What is Special Revelation?
Through General Revelation, mankind has received ample witness to God's invisible attributes, His nature, power, and disposition toward them, yet they remain blind and unable to comprehend a true knowledge of Him. Because of this, God, not out of compulsion or necessity, has graciously given some a Special Revelation of Himself and Christ's redemptive work on the cross. While General Revelation was granted to all peoples, at all times and in all places, Special Revelation is granted to particular persons, at particular times, in particular places. In Special Revelation, God reveals Himself through the miraculous, supernatural manifestations of His power, through His Word, the Bible, and through Jesus Christ, the God-man who came to the world He created with the intention to die for it. Only through Special Revelation can one come to a saving knowledge of Christ, although, not all who experience or hear of these revelations are guaranteed faith.
What does it reveal?
The meta-narrative of Scripture tells of a chosen people who continually rebel against the loving rule of their King. Plight after plight, from the days of the flood to the days of wandering in the desert, God makes known to them His presence, His will, and His judgment for those who do not abide by His law. In the realm of General Revelation, God, through His common grace, supplies for all people sustenance to satisfy their physical hunger. Contrastingly, God reveals Himself in a special way when He hears the cries of His people grumbling in the desert for something to eat and provides for them in a miraculous way by giving them manna, bread from heaven.
The Holy Scriptures are, in and of themselves, a prime example of Special Revelation. In the Bible, through the hands of human authors as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit, God communicates His mighty acts in time and space, His law, His truth, and His plan of salvation. The Bible serves as spectacles by which humanity can now rightly see what, because of sin, they were unable to see in General Revelation.Not only does Special Revelation allow subjective sinful people to see rightly, it shows them the means of their salvation, Jesus Christ.
In miracles, God supernaturally manifests His power. In the Bible, God communicates with humanity directly. In the person of Jesus Christ, however, God not only reveals His acts, His law, and His truth, but He reveals Himself. Since Special Revelation is the only way to receive a knowledge of redemption, this revelation reaches its summit in Jesus Christ, for all of the Scriptures exist to testify about the Son (John 5:9). Only through Special Revelation can one learn that Jesus Christ is the truth, the life, and the only way to be reconciled to the Father (John 14:6).
Why do we have this revelation?
To illustrate the insufficiency of General Revelation in communicating a saving knowledge of Christ and the subsequent need for Special Revelation, John Calvin writes:
They [unregenerate] are like a traveler passing through a field at night who in a momentary lightning flash sees far and wide, but the sight vanishes so swiftly that he is plunged again into the darkness of the night before he can take even a step–let alone be directed on his way by its help.
This illustration shows the stark distinction between General and Special Revelation. If General Revelation serves as a flash of lightning, a brief moment of illumination, then Special Revelation is the sun. This sun is none other than the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the one whom all revelation, both general and special, testifies.
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 153.
John Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. Mcneill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, 2 vols., Paperback (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 70.