There’s Gonna be a Revival in This Land:
The distinctive Marks of Revival in Biblical History
By: R.P. Moore
July 3, 2017
“For the sake of Your name, O LORD, revive me. In Your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble.”
This Psalm has been one of my favorites for a very long time. But what is Revival? What are the distinctive markers for personal and corporate Revival? I want to take some time and look at the Biblical and historical revivals and draw some principles from those times that marked revival.
This question was brought back to my attention the other day. I was at an event where a wonderful choir sang a gospel song and the lyrics in the chorus were, “There’s gonna be a revival in this land.” It got my attention because it seemed like a command, and or request for a revival. The implication in the words was that revival is a foregone conclusion. It got me thinking. Is that true? Is revival a forgone conclusion for us? I have spent many years serving in the Southern Baptist denomination. I served in several SBC churches and every year in the fall those churches had “Revival.” It was often said the same as the song, “We are gonna have revival.” I always thought that was peculiar. I would ask really? Are we going to have a revival, or are we going to have an event where we invite a gospel choir, and an evangelist to preach? I thought often during those times, can we plan or initiate revival? Is that possible? I think the answer is no. We have our faithful part to play in seeking God and praying for revival as the psalmist does, but revival cannot be contrived or manufactured by man.
Revival is the sovereign activity of God whereby he renews his people individually and corporately in vigor, affecting both sincerity of belief and quality of behavior. Revival furthermore refers to a spiritual reawakening from a state of stagnation in the life of a believer. Revival is seen in love for God, the fear of God's holiness, a zeal for His Word and His church, a conviction of personal and corporate sin, humility, and desire for repentance and growth in sanctification. Revival invigorates and sometimes deepens a believer's faith, opening his or her eyes to the truth in a fresh way. For the believer in Christ, revival marks a new beginning of a life lived in obedience to God. Revival breaks power of the world, which blinds people to their need for God, and generates both the will and power to live in the world but not of the world. This more specifically defines revival, and it gets our thoughts going as to what revival is and how we can determine its distinct signature.
In the Early American Great Awakening God poured out His Spirit on Jonathan Edward’s Northampton congregation. In describing what happened in their church in 1734, observers said:
It pleased God...to display his free and sovereign mercy in the conversion of a great multitude of souls in a short space of time, turning them from a formal, cold, and careless profession of Christianity, to the lively exercise of every Christian grace, and the powerful practice of our holy religion.
The Great Awakening is especially remarkable in the sense that sin and wrath were boldly preached as seen in Jonathan Edwards famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” These were not kumbaya meetings where love and peace were preached and people fell over in the euphoria of moment, but rather fell over in weeping and wailing with desperate signs of repentance.
I would like to take a brief sweeping look at the scriptures and the revivals that God granted in biblical history. Scripture reveals that there were several spiritual characteristics that preceded revival including repentance humility and obedience (corporate and private). The characteristics were God’s people longing for renewal in their lives (Ps 74:22; 80:1-19; 85:6), Revival required that God’s people repent (2Ch 7:14; 1Ki 8:46-50; 2Ch 6:26-27; Isa 64:1-7; Hos 5:15; Ac 3:19), God’s people experience a new awareness of sin (2Ki 22:11; Ps 32:3-5), God’s people were humbled or humbles themselves (Isa 57:15; Ps 149:4; Isa 66:2; Mic 6:6-8), and God’s people are revived through God’s initiative not their own initiative. It is a work of His sovereign plan and a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit (Isa 59:16; Jer 24:7; 33:6-9; Tit 3:5).
