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Special Revelation

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
May 16, 2024 12:01 am

Special Revelation

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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May 16, 2024 12:01 am

While God has made Himself known to us in nature, the knowledge necessary for salvation is revealed only in Scripture. Today, R.C. Sproul explores the revelation that God has given us in the Bible.

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R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) was known for his ability to winsomely and clearly communicate deep, practical truths from God's Word. He was founder of Ligonier Ministries, first minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew's Chapel, first president of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine.

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Nathan W. Bingham is vice president of ministry engagement for Ligonier Ministries, executive producer and host of Renewing Your Mind, host of the Ask Ligonier podcast, and a graduate of Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. Nathan joined Ligonier in 2012 and lives in Central Florida with his wife and four children.

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The New Testament gives to us a written record of the special revelation that is given to us by the agents of Christ who are His authorized vehicles of revelation. God has revealed Himself. As we learned yesterday, we're all without excuse because God has revealed Himself generally to all people through creation. So how then do we learn about the way of salvation to learn what Christ has done for sinners?

Welcome to the Thursday edition of Renewing Your Mind as we continue to work through R.C. Sproul's introduction to systematic theology. Everyone is a theologian, as Dr. Sproul would often say. We all have ideas about God.

The only question is if we're good theologians or if we're bad theologians. So how do we know God rightly? How did God reveal Himself more fully throughout biblical history, and where should we look today?

Here's R.C. Sproul on the special revelation of God. In our last session in our study and overview of the whole scope of theology, we were looking at the concept of revelation, and I made a distinction between general and special revelation, and I also made a distinction, if you recall, between general revelation and natural theology. Before I move to special revelation, I need to make another distinction that's very important with respect to our understanding of general revelation, and that is the distinction between immediate and immediate general revelation. Now these terms, immediate and immediate, have to do with the function or use of something that stands between two points. When we talk about immediate here, we're not using the term immediate like we do with respect to time.

When I want something to happen right now, I will say it has to happen immediately. That's not what we have in view here. But rather, again, if we think of God being transcendent to us and here we are on the earth and God is revealing Himself to us, and we were looking the last time at how God reveals Himself through nature, and so that this revelation comes to us through something else other than God, which is a medium. Or we speak today of the media, which refers to specific kinds of communication. The newspaper is a medium or a means through which announcements are made. Television is a medium through which, again, events may be seen or viewed.

Radio is a medium, and so on. And so what a medium is here is a means or intermediary thing through which something is communicated. And so when we talk about mediate general revelation, we talk about that revelation that God gives of Himself through a medium other than Himself.

And again, I'm not speaking about occult mediums that practice seances and that sort of thing, but rather the principal medium of general revelation is nature. Now, in addition to mediate general revelation, the Scriptures also speak of another way in which God reveals Himself to us. For example, we look briefly at Romans 1, wherein the Apostle Paul said that God reveals Himself through the things that are made.

That is mediate general revelation. But in Romans 2, Paul speaks about the law of God being written on our hearts. John Calvin, for example, spoke of what he called the sensus divinitatis, or the sense of the divine that we have built into us from the time that we are born, that God plants in our souls an awareness of Himself. It manifests itself in our conscience and in our knowledge of His law. That knowledge is not something that we glean through a medium, but rather that is a revelation that comes directly from God to us. And so that is what is in view when we speak about immediate general revelation.

All right. Well, if we have that distinction clear, then let us move to the concept of special revelation. Now, you recall that when we define general revelation, general revelation, we said that the term general is used for two reasons. That general revelation refers to that revelation that God gives of Himself to all people everywhere, and also that the content of that revelation gives us a knowledge of God in general.

Special revelation is that revelation that God gives, that not everybody in the world has the opportunity as of yet to receive. It is that information that God gives to us, principally through sacred Scripture, though we will see in a few moments not exclusively through sacred Scripture, and it has the content and information that we could never glean from nature. It tells us of God's plan of redemption. It tells us of the incarnation. It tells us of the cross, of the resurrection, things that cannot be learned by a study of physics or biology, or of any other part of the natural realm. Now, in the Bible itself, there is a witness given to various ways in which in the past God revealed Himself in a special way. Let me direct your attention to a moment to the first chapter of the book of Hebrews, to the very first verse.

When we read these words, God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world, who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power. Now, the idea here with respect to revelation and particularly with respect to special revelation is that we receive distinct information from God Himself. Now, that's an astonishing thing, an astonishing claim, and this is at the very root and heart of a Christian understanding of knowledge. In the field of philosophy, we have a subdivision of the field of philosophy, we have a subdivision that we call epistemology. And epistemology is the science of knowing.

