Revival Can Be Explained With Many Words, But It Is Better Understood When Described With Pictures. Like Jesus' Descriptions Of Heaven Through Parables About Everyday Objects, People, And Events, The Question "What Does Revival Look Like?" Is Best Answered With Biblical Word Pictures. Five Of These Pictures Will Be Considered Here.
"A picture is worth more than a thousand words.”
“Can these bones live?”
Imagine a valley of dry bones becoming a mighty army of living men and women (Ezek. 37:1-14). This is the most powerful picture of revival in the Bible. Revival is the divine transformation of a hopeless bunch of scattered bones into a hopeful cohort of living souls. Indeed, this story illustrates and confirms that revival is “a resurrection from the spiritual death.”1 This Bible picture also makes clear that this resurrection comes as a result of the power of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 37:4-10), just as it happened at Creation (Gen. 1:1-3). This spiritual resurrection is a foretaste of the final resurrection to eternal life on the last day (Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2; John 5:28, 29; 6:40; Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:51-55; 1 Thess. 4:16).
“Look and live”
Picture men and women dying of venomous snake bites. This was the fate of the murmuring Israelites in their wilderness sojourn (Num. 21:1-6). Their only hope was God’s solution: to look in faith at a bronze serpent (Num. 21:8, 9). All who could do this were revived—from dying to living. No need for CPR or a defibrillator; a look of faith performed the miracle. Jesus drew from this Old Testament story when He spoke to Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus pointed out to Nicodemus that, just as the Israelites looked to the bronze serpent to live, eternal life comes through a continual fixed look of faith on Jesus (John 3:14-16). Indeed, true revival comes through a total moment-by-moment abiding faith relationship with Jesus Christ. True life is found in looking to Jesus in faith.
“Showers of blessing”
Imagine a land where there is no mist, dew, or rain for three years. This was the situation in Israel during the reign of King Ahab and the ministry of the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 17:1; 18:1). Now picture this: hot air; dry, dusty soil; little or no vegetation or harvest; dried-up springs, streams, and rivers; and dying animals and humans.2 This situation was the result of a covenant curse for Israel’s apostasy through idolatry (Deut. 28:15, 23, 24).
Eventually, Elijah prayed until the rains finally came, and when it rained, it poured (1 Kings 18:41-45), and the land came back to life. Rain brings revival to the land—cooling the air, causing vegetation to bloom, refreshing and cleansing all living things. Just as rain is a blessing from God giving the land physical life again (Deut. 11:13-15; Ps. 65:5, 8-13; 104:10-15, 24-28), revival is God’s promise to bring spiritual refreshment to the dry, dusty, and dying lives of His people through the Holy Spirit (Isa. 44:3, 4; Ezek. 34:26, 27; Hosea 6:3; Joel 2:21-24), causing them to bear fruit—harvests for His glory.
“Alive together—the power of one”
Think about what a revived church looks like. The early church of Acts gives us a splendid example of this. It was a church that received the early rain of the Holy Spirit as promised in Joel 2:28, 29 after continual communal prayer (Acts 1:4, 5, 8, 12-14; 2:1-4). It was a community filled with and led by God the Holy Spirit, and the entire book of Acts shows the result of this. It was a church that loved to read, study, teach, and preach the Word of God; loved to pray and worship together; loved to give of their means for God’s cause; and loved having a positive impact on their community (Acts 2:41-47; 4:32-35). It grew in faith (quality) and in number (quantity) (Acts 16:5). Above all, it was a church that enjoyed unity, love, and real fellowship.3 It was a church full of people who were alive and working as one. The same is possible in our time if we follow the example of the early church of Acts.
“Shine, Jesus, shine”
Picture a land covered in winter’s darkness and icy cold, awaiting the spring sun to rise in all its strength and glory to melt away the snow and light up the land. This is a setting that makes any source of light and heat attractive. Such a source will provide warmth, direction, and safety. Church members who have been revived are like candles in the dark or lights on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matt. 5:14-16). These individuals shine like stars in the night (Phil. 2:14, 15; Dan. 12:3), reflecting the Light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5) and the glory of the Son of Righteousness (Mal. 4:2) and attracting the world to His light through their deeds of love (Isa. 60:1-3; Matt. 5:16). They shine because they live in the light (1 John 1:5-7; 2:8-11; John 3:19-21; Rom. 13:11- 14; 1 Thess. 5:4-7), dispelling the darkness and the selfish, cold love of the world (Eph. 5:8-14; Matt. 24:12; 2 Tim. 3:1-5). Unlike the lukewarm Laodiceans, they are hot with passionate love for Christ (Rev. 3:14-20). They spend time daily beholding the glory of God in Christ, and their faces are radiant with His light (2 Cor. 3:14-18). Together these revived people unite as shining lights and fill the whole earth with God’s glory4 (Rev. 18:1; Hab. 2:14; Jer. 31:33, 34). Indeed, revival brings warmth and light to cold souls in this dark world.
So what does revival look like? Before it comes, there is dread and death. After it comes, there is love and life. Through earnest, united prayer and total personal and communal surrender to the power of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, we can experience revival.5 The result? A living army of God’s people, refreshing as rain, abundant with the fruit of the Spirit and the harvest of souls, united in real fellowship, and passionately hot and radiant with the love of Jesus in a cold, dark world.
Got the picture?
|Before Revival||After Revival|
|Dry bones, covered corpses||Living army|
|Poisoned dying souls||Cleansed, healed souls|
|Hot, dry, dusty, dying land||Cool, refreshing abundant rains and harvests, fertile land|
|Apathetic, divided Church||Lively, united Church|
|Cold souls in darkness||Hot love from shining souls in the light|
1 Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, 1:128.
2 “A year passes, and yet there is no rain. The earth is parched as if with fire. The scorching heat of the sun destroys what little vegetation has survived. Streams dry up, and lowing herds and bleating flocks wander hither and thither in distress. Once-flourishing fields have become like burning desert sands, a desolate waste. The groves . . . are leafless; the forest trees, gaunt skeletons of nature, afford no shade. The air is dry and suffocating; dust storms blind the eyes and nearly stop the breath. . . . Once-prosperous cities and villages have become places of mourning. Hunger and thirst are telling upon man and beast with fearful mortality. Famine, with all its horror, comes closer and still closer” (Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, 124).
3 “Real fellowship is so much more than showing up at services. It is experiencing life together. . . . Authentic fellowship is not superficial, surfacelevel chit-chat. It is genuine, heart-to-heart, sometimes gut-level sharing. It happens when people get honest about who they are and what is happening in their lives. They share their hurts, reveal their feelings, confess their failures, disclose their doubts, admit their fears, acknowledge their weaknesses, and ask for help and prayer” (Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life, 138, 139).
4 “Servants of God, with their faces lighted up and shining with holy consecration, will hasten from place to place to proclaim the message from heaven. By thousands of voices all over the earth, the warning will be given. Miracles will be wrought, the sick will be healed, and signs and wonders will follow the believers” (Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, 611, 612, emphasis supplied).
5 “A revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs. To seek this should be our first work. There must be earnest effort to obtain the blessing of the Lord, not because God is not willing to bestow His blessing upon us, but because we are unprepared to receive it. . . . it is our work, by confession, humiliation, repentance, and earnest prayer, to fulfill the conditions upon which God has promised to grant us His blessing. A revival need be expected only in answer to prayer” (Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, 1:121).
Michael Oluikpe, Ph.D., is a lecturer in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at Bugema University, Uganda.