Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
Redemptive Histroy: An Investigation
by Dr. Kevin Hartley
The Issue of Knowing God
Theology proper is a discipline that seeks a clear and accurate knowledge of God. For one to know God one must study God, and to study God one must investigate God. God can only be investigated, and discovered, in accordance with His revelation of Himself; for God is a Spirit and not a man, and He sovereignly chooses in what manner, fashion, and timeliness He will reveal Himself. God has chosen to reveal Himself through two mediums, creation and the Holy Scriptures. Theologians designate these two revelatory conduits with the categories of general and specific revelation. General revelation concerns the revelation of God in creation; special revelation concerns the revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures. One can look at the universe and empirically draw indisputable conclusions about God, just as one does in scripture. Together these two means are employed to reveal the redemptive glory of God. Thus, to know God is to know Him as He has shown Himself in creation and scripture. Godís General Revelation
Creation echoes that God is its creator and that He governs the universe sovereignly. Yet, creation must be understood contextually in the purpose of God. In order to understand the general revelation of God and its design one must investigate Godís revelation in creation in light of His intended purpose. Creation is not an end unto itself; instead, it is a means of advancing redemptive progress unto the glory of God. A redemptive perspective of general revelation is distinct in its view, it that it reveals both the design and purpose of God in creation. Creation is not to be understood apart from the centrality of the coming of Messiah and the establishment of His kingdom. The creative order is subservient to Godís chief messianic design. Creation is but a means to an end; that is, it is a conduit of divine glory unto redemption and reprobation. Every act of God, all mankind, this created world, each are from the first revolution of the earth to this present age unto the designed goal of the advancement of Godís redemptive design. Every star in the sky, every breeze that has turned an ocean vesselís course, every famine, every sparrow that has fallen, has been to the intended sovereign purpose, not just for creationís mere existence, but unto the ultimate glory of God in election and reprobation. Godís revelation of Himself in creation is wholly subordinate to His purpose in the advance of redemptive history. Though veiled in time Godís glory is but the means to advance His decree. It is right to say that God purposed to employ creation not merely for its existence, but to show in time His glorious righteousness. It is right to say that He intended all creation to serve His redemptive design. All things are understood to point to Christ; the glory of God in redemption is the ultimate design of the creative order. When one sees the eternal, omnipotent design of the heavens, where every star is upheld and where every creature fits the eternal design, one can look and declare that God is both purposeful and sovereign in every detail and design; yet, creation does not exist in a vacuum, it is only understood in light of Godís glorious redemption. All creation is the stage designed for the ultimate display of Godís redemptive glory. In order to understand creation in a redemptive design, take the example of the three chief Jewish festivals of the law--Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernaclesóthey are all but portraits of redemptive grace. All these are types, parables, and shadows that display Godís salvific glory to His church. From the garden to the first sheath of blood spilled at Christís passion, as far as the first fruits of Pentecost, and unto the final consumptive ingathering of all the elect in the coming feast of trumpets, God has used creation and its seasons to glorify His ecclesiastical redemptive glory. Consider then the principal importance of the election and reprobation of God. Creation is not Godís chief design, no more than the nation called Israel of old, instead each is but designed to advance divine revelation; they are a simple emblem of the greatest redemptive glory and reality that has been revealed. All creation is designed to advance the place of the true church to her rightful position as the goal of all general revelation; creation serves to echo the glorious salvific mercy and justice of God. Now, lest critics think this proposition to reductionist, consider how God has demonstrated His glory in such a reductionist fashion. He has from the beginning been laboring to narrow His omnipotent glory from the glorious works of creation to the simplistic death of the Son, all to the glory of His eternal attributes. It is injudicious of men to exalt any revelatory act of God either above this end or to consider it outside the glory found in Christ Jesus the Lord. Clearly the everlasting covenant (purposed, planned, brought, and established forever), mediated by the God-man, is His chief and highest glory. He has created the world for a purpose and that purpose is His glory in salvation and reprobation. He is redeeming a people to Himself, while simultaneously showing His justice in the damned. Thus, no mere image of creation isolated to itself; all creation must be seen as advancing Godís designed redemptive glory. Now, in the fullness of times, creation is understood in light of the redemptive salvific glory of God. This present age has spectacularly advanced the glory of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and has shown the true design of creation. All creation strives to establish a triune balance of glory. In this present age, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, obtain their greatest exaltation thus far in redemptive history; for even in the glory to come redemption shall hold a prized and special place in glory. Yet, creation will have served its purpose unto that end. Godís Special Revelation