It is clear throughout Scripture and Christian History that awakening and revival strike people personally in the supernatural sovereign plan and power of the Holy Spirit. The personal revival in scripture is described as the experience of inward change (Heb 8:10-12; Jer 31:33-34; Eze 11:19; Ac 2:42-47), People begin living obedient lives (Eze 11:20; Eph 4:1-3; 1Th 1:7-8), a tangible zeal for God’s work grows (Ezr 5:1-2; Hag 1:12-15), generosity in giving abounds (Ex 36:5; 1Ch 29:6-9; 2Ch 31:3-8; Ac 11:28-30), a true pleasure in worshipping God arises (Ezr 3:11; Isa 12:1-6), and there is a renewed joy in the LORD (Ac 13:49-52; Isa 35:1-10; Ac 8:5-8). It is clear that a major theme of revival is regeneration of the carnal man. That is the Holy Spirit removing the spiritual blinders off of man’s eyes for them to see the brilliance of Jesus. He makes those who were dead in sin to regenerate and makes them alive in Christ. There is a sense also that we appeal to God for revival (Jer 17:14; Ps 51:7-12; 119:34-37). One thing that cannot be overlooked is the law. God’s law in scripture has initiated revival. One of my favorite biblical stories is “Good little King Josiah” who reformed Israel when he found the law in the temple as they were cleaning and renovating it. Josiah brought Israel back to the worship of YHWH as the one true God through the discovery of the law. People are revived from their spiritual stupor, when they discover that they fall well short of the perfect law, and realizing that their only hope is in the atonement of Christ they cast themselves on His mercy and salvation (Rom 3:23-25; 6:23). And as previously stated the fruit of salvation and revival is that God receives the praises and obedience of His people.
It is clear in the biblical record that revival is God’s work and is not a contrivance of man, or conjured up by emotional stimuli. Man’s emotions are a large part of revival but it is rather a reaction to the incredible grace and mercy of God. The stirring of affection for Christ are a large part of the reaction to revival, but are not the cause of or initiator of revival, but rather a supernatural work of God (Hos 6:2; Ps 80:3,7,17-19; Isa 32:14-17). There were a few revivals in the nation of Israel under Hezekiah and “Good Little King Josiah” where these kings drew the gaze away from idolatry to the worship of the one true God. A common theme in the Old Testament is idolatry. God’s jealousy for his people is seen in that he requires their sole devotion and worship and will not stand for idolatry. The Bible says that God is a jealous God. That is usually perceived as a negative emotion. But as in the case of marriage I would not be a loving husband if I was not jealous for my wife’s affections. If I were not jealous for my wife’s affections, I would not be taking our marriage vows seriously. So also with God. He is jealous for our affections. If God were not jealous for the affections of His people (His bride the Church and previously Israel), then He would not be serious about His covenant.
A stunning example of this jealousy is found in the Old Testament as the people of Israel are about to inhabit Canaan. The story begins as they are camped at Shittim in Numbers 25. Right there before Israel enters the Promised Land, the people of Israel “whored” themselves with the daughters of Moab and they began to worship Baal. It says, “Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor.” The text in Numbers clarifies that the worship of Baal and the daughters of Moab clearly had engaged together in the sin of Baal worship, which included deep sexual sin. God tells Moses to take all the offending chiefs of the people and hang them. A public punishment for a public sin. Matthew Henry Comments on how God metes out His justice by saying, “Ringleaders in sin ought to be made examples of justice.” The people are weeping and wailing for repentance at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and the country is seeking to purge themselves from this evil. While this is happening apparently, there is a national crisis. It is not very clear, but some form of a plague breaks out killing 24,000 people.
In the midst of this sort of national revival and crisis something quite appalling happens. A man named Zimri brings a Midianite Baal prostitute into the camp in the “sight of all the whole congregation of the people of Israel. While they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting.” The people of Israel are repenting, killing the idolaters, and seeking God’s forgiveness. All of a sudden here comes a brash and arrogant idolater into the presence of God in the front of the Tent of Meeting, and he brings his prostitute with him. The text becomes unclear here at this point. The text explains that he took her into his tent to have sex. But it might have been much worse. Mark R. Talbot explains in his chapter in the book A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards why the text might be so obscure:
Ronald B. Allen speculates that this passage’s obscurity may been prompted by the fact that “the scribes of Scripture found (the actions described here) to be quite repellant and that the precise nature of the offense was,” consequently, “softened somewhat through time.” He suggests that we could understand verse 6 like this:
Then a certain Israelite man brought the Midianite woman to the Tent (of God) right before the eyes of Moses and the eyes of all the congregation of Israel; and they were sporting at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.
