REVELATION FROM HEAVEN
By Pastor Glenn Pease
The third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, is most famous for being the author of the Declaration of Independence. Many have pronounced it a document inspired from heaven, and there is much reason to believe that it has the providence of God behind it. Jefferson, however, took his authority too seriously, and he decided to make his own version of the Gospels. The Jefferson Bible, as it is called, reveals the gospel according to man. Jefferson cut out all the parts he didn't like. He did not see how the supernatural could fit into his world-view, and so all mention of the supernatural was eliminated. He did not let the Word of God lift him to its level, but instead he cut the Word of God down to his level, and he created the Bible in his own image. His Bible ends at the tomb with no resurrection.
This is the very thing the Judaizers accused Paul of doing. They said that he has cut out the law and made a gospel according to man. Paul labors this point in his defense, and he makes it clear that his Gospel is not from man. Is origin is from God and not in his own mind or the minds of others. Man is exceedingly clever, but if a gospel has its origin in man, it is built on sand. It cannot be trusted to last. It will perish and leave all who trust in it to be left empty. Most all of the religions of the world have grown out of man's search for meaning. Many have developed beliefs that are worthy of admiration, but they have their origin in man rather than God. And nothing less than a word from God can be adequate to give us assurance.
Man is constantly seeking for origins. He wants to know the origin of the universe, and of man, and of beliefs. The assumption is that if you can know the origin of something that you can know its purpose and value. There is truth to this, and so there is validity to man's quest for origins, but man is so prejudice that he usually decides before hand what he is going to prove. Many who set out to discover the origin of the universe really only want to prove that it didn't come from God. If you are determined to ignore the evidence you can make most any theory sound possible. It is like the man who set out to show that English is the oldest language of man, and that all others were derived from it. His theory to explain the origin of a famous Latin phrase went like this: "One day Caesar entered the senate chamber and Brutus asked him, 'How many sandwiches did you have for lunch Caesar?' And Caesar replied, 'Et two Brute.'"
Those of you who doubt the truth of this theory likely do so on the basis of history. The study of history is absolutely essential for those who wish to avoid the snares of false but clever explanations of origins. Paul knew this also, and that is why the longest section of this Epistle deals with history. He gives us a fairly detailed account of his own history and the history of his relationship to the other Apostles. All of this was essential for the establishing of his own authority and of the authority of the Gospel he preached. If the Judaizers could establish that the origin of his authority was in man, then they could force Paul to submit to that authority. Paul, however, shows that his authority is from God and instead of him being submissive he was used of God to rebuke Peter, who was the highest human authority in the church.
It may be hard for us to appreciate the distinction that Paul labors to establish. What difference does it make whether he Gospel came through men, or direct from God? So often people argue over distinctions that make no difference. Ogden Nash reveals the folly of those who love excessive distinctions.
I give you now Professor Twist,
A conscientious scientist.
Trustees exclaimed he never bungles!
And sent him off to distant jungles.
Camped on a tropic riverside,
One day he missed his loving bride.
She had, the guide informed him later,
Been eaten by an alligator.
Professor twist could not but smile,
You mean, he said, a crocodile.
There is a difference, but who can be persuaded that it was relevant to that situation? Paul, however, is dealing with a very relevant distinction. If his Gospel is not from heaven, then it cannot compete with the law of Moses, for he received it direct from God. Unless the Gospel has the same origin as the law, then the law must remain the standard of life for all believers. The Judaizers are convinced that this is the case, and that is why they remain loyal to the law and persuade others to do so as well.
Paul must establish that God has selected him just as He did the prophets of the Old Testament. He was to bring a new message to God's people. It was not a message he learned in school, but a message he received direct from God. God actually used Paul rather than one of the other Apostles who walked with Christ, and who sat under His teaching, to be the main expounder of the Gospel of grace. This does not mean that Paul did not learn anything from men. Obviously he learned much of the life of Christ from men. He would not have been so zealous in persecuting Christians if he did not know what they believed about Jesus being the Messiah.
In verse 12 Paul asserts that the Gospel he preached came by direct revelation. Jesus spoke to him directly just as he did to the 12. This was after the resurrection and the ascension. As far as we know this was the last time Jesus broke into history to communicate with any person directly. Many have had visions of Jesus since then, but none has been given a unique message as was the case with Paul. John was caught up into heaven to receive the revelation of Jesus, but in Paul's case Jesus came to him in history.
