God’s makes himself known as Lord through divine revelation, which is given to all people through creation and human nature and to specific people through events, inspired human words recorded as Scripture, and Jesus Christ himself.
Kabbalah for Today?
That hidden wisdom is the revelation of Jesus Christ, Christ in you,
unity with the divine through the Holy Spirit, revealed in The New Testament and Word of God. Through the Holy Spirit, divine spiritual truths and hidden knowledge can be revealed and interpreted. Jesus Christ, light to the nations, redeemer of the world... for ALL is fulfilled in the law and prophets, both old and new.
COLOSSIANS 1:19–20For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Christ’s death is the beginning of the redemption and renewal of every part of fallen creation, as he powerfully directs all things for his own glory and creation’s good.
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” -John 8:12
“I am the light of the world,” is rooted in Jesus’ relationship with His Father. John Piper states, “Jesus speaks from God and for God and as God.” Apart from Jesus, we live in darkness. We have limited capacity to understand who we are or what we see in the world. “The beauty of our humanity is still evident,” writes Aimee Joseph,“but ugliness abounds.”
“The light of Christ,” writes John Piper, “is the brightness of God shining on the retina of the human soul.” Life can be wonderful on earth, but not fully complete without Jesus. We are all created to crave the Creator, our Father, and only through a relationship with our Savior Jesus can the dark parts of our hearts brighten. “When I admit I am not enough, I’m freed to run and cling to the God who is.” -Aimee Joseph
The Light of the world paid for our freedom on the cross.
The Biblical Context of the Verse "I Am the Light of the World”Jesus consistently focused on linking Himself to the Father. The Greek word for light in this verse is phos, defined as the light; anything emitting light; light, i.e. brightness. God profoundly states, “I am.” Light is part of who He is. Subtle but powerful.
Each day, the sun rises to warm, illuminate, and provide growth on earth. The moon and stars light the night, serving as navigators long before smartphones. We reach for the light-switch when we enter a dark room, and we depend on our accumulation of knowledge to shed light on our lives. Light permeates into every crack and crevice of our lives and beings, whether visible, tangible in regard to warmth, or metaphorically enlightening. The origin of phos describes how light makes manifest, evident, exposed or clear.
Light is required for any vegetation to grow, and the light clarifies the human spirit. Christ was present at the creation of the world. The Author of Light has the authority to illuminate His creation in its truest form. Jesus saying He is the Light of the world is the outer recognition of His Father’s creation and presence, and the inward dwelling of the Holy Spirit, by which we know our Father and walk with Jesus. Jesus is the Light of the world, our world, and in the world. Like God is omnipresent, so Jesus is Light. Through Him and His sacrificial death on the cross, we are exposed to the light and of our sins.
Christ is the Light of the world. God is light, and Christ is the image of the invisible God. One sun enlightens the whole world; so does one Christ, and there needs no more. -Matthew Henry Commentary, Concise
A boat needs navigational lights to avoid running into the shore, aground or into other vessels at night. Light prevents aimless drifting. Captains follow blinking channel markers and lighthouses at night. Now, GPS coordinates steer ships, but the Captain and crew still need to know how to navigate by the stars, buoys and lights in case of an electrical malfunction. A lack of preparation could be deadly.
Just as ships follow lights to ensure safe passage, so we rely on the Light. Jesus’s death broke through the darkness, lighting the way for us. God’s Word, through the enlightening of the Holy Spirit, helps us understand and remember when we need His wisdom to steer us. Prayer, which serves dually as life boat and lighthouse throughout our everyday lives is an open line of communication not available to Old Testament believers. We learn from the beginning of the book of Genesis and John’s Gospel that Jesus was present, and that He is the Word. Everything the light touches, He is a part of.
