The Asbury University revival was much in the news a while ago and Christians from all over the world tracked it hopefully.
Was it the start of something bigger and more far-spread? “Oh Lord Jesus, let it be so!”.
But, now the Asbury awakening has receded like a wave on the shore and it seems that we may have to wait a little longer for a great move of God.
In Christian circles, if we speak of both Rivival and Revolution in the same sentence, we usually refer to Revival OR Revolution rather than Revival AND Revolution. What we imply by this is that only a Holy Spirit revival will prevent our nations from fragmenting into revolution. Put another way, we see revival as the antidote to rapidly deteriorating conditions in our world. However, history does not fully support this idea.
The greatest revivals have had a profound influence on their host nations, and even the world.
They brought about change and in at least one case even moved the nation away from a devastating revolution. Almost all were messy, controversial, polarising, and relatively short-term phenomena, albeit with long-term residual influence. Moreover, a historic observation is that revivals usually occur in parallel to ongoing conditions of revolution.
I live in a nation where the ruling party calls itself a revolutionary movement, and true to its self-description, it has brought us to a state of national ‘revolution’.
The non-Christian majority clamours for change yet ironically employs the strategies of revolution as an antidote to revolution. On the other hand, the Christian minority prays and hopes for revival to save our land. However, is this a valid hope or are we more likely to have both revival and revolution occurring simultaneously in our near future?
The greatest revival/awakening recorded in the bible is what we call The Day of Pentecost Outpouring.
Sometimes it has burned bright and hot, but these have been lightning flashes followed by long periods characterised by both growth and decline. In our generation, the life of the Holy Spirit indwells the hearts of probably no more than a tenth of the world’s population although over 30% describe themselves as ‘Christian’. The relatively few followers of Jesus live all over the globe and many are in countries where armed conflict rages, corruption and degradation rule, or hunger and sickness constitute their own form of deadly revolution.
So, what should we, you and I, expect of the darkening revolutionary future storming towards us?
A Biblical Testimony
The Book of Revelation presents a graphic portrayal of the ages from the first to the second coming of the Lord Jesus. We can find evidence of the forces it describes in every age over the last 2,000 years, but it also gives us insight into the kind of world in which we now live.
I have written a book explaining the structure and general trends, principles, and powers presented in the book of Revelation and you can find it HERE. For this article, I will confine myself to just Chapter 11 of Revelation and will only give some of the detail that I present in my book, so if you would like to learn more, go ahead and get the Kindle or paperback book.
Revelation 11:1-12 reads: ‘I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, with its worshipers. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” They are “the two olive trees” and the two lampstands, and “they stand before the Lord of the earth.” If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want. Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt—where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth. But after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.”’
Now do not let the extreme language and imagery throw you, but rather focus on the following key aspects drawn from the text:
- The temple represents the church, which, like the temple of old, contains an ‘outer court’ of nominal professing Christians and a Holy Place of genuine followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. The imagery is from Ezekiel Chapters 40 to 44, where the following verses are particularly pertinent, “Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins. Let them consider the plan, and if they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the design of the temple – its arrangement, its exits and entrances – its whole design and all its regulations and laws. Write these down before them so that they may be faithful to its design and follow all its regulations”. (Ezekiel 43:10-11) It appears that John was equating the church with Ezekiel’s temple. Only priests were allowed to enter the Holy Place, and John was told to ignore the outer court where the ‘gentiles’ were. In Revelation 1:6 and 5:10 John refers to Christians as ‘priests’, and so it seems that in the allusion to the temple he is distinguishing between true believers and nominal Christians; between those who worship God in spirit and in truth and those who just claim to do so.
- The world, including apostate Christendom, will ‘trample’ on the true church for a period specified as 42 months or 1 260 days. The prophetic month consisted of 30 days and so 1 260 days exactly equal
s42 months. The same symbolic period appears in Revelation 12:14 as ‘time, times, and half a time’ (in other words, 3½ years). We should not take the numbers in Revelation literally, so the question concerns what this period symbolises. In Revelation 11, the period relates to the ministry of the ‘two witnesses’, who have the power to ‘shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying’. The allusion is to the prophet Elijah, who proclaimed a three-and-a-half-year drought in Israel. Jesus spoke of this when he compared the people of his time with those in ancient Israel. He said, “I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land” (Luke 4:25) So, the two witnesses represent an Elijah-like ministry. However, John also describes them as having the power to ‘turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague…’ This is a reference to Moses. He displayed the mighty power of God in liberating his people from Egypt. Elijah symbolises the prophetic ministry of the church in judging apostate Christendom, and Moses is a symbol of the apostolic ministry of the church in protecting the true believers. Revelation 12:14 picks up on this second function, where it describes God taking the church into the desert ‘where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach.’ So, apostate Christians equate to those in the outer court of the temple, and true Christians to those in the inner court.
- There is a strong correlation between Jesus’ ministry and that of the church. Jesus ministered for 42 months during which he displayed mighty signs and wonders, judged the apostate ‘church’ of his day, and made a way of salvation for all who would follow him. At the end of that period, Jesus was put to death, yet rose again. Towards the end of the period of end-time Elijah and Moses-like ministry, the church will be ‘put to death’, yet it too shall rise! Revelation 11:7-11 reinforces this correlation. Verse 12 describes the ascension of the church into heaven after its period of powerful ministry amid persecution.
The Implications of Revival
So, mighty revival comes first to the church and then to society.
The first effect of revival is that it serves to judge the condition of the church and to separate the true from the false. True believers experience and participate in the empowering influence of the Holy Spirit and false believers, and unbelievers, criticise them and seek to persecute them.
We long for revival yet we often fail to grasp that revival has an enormously disruptive effect on the church. Even among true believers, as opposed to nominal religious Christians, the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit tests, refines, and separates the ‘flesh’ from the ‘spirit’. For this reason, real revivals are messy as well as painful. Messy because immature believers let their emotions get the better of them and become extremely disruptive and painful because nominal Christians criticise, sanction, and make life tough for all in the revival, both the messy ravers and the more balanced disciples.
Secondly, true revival burns bright for just a short period of time during which it has a profound influence on the church and society generally.
When it dies down and the smoke of its fire clears, then all can see a transformed church and a radically impacted society. This church continues the work of influencing society with truth and light. Over time, this can give rise to transformed governments, businesses, families, and so on.
A third point to note is that revival happens within the context of revolution; it is revival AND revolution.
It does not replace revolution but rather mitigates and redirects it in key ways. Although modern versions translate Isaiah 59:19 differently, the New King James bible still has ‘When the enemy comes in like a flood, The Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him’. I like this because it describes a divine principle we see repeated throughout history. The flood is ‘revolution’ and the raised up standard is ‘revival’.
Perhaps, one final thing to note is that the revival of Revelation 11 portrays revival in general, but more specifically, the last and greatest revival of history as we know it.
Are we living in ‘the end times’ when the revival we desire will be the final mighty blast of the trumpet of God? I suspect so, but who can know other than God himself?
A Last Thought on this Matter
Taking into account all that I have written here, do I still want to witness and participate in a mighty Holy Spirit revival? Yes, I do.
My country might not pull back from the brink of the failed-state abyss without the restraint and reformation that revival would bring. Do I want revival even if it is the last and most radical of all? Yes, because if it ushers in the second coming of the Lord Jesus then how can I not pray for it to come?
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen. (Revelation 22:20-21)