For quite some time, the articles I have submitted for the Taking Heed to the Doctrine rubric have been on Dispensationalism. In my judgment, there is quite a bit that still needs to be written on this— not only because the error is so prevalent today, but also because it seems God is using this error to get us to consider a number of centrally important passages found in the prophecies of Scripture. So, the Lord willing, I do plan to continue to submit articles on this subject from time to time, but no longer under this rubric. It seems to me that it would be best if we did not take too long on any one subject in the rubric itself, since the idea of the rubric is to keep moving through the doctrines of Scripture, so that the full system of doctrine can more clearly be seen. That being the case, it is my intention at this time to move on in the rubric, and to submit future articles on Dispensationalism as “Guest Articles.” The article in this issue, then, marks the beginning of the treatment of a new subject—revelation. Under this theme a number of fundamentally important truths can be considered—truths such as the particular revelation of Christ, the word God makes known in creation, the inspiration of Scripture, the call of the gospel, and the significance of signs and wonders, to name a few. We begin with the truth that Christ is revealed only to His people, and from that starting point we will move on, Lord willing, to consider various aspects of this most fascinating subject. —JL
The Particular Revelation of Christ
Not Judas Iscariot, but the other disciple of Christ named Judas, asked our Lord a question that was so significant that it was included in Holy Scripture for all of God’s people since then to consider. His question was this: “Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?” (John 14:22). Judas asked this question in response to the following statement made by our Lord: “Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me… he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (John 14:19-21). In a little while, Christ said, only those that love Christ were going to be able to see Him. Judas wanted to understand how this could be.
What Judas wanted to grasp was the truth concerning particular revelation. God’s people see Christ, and the world does not. Christ reveals Himself to us, and not to others. What does this mean? How does He do this? Let us begin to look into this fascinating subject.
Christ Revealed to Some, Hidden from Others
To reveal is to uncover something that is hidden. This is the meaning of one of the chief terms for revelation, as comes out clearly in the following verse: “… there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known” (Matt. 10:26b). The opposite of covering something and hiding it from view is uncovering it so that it can be clearly seen. That is what is meant by revelation.
Sometimes Scripture speaks of the revealing of sins, which man foolishly thinks he can hide. Other times it speaks of the revelation of the truth, which God in His wisdom hides from some and makes known unto others. It is this revelation of the truth—and specifically of the truth concerning Christ—that we are considering at the moment.
How is it that Christ is revealed only to God’s elect people? The words God makes known are available for anyone to read. The Christian religion does not have some secret book to which only an elite few are allowed access. Anyone who has the ability to read and who can obtain an accurate translation of the Bible in his or her own language may read every passage that God has given to us. So how can it be said that God’s revelation of Christ comes only to the elect?
To understand this we must know what it means for God to reveal Himself. When God reveals Himself to people, He not only speaks words to them, but also causes them to understand what He has said. Many people have a copy of what God has spoken, but only a small portion of them are granted the grace to understand it.
This is what our Lord Himself has taught us: “Many be called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 20:16). Although many outwardly hear God’s call, only a few, relatively speaking, are chosen by God to receive the grace to see Christ and to embrace Him in their heart. From the others, Christ remains hidden.
God reveals truths; but He also hides them. He never hides them from those who are truly seeking them. He hides them from those who are not really interested in what God has to say.
Christ understood this, and praised His Father for it: “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (Matt. 11:25). God’s truth is hidden from those who are wise in their own eyes. Such people are impressed with their own thoughts, and receive the just judgment of having the truth hidden from them. But those who see themselves as little babes, and who confess their need for the Father to instruct them through His Son, are the ones who receive the privilege of having the glory of Christ revealed to them.
Christ Revealed to Those God Desires to Save
The fact that God reveals Himself to some and hides Himself from others is yet further proof that God desires to save only some. Most professing Christians say that God desires to save every human being. But if that were the case, why would God hide the truth from so many people? If He wanted to save everyone, He would reveal Christ to everyone. The fact that He does not do this, therefore, is proof that He desires to save only a particular group of people—the people whom He has unconditionally chosen to be in Christ.
The history recorded in the Old Testament clearly illustrates this same truth. If God desired to save every human being, then why did He give His word only to Israel? God’s revelation to one particular group of people is proof of His particular love and mercy:
He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Praise ye the Lord
When we sing Psalm 147, we are saying that we know that God has chosen to reveal Himself only to some people. If fact, we are saying not only that we know this, but also that we actually desire to praise God for this.
God has determined that some will never even come into contact with the truth, and that others will outwardly hear the truth, but will not be given the grace to believe it. We have an example of the latter in the multitude who heard Christ and yet refused to believe on Him. Scripture tells us that there were many who heard the preaching of Christ Himself, saw the miracles He performed, and yet still refused to believe on Him. Such unbelief was inexcusable, and was justly and severely punished. Yet this wicked sin of unbelief was also something that God had decreed:
Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them
God blinds the eyes and hardens the hearts of certain people. It is not God’s will that these people be converted and healed.
Although by nature we are inclined to object to this truth, we must never do that. Rather, we must remember that it would have been perfectly just if God would have left all of us in our sins. God created man good, and it is man’s own fault that he now has a nature that is totally depraved. God justly could have left all of us in our unconverted condition. It is a wonder of grace that anyone is saved.
