One Increasing Purpose
The hope of national and world revival is at hand. We can be confident of this for seven good reasons. The first reason—the Decisive Person—rests on this basic thesis.
God intends for his Son to be at the center of everything—at the end of history and at every step along the way. He has no greater desire. In whatever he does, his ultimate purpose is to sum up all heaven and earth under Jesus as Lord (Eph. 1:10). Every revival—including the final revival—is meant to accelerate, intensify, and expand this process. In revival God dramatically intervenes to restore Christ’s rightful role as Redeemer King among his people and to more fully advance his kingdom among the nations. Therefore we can pray and prepare for a coming world revival with confidence.
It was not lost on religious commentators that when the Soviet flag was lowered over the Kremlin indicating the internal collapse of atheistic Communism, it took place on Christmas Eve of 1991. What a sign of the great biblical truth: Christ is the victor. He is decisive. Everything stands or falls with its response to him. “The expectation of the renewal of all things in Christ is also the vision in which the whole church lives; it is the hope that lies behind everything we do as Christians. Evil is not ultimate. The last word is Jesus Christ.”1
In Christ we not only see who God is and where he is headed, but in Christ we also see how God intends to get there. In the words of Bishop Stephen Neill, God has “one increasing purpose,”2 and it all centers on Jesus Christ. History is not moving in a vacuum. History and the expansion of Christ’s kingdom are inseparably interlinked.
Thus, since revival propels the expansion of Christ’s kingdom and the increase of his purpose among the nations, God’s ultimate commitment to his own Son is sufficient reason for us to seek and prepare for revival now, with confidence.
Confidence and the Ascension
To fully grasp the decisive nature of Christ and the implications of this truth for coming revival, we turn to the ascension, possible the most neglected doctrine of Scripture today. By the ascension we see Jesus installed as Messiah to rule over the earth right now. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to him. The ascension signals that God is even now bringing all things under Jesus as Lord (Eph. 1), reconciling heaven and earth through his blood (Col. 1). As John Calvin and other reformers taught, Christ ascended to rule heaven and earth with a more immediate power than he ever had in the days of his flesh. As we learn from Psalm 110, Christ does not need to be physically present to conquer his enemies and extend his salvation with invincible power.
At this very moment Christ is about the business of bringing unconditional surrender among all the nations. According to Revelation 6, Christ is not only the heir but also the executor of creation. It is his estate. Right now he is asserting his right over everything that belongs to him.
Therefore there is always great potential in any generation for the advance of God’s purposes throughout the earth. Not one corner is left out of the exercise of Christ’s lordship. No human enterprise is irrelevant to his concern or lies outside his authority. No human structure and ultimately no peoples of the earth can indefinitely remain indifferent to his reign.
Now please be patient with me here. I realize this is a challenge for all of us, to plumb some of the depths of what God is up to in our midst. What I’m saying is that the redemptive strategy in God’s “one increasing purpose” is to achieve glory for his Son from the greatest number of people, to the fullest scope and deepest level possible. And often that requires revival.
The key phrase Jesus used to describe the decisiveness of his reign with “the kingdom of God.” And what does this mean? David Mains is right in concluding that our Lord was talking about any situation in which Christ is recognized as king, his will is obeyed, and obedient subjects reap the benefits of his reign.3 This is true in the consummation. It is also experienced in countless situations prior to the consummation, and sometimes, with great intensity! Revival!
We began to look at revival from this perspective in chapter 2. Now I want to explore it with you in greater detail. Let’s find why this understanding of who Christ is in the purposes of God should deliver us from all tentativeness in our prayers and preparations for revival.
For you see, to whatever degree Christ is Lord ultimately, he is Lord now. Revival simply intensifies that lordship. That’s why we can expect revival. To whatever degree Christ is to be the perfection and fulfillment of all things, he is to be that in substantial ways even now. Revival simply accelerates that work. So, we can expect revival. To whatever degree God is committed to the consummation, he is equally prepared to give any generation approximations of that consummation. Revival simply unleashes that. So, we can expect revival.
The question of God’s predisposition toward revival is already decided—in Christ. There is no plan B. This is God’s longing for any generation. He is not only willing and able but also ready and committed to do this on behalf of those who seek him for it.
Confidence and the Cross
Multi-denominational, multiracial prayer movements for revival were the hallmark of the spiritual battle for South Africa during the 1980s and before. It all culminated in 1994 when thirty thousand people assembled in a stadium in Durban on the eve of the first multiracial national elections, to pray that God would spare their nation a bloodbath and would rain down righteousness and healing on their land. It was no coincidence that as they prayed, leaders of the Zulu nation and the African National Congress successfully deliberated in the same stadium. Civil war was avoided at the eleventh hour. Michael Cassidy, an Anglican clergyman and leader of African Enterprise, who organized the prayer rally (and many other similar gatherings over the years), said of that one day’s event, “We believed, as we prepared for the Jesus Peace Rally and as we participated in it, that if we were obedient to God, came together, and humbled ourselves prayerfully and penitentially before him, that he would bring forth the political miracle that we so longed to see. God has heard our prayers.”