“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” -John 9:5Darkness, in John 8:12, is the Greek word skotia, defined as the darkness due to the want of light and used to describe ignorance of divine things. It’s associated with wickedness, and the resultant misery in hell. Genesis 1:4 says, “God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.” Jesus is the Light of the world, and all who are separate or far from Him live in darkness. Being separate, ignorant, or unaware of the dark leaves us wanting for something we cannot produce on our own. We come to the end of ourselves in frustration, hopelessness, or an aloof sense of happiness and joy, when we traverse through life in darkness. With Christ, we have the absolute fullness of life.
What Happened Before and After?John was Jesus’ best friend on this earth, referring to himself as “the one Jesus loved.” He was the only one of the twelve at the cross when Jesus died. How we begin our stories says a lot about what we understand and believe most. John undoubtedly knew who Jesus was, both on earth as his friend and as His God made flesh.
“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” -John 1:9-10
The phrase we are studying today is part of Jesus’ long debate with the Pharisees (John 2:19; John 3:3). This string of preaching, miracles, and conversion resulted in increased persecution from the Jewish leaders. Before Jesus’ testimonial declaration as the Light of the World, John recorded Jesus writing on the ground to scatter a woman’s accusers, further fueling the debate. Jesus then heals a blind man, which in turn is investigated by the Pharisees, striking a conversation not just about physical blindness, but spiritual.
Who is Jesus Talking To?Jesus was talking to a group of Jewish leaders prominently referred to as Pharisees. It’s suspected the title originates from a Hebrew word meaning separate or detached. They separated themselves from anything that didn’t align with the way they interpreted Levitical (Old Testament covenant) Law. As Jesus spoke, people started to believe Him. Their claims didn’t diminish His confidence.
“Notice, it was Jesus’s words that God used to bring about the faith. He wasn’t doing miracles at this point. He was speaking. In fact, he was going back and forth with the Pharisees and the crowd — those who were blind to what he was saying. And as people listened to his words, they believed. Faith comes by hearing — the word of Christ (Romans 10:17)." -“I Am the Light of the Word,” John Piper
More Bible References about Light
- John 1:4 - "In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.”
- 1 John 1:5 - "This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”
- Matthew 5:14 - "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
- 2 Corinthians 4:6 - "For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”amade his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”
- Philippians 2:15 - “so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appearas lights in the world,"
- Daniel 12:9 - "He said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time.”
- 1 Thessalonians 5:5 - "You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.”
- 1 John 1:7 - "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
- Psalm 119:105 - "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
How Jesus is the Light of the World“For all the positive thinking around us, there sure is a lot of hardship and pain,” says Owen Strachan.
Through Christ, we have access to the Father. Our perspective brightens when touched by the Light. Illumined by the Creator, we are able to hang onto the shreds of light that permeate the darkness. “Jesus’s works made who he was manifestly clear,” writes Jon Bloom, “His works shone, and they still shine.” Jesus shines light into the cracks of our hearts that harbor sin. Once revealed, the conviction of the Holy Spirit instructs and guides us to repent. We grow wiser as He sanctifies our hearts to reflect His light.
What was Jesus Trying to Get Across to His Listeners?“An entire system of spiritual darkness - spearheaded by Satan himself, carried out by hordes of demons, and influencing every corner of earth- rages right below the surface of our everyday lives,” writes Marshal Legal in God’s Not Afraid of the Dark, “How do we live with any hope while we drown in all of this darkness?”
We are self-centered and self-driven without Jesus. We come to the end of ourselves and our efforts and become overwhelmed by the natural darkness in our hearts. No one has “a good heart” in a natural state. "We all fall short". Jesus came so we would experience the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s loving embrace through the wisdom of His word and our relationship with Him shed His light on others living in darkness.
“One reason the darkness around us is so terrifying is that we see so much of ourselves in it - our weaknesses, our fears, our brokenness, our sin,” writes Segal,“for many of us, no darkness is more intimidating than our own.”
