The word revelation has become a scary word for Christians, and even non-Christians.
Firstly, the word brings all sorts of negative and scary images to mind with regards to one’s eschatology, meaning how one thinks things are to be played out at the end of the age. Just go to Google images and type in the word revelation.
Many think of some sort of Armageddon, a final battle between evil and good. And, of course, that evil army will be headed up by the Satan-indwelt man himself known as anti-christ.
Even Hollywood has picked up on such things. Hey, if we can make a few bucks (or a few billion) off of people’s fear, let’s do it, right?
It grieves me to think that this might be the prevailing mindset of the average Christian.
Not only that, but the word revelation can become scary in regards to another issue – prophecy.
When one shares, ‘God has revealed something to me,’ we get a little uncomfortable, don’t we?
I believe this is also the prevailing mindset within the church. We cannot imagine God still revealing things, prophecy still being needed or even brought forth today. It’s dangerous, right?
With regards to revelation today, we can think of many cults and sects that have formed very odd beliefs. Or, maybe even worse, we have images of the kind of wacky people on ‘Christian’ television. Though they seem to spout of such spiritual visions and revelations, we all feel they are a bit odd. Again, we are uncomfortable with not only their clothes or hairdos, but their words as well.
Hence, the word revelation has been destroyed, as many other words have within Christianity.
But a prevailing nugget of wisdom I have held to for quite some time now is this: Misuse and abuse should never lead us to no use, rather it should lead us to healthy and biblical use.
With regards to revelation, in the sense of God speaking and unveiling His heart, we have a lot of baggage to deal with. But we cannot let the baggage hinder us. I know lots of things that are abused – marriage, parenthood, heretical beliefs about Christ, ungodly leadership in the church, and a whole host of other things. But I am not going to give up on any of these items, as I believe we are called to know what the Bible teaches on these matters and be faithful in staying connected to wise and strong believers. These two important aspects help guard against misuse and abuse.
The word revelation simply means an unveiling or an uncovering. And that is what it means in regards to God speaking today.
Yes, I believe God still speaks today, nor did He ever stop. Maybe we stopped listening or maybe we formulated a neat box that told God He does not do that stuff anymore. But God keeps communicating, God keeps unveiling His heart, God keeps uncovering His truth.
No, none of this is in opposition to the Scriptures, His God-breathed word. It was never meant to. The Scriptures stand as our measuring stick for the beliefs and practise of our faith. That is healthy. And, as I stated above, we are called (though many forget) to stay connected to the body of Christ, both wise leaders and other faithful people with whom we are relationally connected, to guard our hearts from wrong belief and practise. Ninety-nine out of 100 times, this will help us steer clear of that horrible misuse and abuse.
Now, I am aware that a prevailing belief amongst many is that, once the foundation of the apostolic gospel was laid out, which is now summarised in the New Testament Scriptures, there would no longer be a need for God to reveal anything. The Bible is the closed canon on the revelation of God, thus, we no longer need revelation.
But I believe such is a misnomer.
I’m not going to deal with all the passages that arise from cessationists – 1 Corinthians 13:8-12; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 1:1-2; and Hebrews 2:3-4. Suffice it to say that I believe these passages are well misunderstood by cessationists, but maybe I’ll write some posts on each passage in the future.
Rather than make a defence against what I believe are wrong understandings in regards to those passages, I want to share a few other things.
First off, let me say that I really do respect Christians who see the Scriptures – Old and New Testaments – as the standard for our faith. Though I don’t agree with the cessationist viewpoint – hard or soft – I do applaud the noble desire to be faithful to God through this main revelatory document in the Scriptures. If only we all stood on such similar ground. I’m not buttering anyone up here. I really do mean this.
And with regards to God’s redemptive purposes, there is no other word that can be added to it. Jesus Christ is the final word in regards to the covenant revelation of God’s plan of redemption for mankind. That’s what I believe the writer to the Hebrews was getting at in Hebrews 1:1-2.
Hence why I think that groups like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are dangerous. They’ve really begun to add to God’s redemptive revelation in Christ. That is by far one of the most dangerous things we can do.
But, though I believe there is no more to add to God’s redemptive revelation, there is, and has always been, the reality that God has continued to unveil His heart and purposes for His people.
Remember, revelation is an unveiling and an uncovering. And for God to reveal something today, or any time over the past 1,900 years or so (following what became the New Testament canon), it has been from His desire to make known His counsel and will to His people and to the world.
But what we can easily fall into is believing that all revelation was somehow recorded in Scripture. Thus, with all revelation being recorded in the Bible, with Christ being the final word, we no longer need such.
Yet all of God’s revelation was never recorded in Scripture. A good major chunk of it was. And we know and are convinced it is God-breathed revelation. Still, there was quite a lot that was spoken, maybe even written, that never made it in to the Scriptures.
