By Revelation

Paul was very concerned about the Galatians believing a gospel other than the one they were originally taught. He didn’t want them “deserting” Christ and “turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6-7).

In order to convince them to believe in the gospel he preached, Paul reminds them that this gospel was not a teaching he received from the other apostles. Instead, Paul makes the extraordinary claim that he “received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12).

What is Paul talking about here?

Let’s put the pieces together. First, Paul had an encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:5). So Paul begins his Christian life with a “revelation from Jesus Christ.” But it didn’t stop there.

Paul lays out his journey immediately after his conversion:
“…my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem…”(Galatians 1:16-18).

What was Paul doing in “Arabia” for all those years? I believe he was being discipled by the risen Jesus himself and taught by the Holy Spirit.

Think about what Jesus did for the other men who became apostles. He spent 3 years discipling them and revealing the Kingdom of God to them. Then, “after his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). The risen Jesus kept showing up to the disciples to 1) convince them He was still alive, and 2) speak to them about the Kingdom of God. Before Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, He needed to make sure the disciples were fully aware of the truth of the gospel and the Kingdom of God.

So when the risen Jesus would show up in those 40 days, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). And “he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45).

What Jesus did for the other men who eventually became the first apostles, I believe He did for Paul in those first few years after Paul’s conversion. I believe Jesus appeared and reappeared over and over again, teaching Paul the truths of the Kingdom and the power of the gospel. This is why Paul can say he received the gospel, not from men, but “by revelation from Jesus Christ.”

And that wouldn’t be the last time Jesus appeared to Paul. We know Jesus appeared to Paul in Jerusalem right at the start of his ministry. Paul said, “When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’ “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles’” (Acts 22:17-18, 21).

We know Jesus appeared to Paul to encourage him in Corinth. “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10).

We also know that toward the end of Paul’s life when he was arrested in Jerusalem, “Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome'”(Acts 23:11). All of these accounts point to the reality that Jesus continued to appear to Paul throughout his life. This confirms the probability that Jesus started these regular encounters with Paul back in Arabia where Paul received the teaching of the gospel “by revelation from Jesus Christ.”

The Good News

We so often get lulled to sleep by a humanistic version of the gospel. This humanistic gospel puts me at the center. It tries to convince me that humanity is basically good and sin has been over-emphasized. It tries to make me believe Jesus’s main mission was teach me that I’m a good person. The picture we get from this false gospel is a person whose car is overrun with progressive bumper stickers on the back of their hybrid that proclaim peace, coexistence, and care for animals. All the while the owner of the car is sitting in a lotus position absorbing the goodness of the “Universe.” This is not the gospel at all.

It would be a shock to the system for some Christians to read the first few lines of the letter to the Galatians:

Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers and sisters with me,

To the churches in Galatia:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Galatians 1:1-5

This gospel of Jesus is not about good people realizing their potential by looking within. The gospel of Jesus is about people dead in their sin being resurrected by the power of Jesus because he himself died in our place and rose from the dead. It was a rescue mission and is a rescue mission. The age we live in is evil, and we all need rescuing from it by the grace of God. And for our rescue, all glory goes to God the Father, not to us.

We are not the main character in the history of humanity; Jesus is. This gospel does not center around us, but around Him. Because of His great sacrifice, we owe Him our complete allegiance as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Our life now belongs entirely to Him. We were bought at a price, and it is our great honor that we now get to join Him, as sons and daughters, on this rescue mission. We’ve become our King’s ambassadors, announcing the mind-boggling news that God has reconciled the world to Himself, not holding our great sin against us.

If we want a picture for this, the true gospel, it is not an overly-stickered car with a lotus-sitting driver. A true picture of the true gospel could be found in Harriet Tubman, a woman who was completely oppressed and bound in slavery, who gets rescued, and then goes back into the belly of the beast to rescue others. Her freedom did not bring her to self-indulgence or self-absorption, but to a profound gratitude and sense of mission and responsibility for others like her who longed for freedom. This is the gospel.

May we have eyes to see and ears to hear the real gospel from all the counterfeits!