What Does it Mean for Christians to View Jesus as the Light of the World?“In Adam, things to do get better. But in Christ, the future is impossibly bright.” -Owen Strachan
Jesus gives us the vision to see who we are in Him. Only the light of the world can show us who we are and guide us responsibly through life. “Following Jesus is more than tagging along behind him. It means following him for who he is. Being so taken with him that you join yourself to Him.” -John Piper
Light is akin to freedom. We’re wide open to the world when we walk with our Creator. Walking in the light means embracing our individuality when we release our self-centered methods for His definition of love. Consider how He knows all of us before we breathe our first breath on earth. Let the fact that He took each of our names to the cross permeate. The Light of the World knows what we do not. We can be so focused on getting to where we are going that we miss many turns along the road to a full and abundantly bright life.
“His light doesn’t make the darkness any less dark; it just conquers every shadow with something stronger.” -Marshall Segal
Are Christians Also Called to Be the Light of World?“What makes us shine?” writes Jon Bloom, “Our outward, observable, public works make clear who we are and whose we are manifestly clear.”
Jesus brings light to the far corners of our communities and our world. Matthew 5:14says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” When we live our lives reflecting the Light, it allows others to see His love. We are called to share the gospel, but more importantly than what we say is how we live. “It’s not merely what the shining people do, but why they do it and how they do it,” writes Bloom, “and we’ve found ourselves both drawn totem and unnerved by them, because the light of their humble, word-and-deed love has both warmed our hearts and exposed our selfishness and pride.” Light affects everything. It permeates truth into every situation. It’s true Love, on earth. Anne Graham-Lotz wrote, “Praise God! The Light of the World is the Light of Heaven!” Only He can empower us to love the people He purposefully places in our lives well, and His love lights up the world. “You are a light in the darkness - a servant of God who is being watched, who gives off light …a very distinct message with hardly a word being said,”
KABBALAH. The mere mention of the word conjures up images of magical and mysterious otherworldly dimensions, of spiritual secrets that are profoundly miraculous and deeply inspiring. Nowadays it seems everyone-Jew or non-Jew, famous or nameless-is discovering and uncovering the divine truths of Kabbalah. Or are they?
That question raises three, more pointed ones: What is the essence of Kabbalah? Will opening the exploration of Kabbalah to the masses demean and distort this extremely difficult and highly spiritual subject, reducing it to the level of pop culture? If Kabbalah is not appropriate for popular study, is it somehow still relevant to our lives?
Kabbalah literally means “receiving”; in Israel today, the receipt you get when making a purchase is called a kabbalah. The Bible, or Written Law, is given by God and is available to anyone who can read it. The Oral Law-which includes the Kabbalah-is received, passed directly from teacher to pupil.
Most of Torah is considered Torah haniglet-revealed Torah, to be studied by all Jews. Kabbalah, however, was designated chochmah nisteret-hidden wisdom. In truth, Kabbalah was never literally hidden, but was not widely, or even publicly, studied.
The reason for restricting the study of Kabbalah relates to its subject matter. Kabbalah encompasses two general themes: ma’aseh bereshit-the theory or description of creation-and ma’aseh merkavah-Ezekiel’s description of the Heavenly Chariot, which teaches us about the relationship between humans and the Almighty.
When I discuss matters that are tangible and open for all to see and appreciate, things that are already “revealed,” it is simple for others to verify the truth of what I say. But if I am talking about angels, for example, I must be very careful. If I speculate from ignorance, what I say will be nonsense. And it may become dangerous nonsense if I fail to realize the power and meaning of what I am saying and end up defiling the Majesty of God.
Equally as esoteric as its subject matter is the language of Kabbalah. It is presented as a stream of abstract formulas, conveyed in Kabbalah’s own unique jargon, understood only by a select cadre of scholars trained to decipher it. To avoid misunderstanding, Kabbalah had to be taught one-on-one by a master teacher singularly attuned to the capabilities and receptivity of each student. One cannot simply open the classic Kabbalistic texts and glean their truths in a vacuum.