Paul implies that his understanding of the Lord's Supper came to him by direct revelation and not through the accounts of men. In I Cor. 11:23 he writes, "For I receive from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread....." Paul has the distinction of being the only other author beside John who received direct revelation from Jesus. The others were inspired in their research and writing, but only John and Paul had this direct revelation and personal encounter with the ascended Christ.
What they experienced was what all believers will one day experience, for this very same word for revelation, which is apokalupsis is used to describe our encounter with Christ when He comes again. That will be a day of revelation for all of us. In I Peter 1:13 Peter writes, "Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." Every believer will then experience what Paul experienced, and like John, we will see the King in His beauty, and we will be like Him when we see Him as He is.
This word for revelation means an uncovering. It is a revealing of what has been hidden. We live now in the age of the hiding of the glory of Christ. John could say, "We beheld His glory," but we must look to the second coming before we will behold the revelation of His glory. In I Peter 4:13, "We rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed." The revelation of the second coming will not only be an uncovering of the hidden Christ, but it will be an uncovering of the hidden values of the Christian faith. Peter tells Christians to rejoice in their trials, and in I Peter 1:7-8 he writes, "..So that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Without having seen Him you love Him, though you do not now see Him you believe in Him and rejoice with unutterable and exulted joy."
Both the full glory of Christ and full salvation of man will be uncovered when Christ returns. The point is, both are now hidden and covered. We must depend upon the revelation others have had until we experience it for ourselves. Paul is saying that he has had just such a revelation. He has had a glimpse of the glory of Christ, and Christ has opened up to him the glory of the Gospel. What has been hidden for all the ages has been uncovered for Paul. The Galatians had to be persuaded of this to believe his Gospel over the authority of the law. Until Christ comes and we have a revelation of our own, we are dependent upon the revelation of Paul. This is especially so in those areas of conflict between law and grace.
If Paul's Gospel is not true, and we are all responsible for keeping the law, then most of us are sunk mighty deep. The only basis we have for not keeping the Old Testament laws is the new revelation we have, which is expounded primarily by Paul. The Judaizers could not accept the fading away of the law. The Jews were taught all their lives that the law of God was eternal. It was God's greatest gift to man, and the law was inseparable from God Himself. The Jewish Midrash has a parable to illustrate just how much God loved the law.
A king had an only daughter, and a noble from another kingdom came to marry her and take her back to his kingdom. The king said, "I cannot bear to part with my daughter. Yet I cannot say to you that you cannot take her away for she is thy wife. But show me this kindness that wherever you go prepare me a chamber that I may dwell ever near my daughter." God said to Israel take my law, but wherever you journey make me a house where I may dwell and be ever near it. That is the kind of teaching that is not easily forgotten. The law in Judaism is God's final revelation, and that is why they could not then, nor now, accept any new revelation that goes beyond the law.
The law existed before creation in Jewish theology, and it would exist to eternity. To forsake it was to be cut off from God's people. The law was the bread and water of life the rabbis taught. It was the light of the world to the Jews. Then Jesus came and taught that he was the bread of heaven and that he was the light of the world. This is what Paul was teaching, but you can see why it would be hard for Jews to be open to this which was such a radical departure from what they had believed all their lives. The only way a Jew could depart from the law as the basis for his salvation was to believe that God has spoken a new revelation, and that is why Paul strives so hard to convince all concerned that the origin of his Gospel is not man but God.
Paul was a very unique man. God had to have a man who was trained in the theology of the Jews and who fully understood them to communicate that Jesus had fulfilled the law and made it obsolete. God needed a specialist to do this very difficult task. Paul was superior to the other Apostles in his training and in his ability to communicate. Jesus had much that he could not communicate to his disciples, but Paul was able to grasp the fuller revelation and pass it on to the believers in the churches. Paul became the mouthpiece of the ascended Christ. He was the instrument through whom Jesus uttered more completely the consequences of his coming into history.
Jesus came to break down the wall between Jew and Gentile, but he could not accomplish this in his own ministry. He used Paul to accomplish this goal. Paul's life was an extension of the life of Jesus. No man was more qualified to be the representative of Jesus to both Jews and Gentiles. Paul was used to do things that Jesus could not accomplish in his earthly life. He could do this because he received this revelation from heaven.