You know Peter before Acts 10 could not eat Boganles’ ham or sausage biscuits or even his mother’s. Nor could he eat “endless shrimp” at neither Red Lobster nor Dave’s BBQ. Why do we not circumcise all baby boys on the eighth day for spiritual reasons? Why do we not lobby for capital punishment for all church members guilty of running around on their mates? Progressive revelation is the Biblical truth that “God progressively revealed more truths about many subjects” (Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation, page 271). The classics on hermeneutics (Biblical interpretation) affirm this important principle of rightly dividing the Word of truth: Milton Terry wrote in his Biblical Hermeneutics, “It is impossible to trace the record of these ten generations of the Book of Genesis without observing the steady progress of divine revelation….With each new series of generations some new promise is given, or some great purpose of God is brought to light” (page 568).
The reason we can eat pork and other forbidden “unclean” meats in the OT is because God changed 1500 years of tradition in Acts 10 so Peter would no longer consider Gentiles as unclean and take the Gospel to them. God takes sin just as seriously as He did in the OT, but according to 1 Corinthians 5, the church does not stone adulterers in this age but we do church discipline them.
Progressive revelation means God added to His revealed truth in previous Scripture. For example, about the doctrine of the Trinity, Wayne Grudem writes, that “the doctrine of the Trinity is progressively revealed in Scripture” (Systematic Theology, page 226) and “more complete revelation of the Trinity is in the New Testament” (page 230). In Isaiah 48:16 and 63:7-10 are rare glimpses of the three Persons in the OT while the NT is replete.
Another example is the doctrine of the Church. This doctrine is not in the Old Testament. Paul will explain this new doctrine in Ephesians 2:11-3:13. The doctrine of the Church is a Biblical mystery or a truth heretofore not revealed but now revealed by God. There is no rapture in the Old Testament. Christ gave some teaching on the rapture in John 14:1-6. Paul gives the fullest description of the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. The last word on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is in the Epistles. Before Pentecost, the Holy Spirit did not permanently indwell believers nor were believers baptized by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “For he dwells with you, and shall be in you…. at that day (Day of Pentecost in Acts 2) you shall know that I am in my Father, and you in me (Baptism of the Holy Spirit), and I in you (Indwelling of the Holy Spirit)” (John 14:17 and 20). Paul gives the last phase of progressive revelation on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:9: “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” and the baptism of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:13.
Roy Zuck says about progressive revelation, “This is not to suggest that what was recorded in earlier portions of the Bible was imperfect and that the later revelations were perfect. Nor does it suggest that earlier portions were in error and the later portions were truthful….Recognizing this progress of revelation means that the interpreter will be careful not read back into the Old Testament the New” (Basic Bible Interpretation, page 73).
Progressive revelation also means that God has not changed the basis of salvation but He has changed the content of faith. Charles Ryrie explains, “The basis of salvation in every age is faith; the object of faith in every age is God; the content of faith changes in the various dispensations” (Dispensationalism, page 134). Ryrie quotes from the Dallas Seminary doctrinal statement on this aspect of progressive revelation relevant to salvation:
We believe that according to the ‘eternal purpose’ of God (Eph. 3:11) salvation in the divine reckoning is always ‘by grace, through faith,’ and rests upon the shed blood of Christ. We believe that God has always been gracious, regardless of the ruling dispensation, but that man has not at all times been under an administration or stewardship of grace as is true in the present dispensation. . . . We believe . . . that the principle of faith was prevalent in the lives of all the Old Testament saints. However, we believe that it was historically impossible that they should have had as the conscious object of their faith the incarnate, crucified Son, the Lamb of God (john 1:29), and that it is evident that they did not comprehend as we do that the sacrifices depicted the person and work of Christ. (Article V) (page 134).
In Genesis 15:6, Abraham believed God and God imputed to him righteousness. Paul quotes this verse in Romans 4:1-3 to prove his doctrine of justification by faith. But what was the content of Abraham’s faith in Genesis 15:1-5? The revelation that God was going to multiple the seed of Israel as the sand of the sea. What is the content of our faith today in order to be justified by faith? Paul answers clearly in Romans 4:24, “But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.”
What if someone has never heard to gospel but like Abraham responds to nature, to the stars in heaven, and believes in a higher power? Can he like Abraham have righteousness imputed to him?
One form of inclusivism (sometimes called accessibility) states that salvation is through nature or general revelation. This is the view of Terrance L. Tiessen:
“All who have ever been saved, who are now being saved, or who ever will be saved, are saved because Jesus Christ died and rose again for them…. Nevertheless, God does not require a faith that would be impossible for anyone by virtue of their ignorance. In the Day of Judgment, God will hold all people accountable for their response to the revelation that was made available to them, and only for that revelation. God may graciously save some who do not believe in Jesus as Savior if they are ignorant of him through no fault of their own.”
Does God save people who have only general revelation from nature and not the special revelation of the death, burial, and resurrection Jesus Christ? Paul answers that question in Romans 1:20: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and deity: so that they are without excuse.” Abraham responded to special revelation. The progress of revelation has now increased special revelation to include the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. If a person dies without hearing and responding to the special revelation of the gospel that person is without excuse. Instead of general revelation being sufficient to save if someone has never heard of Christ, general revelation is sufficient only to condemn.
Tiessen continues, “All people meet Jesus Christ personally at the moment of death, and they respond to him in a manner consistent with the response they had been giving to God and His revelation during their lifetime. At that moment, those who had received forms of revelation less complete than the gospel but who had responded in faith, by a work of the Holy Spirit, will joyfully find in Christ the fulfillment of all their hopes and longings” (Terrance L. Tiessen, Who Can Be Saved? Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religious, Downers Grove, IVP. 2004, 478).
Can people be saved after death? In Luke 16:26, Jesus told the story of the rich man in Hell. The rich man in Hell asked Abraham to send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and just put one drop of water on his tongue. Abraham responded:“Between me and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from here to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from there.” There is no purgatory, postmortem like second chance.
Some are agnostic concerning the fate of those who die never having heard the special revelation of the gospel.
John Stott, the famous British pastor and widely read author, expressed his agnosticism: “The fact is that God, alongside the most solemn warnings about our responsibility to respond to the gospel, has not revealed how he will deal with those who have never heard it” (David Edwards and John Stott, Evangelical Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue, Downers Grove, IVP, 1988, 327).
The Scriptures have declared with certainty the eternal future of those who are not reached with the gospel. Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned” because they were born sinners (Romans 5:12). The result of those who die in this universal sin condition (including those who never heard) is eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23a); unless that sinner places faith in Christ and receives the gift of eternal salvation (Romans 6:23b). How can sinners be saved by faith in Christ? Not by nature’s outstretched hand pointing to a higher power. Someone has to give them gospel (Romans 10:13-15). If you have any doubts about this subject take the time to carefully read and study these verses.
Because Paul believed his inspired by God Words in Romans 10:13-15, he traveled on three missionary journeys in Acts. Paul did not qualify these verses in Romans 10:13-15 saying, “If you missionaries cannot make it to the field, don’t worry about it all religions are equal or at death they can receive Christ.” Pluralism and inclusivism are not the Scriptural views on salvation.
Progressive revelation is absolutely necessary to properly understanding and applying God’s Word to our lives.