Unfortunately, today Kabbalah has been commercialized by those who pretend to grasp its innermost secrets. These pretenders purport to teach-and to sell-what they do not understand, to people who are not equipped to receive it. Kabbalah’s mystifying formulas become nothing more than intoxicating mantras to those who mindlessly repeat them. This is like trying to cure an illness by chanting the chemical formula of the remedy.
This is not to say that Kabbalah should not be studied and learned. In fact, it is incumbent upon Jewish scholars to understand the whole map of Torah from beginning to end, the Hidden Law no less than the Revealed Law. Throughout history, there have been those who, very quietly, achieved extensive knowledge of the Hidden Law.
But today, most of us are simply incapable of comprehending Kabbalah. For us the question is, “Is there some way we, too, can ‘receive’ the remarkable teachings of Kabbalah in a meaningful way, without treading upon its divine essence?”
One answer lies in the Hasidic approach to Kabbalah.
It is a basic Kabbalistic concept that the human soul is, in a manner of speaking, a spark of Divine revelation within the world and that each human being is a microcosm of the entire universe. Hasidism shows how the rarified teachings of Kabbalah, which speak to the macro-universe, can be adapted into a structure with ethical and practical meaning for our individual lives.
In this way, Hasidism is a form of applied Kabbalah. Just as the Revealed Law frames the behavior of our bodies, the internalization of Kabbalistic notions of the Hidden Law can attune us to our soul, educating it to connect with the Divine. In this model, the power of Kabbalah is harnessed not to serve our own desires but to align them with the wishes of the Almighty.
One of the most important Hasidic books is called Zohar Chai, “the living Zohar.” That is what Hasidism does: It gives the Kabbalah life by translating it into something meaningful in one’s relationships with others and, most important, something that can quell the strife within one’s own soul and calm the struggle of one’s inner being.
In order to properly understand the meaning of exile and redemption from a Jewish perspective, one must go back to the deepest roots of history, specifically to the second verse of the creation story:
The earth was null and void and there was darkness upon the face of the deep, and the spirit of God hovered above the water. (Genesis 1:2)
For, with respect to this seemingly uninformative verse, the rabbis have written a very insightful explanation:
"Null" -- this refers to the Babylonian exile (423-371 BCE). "Void" refers to the Median exile (371-356 BCE.). "Darkness" -- the Greek exile (318-138 BCE). "The face of the deep" -- to the last exile of Rome (approx. 63 BCE until the present day). "And the spirit of God" -- alludes to the Messianic period at the end of days. (Genesis Rabba 2:4)
Within this single and ominous verse, there is an allusion to all four exiles that the Jewish people were destined to experience throughout their long history until the Messianic time, which has still yet to occur. And without exception, all of them have come to pass as predicted, with the final exile, the "Roman Exile" still in progress.
The question is: Why does this verse describing primordial chaos so strongly allude to the future exiles of a people which, at the time, had yet to exist? What connection is there between this dark and incomplete stage of creation and the concept of exile and redemption?
THE CONCEPT OF HOLY SPARKS
The concept of "tohu," the Hebrew word for "null," is a deeply Kabbalistic one. Even though it is mentioned in the second verse of the creation story, it is really a description of the pre-creation state (Zohar, Genesis 15a), which was a combination of a certain spiritual matter from which creation was made, and Holy Sparks (Nitzutzei Kedusha).
What is a Holy Spark? Holy Sparks are like the spiritual fuel of creation, and nothing can exist or function anywhere in the universe without a Holy Spark. These are, in a sense, spiritual packets of God's Holy Light, that actually represent the constriction and filtering of that Light. Without this constriction and filtering, physical creation could never exist, because God's Light would remain too intense for anything physical to contain It. Thus, the more Holy Sparks something possesses, the holier it is and by definition the more life it has.
These are spiritual packets of God's Holy Light, constricted and filtered.
For the sake of creation, the sparks which began on a very high spiritual level were sent down to the lowest of spiritual levels, a place of great spiritual impurity. To make creation, God drew out exactly as many sparks as He deemed necessary to make creation, and left the remainder for man to utilize as a partner in perfecting creation.
