The first category of special revelation is God’s specific acts in history on behalf of and toward certain people, which reveal much more about his character and will than general revelation. These acts are broadly visible – even to those who are not the select recipients of the actions – objective, and historical. For example, God makes a covenant with Abram, binding himself by an oath to give Abram a land, a people, an inheritance, revealing himself as faithful and powerful. God acts miraculously to rescue Joseph from the schemes of his jealous brothers (Genesis 37:1ff), thereby saving his chosen people from a terrible famine, revealing his sovereignty and his purposes of election. He preserves his people through their enslavement in Egypt and punishes their captors, revealing his faithfulness, power, and wrath as he leads them out from slavery in the book of Exodus.
The second category of special revelation is that of internal or subjectively-experienced communication. These acts are visible or accessible only to the recipients, and encompass dreams and visions. These acts vary widely in intent. Certain visions and dreams communicate some hidden reality about the unseen spiritual realm, as in Jacob’s vision of angels ascending and descending between earth and heaven. Sometimes they are prophetic in nature, communicating future events as they will unfold. Portions of the book of Revelation fit this sub-category, and most of the prophetic books of the Old Testament contain at least one account of a prophetic vision or dream. At times they are God’s chosen means of giving specific instruction or direction, as when God speaks to Joseph in a dream to tell him to flee to Egypt with the child Jesus. Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, reveals God as one who breathes life into that which was dead – an essential component of his nature as a God who saves!
The third category of special revelation is direct divine speech, which we may subdivide into two further categories: that of audible communication of the voice of God, and that of the Scriptures, which are God’s word in written form. We see the first example of this in the early chapters of Genesis, both before and after the Fall: God walks and talks with Adam in the garden before sin enters the world, and later confronts him and his wife Eve with their rebellion. God speaks audibly to many others as well: the boy Samuel, Saul on the road to Damascus, Peter on the rooftop. God also, incredibly, makes his exact words known to all who would care to “take up and read,” as Augustine was urged, through the Scriptures which he has preserved for his people!
The final category of special revelation we might call the final revelation or the telos of God’s revelation: Jesus Christ himself, God in the flesh. The author of Hebrews says that God has spoken to us in these final days “through his Son.” John the Evangelist tells us that “the Word,” Jesus Christ, “became flesh and dwelt among us.” That is to say, God’s ultimate communication of himself, through whom all things were created, came to earth “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3). Jesus himself said that whoever has seen him has seen the Father – in other words, Jesus is the final and ultimate “revealer” of God the Father!
In the final accounting, those who misinterpreted God’s revelation of himself, those whom God has not caused to understand general revelation rightly and who have not received the saving knowledge of God through special revelation, will beg for a “de-revelation” – a concealment of God’s judgment and wrath! In his vision of the coming judgment, the Apostle John sees the reprobate fleeing, “calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb…’” (Revelation 6:16). But we, whom God in his mysterious purposes of grace has chosen, can, with all God’s people, cry out for that day when we will look at last upon our saving King with unveiled faces: even so, come, Lord Jesus!