It analyzes the way in which human beings are able to acquire knowledge. And great debates rage over whether the primacy in learning is on the mind and on rational deduction, or is the primacy of knowledge in the senses, the five senses of seeing, hearing, taste, touch, smell, and so on, what we call the empirical approach to the external world. And so, philosophers have debated which of those two has the highest level of importance and the primacy in terms of order of knowing. And even within Christian circles, the debate goes on as to what role reason plays and what role the senses play and so on. But one thing that we should be able to agree on as Christians is that Christianity is based ultimately on knowledge that comes to us from God Himself. And that becomes very, very important for our determination of truth. Because manifestly, if we gain information from the Creator about Himself and about the world in which we live and about ourselves, that knowledge that comes from Him will be far superior than anything we can deduce from our own analysis of our own situation, of our own introspection, or of our own observation of the world around us.

Because here we are getting information and knowledge that comes ultimately from the very mind of God. Now the author of Hebrews here says that in times past God had revealed Himself in different times and in various ways. Well, think of some of the ways, for example, that God revealed Himself to the people of Israel in the Old Testament.

There were those occasions when God spoke to people, presumably directly. There were occasions when He revealed Himself through dreams. There were occasions when He revealed Himself through particular signs, like He did for Gideon. There were times when He revealed Himself through the casting of lots or through the Urim and the Thummim by the priests and so on in the Old Testament. And there were times when He revealed and there were times when He manifested Himself through what is called a theophany. And we should be familiar with this term because it points to a very important type of revelation by which God made Himself known to the people of Israel in the Old Testament. A theophany by definition, we get the word, the beginning, theos, which we know means God, and the root phan here comes from the word phaneros, which means manifestation. And so a theophany is simply a manifestation of God, which is an outward, visible manifestation of the invisible God.

Well, what are examples of theophanies that we may encounter in the Old Testament? Perhaps the most famous one would have been the burning bush that Moses noted in the Midianite wilderness when he saw this bush that was burning but was not consumed, and he approached near to the bush. And God spoke audibly to Moses from the bush, saying, I am who I am. And so the bush was an outward, visible manifestation of the invisible God. The pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire that led the people of Israel through their wanderings in the wilderness after the Exodus would also have been visible, outward manifestations of the invisible God.

It is that sort of thing, the theophany that Abraham viewed when God made the covenant with him of the smoking oven and the burning torch that passed between the pieces of animals that Abraham had been required to cut in half. So these are some of the ways in which God manifested Himself in the Old Testament, but the main method that God used to communicate Himself to the people of Israel in Old Testament was the use of what we would call agents of revelation. And these, of course, were in the Old Testament the prophets. Now the prophets were human beings just like ourselves.

They used human language just like we use. But when they spoke, they had received information from God and functioned as vessels or conduits of divine revelation so that when they would give their message, they would preface their message by saying, Thus saith the Lord. And of course, the announcements and pronouncements and writings of the canonical prophets then became set down in writing, and we call that the inscripturated word, so that the Old Testament is produced produced by people like ourselves who, unlike ourselves, were designated by God to be spokesmen for Him through whom He gave His revelation to His people. And so the Old Testament is acutely aware of the importance of the role of the prophet. And of course, you realize that there were great struggles in ancient Israel because not everybody who claimed to be a prophet was in fact a prophet. And indeed, the biggest struggle that Israel had in her history was not with the warring nations that were hostile towards them and would often invade them, but the biggest problem that Israel struggled with in her history, as is recorded for us in the Old Testament, was with the false prophets who were within the camp or within the very gates of the city, who were known for teaching the people that which the people wanted to hear rather than the true revelation that came from God. Jeremiah, for example, through his whole ministry, was plagued by the false prophets that had infiltrated the city. And every time Jeremiah would warn the people of the impending judgment of God, the rest of these false prophets would declare to the people they didn't have to worry, good times were here again, they could be at ease in Zion, and they did everything they could to stifle the message of the prophets.

The prophets were very unpopular people, obviously, in the Old Testament. And so it was very important that there were ways to distinguish between a true prophet and a false prophet. And basically, that came down to three ways or three tests to see who was a true vehicle for divine revelation.

