Will the world undergo a great revival before the end of the age? This possibility is increasingly discussed among Christians who believe that the last convulsive struggles of our civilization have begun.
Scripture seems to allude to a world revival, though this interpretation is by no means unanimous. Many of the references are bound up with other historical situations, such as the return of the Jews from captivity and the restoration of their nation. How one views the millennium, tribulation, and rapture must also be taken into account. The complexity of these prophecies makes any conclusion tentative. Yet recognizing that we now see through the glass darkly, we can find some vague suggestions of a last mighty spiritual awakening.
1. The revival will be a universal outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Church in all parts of the world will feel the overflow of God’s presence.
There is reason to think that the promised outpouring of the Spirit upon “all flesh” (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17) has not been completed. Of course, in potential that first Pentecostal visitation reached to all peoples. This was signified by the witness of the Spirit-filled disciples to persons from “every nation under heaven” present in Jerusalem (Acts 2:9–11). But in actual extent that outpouring was confined to the city. As the Church gradually moved out in the strength of the Holy Spirit, the flame spread to Judea, to Samaria, and finally to many distant places of the civilized world. Still, complete fulfillment of the prophecy awaits a glorious day to come.
A spiritual awakening around the world would be in keeping with the all-embracing love of God. It would give dramatic notice of the extent of the gospel mandate, “to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
According to this reasoning, the church age began and will end in a mighty spiritual baptism. What happened at the first Pentecost may be seen as the “early” display of the refreshing rain from heaven, while the closing epic is the “latter rain” (Joel 2:23; Jas. 5:7; Zach. 10:1; Hosea 6:3). Water or rain is often symbolic of the Holy Spirit (e.g. John 7:37–39).
2. Strange demonstrations of power over nature will accompany the revival. In describing the Spirit’s outpouring, Joel foretells “wonders in the heavens and in the earth,” “blood and fire and pillars of smoke,” “the sun turned into darkness and the moon into blood” (Joel 2:30, 31; Acts 2:19, 20). These phenomena are not mentioned in the account of the first Pentecost; apparently they are yet to occur.
Jesus spoke of days immediately “after the tribulation” in similar terms, adding that “the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matt. 24:29; cf. Rev. 6:12, 13). It seems that God will summon the forces of nature to bear witness to what is happening on the earth.
Adding to the spectacle, some people will have the power to perform wondrous deeds, such as turning waters to blood (Rev. 11:6; cf. Gal. 3:5). Naturally Satan will do what he can to counterfeit what he knows is real. We are warned of “false Christs” and “false prophets” of this time who will “show great signs and wonders” to deceive the elect (Matt. 24:24; cf. Exod. 7:10–12; Matt. 7:15–20; 2 Thess. 2:9, 10). The sensory appeal is always fraught with danger, which is all the more reason why we are exhausted to try the spirits (1 John 4:1–3).
3. The revival will come during a time of unprecedented tribulation. It seems that those fearful conditions of the last days described intermittently in Matthew 24 and Revelation 6 to 17 will characterize the period, And things will get worse as the end approaches (cf. 2 Tim. 3:12, 13; 2 Thess. 2:1–3).
Famines, pestilences, and earthquakes of staggering proportions will occur. Wars and intrigue will fill the earth, and hate will bind the hearts of men. No one will feel secure. As moral integrity breaks down, apostasy in the church will increase. Those who do not conform to the spirit of the age will be hard pressed, and many will be martyred. Clearly, the cost of discipleship will be high.
Yet amid this terrible adversity, Scripture seems to say, revival will sweep across the earth. When God’s “judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isa. 26:9). Dreadful calamities will mingle with awesome displays of salvation—the terrors will actually create an environment for earnest heart-searching. Not everyone will turn to God. Some unrepentant men may become even more brazen in their sin. But the world will be made to confront as never before the cross of Jesus Christ.
How it all will end is not clear. Possibly the revival will cease and there will be “a falling away” before the Lord returns (2 Thess. 2:3). Some Bible students believe that the worst tribulation will come after the Church is caught up. Others think Christians will be taken out of the world midway through this dreadful period.
Scripture gives us no reason to think that the last great revival will avert the coming catastrophe. The line of no return will have already been passed. Judgment is certain. Revival may delay but not prevent the final day of reckoning.
4. Through the purging of revival. God’s people will be brought to the true beauty of holiness. Clearly our Lord expects to present his bride unto himself a purified people (Eph. 5:26, 27). The trials of the last days will serve as fires to refine the gold of Christian character. Out of them the bride of Christ, the Church, will emerge ready for the marriage supper (Dan. 12:10; Rev. 19:7). The “latter rain” of the Spirit is intended to bring “the precious fruit” of the Church to maturity (Jas. 5:7; cf. Song of Sol. 2).
The Church should not fear affliction, though it cause suffering and even death. Suffering may be necessary to convince us that man does not live by bread alone. Without hardships, probably few of us would learn much about the deeper things of God.
It is also reasonable to believe that the outpouring of the Spirit will multiply the manifestation of gifts of ministry in the Church (cf. Eph. 4:7–11; Rom. 16:6–8; 1 Cor. 12:4–11; 1 Pet. 4:10, 11). This would further call attention to the momentous happening on earth.