Revelation by the Word
God the Father reveals Himself through His Son. So to know the Father we must believe what the Son says about Him. It is only in the way of believing the Son that we can know the Father whom He reveals.
The Son is able to reveal the Father, because He Himself knows the Father: “…no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (Matt. 11:27b). No man can reveal the Father, because no man knows the Father. Only the Son knows the Father, and thus can reveal Him. So for us to know the Father, we must listen to and believe what the Son says about Him.
This means that we come to know God the Father from His Word, and not from some mystical feeling that comes to us apart from His Word. The Son is the Word of God through whom the Father reveals Himself. Therefore we must look to the Word to see and know the Father.
But when we say that we can know God the Father only from the Word of God, are we referring to the second Person of the Holy Trinity—that is, to the eternal Word of God—or to the Holy Scriptures? The answer to that question is: both. To know God from the Scriptures is to know Him from the eternal Word, because the eternal Word is the one who is speaking to us in the Scriptures. In other words, to believe the Scriptures is to believe in the Son, who is speaking in these Scriptures.
The Scriptures are the words of God’s Son, and they are also all about God’s Son. But to see the Son is to see the Father, since the Son is the Image of the Father. This means that when we look to the Scriptures and see the glory of the Son, we are seeing the glory of the Father whose Image He is.
The Spirit Who Brings the Son’s Words
It is by the Spirit that the Son reveals the Father. The Son’s words reveal the Father, but it is by the Spirit that the Son’s words get to us.
The Spirit brings us the words of the Son in more than one way. First, He is the one who guided the writers of the Scriptures so that they wrote down God’s words without any errors. Then, having given us the Scriptures, the Spirit is also the one who guides us to understand these Scriptures. In both of these ways, the Spirit is bringing us the words of the Son.
Without the Spirit, no one could understand the Scriptures. Many can read the Bible, but only a small portion of those who read the Scriptures actually have the Spirit needed to understand them.
The Son can reveal the Father because He knows the Father. Similarly, the Spirit can make known to us the things of God because He Himself knows the things of God:
For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God
None of us could know the things of God, if the Spirit of God did not reveal them unto us.
But, someone may say, the Spirit has already revealed these truths, and they are now found on the pages of Scripture. So why are not these Scriptures alone sufficient to make someone see the truth? The answer is that the natural man cannot understand the truths recorded in Scripture. When he reads them, he finds them to be foolishness. He cannot know how to interpret them, because they are spiritually discerned:
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned
The natural man cannot discern what the Spirit is saying. The Spirit is required to explain what He has written. Without the Spirit, the revelation of Christ’s glory in Scripture would never be seen.
Seeing This Revelation of Christ
The Spirit causes us to understand the Scriptures, which means He is the one who causes us to see that the Scriptures are all about Christ. That, then, brings us back to considering the question that Judas asked. He wanted to know how Christ was going to manifest Himself only to His disciples without the world being able to see Him. The answer is that Christ sends us the Holy Spirit, who guides us to understand that every passage of Scripture is speaking to us about Christ. In this way the Spirit is causing us to see the glory of God’s Son.
This is what our Lord was speaking about when He told Judas that He would manifest Himself only to believers. Judas wanted to understand how Christ would do this, and this is the answer that Christ gave him:
…the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you
Christ here is promising His disciples the Holy Spirit. It would be the Spirit within them that would show them Christ, causing them to remember the things He has taught them.
Now it is one thing to know intellectually that this is what the Spirit does, and it is another thing to experience the Spirit’s work in our lives. The Spirit causes the elect to see Christ’s glory. But we experience this only when we are walking in obedience to God.
Christ pointed this out when He responded to Judas. He promised the disciples that He would manifest Himself to them. But He also told them that they would see His glory only in the way of being submissive to what God has said. Note how Christ began His answer to Judas:
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him
When we come to hear the preaching, or whenever we meditate upon the Scriptures, we will see the glory of Christ only when the Spirit is making His abode with us.¹ But we experience the Spirit making His abode with us only when we are loving Christ and showing this by keeping His words.
We recognize that the Spirit really is within us when we experience Him opening our understanding, so that we are seeing more clearly the glory of Christ as it shines forth in the pages of Scripture. We consciously experience this at some times more than at other times. Christ was telling Judas, and us, that we will experience this more the more we show our love for Christ by submitting to the words He is speaking to us.
When we see the glory of Christ—beholding what He is and what He does—that revelation comes to us with a calling. Seeing what Christ does, we are then called to imitate Him. And the more we submit to this calling out of a love for Christ, the more grace will be given to us to see even more clearly the glory of our Lord.
We should remember this when sitting under the preaching, and when opening up the Scriptures. If we desire Christ to reveal Himself to us more, we should be cheerfully submitting to the revelation of Christ we have already received. Receiving what Christ has already revealed and asking for more, we will find that increasingly our understanding is being opened and that the glory of Christ is shining unto us and through us.
Understanding this, let us seek this revelation, imitating Moses, who cried unto God: “I beseech thee, shew me thy glory” (Ex. 33:18b). If we truly pray this prayer, we will receive our request, and experience the wonder and the power of the gracious and particular revelation of Jesus Christ.
¹ The passage speaks of the Father and the Son making their abode with us. But verse 26 makes known that it is by the Spirit that the Father and Son do this.