Paul makes it clear in places like 1 Corinthians 14:26:
What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson [teaching], a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
Whoa! Paul expected the Corinthians believers, who had some serious problems to say the least, could bring forth revelation when they gathered together. I think this is simply amazing!
It wasn’t down to twelve men, or twelve men plus a few. It was down to the body of Christ in their calling as a prophetic community.
Still, one of the more powerful passages in regards to prophecy, or revelation, that did not make it into Scripture is Paul’s words to Timothy:
18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience…(1 Timothy 1:18-19)
These words, these prophecies, were never penned in any part of Scripture, that we know of. Yet Paul makes it clear that these prophecies could be utilised in waging good warfare, as well as holding to the faith and a good conscience. Must have been pretty powerful revelatory words!
And I don’t even think all of the words came from Paul. In 1 Timothy 4:14, we read that a gift was imparted to Timothy through prophecy and that this was done by the ‘council of elders’. Paul was probably there as well (see 2 Timothy 1:6), but it was highly probable that a few different people spoke forth the prophecies (notice the plural in prophecies).
Again, these prophecies were never recorded in Scripture, but they were worth holding onto. Timothy could actually live out the faith with greater strength by remembering these words of revelation.
And, if we are honest, we will truly recognise that every revelatory word spoken by a prophet, apostle, or any man or woman of God, did not find its way into Scripture. I don’t believe God ever planned it that way. Well, actually, I’m certain He didn’t plan it that way, even if I only had the two examples above.
But are these words to be on equal grounds with Scripture?
That’s a tough one. I know what the easy answer is, that being, ‘No, they are not equal.’
But I don’t want to take the easy answer, even though it could save us lots of pain and work. I really want to think this through.
I will say this: whatever is truly of God is truly of God. Sounds too simple, right? But whatever revelation He has unveiled, He has unveiled. Still sounds too simple. And we know that, practically, it’s not that easy.
Still, it would be easy, even for a continuationist like myself, to create a two-tier system for revelation. It’s like those who try and create a two-tier system of apostles: Apostle (with a capital A) and apostles (with a lower-case a). Or Miracles and miracles.
The problem is this: I’m not sure the Bible really creates two tiers for any of these, even with regards to revelation.
Now, what I do recognise is that there is revelation that is central to God’s redemptive purposes. This is centrally found in the summation of the gospel in Jesus Christ. That is the goal of God’s revelation in the end – to move towards Jesus and the new covenant gospel.
So, in a sense, we could say that all other revelation must submit to that ultimate goal. And I happy to stand on such solid ground. But the thing is, we find that the Scriptures themselves contain things that are not actually central to the gospel and the final word of God’s redemptive revelation in Jesus Christ.
I’m thinking about Agabus’ prophecies (i.e. Acts 11:28-30) or the prophecies brought forth by the Ephesian disciples (see Acts 19:1-7) or the prophecies spoken by the Corinthian believers (see 1 Corinthians 14:5).
These were revelations, worthy of being weighed and discerned, but they were probably not central to the apostolic gospel.
So that makes them less than, right?
Well, I believe they were still worth listening to, still worth abiding by, still worth being challenged with. That’s what happened with Agabus’s words – the people listened and acted. And Paul tells the Corinthians that an unbeliever can hear a prophecy and have the secrets of his heart disclosed (see 1 Corinthians 14:24-25). Not to mention, again, that Paul said Timothy would do well to hold on to the prophecies made to him (see the passage above).
So, then, all are equal?
Again, this is hard. I know the easy answer, but this is what I will say.
The final word of Jesus Christ in the gospel and new covenant are the ultimate goal of all God’s revelation. Even this phrase in Revelation 19:10 gives great insight: For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. And it is the Scriptures that are the greatest summation and attestation to that revelation of redemption as administered by the Triune God. So the Scriptures are to stand as a canon, as a measuring stick.
But, by no means, do I believe this means that we should throw out revelation and prophecy today. Again, it will not add to God’s revelation of redemption in Christ. But true prophetic revelation will bring clarity, will stir faith, will unveil God’s heart and will be faithful to God’s revelation in Christ in Scripture. It, too, can stand as a two-edged sword, as it truly is an unveiling from God.
We don’t need 3 Thessalonians and we don’t need 4 John. But we need the voice of the living God to speak, to bring revelation, to bring forth visions of His heart for His people and His world today. And I am so thankful we have the Scriptures, as well as the body of Christ for 2000 years, to help us guard against false revelation, false prophecy. I want to keep our present-day revelations submitted to what I am certain is His faithful revelation in the Bible.
Oh God, speak by Your Spirit. It’s your desire. Make it our desire.
Do not despise prophecies (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:1).