Satan Evicted: Progressive Revelation

Progressive Revelation

Some supporters of premillennialism justify, in part, their claim that the Millennial Reign of Christ will last a literal thousand years by appealing to “progressive revelation.” Progressive Parallelism asserts that since the Book of Revelation is the last book in the Bible, it should carry greater weight than those that precede it – the book, they claim, clarifies those scriptures that written earlier. The following excerpts provide the progressive revelation basics:

from “Progressive Revelation”1
Wikipedia

Progressive revelation in Christianity is the concept that the sections of the Bible that were written later contain a fuller revelation of God compared to the earlier sections. For instance, the theologian Charles Hodge wrote,

     The progressive character of divine revelation is recognized in relation to all the great doctrines of the Bible... What at first is
     only obscurely intimated is gradually unfolded insubsequent parts of the sacred volume, until the truth is revealed in its fulness.

The ultimate revelation of God is understood to be found in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Gospels. Hence according to this idea, the New Testament should be used to understand and interpret the Old Testament, even though all sections of the bible are believed to be accurate according to conservative theology.

from “Progressive Revelation”2
Endtimes.org

Probably the best example of progressive revelation in the Bible is the doctrine of the trinity. The Old Testament only alluded to this truth, but the New Testament explains it more fully. In Genesis when God said "Let us make man in our image", He doesn't go on to explain why He would speak as if to Himself in this way, but it is evident that He is speaking with Himself as if there were more than one person there. We know that He wasn't speaking with angels or any pre-existent beings, as some would say, because Genesis goes on to say in 1:27 "And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." He went out of His way to tell the reader that man was created specifically in the image of God, and not God and someone else. After all, no being is equal with God, and therefore could not share in God's statement.

from “Progressive Revelation”3
by Michael Penny

In Genesis 3 we read of the Seed of the woman Who is to bruise the Serpent's head. Later we learn that that Seed is to come from the descendants of Abraham. Later, He is to come from the line of David. Even later that He is to be born in Bethlehem, and even later still, that He is to be called Jesus.

Thus one of the important principles in understanding the Bible is to appreciate that revelation is progressive. That means that we should not expect to find in earlier Scripture something that is revealed later. We do not find Noah circumcising his sons, as God did not reveal circumcision until afterwards, in the time of Abraham. And we do not find Abraham keeping the Sabbath day, as God did not reveal the Sabbath (to Moses) until after the exodus from Egypt.

Scriptural Evidence

Ephesians 1-5: For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit…

Romans 16:25-26: Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:

Revelation 1:1-2: The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified [it] by his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.

I would assume that amillennialists would not have an overall problem with the concept of progressive revelation except as it pertains to the Book of Revelation. In the case of Revelation, there seems to be a divergence of thought:

Progressive Revelation Progressive Parallelism
Provides new theological ideas Provides no new theological ideas
Explains previous, unclear biblical scripture Requires previous biblical scripture for clarity  
All scripture builds to a greater understanding   All scripture points to the cross
Leads to new understanding Verifies existing understanding

I first encountered the term “progressive revelation” while conducting research into theories on the literal interpretation of the “thousand years” found in Revelation 20. Amillennialists made no mention of the concept while premillennialists used it to partially justify their literal interpretation. The following outlines the basic argument while focusing on the concept of progressive revelation:

Premillennialism Amillennialism
Literally 1,000 solar years Figuratively a very long time
Numbers are literal Numbers are symbolic
Mentioned 6 times in Revelation 20 Not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible
Revealed as a new concept in the last book Must be verified by previous scripture
Refers to an earthly reign of Christ Refers to the heavenly reign of Christ
Takes place at a future date Takes place during the current Church age

In this case, when something is mentioned six times in the Bible, we should most certainly pay attention. However, the six times occur within the first seven verses of a single chapter of a single book. It doesn’t seem to fulfill the requirement of two or three witnesses. This thousand year period may well be a clarification of previous scripture and it may well be a literal thousand year period, but without additional information drawing such conclusions seems rather arbitrary. In this case, applying progressive revelation doesn’t seem to clarify the matter.

Generally speaking, progressive revelation seems to be a valid concept as we do acquire a greater and clearer understanding of God’s message as we proceed through each book of the Bible. However, its application must be used judiciously. Progressive revelation should not be used to override other interpretation guidelines including the need for two or three witnesses. While we should expect new revelations within the last book of the Bible, those revelations cannot stand on their own.


1 “Progressive revelation (Christianity),” Wikipedia, November 20, 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_revelation_(Christianity)> Oct. 2, 2011.

2 “Progressive Revelation,” Mark Esposito, Ed. Endtimes.org. NDA. <http://www.endtimes.org/progressive.html> Oct. 2, 2011.

3 Michael Penny, “Progressive Revelation,” The Open Bible Trust, 2011. <http://obt.org.uk/About/progress1.htm> Oct. 2, 2011.


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