We see the most marked display of Godís redemptive glory in the category of special revelation. The eternal salvific design that is Godís ultimate goal carries forth in application from creation to scripture. Just as understanding Godís chief goal determines oneís view of general revelation, so also it determines how one must understand the advance of special revelation. Ecclesiastical prominence again finds itself the chief indicator of distinction. As we have seen, oneís view of Godís ultimate design in creation views it as a platform for Godís advancement of His redemptive glory. From Adam to this day all special revelation of God is redemptive in design. Adam was created to advance Godís redemptive decrees. Noah and his family were saved from the deluge for this purpose. The same applies to Abraham, to Israel in the flesh, and the visible church in our day. One can only understand scripture in light of redemptive history. From creation to the incarnation, even from the church unto the end of the age, all are but means to the ultimate revelation of the glory of God in the end of times. Godís glory is established in all His effulgence in heaven and hell. Thus, as creation is not designed unto itself, so special revelation is neither a mere tale nor happenstance, it is instead a means to Godís glory in redemption. All scripture is given as a means to Godís glory in the determined design of redemption. From the first verse of Genesis until the final verse of Revelation, Godís chief goal is to glorify himself, both in the salvation of His church and the damnation of the lost. Understanding this brings clarity to the purpose of all that God has revealed in his word. One is not to seek to employ scripture for mere human designs, as its intended use is constrained by its context. All the attempts of men to understand history, reason, or humanity, without this intent employ scripture beyond its scope; there conclusions then are suspect. So that we might better understand the developmental aspects of special revelation, let us consider the flow of historical revelation. Following creation and Godís demonstrative action of revelation in the general theater of Eden, it is not until the days of Moses that we see God extend His revelation beyond the heavens and earth to the written page. Prior to the Torah God did not reveal Himself to men in written form. During that age God was known in murky shadows. It was only in the days of Moses that the Lord decreed to reveal Himself in a special, codified manner; even then, it was only in the latter part of Mosesí life that this occurred. Then, from Moses until Judahís diminutive restoration under Cyrus special revelation was composed for the purpose of advancing Godís glory in redemption. The Old Testament was never dormant; it was always designed to advance its form to the glorious revelation of Christ and His kingdom. It would be fitting then to declare that special revelation bears two forms, the old and the new. To put it succinctly, special revelation in the Old Testament was always advancing in redemptive revelation. The shadows of the Old Testament wee a type and representation of the realities in the New Testament. As shown in Hebrews, redemptive revelation is not retroactive, all types and shadows are eclipsed in Christ. Thus, Moses was a foreshadowing of Christ, but never was Christ a foreshadowing of Moses. Therefore, the canon in its completion is the finished form of special revelation. There shall not be and has not been further special revelation of God beyond the canon of scripture. It is but the delusion and folly of men that expect more or make claims that such has come. A place then is found for the special revelation of scripture. We do not cast away the special revelation of God in His word; instead we employ it just as we should creation. Both general and special revelation are to be used to the glory of Godís sovereign design, both in election and reprobation. One does not, in this age, turn his eyes from creation, as though to no longer marvel at the glories of Godís omnipotence in the wonders of this world designed for redemption. Neither does one turn his thoughts from thanksgiving to God in His providence, care, and mean supplement in this life. In these things we learn of Godís immense mercy and glory. In like fashion, scripture is not to be eclipsed; it is to be employed for the purpose of knowing the divine justice, holiness, and righteousness of God. In the scriptures we learn of the attributes and character of God that are not seen in creation. For one to know God in this day simply from creation is no more useful for salvation than it was in the earliest of days. Nor does one know Godís effulgent redemption merely from the Old Testament; those days are made known in Christ. For one to know God apart from all revelation is to not know Him a right. While one does not necessarily need teach Moses to learn Christ, still the past age is useful. Now that we have Christ, we do not teach Moses to learn of Him, but now we teach Moses to direct us to Christ. The Old Testament can only be rightly read as it portrays the need for Christ the Lord. Thus, when one reads of Moses, one must think of Christ. Equally, when one reads of sacrifices and offerings in the shadows of old, one must think of the death and resurrection of Christ. The Old Testament becomes then a precious memento for the saint of God, demonstrating Godís care, faithfulness, and love for His people. It is like a spouseís love letters read late in life; as the beloved in great joy weeps over the bridegroomís espoused care of old. Thus each decree, each twist of providence, every action was but a component of the foundation of our faith. No one that is known of God is content with merely observing Godís creation outside of Christ. Neither is a right heart satisfied with shadows and structures of by gone days; these are no longer content with seasons and festivals of old. The elect of this age must see Christ fully and must know of the cross and of redeeming blood. General revelation and special revelation are marked by a forward flow historically and there is no reliving the past. The glorious design of Godís revelation is complete. The rudiments of covenant hope found in Adam were soon advanced in Noah, just as Abraham did not look merely look back without knowing fully the promises of God in his day. So it is with the sacrifices and covenants of Sinai and David, they are but the relics of by gone days that are eclipsed by the glorious promises of God today.