In other words, what this couple did was to “engage in a sexual embrace in the manner of Baal worship—right at the entrance of the holy Tent of God,” right in front of Moses. If Allen is right (and it is worth reading the whole of his commentary on vv.6-9 to assess his case), then the contempt shown by Zimri and Cozbi “for the holy things and the word of the Lord...is unimaginable” and Phinehas’s emotional reaction becomes even more intelligible.
Whether these two were in front of the Tent of Meeting or not, the act was so egregious that Phinehas, the priest, the Grandson of Aaron, filled with “jealousy” of the LORD, picked up a spear, and thrust them both through with it (probably while having sex). Thus, the plague that had killed 24,000 people stopped. The LORD declared that Phinehas had turned back the wrath of God so that He did not consume the people of Israel. Therefore, God makes a promise to Phinehas, “I give to him my covenant of peace, and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.”
Let me draw some parallels for you that you might already have noticed. Phinehas, out of jealous zeal for the holiness of the LORD and his hatred of idolatry accomplished three things. First, it established a covenant of peace. Second, it established for his lineage a perpetual priesthood, and thirdly, his act made atonement for the people. I want to point out that Christ has also accomplished all three of these things in his work on the cross. Initially, Christ also had zeal for the dwelling place of God like Phinehas, “zeal for your house will consume me,” was the prophecy that was remembered by the Apostles referring to when Christ drove out the evil moneychangers in the temple. Similarly to Phinehas, Jesus inaugurated a “covenant of peace” between God and man (Rom 5:1). Furthermore, Jesus established a perpetual priesthood just as the descendants of Phinehas also received. The writer if Hebrews says of Jesus, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” This means that Jesus is the perpetual priest for mankind. In comparison to the one that was imperfect in Phinehas’ descendants because they died, but Christ lives forever as the perfect priest. Finally, as Phinehas made atonement for sins of Israel and stopped the plague, so also Christ having “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” Jesus has also made atonement for us and stopped the plague of sin.
At this point you might be asking what does this story have to do with revival? I would like to point out a few things. Initially, I would like to notice that Israel is experiencing a sort of revival. There is evidence of national repentance, a turning to God away from idolatry, an emotional response to God in that repentance, a humility before the LORD, and a public doing away with idolatry to return to the worship of the one true God. Amidst this story there comes a corruption of Israel turning to God. An apostasy of sorts, enters the camp to seek to affront the holiness of this turning to God. It was before the eyes of all the people. And one of those probably leading in this revival of repentance, Phinehas, filled with jealous zeal for the LORD cannot stand it. Full of jealousy for the worship of the one true God, Phinehas accosts the “whoring idolatry” and purges it from their midst. These stories are plenteous in the Old Testament and they have much application for us today. A jealousy for the holiness of God goes hand in hand with revival. A zeal for the Lord must accompany true revival like it did in this story.
The Old Testament describes other revivals like the cycle of the judges where idolatry is overthrown and the worship of the one true God is renewed. The old Testament is rife with renewal and reforms. We see reforms under Jacob. On the return to Bethel, Jacob ordered his entire household to put away their false gods and to wash and change their garments. They did it and Jacob built an altar to the true God. The false gods were then buried under an oak in Shechem (Gen. 35:1–4). Revival started when Samuel exhorted the people to put away their false gods and prepared their hearts to serve the only true God (1 Sam. 7:3–6). Moses led the Israelites often in renewal. One such occurrence is when complaining Israel saw the mighty hand of God in the parting of the Red Sea. On the safe passage, across to the other side of the sea, Moses led the people in a song of praise. (Exod. 14:31–15:21). Israel experienced revival under King David when the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem for the first time (1 Chron. 15:25–28; 16:1–43; 29:10–25). On these two occasions, we see the important role that worship through song plays in the reform of the people back to the worship of God. Renewal often accompanies a spirit of praise. We see a wonderful reform and renewal at the dedication of the materials to be used in building the future temple (1 Chron. 29). There was renewal under King Asa. He removed the Sodomites and all false idols out of the land. He even deposed his own grandmother because of her idolatry (1 Kings 15:11–15). King Jehoshaphat led a revival when he ordered the cleansing of the temple and the sanctification of the Levitical priests (2 Chron. 19).