There is not an infinite amount of Holy Sparks in creation. In fact, history is measured by these sparks, and will come to a close when all sparks have been drawn out of the tohu and returned to their holy source Above. It is then -- once all the sparks that God has made available to mankind are expended -- that by definition the Messianic Period must begin.
How does one use up Holy Sparks? Through the learning of Torah and the performance of mitzvot, Holy Sparks are redeemed, purified, and ascend to Above. Indeed, transgressions also use up Holy Sparks, but in the process the sparks themselves become defiled and require "cleansing" before being able to ascend. The cleansing process comes in the form of either sincere repentance by the transgressor, or through Heavenly-ordained suffering.
LIGHT UNTO NATIONS
Since Torah and mitzvot are the most effective way to utilize Holy Sparks, the nation in possession of Torah and mitzvot becomes the most effective one to complete this process. Thus it is primarily the responsibility of the Jewish people, who accepted Torah at Mount Sinai in the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), to redeem the sparks of creation. This is the deeper meaning of the famous exhortation to be a "light unto the nations" (Isaiah 42:6).
During King Solomon's time, nations came from far and wide to access Jewish wisdom.
As long as the Jewish people remained committed to this process, as evidenced by their commitment to Torah and mitzvot, then God arranged for all relevant sparks to be brought to the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. For example, during King Solomon's time (9th century BCE), nations came from far and wide to witness the great wisdom of this famous Jewish king, bearing great gifts.
Within the many gifts and sacrifices that were brought to the land were Holy Sparks from different parts of the world. Used and enjoyed in the Land of Israel, these sparks were redeemed and returned to their place Above, thus furthering the cause of history. In turn, the exposure to Jewish wisdom resulted in other nations adopting Torah philosophy and practice, thus using up sparks through their actions as well.
EXILE: THE CONCEPT
However, in spite of this great success, the Jewish people eventually lost appreciation of their role in history and how easy God had made it for them. This was evident through their laxity in the learning of the Torah and performance of mitzvot, which resulted in defilement of the Holy Sparks.
Upon seeing this, God told the Jewish people: "If you don't appreciate how I’ve been bringing the sparks to you for redemption, then I will send you out to get them yourselves -- at your own peril!"
This is the essential concept of exile and its role in Jewish history. This is why the second verse of creation (which describes these sunken Holy Sparks) is also an allusion to the future exiles of the Jewish people, and to their eventual redemption.
When sparks in one location are spent, the work of the Jewish people in that area is complete.
In other words, exile of the Jewish people is God’s way of moving Torah to various parts of the world, to redeem those sparks ready to be redeemed at that stage of history. When the sparks in a particular location are spent, then the work of the Jewish people in that area of the world is complete.
Not only is it complete, but the Jewish people have no business there anymore. This is what the Torah says regarding Egypt:
[The Jewish king] must not accumulate many horses, so as not to bring the people back to Egypt to get more horses. God has told you that you must never again return on that path. (Deut.17:16)
Why not? Wouldn't it be the most realistic Passover experience to go back once again and visit the place of the slavery of our forefathers, to tread in the footprints of Moses, and make a Seder where the very first one was celebrated?!
Perhaps, says the Torah, but not necessary. The purpose of creation is to redeem Holy Sparks, and the purpose of the Jewish people is take responsibility for doing so. The purpose of exile is to facilitate our gathering the sparks from around the world, when we don't merit doing so from inside our land. And when the sparks are gone from a particular place, then so must the Jewish people be gone from that place.
Indeed, we have witnessed the fulfillment of the prophecy:
And you, I will scatter among the nations... (Leviticus 26:33)
The Jews will have gone to just about every corner of the earth to redeem those sparks, before the only place left to go is home -- to the Land of Israel. Thus is the prophetic Final Redemption.