Truly, this was a foretaste of the larger work God wants us to have in the coming world revival. It all happens when we, like they, are willing to put ourselves under the cross. Under the cross we find our greatest confidence about revival.
Look at it this way: Just as Christ is decisive in everything that touches human experience, including revival, so without a doubt the cross marks the most decisive moment in his reign. The cross is the crossroads of all history, of all human destinies, both of individuals and of nations. At the cross Christ challenges all of the false hopes to which the world might cling. The cross exposes them, rebukes them, and replaces them with the greater hope of God’s inexhaustible grace. The cross acts as a hinge to swing open the flood gates of God’s saving bounty upon the human race both now and in the consummation itself. At the cross God has already rendered cosmic judgment. Christ was judged for the sins of all humankind, and in his blood God brought down his verdict forever on the world, the flesh, and the devil. The cross was also the starting point of the new creation, when Christ broke the power of death by coming off the cross to rise from the grave.
The manifestation of Christ in Revelation 5, for example, is of a Lamb reigning as a Lion. The Son slain is victorious—he prevails from the cross and by the cross. So how can the Father turn away our cries for a revival that extends Christ’s reign, when (as Wesley would say) his wounds forever plead for this?
In every real sense, therefore, revival is secured for us by the cross. Everything that revival brings has been bought and paid for at the cross. Does revival bring unity? Then revival requires the cross (Col. 1:20). Does revival restore holiness? Then revival required the cross (Col. 1:22). In revival does God open up to us a fullness of life in Christ (Col. 2:9-10) and a newness of life (Col. 2:13), while defeating the powers of darkness (Col. 2:15)? Then the cross is decisive at every step.
There is Always So Much More
The cross guarantees that with God, Christians can expect so much more, as God comes to a people under the cross—repentant and broken, but filled with confident hope—and reawakens them to the glory of the reigning Christ through them.
That’s what Henri Nouwen suggests in With Open Hands. He says there are three components of hope to which Christ invited us: 1. We must constantly expect something new from God. 2. We must look ahead for that which has not yet appeared. 3. We must be ready to accept the risks of daring to stay open to whatever lies ahead.4 In other words, God’s purposes revolving around the cross are so comprehensive that we must always pray and prepare for more with confidence. Greater blessings are coming!
In eighteenth-century preaching and writing on revival, leaders never gave way to the feeling that the condition of the world was so desperate that the only hope left was to “hold the fort” until Jesus comes back. Instead, “in their mind, to have done so would been to fall into unbelief in regard to the promised results of His first coming. If what was predicted seemed impossible, the remedy was to contemplate more closely the authority and glory which now belongs to the Head of the church.”5
In other words they constantly prayed for and anticipated revival. They did so simply because they saw in the crucified and ascended Jesus that God always has so much more for his people even prior to (through pointing forward) the second coming of Christ. They also recognized there are times in God’s economy when all of his abundance in Jesus may converge with new intensity upon the church. It is experienced as Christ decisively inserts himself once again into the center of our consciousness, vindicating himself as our hope of glory, and all of this for the sake of nations still in darkness.
Revival Is Christ
From whatever angle we view it, therefore, revival is fundamentally one thing: Revival is Christ. That’s because God can do nothing greater for his church than to reawaken us to the sufficiency, supremacy, and destiny of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is as it should be. God does not possess anything for his people, now or forever, beyond who Christ is and what his kingdom is all about. Jesus exhausts for us all we can ever know about God. He encompasses everything we hope to receive from God, everything hope to become for him. He embodies every hope we share as we enter the twenty-first century. Accordingly, Jesus also exhausts every facet of the church’s experience of revival—and of the coming revival.
In revival God arouses his people to a more comprehensive manifestation of his grace and glory in Jesus. We are brought to a rediscovery of the whole Christ. Let me pull this together by using three simple words. They describe the full impact of all true revivals in our relationship with Christ: focus, fullness, fulfillment. 1. In revival there is a new focus on Christ’s person (who he is to us, especially his character as God’s Son) and on his passion (who he is for us, especially in his death, resurrection, and ascension). As a result, 2. we experience together in new ways the fullness of his life over us (as he rules over us as Lord and Head of the church) and in us (as he indwells us with his resurrection power). 3. All of this presses us into new involvements in the fulfillment of Christ’s mission where we live and among the nations, as he carries out his purposes (through us), and as he establishes his preeminence among many peoples (going out ahead of us to lead his global cause to victory and to bring about the consummation of all things).
To put it in a sentence:
Revival is when God intervenes with his people at a particular moment to manifest decisively the presence of his Son in three ways: to give them a new focus on who Christ is to them and for them; in order that they might enter together into the fullness of his life over them and in them; so that they might serve together in the fulfillment of his mission through them and out ahead of them.