And of course, the first test was the call. That's why when we read in the Old Testament, we will see several of the prophets relate and recount for their readers the circumstances by which they were specifically called and anointed to the task of the prophetic enterprise. People like Amos, people like Jeremiah, Isaiah tells of his experience in the temple, Ezekiel, where he eats the scroll that God gives to him, and so on. The prophets were zealous to show that they had been called immediately and directly by God and commissioned for that task. In the New Testament, the counterpart to the prophet is the apostle. And again, and again, the chief criterion of an apostle in the New Testament was that an apostle was called directly and immediately by Christ, because to be an apostle means to be one who is sent or commissioned with the authority of the one who is sending them.

Jesus said, if his apostles, those who hear you, hear Me, and if they reject you, they reject Me. And one of the big controversies that we find on the pages of the New Testament itself is that one of the most important apostles in the New Testament was not one of the original disciples and presumably did not even know Jesus during Jesus' earthly ministry, was not an eyewitness of the resurrection like the rest of them were. And so, he seemed to lack the credentials necessary to be an apostle, and that's why the apostle Paul records so often in the New Testament, either by his own testimony or the testimony of Luke, the circumstances of his call on the road to Damascus. And then, of course, the other apostles confirmed the authenticity of Paul's apostleship. And the Bible says that together the prophets and the apostles form the foundation of the church.

And that's because it's upon the foundation of the revelation of God's truth through the prophets, through the apostles, that they form the very foundation for the church. Now, another test of the prophet in the Old Testament was the presence of miracle. Now, if you read the record of the Old Testament prophets, you will see that not all of the prophets in the Old Testament performed miracles, but rather the prophetic ministry was authenticated at the outset by the rash of miracles that surrounded first Moses and then Elijah.

And it's in that line that the other prophets follow. And the New Testament apostles are also confirmed as agents of revelation by virtue of their miracles. That's why it was such a critical matter in the Scriptures to determine whether an alleged miracle was a true one because the magicians in the court of Pharaoh had their tricks of the trade and the things that they did that were deceptive, but they were not prophets because the tricks that they did were not true miracles.

But thirdly, another very important test was fulfillment. Did the things that the prophets announced come to pass? The false prophets would say, such and such was going to happen, and it didn't happen.

And so their message was falsified by virtue of the failure of their words to come to pass. So it is through the function of the prophets and the apostles in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, and the New Testament also gives to us a written record of the special revelation that is given to us by the agents of Christ, who are His authorized vehicles of revelation. We noticed that Jesus left no manuscript bearing His signature.

He was the author of no book. Everything that we know about Him is contained virtually in the New Testament record that comes to us through the work of His apostles, and they are His emissaries who have been given His authority to speak in His behalf. Now, in addition to these forms of special revelation that I've mentioned in most chiefly the Bible, the author of Hebrews says that there is another dimension of special revelation, and that is the supreme revelation of God, and that is in the incarnate Word. We have the written Word, which is the Bible, which gives us special revelation. But we also have the Word of God incarnate, about whom we learn through the written Word, so we don't want to divorce those two words from each other. But the one who embodies the very Word of God is Jesus Himself. As the author of Hebrews declares, saying, God, who in various times and various ways spoke in past times to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days now spoken by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, who is the brightness of His glory, the express image of His person. You recall in the upper room when the disciples were gathered with Jesus, and they said to Jesus, Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.

And He responded to them saying, But how long have I been with you? Don't you know that he who has seen Me has seen the Father? Because the chief of all apostles, the one whom God chooses as His chief and principal vehicle of self-disclosure is Christ Himself. In Christ, we meet the fullness of the revelation of the Father.

You're listening to Renewing Your Mind, and that was R.C. Sproul from his Foundation series. Dr. Sproul's Foundation series is his complete overview of systematic theology, and it's 60 messages covering topics like you heard today on God's revelation, but also the church, sin, miracles, and more. This is a series that was designed to help each of us become better theologians. You can own the special edition DVD of this 60-message series, plus have lifetime digital access to the study guide and messages when you give a gift of any amount at And when you make your donation, we'll also send you Dr. Sproul's book, Everyone's a Theologian, so that you can work through this overview of systematic theology in book form.

This book has been structured so that you can easily work through it, section by section, perhaps even as part of your devotional reading. So give your gift today by calling 800-435-4343, online at, or by clicking the link in the podcast show notes. And I'd also like to thank Ligonier's ministry partners, who fuel the global outreach of Ligonier through their monthly support.

As a partner, they have online access to this series and hundreds of others. And you can learn more about our ministry partner program and sign up yourself when you respond to today's offer at Have you ever asked what the will of God for your life is? How do you know God's will? Well, that's Dr. Sproul's topic tomorrow, here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-05-16 02:44:51 / 2024-05-16 02:52:41 / 8

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