One of the most dramatic reforms and renewals in Israel happened under Elijah’s leadership. This took place after the contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:21–40). King Jehu led a large-scale reform later by exterminating all Baal worshipers and their temples (2 Kings 10:15–28). Jehoiada a godly high priest led the people in a covenant where he called Israel to forsake their idols to worship God (2 Kings 11:17–20) Under the leadership of Hezekiah like Jehoshaphat, Israel experienced revival when he cleansed the temple of God (2 Chron. 29–31). Even wicked kings led reforms. When wicked King Manasseh became converted, he led his people in a revival by ordering the destruction of all idols (2 Chron. 33:11–20). Again, we are reminded of “good little king Josiah.” As a young boy Josiah called the country back to God. Revival began when the Book of the Law was accidentally discovered during a temple cleanup event. The public reading of God’s Word had a profound effect upon both King Josiah and his people (2 Kings 22–23). Much later, after a remnant returns to Israel, Nehemiah and Ezra lead Israel to God. After Nehemiah had rebuilt the walls around Jerusalem, Ezra stood by its gates and publicly read and taught from God’s Word, causing a great revival (Neh. 13). Even the evil Ninevites experienced revival. Through Jonah’s preaching, they repented and experienced the deliverance from God’s devastating judgement (Jon. 3).
As we continue into the New Testament we see our first revival taking place almost immediately with John the Baptist. John preached the imminent appearance of Israel’s Messiah, warning them to repent and submit to water baptism (Luke 3:2–18). His message was harsh indeed like Jesus’ message:
He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
Of course, our LORD and savior led in many movements of renewal and conversion to faith. One such instance was the conversion of the sinful Samaritan woman. After her encounter with Jesus, she went home and her testimony prompted a revival in Samaria (John 4:28–42). Through Peter’s bold preaching of the gospel in early Acts, we read about the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). From there each Apostle spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. In Acts 8 we read of the strong preaching of Philip the evangelist concerning the kingdom of God and it produced another great revival in Samaria (Acts 8:5–12). Paul, the Apostle to the Greeks, saw one of the greatest revivals occur in Ephesus during his third missionary journey.
I do not aim to dissect every subsequent revival in history, but to allude to a few of the American revivals, of which I am most familiar. In so doing, I hope to glean a few principles. The Great Awakening (1734-1743), in which Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield were very instrumental, saw God do amazing things in which hundreds of thousands came to Christ. The Second Great Awakening (1800-1840), which saw millions converted to faith in Christ, is another example of God pouring out his spirit to revive the church and people toward faith in Christ. These two are the prominent American revivals where we see millions coming to Christ and principles of revival can be clearly seen.
The first and foremost mark of a true revival is that there is usually acceptance of the gospel message at unprecedented levels. Secondly, we see in the Bible and in these Great Awakenings around the world a true repentance and faith in Christ. As seen in the Old Testament there is a demolition and destruction of idolatry. This is also seen in other revivals where people destroyed the things in their lives that drew them away from the worship of the one true God. Anything that pulled people away from God on the throne of their hearts was destroyed. Another marker of revival in the Bible and in history is sanctification of the people. In other words, the people that were swept up in revival became more holy and began to reflect Christ more and more. This is seen in movements like the early German pietistic movement. Revivals are usually precipitated by a focus on prayer and the result was a missions flame that ignited afterwards. Anyone that would claim that revival has broken out my first question is, “what kind of missions advance did/does it produce?” “Did/does it produce a gospel focused international missions movement?” If no missions movement was produced as a result, I would question the validity of such revival claims. Another mark of revival is a renewed focus on God’s word. Any claim on revival can only be confirmed if the focus lays squarely on the word of God rather than the experiential emotional elements of supposed revivals.
