What is progressive revelation, and why is it important to understand it?
We are a very blessed generation to live in this present administration (dispensation, or economy) of grace. We have the completed written record God gave to man the Bible! But sometimes we forget that the Bible was not given all at once. We sometimes have the idea that everybody had the Bible like we do. What we need to understand is that the Bible was progressively revealed a little bit at a time. There is great truth in that there are only three reasons that God ever gave new revelation at any time. They are as follows:
1. To further explain a revelation. Think back to when God first gave the law to Moses at the beginning of the wilderness wanderings. God took Moses up to the mountain, gave him the law, Moses then brought it back down, even though the people had already broken it by that time. Thirty-nine or forty years later, God gave the law to Moses again - Why? Because Israel had wandered about for forty years and new situations had arose, and the new generation of Israelites needed to hear the anew. This is why we have the Book of Deuteronomy; it is the second giving of the law. It is a further explanation of things found in the original giving of the law.
3.To replace previous revelation, or to supersede it.
There are really two kinds of progressive revelation. The first one is progression within the dispensation (administration, or economy). This is our number two reason above. Sometimes within a dispensation, God progresses and adds new things to the things that were already there. Galatians 3:17 says, And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ What covenant is this? It is the promise, the original covenant that God made with Abraham. Paul says, And this I say, that the covenant, which was confirmed before of God in Christ, the Law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. In other words, Paul is saying, here is a progression. You still have the basic promise, but to it God added the law. Why? Verse 19 tells us it was added because of transgressions. This is progression within a dispensation. Second, you have progression to a new dispensation. Sometimes a new revelation supersedes previous revelation. We could give several examples: God, through the Lord Jesus Christ, told the twelve apostles to go into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them. The majority of Christians go back to that passage of Scripture for their marching orders, their commission. But what we need to understand is that sometimes-new revelation supersedes former revelation and replaces it. As we read in I Corinthians 1:17, Paul says For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the good news. Here is new revelation, superseding the old revelation. Does that mean we doubt whether that old revelation was true? No, it was true; we do not doubt that at all. It was true for the generation that He specifically spoke to, but God superseded it with new revelation. There are no ordinances in this present dispensation of grace. According to the book of Colossians, the Bible says that in this present age, God has blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us (Col.2:14). That statement supersedes or overshadows previous revelation. For this reason, we do not have ordinances any more. God also gave new revelation concerning salvation through the pen of the Apostle Paul. Salvation today has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with Jesus Christ. Today salvation is granted to all men by the work Jesus Christ performed on the cross (I Tim.4:10).