The Revelation of God

The meaning of revelation

“What does ‘revelation’ mean? What is the meaning of ‘inspiration’? And how would you define ‘illumination’? Can you have revelation without inspiration? Or inspiration without illumination?” These were questions raised in a Bible class in Philadelphia School of Bible years ago. I was visiting the college for a day and found myself in a large freshman class taught by Dr. John Cawood. I thought I knew the meaning of these terms, however, the more the class tossed back attempted answers, the more I needed for clarification. After a while we students were desperate for some solid definitions and the ones given have stayed with me ever since.

revelation is that act of God whereby He causes people to know
that which in no other way could be made known.” [1]

Zophar challenged Job, “Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty?” (Job 11:7). The answer is that we cannot find Him by our own efforts; God must reveal Himself to us.

The New Testament’s Greek word for ‘revelation’ is ‘apokalupsis,’ meaning ‘unveiling’. It is used in the opening verse of the Bible’s final book: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants–things which must shortly take place. . .”(Rev. 1:1). Thus, this book is often called the Apocalypse. “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen” (Rev. 1:7).

Now someone may ask, has God revealed Himself? Absolutely Yes! Yet He does not appear to us physically and visibly. The apostle John affirmed, “No one has seen God at any time” (because He is infinite in glory and because He is spirit). “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 1:18; 4:24).

Then how has God revealed Himself?

How is God revealed generally?

A. First, God has revealed Himself through creation. No one need question His existence because of the reality, immensity, and design of this universe. As Paul wrote in Romans,

“What may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Rom 1:19-20).

Creation’s design is a matchless testimony of God’s wisdom and power. [2] However, this external witness does not reveal His moral, holy nature.

B. Secondly, God has revealed Himself through your conscience. The conscience is the faculty of the human spirit that can detect God’s moral standards. As the second chapter of Romans says,

“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law [of Moses], by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Rom 2:14-15).

This inner witness testifies to us that our Creator is righteous and that we have been made with a spiritual/moral dimension. But the evidence from creation and our conscience is still inadequate to show the identity and personhood of God. For this we need not only general revelation (creation and conscience), but special revelation.

How is God revealed personally?

A. God’s special revelation in written form is the Holy Bible. The world has a number of books revered as sacred, but God has given only one Bible. Its distinctive authority is affirmed from cover to cover. Therefore, occult means of knowledge (like astrology, tarot cards etc.) are off limits and unnecessary for the Christian. Isaiah counsels us to use God’s written Word as the standard to judge spiritual truth claims:

“Bind up the testimony, Seal the law among my disciples.. . And when they say to you, ‘Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to THIS WORD, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:16,19-20).

The Bible gives us a basis for assured knowledge of God. The apostle Peter even ranked it as more valuable than eye-witness evidence! “We have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:14-19).

Since the Bible is God’s written revelation, we should value it and continually read, study, memorize it and meditate on it. Watchman Nee said,

“When God desires to use us to speak for Him, He usually uses the words He has already spoken. Should we be ignorant of these words, it is difficult for God to speak through us. We will then be useless persons before Him. Then we need to store the Word of Christ richly in our hearts… ” [3]

B. Finally, note that God’s special revelation in human nature is the Lord Jesus Christ. Consider these testimonies from the Scriptures:

  • “The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18).
  • “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 … being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person… ” (Heb 1:1-3).
  • “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:8-12).
  • And when the apostle Philip asked for a visible revelation of the Father, Christ replied, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works” (John 14:7-10).

So if you want to know God personally, come to Him through the person and work of Christ. “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).

Yes, God has revealed Himself generally through creation and human conscience and especially through the Bible and the Lord Jesus; but the condition for us to benefit from this revelation is learning it and believing it (2 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 11:6).

The believer in Christ looks forward to the day when Christ returns and our faith becomes sight. This reminds me of a story of an artist’s daughter who lost her eyesight when she was a baby.

“After her mother died, the girl’s father became her constant and affectionate companion. For years her blindness was considered incurable. Then a new type of surgery promised to restore her vision. Following the operation, as she lay in a darkened room, with bandaged eyes, this one thought occupied her mind: ‘Soon I shall see my dear father!’ When the days of waiting had passed, the dressings were removed, and at last she looked into the compassionate face she had so long desired to see. Trembling with excitement, she closed her eyes, and then opened then again to convince herself she was not dreaming. As the one she loved took her into his arms, she exclaimed, ‘I’ve had such a good-looking father all these years and didn’t even know it’!” [4]

Even so we now walk by faith in God’s revelation, not by sight. But when Christ returns we shall see Him face to face. Praise the Lord!


This is part one of two articles on revelation. Part two is a Grace Note titled ‘Inspiration and Illumination.’

[1] Definition from Dr. Cawood. Philadelphia College of Bible has since changed its name and location:

[2] For further research on God’s design in nature and evidence for creation, see and Lee Strobel’s Book, The Case for Creation.

[3] Watchman Nee, A Living Sacrifice, N.Y: Christian Fellowship Publishers, 1972), p. 68.

[4] From Henry Bosch, “Our Daily Bread”; quoted from “Westminister Teacher.”

Biblical allusions in the last sentence: 2 Cor 5:7; 1 John 3:2

Copyright 2000 by John Woodward. 2nd edition 2017. Permission is granted to reproduce this article for non profit purposes if credit is given to the author and Grace Notebook. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version (Copyright by Thomas Nelson).