What is Revival According to Scripture?
Updated: Nov 23
Revival and revivalism Biblically pertains to the lost, not to the saved. There I said it. Revival, or the concept of being revived, in scripture, is referring to a conditional need of lost people, not saved people. Revival is associated with soteriology, rather than sanctification. Below is the reasoning.
1. Soteriological revival is the revival we see throughout the Old Testament (OT) (the only place the word is actually found) including in Nehemiah (very often twisted into sanctification revival). The nation of Israel was lost. They have always been lost. At no point have they ever been saved (see 2 Cor 3:13-16; Ac 7:51-53 for instance).
2. The word revival primarily means to bring someone back from the dead. To resuscitate someone from a position of lifelessness. To revive. To restore to life. To quicken. Saved people aren’t dead people, nor are they dying spiritually. Saved people are never not quickened. They are always alive, and will never die spiritually (Jn 11:25-26). Revival has the same connotation as repentance in the OT, the word “return” frequently used to describe the volitional act of repentance unto salvation.
Changing the definitions of words doesn’t help the cause of revivalists/Keswick theologians.
3. A saved person has been revived, has been quickened, and has no need for revival because he continues in the state of revival forever, for some very important reasons. That however doesn’t mean he don’t ever need to repent again or be refreshed, but these are altogether different terms and principles than revival. Though they have need for refreshing and renewing and repenting, they are alive, very alive and have never a need for revival or being made alive again (e.g. Pr 8:35; 4:18; Jn 5:39-40; 20:31; Eph 2:1-5; Jn 11:25-26; Rom 4:17; Col 2:10-15).
The truly saved person has everything he will ever need to live the Christian life received at the very moment of salvation (2 Pet 1:3-4; Rom 6:1-23). He lacks nothing and is missing nothing. And the power that he lives by never stops dwelling or working in him,
“And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,“ (Eph 1:19).
God never stops working in and with His saints (Ps. 18:24-26; 48:14; Jer. 32:37-41; Jn. 10:1-5, 26-27; Rom. 8:28-39; 1 Cor. 1:6-9; Eph. 1:11, 13; 3:20; Phil. 1:6; 2:12-13; 1 Th. 2:13; 5:23-24; 2 Th. 2:12-17; 3:2-3; 2 Tim. 1:12; 4:18; 1 Pet. 1:5; Heb. 13:20-21).
4. It comes as a shock for many to learn that the word “revival” does not appear even once in the entire King James Bible. The hope of revival, which excites so many today, is not even a biblical concept in the NT. For revival being such a big deal according to many for those in churches, the NT doesn't once use the word "revival." If "revival" were so important for Christians, and something they should expect and be praying for, one would think, it seems, that it would appear in the Bible one time. It doesn’t. Though the actual word isn’t found, other terms related to it are found in Scripture, such as the Greek word “anapsuxis,” which carries the meaning of “revival" and found once in that great passage of salvation, Acts 3:19, translated into English as “refresh.” It’s referring to salvation:
“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing [“anapsuxis”] shall come from the presence of the Lord;”
This is one of the best examples of revival in the Bible and the only one directly connected to “revival” in the NT, though you wouldn’t know it if you only knew the English word (“refreshing”). The one time occurring of that idea, refers ONLY to salvation. The refreshing, or reviving, occurs when God grants repentance and the sinner exercises that repentance and faith and is converted and his sins blotted out. That is the moment of “refreshing” or revival. It’s conversion. Only conversion. NOTHING to do with practical sanctification.
The word “revived” is also found twice in the NT, translated from “anazao,” in Rom 7:9 and 14:9. The former refers to salvation, Paul recounting his own conversion briefly, “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” The later, Rom 14:9, refers to Christ reviving or being brought back to life literally from the dead (as is the meaning of the word) after His death on Calvary’s cross.
“For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived [“anazao”], that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.”
We can go even further though with the Greek word “anazao” and see how it is translated the other three times found in the NT. Twice it is translated as “alive again,” both referring to the same event—the dramatic conversion of the prodigal son (Lk 15:24, 32). Both passages contain the same phrase wherein we find “anazao” — “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.” Very clearly referring to his conversion, as adjudicated by God the Father.
The only other time it is found, it is translated as “lived not again” in Rev 20:5 referring to the literal raising from the dead of the unsaved after the one thousand year reign of Christ in His earthly kingdom.
5. In the Bible, the word “revive” and “revived” are translated from the Hebrew word “chayah”, which means: "to revive; to make alive; to quicken; to restore to life; to save; to be whole”. (Strong Concordance). This is all referring to what happens at salvation. None of these definitions of the word "revival" applies to the saved. The word “chayah” is translated into the following words in the Scriptures: live (106), lived (39), alive (34), save (13), quicken (12), surely (10), life (7), revive (7), recover (6), saved (5), revived (4), lives (2), preserve (2), quickened (2), recovered (2), certainly (1), keep (1), liveth (1), nourish (1), preservest (1), repaired (1), restored (1), saving (1), up (1), whole (1).
It is interesting to note that of the 235 some odd times the Hebrew word is used, nearly 200 of the uses refer to living, "life", "alive" or something similar, and being “save[d]” from something whether physically or spiritually. This terminology for the very most part is reflective of sinners absent of spiritual life. It is language reflecting salvation, someone dead and brought back to life. The word “quicken” is used eleven times in Ps. 119 and is translated from the same Hebrew word chayah and has the same basic meaning as “revive”, which is to make alive. Quickening always refers to what occurs at salvation.
