What is Revival?


By Matt Auxt

What is revival and what are the biblical characteristics of revival? The Webster’s dictionary of 1828 defines it as, “return, recall, or recovery to life from death.  Renewed and more active attention to religion: an awakening of men to their spiritual concerns.” Many will quote Psalm 85:6, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?”[1] and seek to then plan a revival meeting or service where people come and worship. But if a church has an event and slaps a Bible verse on it, does that make it a revival? Let’s seek to answer that from Scripture in its context. 

There are many excellent examples that could be pulled from Scripture, but let’s begin with the Old Testament in Nehemiah 8:1-12. The context of Nehemiah is a dire one. It takes place in 458 BC and Israel is under control of the Persian Empire. Prior to Nehemiah, Israel sinned greatly before God and God disciplined them using the Babylonian Empire having dominion over them. During the Babylonian invasion in 587 BC, Jerusalem was destroyed, including the temple; many Israelites were killed and the rest were taken into captivity. The ones who were taken alive were mostly sold into slavery and some of the children of the prominent families were taken and essentially “deconstructed” and were inundated with the Persian culture. Essentially, the time in exile was traumatic to Israel’s worship. When Nehemiah takes place, Nehemiah takes a group of people to return to Israel under the permission of the Persian Empire. Not even all the Israelites wanted to go back due to their acceptance of becoming a part of Persia. Nehemiah rebuilds the wall and the gate under persecution when they finished the wall in chapter 6 and there was a great amount of rejoicing in chapter 7. 

Now we are brought to Nehemiah 8. The people longed to hear from God so they had Ezra the priest read the Law of God to them. So Ezra taught the men, the women, and the children who could understand and they heard the Law of God and they were all attentive, from early morning to midday (vs1-4). Ezra concluded the reading with blessing the Lord and the rest of leaders explained the Law to the induvial and groups and they all worshiped God and clearly understood the reading of God’s Law (vs 6-8). Nehemiah, the governor, along with Ezra and the priests commanded the people to view the day as holy and that there would be no weeping or mourning on that day for all of the people were weeping as they heard the Law taught. Their deep mourning was then replaced with worship (vs 9-12).

Nehemiah presents three aspects of revival in this narrative alone. The first noticeable aspect of this text is that Ezra preached the Word of God. We learn from Paul that Scripture, Old and New Testament, is the required instrument of God to bring people to Himself (Rm 10:14, 2 Tim 3:16-17, Jn 10:27-30, 1 Cor 10:6). It is the Word of God that is living, active, and sharper than any two edged sword able to cut and divide between soul and spirit and thoughts, intentions, and the heart itself. It has been commonly, but wisely said that, “I don’t just read the Bible, but the Bible reads me.” Therefore, a mark of true revival that brings dead people to life is found in the pages of Scripture being preached accurately.  

Nehemiah also shows us that there must be a deep conviction of sin. This is a subject that many people start to shy away from because it is uncomfortable. But that is not the preaching of Christ. Christ taught that sin is not just the manifestation of disobedience, but begins with the heart (Mk 7:21-23). This does not mean the actual beating heart, but the center of our being, our control center so to say that all of a person’s actions begin with their desires and that is what Christ is referring to in the heart of a person. Paul teaches us that the Law of Moses is a guardian, and that it provides the standard for righteous living which will only condemn people in their sin (Gal 3:23-29). For the law says love God with everything, and with our whole being we all have lied, stolen, lusted in our hearts, murdered in hearts, and desired self over the Creator (Ex 20:1-17, Mt 5:1-12). But as Galatians 3:23-29 says, it is by Christ who frees us from the slavery of the law and brings us to life unto righteousness. But he starts with the law. There must be conviction of sin to be saved. There is no salvation without first seeing the need for the Savior. The diamond shines brightest with the darkest of backdrops. The sun shines brightest after the darkest of storms.

Nehemiah then clearly shows that the response of people after repentance is to worship God. Our worship must be informed by God who is holy (1 Pt 1:16). If our worship is not informed by the Word of God, then they are random expressions of praise that could be referring to God or they could be referring to self (Is 44). As we already learned, our inner hearts are corrupt; therefore, our worship has to be informed by theology and the character of God. If we let our hearts inform our worship, our worship will sound like us, it will look like us, and it will be to us which is a greater sin. Therefore, the Word of God must inform our worship so that we can worship in Spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24).

Another example of this is simply Acts 2 where Peter preaches at Pentecost. Here he preaches the sin of the people (their killing the Son of God) and they are cut to the heart/convicted, and they beg for instructions on what to do, and Peter’s response was repent and be baptized/worship (Ats 2:36-41). And what happened? Did the people in Acts 2 just fizzle off and say, good for you? No! They lived and died for Christ and the world has been changed. But before others can change, their own self must be transformed and changed by the Gospel of Christ. Revival is not something that is created or scheduled, but it is brought by the preaching of the Word of God, it brings the people to tears as it convicts of sin, it brings repentance, and it brings worship. But Acts 2 also shows that it is not a short lived event, but it is a way of life that it changes the whole person not just their church life, but their whole life in totality. A fourth mark of revival is longevity. This is seen both in Scripture and church history. Stephen was stoned, John the Baptist was beheaded, Paul was beheaded, and all the disciples except John were martyred for their faith. Polycarp of Smyrna was martyred as an old man, and before they burned him alive they commanded him to recant his faith and he said, “These 84 years I have served my Lord and He has done me no harm. How could I betray Him at my death?” Revival brings persecution, not fame. Revival brings dead people to life; it brings people who are in bondage to freedom. Revival brings biblical conviction.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 85:6.