In the prophetic religions, God communicates his revelations through prophets who are commissioned to be God’s messengers to spread the divine message to others sharing God’s will and his character.
In the Baha’I faith, “progressive revelation” refers to the central belief that all great prophets from the various religions throughout human history are messengers of the same God who reveal teachings that are suited to the particular times and places in which they have appeared.
In the Abrahamic traditions, revelation refers to how God speaks to us, through his prophets, with the sacred books—known as revealed texts—codifying these revelations. In mystical religions such as sufism, the revelations are ineffable experiences of the gracious self-manifestations of the divine contributing to a deeper affirmation of faith for the person.
In Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, revelation refers to the inward process of self-realization and the attainment of enlightenment.
Revelatory experiences can be potent and transformative. Religions gently nudge all followers to prepare themselves to be like receptive vessels. At their core, the revelations of most religions are not so different. The common message of religious revelations is one that celebrates our common humanity and calls for action and service that promotes love, compassion, and peace in the world.
We are all searching for answers—how great it would be if we could be graced with revelation from some booming voice above, clearing up all our confusion. Alas, these events are rare, but the insights left to us through the words of prophets and scriptures can be just as valuable.
The problems arise when sacred revelatory texts are held to be the literal infallible and unfiltered words of God, for then they fail to adapt with the times, causing the religion to stagnate and become rigid. Instead, revelation should be seen as an evolving process of constant reinterpretation.
“‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’”
—The New Testament (1 Revelations 1:8), Christian text
“We sent them with clear signs and scriptures. We have sent down the message to you too [Prophet], so that you can explain to people what was sent for them, so that they may reflect.”
—The Qur’an (16:44), Muslim text
“The powerful revelations that stand at the beginnings of great communities, at the turning-points of human time, are nothing else than the eternal revelation […], a new form of God in the world.”
—Martin Buber, Jewish philosopher
“It is extremely difficult to obtain the vision you have had; even the gods long to see me in this aspect. Neither knowledge of the Vedas, nor austerity, nor charity, nor sacrifice can bring the vision you have seen. But through unfailing devotion, Arjuna, you can know me, see me, and attain union with me.”
—The Bhagavad Gita (11:52-54), Hindu text
“Wisdom is something which will come out of your mindfulness. So the point is to be ready for observing things, and to be ready for thinking. This is called the emptiness of your mind.”
—Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Buddhist monk and teacher