It shall come to be on that day that the Lord will once again show His hand... And He will gather in the dispersed ones of Judah from the four corners of the earth. (Isaiah 11:11-12)
Why does life and history come down to Holy Sparks and their redemption? And even if it does, where does anti-Semitism fit into the picture? And, if it does mean going to the "four corners of the earth," does that mean we may have to one day move on to places like Antarctica (brrrr)? We will address these questions in coming installments of this series, "Exile & Redemption."
Jesus is a Redeemer, that is his name; he came into the world on this very business, to redeem his people, to redeem them from all iniquity (Titus 2:14), from this present evil world, from our vain conversations. He hath shed his precious blood to purchase us, we are bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20). We are none of our own, we are his, the purchase of his blood; and we may be confident that he dearly loves us, for he dearly bought us; and if he had not dearly loved us, he would never have given himself for us (Gal. 2:20). That was the highest testimony of his love; he loved us, and washed us from our sins in his blood (Rev. 1:5). He will redeem us from the wrath to come.
The dictionary defines redemption as: 1. the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil. 2. the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt. Redemption is used in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The Old Testament. In the Old Testament, redemption involves deliverance from bondage based on the payment of a price by a redeemer. Fundamental to the message of the New Testament is the announcement that Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of Israel's messianic hope and that, in him, the long-awaited redemption has arrived. Deliverance of humankind from its state of alienation from God has been accomplished through the death and resurrection of Christ.
Living in a fallen world as Christians means we will experience trials and tribulations and will continue to struggle with our own temptations. We are forgiven, but God is not finished with us yet (Philippians 1:6). Consequently, longing for a better world, even a perfect world, is not a form of escapism. Rather, it is the Christian’s rightful anticipation of a promise made by the One who justly pronounced a curse on this world and then lovingly took that curse upon Himself in order to redeem people for His glory. (excerpts provided by: What is Redemption? by Dr. Anthony Chute).
To learn more about what the Bible says about redemption, spend time with the following passages:
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace
20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”
15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
The Devil asserted that by taking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, human eyes would be opened—implying wisdom and enlightenment—to allow a person to know good and evil as God does. Immediately, Satanplaces the emphasis on knowing, but it is contrasted with living eternally. Satan proposes that mankind should be like God in taking to himself the knowledge—the definition—of what is right and wrong, asserting that this is a good thing! In contrast, the Tree of Life represents a way of living in which the meaning of good and evil already exists, and eternal life involves submitting through the Holy Spirit to that definition and the Sovereign who is its source.
Likewise, the Gnostics are those who know—who pursue mystical knowledge that they believe holds the key to eternal life through advancing beyond the physical and into the spiritual realm. Gnostics believed the key to eternal life was contained in right interpretation—knowledge—of those esoteric sayings.
The book of Revelation expounds on the Tree of Life in two places:
· To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)
· Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into [New Jerusalem]. (Revelation 22:14)
The Tree of Life, then, is associated with a way of life—one that requires overcoming (growth against a standard of righteousness) and keeping (doing) God's commandments. The only ones who are allowed to partake of the Tree of Life are those who have changed themselves (with God's help, by His Spirit) to begin living in the same manner as He does. To those who submit to His standard of righteousness, then, He grants life that is both endless and of the same quality that He enjoys.
Satan, though, in addition to casting doubt on what God plainly says, and implying that God is unfair by withholding good things, offers a shortcut. He says, "You do not need to follow God's way, for it is obviously unfair and far too stringent. You can follow your own way. You can take knowledge to yourself of what is good and what is evil. You can be just like God in determining what is right and wrong." Adam and Eve took the bait, and ever since, man has rejected God's standard of righteousness in favor of his own.
He is not out to trick us or to trip us up. Our beloved friend and elder brother Jesus Christ echoes this to His disciples: "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15).
We can have confidence in God's promise that He will not do anything significant concerning His people without informing us first in a clear, orderly, and understandable manner. If and when He chooses to send a special end-time leader to His people—whether he be a prophet, an apostle, or one of the two witnesses (Revelation 11)--God will make sure we are able to recognize the man as His true servant.
