Last Days Revival and Biblical Hope

Like many Christians, I am praying for a national spiritual awakening in America. I’m not talking about temporary religious piety such as was seen in the weeks following the terrorist attacks on 9-11. Rather, I am referring to a full blown Great Awakening that changes the culture and brings the nation back to God in a deep way. We’ve had two such awakenings in our history; the first in the middle of the 18th century and the second at the beginning of the 19th century. Both profoundly impacted society with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I, along with many others, participated in the time of fasting and prayer that Anne Graham Lotz called the Church to in July 2014. There are many groups praying earnestly for our spiritual restoration, and I have confidence that God will hear our prayers and He will answer. So I want to make it clear from the outset that I am committed to a spiritual awakening, and I pray earnestly for this to happen.

Such an awakening is often referred to as a “revival.” Revival has become such an over-used word that unless we study historical revivals and grasp the enormity of change that a true awakening brings, the term can become just another religious cliche. We’ve all seen the signs posted in front of church buildings: “Revival Meeting This Weekend!” While such gatherings may be well-intended, they are as far removed from true revival as a naturally healed hangnail is from a bona fide miracle. True revival will only come when those crying out to God cannot do anything less than abandon themselves fully to Him… or so I’ve read. I’ve never seen an actual revival in my lifetime and I am in my late fifties at the time of this writing. Many spiritual leaders are convinced that the Church will experience revival before the return of Jesus. To hear some revival preachers talk about it, you would conclude that a great last days outpouring of the Holy Spirit (a second Pentecost if you will) is a brass bound certainty.

This begs the question: Does the Word of God promise a great revival in the last days? This is an important question that must be answered correctly because it involves a crucial ingredient of our faith- that is, our hope. What we hope for impacts how we live. The bible tells us that hope deferred (or unfulfilled) makes the heart sick. There is great danger in allowing our hope to be placed in anyone or on anything that may fail us in the long run. Along with deception, false hope is a fatal flaw that will shipwreck the faith of many during the final years of this age. In fact, one could argue that false hope is a form of deception. And what could be more deceptive than some false idea that is presented in hopeful, positive language?

For example, false hope is what makes the doctrine of the pre-tribulation rapture so potentially damaging to the Church. Exposing this great error is important, not because we must insist that everyone believe like we do, but because embracing a false hope of escape from trouble will lead to devastation for a large segment of the Church. Living with hope for a great escape that isn’t coming is a recipe for disaster, and is guaranteed to produce people who are ill-prepared to face the trials that are soon to come upon the earth. Frankly, time will tell who is right and who is wrong on this issue, so why should we debate it at all? As faithful shepherds we are charged with protecting the sheep from error because of the bad fruit that results from it. The core issues are about true hope and spiritual preparation. What we hope for determines how we live!

I see the doctrine of promising a great end time revival as having this same potential for damage. While I will readily agree that hoping for revival is superior to hoping for escape, I believe that “kingdom now” revivalists are still substituting a man-made hope for true biblical hope. “Wait a minute!” I can hear some exclaim. “Doesn’t the bible teach us in Joel 2 that there will be a global outpouring of the Holy Spirit before the Day of the Lord?” Yes it does! Let’s examine this passage carefully and see exactly what it does promise. Here is the relevant section, quoted frequently by revival preachers and Charismatics as proof of a coming great revival:

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Joel 2 28-30)

Now it is clear that at least part of this prophecy has not yet been fulfilled, and that is the part we might call the “celestial disturbances.” There are several other passages of scripture that give details about these same celestial events, which according to Jesus occur “immediately after the tribulation” (Matt. 24:29) and immediately before the Day of God’s Wrath (Rev. 6: 12-15.) So we see Joel prophesying two sets of events: A great outpouring of the Holy Spirit with many accompanying signs, and a series of celestial events. Both sets of events are said to occur before the great and terrible Day of the Lord. We have already had one outpouring in fulfillment of this scripture, which took place in Acts 2. Many bible teachers speak of a past partial fulfillment, followed by a greater fulfillment in the last days. Is this biblically sound?

It is now approximately two thousand years later and the celestial events have yet to take place, nor has the great Day of the Lord arrived. The phenomenon of two-part prophecy, with the first part separated from the second part by a long period of time, is well-documented. Let’s look at three classic examples to see if there is a “partial fulfillment” or if there are simply two distinct sets of events separated by time.

Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder.
There have been over two thousand years between the child being born and His taking over the reins of the government. And yet this prophecy is presented as one continuous thought with no hint of the long time interval involved. The child has been born, and He will take over the governments of the earth at some future date.

