For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God; that we might know the things that were freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words. (1 Corinthians 2.11-13)
There is a problem understanding spiritual things with a mind orientated to thinking in physical terms. After all, we live in a world of matter, time, and decay. How do we describe the beauty of heaven, the horror of hell, or the wonder of salvation in physical terms? It seems an almost insurmountable task. Yet God, who fully understands our limitations, draws on human experiences and physical reality to describe spiritual things.
The Bible is filled with “spiritual pictures” drawn in language and terms we can understand. By looking at these pictures our spiritual awareness is quickened and our spiritual nature is aroused. In this way our faith grows and matures: So faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10.17).
Think about the picture of the prodigal son, the pearl of great price, the tree of life and the golden city of God. Each picture reveals another facet of great spiritual truth. No single picture reveals it all, but each contributes to the whole revelation until we eventually stand awed by the complete painting.
Word Pictures in the New Testament
Some words and concepts in the New Testament are word pictures themselves – words like atonement, forgiveness, justification, redemption, reconciliation, regeneration, and sanctification. Each word draws on either an example from the Old Testament or human experience to shed more light on the wonder of salvation.
The Book of Revelation is a classic example. In Revelation numbers, symbols, colors, and even grotesque images are used to represent various pictures or scenes in God’s relationship with humankind. Each scene sheds more light, more facts, more depth to the panoramic canvas of human understanding until we eventually see the whole picture clearly.
The Ultimate Revelation
Jesus Himself is the ultimate revelation of God: No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him (John 1.18). God exists fully in spirit. To reveal Himself to us He entered the physical realm through Jesus Christ. He did so visibly, powerfully, and dramatically. In Jesus, God says, “I’ll draw a picture for you so you can see what I’m like.”
Our duty is to search out and examine the many beautiful and descriptive pictures God has drawn. Beginning in Genesis, the “book of beginnings,” in the Garden of Eden and ending in Revelation with the description of the city containing the tree of life, the Bible paints a wondrous mosaic of the rich and rewarding experience to be found in faith. Each portrait in itself is captivating, but only when pieced together and viewed as a whole are we able to see and appreciate its complete beauty.
The picture of salvation, as drawn in the Word of God, is mixed in the paint of human understanding, experience, and feeling. It’s painted on the canvas of time and it reveals the glory of God’s grace and love to a human race in search of its meaning and purpose.
…but God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus: for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2.4-10)