In its broad meaning, revelation is divine guidance or inspiration; it is the communication of truth and knowledge from God to His children on earth, suited to their language and understanding. It simply means to uncover something not yet known. That religion depends on revelation is nothing new. A crucial lesson of scripture is that human beings tend to neglect the patterns of the past and struggle to discern the perils of the future. People search for God and seek to understand themselves. The traditional role of revelation, given to both individuals and God’s chosen leaders, has been to fill in this picture.
God makes himself known to his creatures because he first knows himself perfectly as a personal, speaking God. Although all people suppress the knowledge of God in their sin, he has clearly communicated about himself to his creatures through the creation and through human’s being made in the image of God. On top of this general revelation, God communicates about himself to particular people in specialrevelation, which includes the events of nature and history, human words that are inspired by God and recorded for us in Scripture, and through the person of Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate image of God. In all of these different ways, God reveals himself as Lord, which is comprised of his control, presence, and authority over all things.
The God of the Bible is a personal being, in contrast with the gods of many other religions and philosophies who are abstract or impersonal forces. The doctrine of the Trinity underscores this fact, for the biblical God is not only personal but a society of persons, existing eternally in mutual love and deference (John 17).
So, whatever God does he makes known. The persons of the Trinity know one another exhaustively, and each understands the thoughts and actions of the others. In human beings, there are hidden depths in our nature so that we cannot fully understand our own actions and motives. But God is fully known to himself. Much about God is mysterious to us, but not to him.
One way Scripture describes God’s exhaustive self-knowledge is by saying that he is a speaking God or, simply, that he is Word:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
God is not only eternal, holy, all-powerful, and so on, but he expresses and shares those qualities through something like human speech. In his eternal nature, he has the power to speak (the “Word”), and that power to speak is who he is: his Word is eternally with him, and his Word is his very nature. John identifies this Word with Jesus Christ in John 1:14. In Jesus, the Word became flesh. So the existence of the Word did not begin with Jesus’s incarnation. There are hundreds of references to the divine word in Scripture, in both testaments, as the means by which God reveals himself.
Moreover, God reveals himself to himself, each Trinitarian person to the other two, and his revelation extends beyond his own being. It comes also to the world he has created, and especially to the intelligent creatures of that world: angels and human beings. Because self-revelation is his nature, he wants all his creatures to know him.
The creatures of the world cannot know God exhaustively. One cannot know God exhaustively unless one is God. But creatures receive great benefits from knowing God; indeed, they cannot live without knowing him, for he is the author of life. This is true both of our natural lives and our spiritual lives. Adam came alive when God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen. 2:7). And Jesus says that the great benefit of eternal life, his salvation from sin, is the benefit of knowing God:
And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)
In one sense, all human beings, even the wicked, know God:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made (Rom. 1:18–20).
But many reject this revelation, people who, Paul says, “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Rom. 1:18). Though God is clearly revealed to all, fallen people prefer to deny that they know him, as Adam hid from God in the Garden (Gen. 3:8). When people say they do not know God, it is not because God has failed to reveal himself, or that God’s revelation is not clear enough. Rather, their ignorance of God is something they have done to themselves. They are lying to themselves, trying to convince themselves that God does not exist or that he is obscure, while all the time God is staring them in the face.
God Reveals Himself as the LordGod’s personal name is Lord, which translates the mysterious name I AMwhich God revealed to Moses in Ex. 3:14–16. His lordship connotes particularly his control, authority, and presence in relation to the world he has made (see John Frame, The Doctrine of God, pp. 21–240, and The Doctrine of the Word of God, pp. 3–14, 47–68). Everything he does reflects his lordship in these ways, including his revelation. Scripture describes God’s word-revelation in terms of his control as a powerful force:
Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? (Jer. 23:29)
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb. 4:12)
It also makes clear that God’s word of revelation has supreme authority:
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. (John 12:48)
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16–17)
And God’s word, his revelation, is also his presence, the place where he meets with his people. God’s nearness to Israel is the nearness of his word (Deut. 4:7–8, 30:11–14). And God comes to be “with us,” Immanuel, in the person of his Son Jesus Christ, his living word to us (John 1:1–14).