Superspective: The Manifest Presence of Christ
One of my favorite words to describe this threefold impact of revival is superspective. By this I mean a spiritual awakening is more than just dusting off our everyday view of Christ. Instead it’s an extraordinary reintroduction to God’s Son as Lord—Lord of history, of nations, of the church, of the ages, of me. This superspective revolutionizes how the church thinks about him as well as about ourselves or about the world as a whole. And it revolutionizes how we think about the future, even about the twenty-first century. Clearly if there is one hallmark of the revivals documented in Scripture (and repeated the past two thousand years), it is this: In revival God reveals more of Christ. He gives his church vision, superspective, hope.
Puritans like Edwards had their own synonyms for God-given susperspective. They called it the “manifest presence of Christ.”6 Here’s what they meant. There is, they said, the essential presence of Christ, that is, Christ is everywhere present, all the time. We are never far from him nor he from us. It’s unavoidable. But they also spoke of Christ’s cultivated presence, the sense of his fellowship that comes to believers as they walk faithfully with him day by day. We cultivate a deeper knowledge of the Lord, and in that sense he seems to become much more present with us as time goes by.
But when the Puritans talked about revival, they coined another term: the manifest presence. By this they meant those times when God reveals his Son to a generation of his people in such a dramatic fashion that it seems as if Christ had been hidden from them, then suddenly made manifest.
Imagine actors on a stage. Though they are just as much in the auditorium before the play begins as after it begins, they become manifest only as the curtain is drawn back to introduce act one. Once that happens, however, everything in the theater is transformed. The actors are no longer names on the playbill; they have become real people full of vivid energy, acting out their parts before you very eyes. The plot takes shape and moves towards it climax. Even so in revival God pulls the curtain back. The chief actor, Jesus Christ, appears at center stage. Hailed and studied by all, he takes up his lines and occupies the rest of the evening by the sheer force of his presence until the story is told and the audience cheers and runs on stage to join him in the drama.
In other words, in revival, Christ and his kingdom become the center of attention, first to the church and then to the nations among whom God’s people dwell. There is such an intensified awareness of who Christ is that even skeptics much acknowledge that what is happening with the Christians is only explainable by supernatural causes. Historian R. O. Roberts put it succinctly:
Without doubt, the greatest single aspect of every true revival is the peculiar and wonderful sense of the presence of God which is manifest. It is this mighty sense of the presence of God which draws large crowds, produces intense conviction, causes tears to flow, enables hardened sinners to right the wrongs of years past, produces seemingly instantaneous conversions, and results in spontaneous joy and enthusiasm.7
No wonder Scripture couches revival in the motif of encounter. It talks about God’s visitation among his people, about God rending the heavens and coming down to his people, about how he pours out his Spirit upon his people and breaks into their midst with stunning glory. As we saw earlier, there seems to be less the promise of survival and much more the experience of arrival. In revival God arrives among his people—he shows up!—with a greater focus on his Son (bringing fullness and fulfillment with it). Christ invades us, as it were, to capture and conquer us afresh, to take us with him as he goes before us into our homes, into our cities, and among the nations.
Scripture often describes a people transformed by revival by saying, “The fear of the Lord was upon them all.” True, revival is an awesome experience as we fall into the hands of the living God who is intent on consuming us with the presence of the risen Christ. Henry Blackaby boils it down to just two words. Revival is “experiencing God!”
When He Shakes His Mane
In C. S. Lewis’s series The Chronicles of Narnia, such a revival is typified by events anticipated by a Mr. Beaver as he talk with four children who have stumbled into Narnia through a magical wardrobe. For some time, he tells them, a lion known as Aslan (the Christ-figure of this series) has been noticeably absent from his dominion. In his place the White Witch, filled with evil venom, has transformed Narnia into a place where “it is always winter but never Christmas.” But as the humans talk with Aslan’s faithful citizen who along with many others longs for the king’s return, they are told of an ancient prophecy many believe is about to be fulfilled. Already rumors have surfaced that Aslan has returned and is on the move in the land. Filled with a contagious hope, Mr. Beaver recites for them the prophecy on which their whole future depends:
Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes him mane, we shall have spring again.8
He goes on to tell them, “You’ll understand when you see him,” adding that if the evil sorcerer can stand on her two feet and look Aslan in the face, it will be the most she can do “and more than I expect of her.”
In those few lines Lewis has defined for us the heart of revival. It is the revelation of the King. It is his manifest presence restored once more among his subjects: He “comes in sight, roars, bares his teeth, shakes him man.” But Lewis also gives us a hint of what the future holds for a generation that experiences such a revival: “Wrong will be right…we shall have spring again.”
It is a national and world revival of this magnitude and more—wonderfully reflective of the Decisive Person for whose sake it is given—that many believe will be the hallmark of the twenty-first century—a hope that is at hand. They are confident of this—for more reasons than one. Let’s look at confidence building number two.