Isaiah 61: 1-2 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God;
Jesus read from this scroll in his own home town synagogue, and he actually stopped reading in the middle of the sentence, closed the scroll, and proclaimed that the part he had just read was being fulfilled “this day.” Why did he stop in mid-sentence? Because He knew that there would be a long time gap between “the year of the Lord’s favor” and “the day of vengeance of our God.” There is no hint of this time gap in the text in Isaiah.

Daniel 9: 26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.
In this snippet from the famous prophecy of the 70 weeks, we see two events that are separated from each other by over two millennia- the cutting off of the Messiah and the coming of the prince. (The city and the sanctuary were destroyed by the prince’s people in 70 AD. The prince to come is yet future and is identified in the remainder of the chapter as none other than the man of sin, the antichrist.)

Now here is the pivotal point to understand: In all these and other examples, the second future half of the prophecy will be fulfilled without the first half being repeated again! This is crucial to our correctly understanding the prophecy in Joel 2. For example, no one in his right mind would ever suggest that before Jesus can take up the government on His shoulder, He must come as a child all over again. Regarding Isaiah 61, we are now in the time of the Lord’s favor, when the good news is being brought to the poor; there will not be another crucifixion and resurrection before the Day of vengeance arrives. And the anointed one in Daniel’s 70 weeks vision won’t be cut off again; the prince to come shall arrive in due season and shall be destroyed. In each case, the second part of the prophecy will be fulfilled in due season without any repetition of the first part. There is no partial fulfillment of any of these events, just a time delay between the first part and the second. With this principle firmly in mind, let us return to Joel 2.

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;

Does this verse predict a great last days outpouring of the Spirit, a second Pentecost? We are not left to speculate as to the fulfillment of this dramatic event, because scripture records with apostolic authority when it happened:

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

“And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. ” (Acts 2: 14-18)

We must conclude that the first half of the prophecy of Joel 2 has already been fulfilled. God has already poured out His Spirit on all flesh. Unlike the days of the Old Testament prophets when the Spirit of God would fall on a man and then lift again, we may now receive the indwelling Spirit as a permanent resident of our heart! And no one is declared off limits because of age, gender, or social status. According to the prophecy, even female slaves and the youth would participate in this outpouring. This was unheard of in the world of the ancient Jews! And this is what we see today: Anyone who asks from a sincere and hungry heart may be filled with the Holy Spirit. This prophecy was fulfilled and is still a present reality, just as much as the Son is still given and the favorable Year of the Lord is still being proclaimed.

There is no biblical evidence that when the second “celestial disturbances” part of the prophecy comes to pass before the Day of the Lord, the first part will be repeated. Once again, there is no biblical basis for belief in a “partial fulfillment” in Acts 2 followed by a “greater fulfillment” at the end of the age. Scripture tells us that the gift of the Holy Spirit is a down-payment on the fullness of our inheritance and our complete adoption. When does the fullness come? According to the bible, we receive our full adoption and inheritance at the time of the resurrection at the end of the tribulation, not in some great last days revival. The “latter rain” mentioned in Joel 2 is not some cryptic reference to a second Pentecost, but the promise of agricultural and economic restoration to Israel if they would return to the Lord.

Therefore, we must conclude that Joel 2 does not promise a second revival. And we must also warn individuals or religious communities who have made end time revival to be their hope that they are in danger of great disillusionment when the end of the age brings a very difference scenario than the one they are hoping for. As Francis Chan cautioned at the 2014 Onething Conference in Kansas City, you can’t place your hope in revival because it may or may not come.

I do believe that the Bible does teach that in the last days there will be a great harvest, accompanied by great persecution. We can learn from history that persecution of the Church often results in purity and multitudes coming to the Lord. So shall it be in the last days. The book of Revelation tells us that by the end of the tribulation, the Church (Bride) will have made herself ready. Revelation chapter 7 tells us that a multitude so large that it can’t be numbered will come to the Lord out of the great tribulation. By implication, many of them will have been martyred for their faith. Daniel tells us that although those who know God shall be strong and do exploits, this time will be the most horrible in all of human history. Jesus said that unless the Father cuts this time short, no one will survive. This sounds far more intense to me than the picture painted by those who think the glory of the saints will render the tribulation as hardly noticeable.