5. The revival will produce a tremendous ingathering of souls. Evangelism of the lost, though different from renewal in the Church, flows out of the same Spirit. The blessing of Pentecost naturally brings people to call upon the name of the Lord for salvation (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21).
Not only does revival exalt the claims of Christ; it also prepares workers for the harvest. People who are full of the Holy Spirit are committed to God’s work. They want to be where the action is, and there is no greater work than bringing the Gospel to men. This is why Jesus came, into the world (Luke 19:10), and he sends his disciples on the same mission (John 17:18; Matt. 28:19, 20).
Significantly, Jesus said that the fulfillment of that mission would precede his return: “This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matt. 24:24; cf. Luke 12:36, 37; 14:15–23). That the Gospel will eventually penetrate “every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” is clear from descriptions given us of heaven (Rev. 5:9; cf. 7:9). Could not this happen through a final world revival?
Many believe that Jews will be among the multitudes that turn to Christ. At least, many prophecies speak of their general repentance and acceptance of the Messiah (e.g. Ezek. 20:43, 44; Jer. 31:34; Rom. 11:24), and of God’s pardon and blessing (e.g. Jer. 31:27–34; 32:37–33:26; Ezek. 16:60–63; 37:1–28; Hos. 6:1, 2). Revival seems a logical time for this to happen. Pretribulationists might put the Jewish awakening after the rapture of the Church, making a great deal of Romans 11:25 and 26, which speaks of Israel’s being saved when the fullness of the Gentiles is come. This passage could, however, serve equally well to support the idea of revival before Christ comes again.
The greatest day of evangelism is yet to be. The harvesting may be short in duration, and may require great sacrifice, but it will be the most far-reaching acceptance of the Gospel this world has ever seen.
6. The revival will prepare the way for the coming of the King. Our Lord’s return may be waiting now on this spiritual revolution. “Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and has long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient, stablish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh” (Jas. 5:7, 8; cf. 2 Pet. 3:9, 10).
Anticipation of this day is a summons to action. We should cast off everything that blocks the flow of the Holy Spirit and should commit ourselves to being about the Father’s business. World evangelism is the responsibility in which our lives should be centered. Whatever his gifts, every Christian is needed in the witness of the Gospel to all men.
Prayer is our greatest resource. The prophet reminds us, “Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain” (Zech. 10:1). “When the tongue faileth for thirst,” God says, “I will open rivers in the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys” (Isa. 41:17, 18; cf. 44:3). Surely it is time to “seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness” upon us (Hos. 10:12; cf. Joel 2:17; Acts 1:14). There is no other way to bring life to the Church and hope to the barren fields of the world.
Many people sense that something great is on the horizon. The world seems headed toward a catastrophic climax of history. The forces of evil are becoming more sinister and aggressive, and on our present course the dissolution of society seems inevitable. At the same time there are increasing signs of spiritual awakening. Never has there been more yearning by more people for spiritual reality, nor has the Church ever had the means it now has to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Does this mean that there will soon be a world revival, and that the coming of the Lord is imminent? We cannot know. But it does appear that this long awaited event is now an exciting possibility.
Certainly this is no time for despair. The King’s coming is certain. And in preparation for his return we may see the greatest movement of the Holy Spirit since the beginning of the Church.
The Ultimate Spring Of Solitude
He who consciously or unconsciously has chosen to ignore God is an orphan in the universe, that is, in God’s creation. It is only natural that he should feel lonely to the point of dejection. He may on occasion and for a time seek solace in man-made techniques of self-help. The fact remains, however, that all such techniques take their stand on the purely natural. They are out of God’s context. Their appeal is to some kind of energy and resourcefulness which makes of man the principle and end of all things. Ultimately they are bound to fail and leave a man alone in depression of spirit and heaviness of heart. Thus does self-centeredness generate the bitterness of solitude.… What God has initiated and what He has given cannot be ignored.
It is such negation of God, and self-centered denial of his own distinctive endowment on the part of man, that the Bible characterizes as sin. Sin’s final ground is a pride that repudiates God’s purpose. Hence a loss of purposiveness in which we … [detect] a manifestation of solitude. Indeed, self-centeredness defeats its own purpose as freedom for God and in God is perverted into freedom from God.
In this context, then, it does become clear that the ultimate spring of all the miseries born of solitude is sin in the Biblical sense of the word. The soul which has cast its lot with self instead of with God is affected in two essential ways, namely, with reference to will, and with reference to intellect. The will’s normal function according to God is to choose, to decide, to act in terms of love. The intellect’s normal function is to know what is at stake in terms of right understanding. It stands to reason that when both these functions work according to the wrong approach of self-centeredness, a man no longer loves aright. His position accordingly borders on insanity. He fails to apprehend this created world and himself as upheld every moment by the sustaining will of God and accordingly dependent on Him for his existence. Details out of context then monopolize his attention as would mere items on a list. The true picture of life is thereby hidden from him. Indeed a man cannot see anything aright apart from the totality to which it belongs, as is the case of features in a human face. Hence a sense of alienation and abandonment whose bitter fruit is solitude.—EMILE CAILLIET, Alone at High Noon (Zondervan, © 1971), pages 87–89. Used by permission.
Robert E. Coleman is McCreless Professor of Evangelism at Asbury Theological Seminary. Wilmore, Kentucky. He has the M.Th. (Princeton Seminary) and the Ph.D. (the University of Iowa). He is the author of eight books.
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