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
It was mentioned earlier that the biblical God is personal, not an abstract force like the gods of the nations. His revelation is particularly a personal encounter between him and his people. When we hear revelation, we hear God himself. Our response to it should be a response appropriate to supreme power, to ultimate authority, and to an intimate Father.
General and Special RevelationTheologians make various distinctions among types of revelation. The most common is between general and specialrevelation. General revelation is revelation of God given to everybody. It is the kind of revelation described in Romans 1. It tells us that God exists, what kind of God he is, and his moral standards. In revealing God’s standards, it shows us that we have not measured up to them. Paul says of general revelation that it reveals God’s wrath on sinners (Rom. 1:18). General revelation comes to us through the natural world (what is called natural revelation) and through our own nature. For we ourselves are revelation, the image of God according to Genesis 1:26–27.
On the other hand, special revelation is revelation God gives to selected messengers, charging them to bring the message to others. Those messengers may be angels, prophets, or apostles. The message may be presented orally or may be consigned to writing, as when the apostles wrote authoritative letters to the churches (see 1 Cor. 14:37–38). The Bible as a whole is a special revelation of God in written form (2 Tim. 3:15–17). The messages of special revelation typically contain one or both of two different kinds of contents: threats of judgment and promises of grace. The gospel is a special revelation of grace, a message of supremely good news:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Media of RevelationAnother way to distinguish between types of revelation is to distinguish the different ways in which revelation comes to us, the media of revelation. There are basically three types of media: events, words, and persons. These three categories correspond roughly to our earlier distinction between control, authority, and presence. But both these threefold distinctions are perspectives on the whole of revelation. The events of revelation not only manifest God’s control, but also his authority and presence; similarly the words and persons.
EventsGod reveals himself in the events of nature and history. We learn of him from the changing seasons, from the power of nature, from the sun, moon, and stars. We also learn of him through history, the particular events that shape the fortunes of human beings. He is the one who gave to all the nations their boundaries (Acts 17:26) and brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt to possess the land of promise. In his plan, general history becomes redemptive history, the events by which God arranges to redeem his people from sin by the coming of Jesus.
WordsIn one sense, all of God’s revelation is word-revelation, because it proceeds from God’s own speech, the Word of John 1:1–14. But sometimes God gives us word-revelation in a further sense: revelation in which the medium is human words. But God does not leave us to figure out for ourselves what he is doing in history. He enters our experience and speaks to us in human words. In this way, the words of the prophets are the very words of God himself. God defines prophet to Moses in this way:
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I commend him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (Deut. 18:18-22)
When a prophet or apostle writes down God’s words, the document is Holy Scripture, a document to be received as the Lord’s power, authority, and presence (2 Tim. 3:15–17, 2 Pet. 1:19–21).
PersonsSince God is a tri-personal being, his revelation is particularly vivid when it takes the form of persons. God made Adam and Eve in his image to be revelations of himself (Gen. 1:26–27). And it should not surprise us that the highest, deepest divine revelation is the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ, God in person. Jesus displays his Father’s control over all things (Mark 4:41), speaks his Father’s words (John 3:34), and appears as the Father’s glorified presence with his people (Matt. 17:1-8).
ConclusionIf we are to know God, it is important for us to seek knowledge in God’s own way. Many have tried to gain knowledge of God through their unaided reason, or through some kind of subjective intuition. But the God of the Bible has told us not only who he is but also how we should seek knowledge of him. That knowledge comes as we attend to his created world, not repressing the truth in unrighteousness, but accepting his own guidance, his special revelation in Scripture and in Jesus. Only through these appointed means can we come to know him as Lord and as our Savior from sin.