The Word of God: The Progress of Revelation

Why did God not give all His revelations at one time? The Bible is a collection of books, written by approximately 40 different authors over the space of about 1600 years. Could God not have given  humanity a book with all necessary instructions from the beginning? The answer, of course, is yes, but He chose not to for a number of reasons.

Graduated Instruction

“And the word of the LORD will be to them, precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little” (Isa 28:13, ESV).

Isaiah was called of God and sent with heavy tidings of judgment to the nation of Israel (Ephraim, Isa 28). While he carefully and deliberately set forth his message, his audience mocked him for his style. His words lacked the content and sophistication they desired. “Yet the sense [was] suitable, reflecting the patience of a teacher building up the pupil’s knowledge bit by bit, watching for growth points and adding a little here, a little there. What they mocked was exactly what Isaiah aimed to achieve and what is the worthiest goal of preacher and teacher: capturing and sharing the essential simplicity of revealed truth, engaging in systematic edification” (The Prophecy of Isaiah, Motyer, page 232).  What was true of Isaiah was also true of God, the perfect Teacher. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets” (Heb 1:1, ESV).

One of God’s methods of teaching was by the “shadow of the good things to come” (Heb 10:1, KJV). Like a primary school teacher, God gave the nation of Israel the “toy money” of the sacrificial system before revealing the real currency of the blood of Christ. He gave them a model sanctuary in the tabernacle before providing access to the “true tabernacle” through Christ’s blood. Another method of teaching was by “example … written down for our instruction” (1Cor 10:11). Abraham became the example of how a man could be justified by God through faith alone. The Passover lamb and the serpent on the pole, became pictures of the sacrifice of God’s Lamb lifted on a cross to make that justification possible.

Historic Interaction

And He said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Exo 3:6, ESV).

Critics of the gospel often complain that God is distant from His creation, yet the opposite is true. God is the Lord of history. It was God who encouraged fearful Adam to come out of the bushes and meet with Him. God became known as the “God of Abraham,” but, since God has no grandchildren, He became known as the God of Isaac and of Jacob too. God demonstrated His active role by coming down to deliver Israel. He put His finger into the politics of Egypt (Exo 8:19), and by His strong arm He brought His people out (Exo 6:6). Even when God’s presence has not been made evident by visible manifestations or verbal utterances, it has been assured by His continued providence. The name of God does not appear in the book of Esther, yet He is assuredly in the shadows of the story.

Except for Job, the rest of the Old Testament was written to the first community of God’s people – Israel. The book of Job represented the former ages when God spoke directly to people. By oral tradition, the knowledge of God increased from one generation to another. But when God called Israel out of Egypt and made His covenant with her, His revelation to her was written down. For centuries, the Israelites had a continuous stream of revelations from God, and the men who brought those words from God to them were men who lived among them. There were, however, four centuries of deafening silence from heaven. When heaven at last spoke, it did so in the fullest way possible. The Word of God was incarnate. God perfectly revealed Himself to man in His Son. The closest eyewitnesses of that unique life became the apostles through whom new revelation would be recorded for the new community of God’s people – the Church.

Another aspect of God’s interaction in history is in His revealing of what was appropriate for the time. Adam’s reconciling sacrifice also provided him with clothes. The covenant with Abraham was ratified with a time-suited walk through divided animals. Israel’s covenant was constructed in the well-known format of a Suzerain vassal treaty from that period of history. Later, by God’s providence, Greek would become an almost universal language, most suited to communicate the gospel to the whole world. Even the teaching of church principles would be achieved through real letters, written to actual churches, with real situations. These letters contain abiding teaching suited to the whole of the Church era.

Internal Validation

Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the Scripture) “I thirst” (John 19:28, KJV)

The external validation of the Bible provides one of the greatest proofs of the trustworthiness of Scripture. As the archeologist’s trowel uncovers lost civilizations, more of the details of the biblical record are confirmed. The internal evidence provided by God’s progressive revelation offers even greater confidence. By giving promises scattered throughout the 16 centuries of writing, God has provided a resource for testing His faithfulness.

The nature of divine prophecy is distinct from all other claims of future knowledge. The false prophet will use vague language which can be interpreted to fit somewhere in the ensuing events, or he will make bold, detailed claims, and suffer the embarrassment of being proved wrong. The prophets who spoke from God gave detailed predictions; they named kings not yet born, they told of empires that would rise in the future, and of the cause of their eventual demise. So accurately were these predictions fulfilled, unbelievers must try to convince themselves that passages like Daniel 11 were written after the events they record. Since there is an overwhelming number of such prophecies which have been fulfilled as stated, it is impossible (with an open mind) to deny the ability of God to control and therefore to predict the future.

It is not surprising the Old Testament prophets made more predictions concerning the coming of Messiah than of any other event. If the destiny of humanity and of each human soul hangs on the true identity of this One, then it must be clear. Prophecies of the Messiah were scattered throughout the history of the Old Testament, keeping current and alive the expectation of His coming. The oral testimony of Adam from the garden, and of Abraham from the mountain, told of a virgin-born son, yielded upon an altar by the Father. When Moses recorded these in Scripture, he added to them the story of the Passover lamb, the manna, and the smitten rock. David contributed to the building story when he spoke in his psalms about the feelings of the rejected Messiah, and of the coming day of His glorious entrance to Jerusalem as its welcomed King. Isaiah and the prophets added to the theme, with further signs of Jehovah’s perfect Servant, until at last, Malachi foretold the suddenness of His appearing in the temple.

The precision of this expectation became more and more evident. Messiah would come of Judah, in the line of David, and be born of a virgin in the town of Bethlehem Ephrathah. God would anoint Him with the Holy Spirit, and publicly declare Him as His well-pleasing Servant. His ministry would be one which would embrace the poor, heal the sick, and justify the transgressors. A close friend would sell Him for 30 silver coins, and that unholy sum would purchase the “Field of Blood.” Taken from an unjust judgment with a scourged back, His hands and feet would be pierced by the Gentiles. He would hang between transgressors while day became darkness, and watching crowds would be astonished. He would die before the evening of the 14th day of the first month, 69 weeks of years after the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem. He would be buried for three days and three nights in a rich man’s tomb, and His body would see no corruption. He would rise again on the Feast of Firstfruits. All this, and more, pointed with divine precision to the identity of the one true Messiah. The earliest evangelists boldly proclaimed that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared” (1Cor 15:3-5, ESV).

God could have given the Scriptures all at once. Instead, He spoke to man, “here a little, there a little” to develop our understanding of Him step-by-step, to demonstrate His interest in us throughout history, and to encourage our faith in the promises which He has not yet fulfilled.