Will there be miracles? Absolutely, but there will be demonic miracles as well as heavenly. The false prophet of Revelation 13 is specifically mentioned as being able to call down fire from heaven in front of people. How ironic is it that in many contemporary Charismatic meetings, the leaders pray for fire to come down from Heaven. Ask yourself, when did any of Christ’s apostles ever pray for fire to come down? Did Paul ever pray for revival, or teach the churches to contend for revival (or for signs and wonders?) The Charismatic Church’s obsession with revival and the associated healing meetings, pursuing signs and wonders more than suffering and meekness, and accompanied by being ‘drunk in the Spirit’, is producing believers who are living for a dangerous false hope. This is especially alarming given the perilous times we live in. The prophets and apostles never taught us to place our hope in revival.

So what is true biblical hope?

The overarching message of scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is that a future day is coming when the curse will be removed, death will be destroyed, the earth will be renewed, the enemies of righteousness will be destroyed, and God will make His permanent habitation with men. The unified message of the prophets is that there is a coming Day of the Lord when these things will be fulfilled. Messiah will return to conquer His enemies and institute a literal earthly kingdom based in Jerusalem that will culminate in a new heaven and a new earth, where God and men live together for eternity. Jesus taught this grand theme throughout his ministry, using the parables to illustrate the coming Kingdom and drawing a sharp contrast between the righteous who would inherit this kingdom and the wicked that would be cast out.

Nearly all conservative Christians, those who hold to the deity of Christ, His substitutionary death, and his literal return, agree with these principles. However, there is great division regarding the timing of these events.

The first group, which embraces the dominion-themed end time revival paradigm, teaches that Jesus instituted these things at His first coming.  Known in academic circles as “realized eschatology” and popularly referred to as “kingdom now” or “dominion theology”, these folks insist that all Christians should walk in signs and wonders with great emphasis on healing the sick. They typically emphasize divine guidance through dreams, visions, and personal prophecy. End time revival is a common theme and the future tribulation facing the Church is downplayed, sometimes to the point of being ignored. One well-known dominion teacher states on his web site that the last days Church will be so full of power and glory that it may not even notice the tribulation. Prophecies and visions from contemporary “prophets” are sometimes given the same consideration as scripture. A theme of taking dominion and ‘walking in victory’ runs through the songs and messages of these groups.

Contrast these ideas with the teaching of the New Testament apostles. We must remember that these were the hand-picked, intimately trained men that Jesus used to establish the Church. Their doctrine and world view is the foundation of the Church, not just in the book of Acts but for all time. Their names are written on the foundations of the New Jerusalem. These trained apostles carried this message of the coming King and Kingdom to the early Church, emphasizing redemption through his blood and living a life of good works so as to be counted worthy of such hope of future glory. We must always understand their doctrine within the context of this Hebraic, Messianic worldview. And we must apply any statement from Jesus in the gospels in the same way He taught His own leaders to apply it. We must emphasize what they emphasized, and cease promoting what they did not promote.

For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2: 18-21)

These men taught us to place our hope in the return of the Lord at the end of this age, when Jesus would return to take up his kingdom, resurrect His saints, put all enemies under his feet, and set his faithful servants in places of authority to assist his rule over the cities of the earth. Theirs was a message of faithfulness and endurance, of suffering now in order to be found worthy of future glory.

Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? (Luke 24:26)

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21)

Their hope was in the resurrection of the righteous at the last day, and a coming messianic kingdom. These men healed the sick on occasion, nearly always in the context of preaching the gospel. They never held ‘healing services’ where large groups of disciples attempted to pray for healings and miracles for each other. They did not preach about revival, or call down heavenly fire, or exhort the Church to take dominion over anything accept their own sin. They knew that the Day was coming when their Lord would return to take dominion over His enemies, and that the present age was to be a season of mercy and redemption where they were to love their enemies. They followed Jesus’ directive to build the Church, not movements.

There are times of great darkness and evil ahead, and the Church will experience the greatest time of testing in her history. When horrific persecution breaks out, false hopes will fail overnight. We are entering the early years of what Paul called Perilous Times. Soon it will be illegal to take a public stand against the sin of homosexuality, as one example. When tens (and then hundreds) of thousands of western believers are being imprisoned, attacked in the streets, and executed by the state; when Christians refuse to take the mark of the antichrist and can no longer sell goods or buy food; when the most evil regime in the history of the human race takes the reins of power, then we will see which kind of hope will be able to endure to the end. For those hoping to escape, or for those hoping for a great dominion-based revival with the saints “releasing the judgments of God on the antichrist”, it may prove to be an even more difficult time than they could ever imagine. Revelation tells us that the saints will overcome in this dark hour by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and by not loving their lives unto the death. Let us embrace the only true hope there is: the power of the cross for a sanctified life and the appearing of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (I John 3: 2-3)