revelation

This is the divine testimony to God’s plan of salvation given to sinners — through the prophets of God and through the Son of God.

This is embodied in the Scriptures and is comprehended by faith alone.

Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30, 31)

There are two distinct phases in the special revelation given to us by God in the Scriptures. The Old Testament is preparatory and anticipatory, with a focus on the nation of Israel and the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. The New Testament records the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption and the consummation of the ages. Its focus is on the church and the new covenant.

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. . . . (Heb. l:l-2a)

Special revelation radiates the righteousness, grace and love of God. This not only completes the picture, but sharpens the focus on general revelation. This was observed by John Calvin, who said, “In the Bible we have the Divine spectacles which bring the truths of natural theology into focus.” Pascal noted the remarkable relationship between general and special revelation when he said, “Just as all things speak of God to those who know Him and unveil Him to those who love Him, even so they hide Him from those who neither seek Him nor know Him.”

Mark this well: General revelation is never sufficient to save a man. Salvation is only through a personal faith in Jesus Christ who has died as our substitute, bearing our sin in His own body on the cross. In His death He bore the punishment for our sin and fully satisfied the righteous demands of God for the payment of sin. Because sin has been judged and punished in Jesus Christ, God is righteously able to forgive all who receive Christ as their personal Saviour. There is no salvation apart from trusting in Him. This is known only by special revelation.

I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me. (John 14:6)

There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

Although general revelation is not sufficient to save, it is sufficient to condemn. Because of it, “... they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). To reject God’s revelation of Himself in creation, providence and conscience is to bring condemnation.

The contrasts between the two major classifications of revelation can be simply charted.



1. Testimony to the existence and

1. Testimony to the plan of salvation.

character of God.

2. Testimony to sinners.

2. Testimony to all people.

3. Discerned by faith.

3. Discovered by human reason.

4. Designed to lead us to salvation.

4. Designed to lead us to enjoy God.

5. This revelation saves.

5. This revelation condemns.

It is special revelation that will occupy our attention in this book — the revelation through the prophets and the Son, which is contained in the Word of God.

This is why men and women down through the centuries have read it, studied it, loved it, preached it, lived by it and died for it. The Bible is the Word of God.

But is it really? That is the challenge before us. With this background we are now prepared to respond. Before we answer the challenge however, it will be well to pause and review.


This chapter began with five questions. Turn back to “Preparing the Way” at the beginning of this chapter and go over the questions once more. Be sure you are able to answer each one correctly. An understanding of these concepts is basic to answering the challenge.

For Further Study

“Although general revelation is not sufficient to save, it is sufficient to condemn!”

Relate this statement to the question of those who have never heard of Jesus Christ. How does God deal with men and women who are without special revelation?


Dewitt, David A. Answering the Tough Ones. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1980, p. 135.

Henry, Carl F. H. (ed.). Revelation and the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1958, p. 413.

Pinnock, Clark. Biblical Revelation. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1971, p. 256.

1 L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1908), p. 34.

2 John Montgomery, The Current Muddle Over History, HIS, April, 1971, p. 29.

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word), Revelation

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