Throughout the Bible we see instances in which God’s people have fallen away from Him, followed by times when their hearts have been rekindled to pursuing holiness and to loving and obeying Him. In the New Testament, evangelism and discipleship bring new meaning to revival—to God’s people of that time, to us today and until the Lord returns.
Alive to God
“Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” the Sons of Korah asked God in Psalm 85:6 (NIV). The rhetorical question yearned for a positive answer. Their nation had become spiritually impotent: their once-joyous fellowship with the Lord was gone. They needed to come alive to God.
“To come alive”—revival carries this meaning through the Bible. The word in the Old Testament comes from a root meaning “to live.” The basic idea is the return of something to its true nature and purpose, to the reason for its existence. From this perspective, revival is the sovereign work of God’s restoring His people to the holiness for which they were created and releasing them in the fullness of the Spirit to do His will.
God made us with this capability so that we could know Him and, in a relationship of love, enjoy Him forever.
To make His will known to the world, our ancestors in the Garden of Eden were told to increase in number, to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28, NIV). Though this commission was largely ignored in its spiritual application, God’s plan for humanity never changed.
God’s purpose came into bold manifestation when Abram was called to leave his old life and to go out with the Lord to raise up a new posterity through which “all peoples on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, NIV). Thus, his descendants were chosen to be God’s witnesses to the nations. His evangelistic strategy was to make them so morally different from the degenerate nations around them that people, seeing their holy lifestyle, would want to follow their Lord (Zechariah 8:23; Isaiah 55:4-5).
It does not appear, however, that the people of Israel grasped their responsibility. They seem to have been so occupied with their own interests that there was little compassion for others. With the exception of Nineveh—and that only by God’s overruling the reluctance of Jonah—there is no indication of revival reaching any Gentile country.
Nevertheless, God keeps before His people the vision of a coming Kingdom in which His Messiah Son will reign over all nations (Daniel 7:13-14). He will not be defeated in His purpose for creation. A day will come when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14, NIV). We may be sure that any activity that does not contribute to that destiny has no enduring significance.
Old Testament Revivals
Despite Israel’s insensitivity to evangelism, there was recurring revival-like activity throughout the Old Testament. These instances usually emerged in times of crisis when God’s people were at their wits’ end.
These periods of refreshing from the presence of the Lord were the high peaks of corporate worship in Israel. They served to bring into focus the holiness that God wanted for His people. Though usually short-lived and lacking in depth among the multitudes, the revivals kept alive the holiness intended for the chosen race through whom Immanuel would come and bring salvation to the world.
Prelude to World Revival
In the fullness of time the promised Savior appeared. Not surprisingly, His public ministry began in revival led by John the Baptist–the greatest revival that Israel had known in more than 400 years. Jesus was baptized, and the stage was set for a mighty world reformation.
Yet, incredible as it may seem, Jesus walked away. The movement that began to gather around Him took a different course. Contrary to the pattern seen so often before, the Son of God did not seek the immediate superficial following of the masses. Rather, in His infinite understanding of the human problem, He concentrated His attention upon making disciples who would be the nucleus of a multiplying Church. Holiness, as in the Old Testament, dominated the call of revival in His ministry, but evangelism and discipleship were given new emphasis.
Jesus’ method of training this vanguard was simply to draw learners around Himself. His teaching was incarnated in His own servant lifestyle. As His disciples grew in self-confidence, He involved them in work suited to their gifts, and He checked to see how they were coming along. After several years together, He sent them out to replicate in principle what He had been doing with them—to make disciples and to teach them to do the same. Someday, all the nations will learn of Christ (Matthew 28:19). His Great Commission closes with the promise “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20, NIV). The Spirit was already active in their lives glorifying Christ—but they were to experience His presence and power in a more wonderful way (Luke 24:49-53, Acts 1:8).
Fulfilling the Great Commission
This began to unfold in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It can be called the revival of Jesus. For three years He had been working for the day when His followers—taught by His example, redeemed by His blood and assured by His Resurrection—would go out as His witnesses to the world.
Evangelism became spontaneous. Without any exhortation or training seminar, that entire Spirit-filled congregation in the Upper Room moved into the streets and began to declare the wonderful works of God. When a crowd gathered, Peter lifted up Jesus, and about 3,000 were converted (Acts 2:5-41). More important, every day thereafter, others “were being saved” (Acts 2:47, NIV).
The Book of Acts reads like one long narrative of Pentecost. Nothing could stop the Church—not the anger of mobs or the irritations of daily trials. But like rivers at floodtide, the Christians went on their way, praising their Lord and scattering the seeds of the Gospel. Holiness in the Church, reflecting the character of God, overflowed in love.
The book closes abruptly by simply noting that teaching about the Kingdom of God and the Lord Jesus Christ continues boldly. Revival goes on. And, indeed, whenever the Church is alive, there will be no end until the Great Commission is fulfilled and all nations, adorned in the beauty of holiness, are gathered by the throne of heaven to rejoice in God forever (Revelation 7:9).
Yes, the prayer of the Sons of Korah will be answered—and in a more glorious way than they ever could have imagined!