Other elements are the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit to take people to spiritual depth (salvation) that they could not have achieved on their own. Conviction of sin is another mark of revival so that sinners are despairing in themselves apart from Christ. Conviction of sin is seen clearly as in the preaching of Jonathan Edwards “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and the conviction, weeping, and wailing of repentance that followed. I dare say manifestations are a mark of revival, because even Edwards himself documented some extraordinary manifestations of people when they were under the conviction of the Holy Spirit towards repentance. But I would like to note that these manifestations recorded by Edwards and previous revivals were a manifestation that came on people who were under conviction of sin, which led to subsequent conversion. The “emotional disturbances” that the “Great Awakening” experienced were first conviction, second humiliation, which led to regeneration (conversion) of many. Manifestations that took place in authentic revivals were not for the euphoria of those experiencing the manifestations. It is not the Holy Spirit’s purpose to bring us under ecstasy, although wonderful sensations of comfort (He is the Comforter) and peace may be an outworking of the Holy Spirit’s conviction and consequent freedom from sin. His purposes are to lead us into all truth, and convict of sin and righteousness. That is not to say that emotions and affections should not be stirred up for Christ. Edwards himself wrote extensively about the Christian and affection. He wrote about affection and emotion that, “true religion in great part, consists in holy affections.” He defined affection not just as emotion either. He defined it as the whole of us, our values, desires, choices, wills, as well as feelings.
Although manifestations have been biblically and historically recorded in awakenings, they are in no way the central mark of revival. Furthermore, revival is not authenticated because of manifestations and or signs and wonders, but rather an astonishing number of people repenting and putting their faith in the message of the Gospel. The primary reason that signs and wonders (or manifestations) are not an authentication of revival is that they can be deceiving or from another source other than God (Acts 19; 21; Matt 7:15-23; Deut 13:1-5). Signs and wonders, just as in Jesus day were used to help people turn their eyes to the one performing the signs and wonders, namely Christ Jesus himself. Jesus and all miracles that occur in the Bible serve to point us to the miracle worker, and his gospel, not the miracles. Therefore, a revival movement or so called “revival leaders” that seek to validate themselves through manifestations and the experience thereof, and not the gospel, in my opinion are not genuine revivals.
In conclusion, The Bible leads us to understand reform, revival, awakening, renewal, and a turning to God as a thing that is needed often in history. God through His supreme plan initiates spiritual awakenings in His sovereign timing to call men to Himself. He works these moments by the supernatural power of His Spirit and glorious gospel. These historical revival movements in history, and biblical history, have called men everywhere to place their faith in the wonderful inexpressible gift of Jesus life, death, and resurrection. We therefore, ask you, oh LORD, to revive us again, “For the sake of your great name!”
 Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.
 Edwards, Jonathan, (first published in 1736). A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, Jonathan Edwards on Revival, Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2.
 Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.
 Henry, Matthew. (2000). Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: Genesis to Revelation. U.S.: Hendrickson Pub. 226.
 Numbers 25:6 (ESV)
 Piper, John, and Justin Taylor. 2004. A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 221
 Numbers 25:12-13 (ESV)
 Hebrews 7:17 (ESV)
 Hebrews 10:12 (ESV)
 Willmington, H. L. (1987). Willmington’s book of Bible lists. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale. 292–294.
 Ibid, 292-294
 John 3:7-9 (ESV)
 Refer to Edwards work Edwards, Jonathan, James Parker, and Garrat Noel. (1768). A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections,: in Three Parts; Part I. Concerning the Nature of the Affections, and Their Importance in Religion. Part II. Shewing What Are No Certain Signs That Religious Affections Are Gracious, or That They Are Not. Part III. Shewing What Are Distinguishing Signs of Truly Gracious and Holy Affections. New York: Boston printed: New-York; re-printed by J. Parker, for Garrat Noel, near the Merchant's Coffee-House.
 Ibid, 95