Practically every usage of the word in the OT is referring to salvation, and that makes Biblical sense since Israel as a nation has always been unsaved (the context and syntax make that very clear: see here for example). The only time it’s ever used in reference to a saved person is when Jacob was revived after he discovered Joseph was alive. The explanation for that is simple: the Holy Spirit came and went on OT saints, so they would certainly appear as one in need of revival. But most cases in the OT where revival is mentioned, the people of Israel are unsaved.
6. Practically every reference to revival in scripture that is rightly divided and interpreted exegetically (not eisegetically) is towards unsaved people needing revival (the passages frequently used in support of sanctification revival are misused and twisted out of their meaning). Someone that has life doesn’t need to be revived, neither physically or spiritually. Ps 85, a favourite for support of revivalism, clearly speaks of salvation. Nehemiah likewise. The entire nation of Israel was unsaved (with the exception of very few, a remnant), which was the major cause of their captivity by Babylon. See here for proof how we know why Israel—God’s Chosen People—As a Nation was Never Saved in the Wilderness of the Exodus or Ever for that Matter.
7. Examples in scripture reflect that revival is for the truly dead, whether physically or spiritually. Elijah revived a dead boy, not one alive (1 Ki. 17). His soul had already departed from him. He was certainly dead. The lost son that comes to repentance and salvation in Luke 15 demonstrates what revival truly is, as his Father explains twice: "For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." (Lk. 15:24a, 32). As noted in the last point, the word “anazao” for revived is found twice in the context of God declaring his conversion. He was revived from the dead and now lives; he was lost but now is found! He had never lost any of that. He was revived once and for all.
8. This was also the belief of our forefathers. They knew that revival was for unsaved people. Revival meetings of old by men like George Whitfield understood its true meaning, as did the General of the Confederate party, Robert E. Lee. Once upon being deeply moved by compassion over the students at Washington College, over which he presided, Robert E. Lee exclaimed:
"If God would bring a revival, that the students would repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ."
9. Revivalism, the teaching intricately tied with Keswick-type theology, is tied to a wrong doctrine of salvation and sanctification and then the methodology that accompanies those. One of the reasons that the professions and decisions are called "revival" is because they are just professions and decisions. They aren't actual salvation and sanctification. They are experiences primed by manufactured, external stimuli, and labeled some type of work of God. Actual, real results are not expected. This point is built into their plans of salvation and doctrinal statement. No real repentance and conversion must occur for the revival of revivalism. You can plan on something that you can make happen. Since it is you making it happen, know then that it isn't God making it happen. God will do things that are of Him, characterized by Him. The planned revivals of revivalism are made by men, using human techniques. They are not revival. Revival can occur, concerning unsaved people, but it won't have anything to do with our planning of it. If it does occur, those with whom it does occur will be fully cognizant, clear thinking people. They will hear plain, thorough biblical exposition. They will be good soil, with hearts ready to hear, and then be truly and dramatically converted. If the soil on which the seed is cast isn't good, no other factor will change the result. Manipulating the soil with revivalism doesn't glorify heaven but makes unsaved people two-fold children of hell.
No revival movement has ever been successful without de-emphasizing doctrine. Doctrine divides, and division is the opposite of multiplication — the supposedly incontrovertible measure of revival.
There is also no end-times “revival,” but rather apostasy. God’s Word does not show us any indication of a “revival,” or even some event of many people being converted (if the word and principle of “revive” is being used correctly), but rather a great catastrophe of apostasy (1 Tim 4:1; 2 Tim 3:1-5; 4:3-4; 2 Th 2:3; Matt 24:10-12; Lk 18:8). The truly saved believers are warned not to be deceived. One could see that as persecution comes in the end times people will have to make a decision and if they are not standing on the solid foundation of Christ and His Word through the new birth, they will most certainly fall away into apostasy because they have never been regenerated.
10. The “revivalism” / Keswick theology heresy that runs rampant in churches today, is not biblical and not of God and it's further reflected in the prayers of adherents. True believers should not be praying, like “revivalists,” for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit or that the Holy Spirit would come down and meet with them in a special way — these types of prayers. They are praying for some event accompanied by some indication that something amazing is occurring, a quasi-sign of some sort. Then they produce the cause for the effect with the music and the style of speaking. This was nothing like the great awakening with Whitefield in the colonial period, where true revival was actually taking place by the conversion of sinners.
No one should be praying for the Spirit to come, since He's already here. No one should be praying for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, because He has already been poured out. It happened in Acts 2. These are second blessing prayers. These are Keswick prayers. They are actually faithless prayers. Why would someone pray for something that already occurred? Why not just believe that it occurred? They want more of these events, these signs, these occurrences as a validation. They are seeking after signs. But Jesus says it is “a wicked and adulterous generation [that] seeketh after a sign” (Matt 16:4), and that is another indication of an unregenerate estate.
Instead of praying what the revivalists pray, believers should pray like what the Apostle Paul did for the church at Ephesus in Eph 3:16:
"that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man."
Believers have all the power of the universe within them in the Person of the Holy Spirit and obedient faith will strengthen that power, not anything else.
God's Word is powerful. The Holy Spirit will work through God's Word. God has promised. We should, like the apostles, pray for boldness in preaching the Word of God, so true reviving could occur in the hearts of the unsaved. Pray for doors of opportunity. Are these two prayers, boldness and opportunity, big events? They are obedience to God. We should look at obedience to God as a big enough event for us. God is already working providentially all around and all over. God's power is immense and He wants us already to acknowledge it, not seek for more.
In conclusion, the above should suffice to show that the concept of reviving or revive refers to salvation, a reference to the lost in need of conversion, though it could be greatly expanded with further Biblical exposition.
Ask yourself a few questions: Does Christ not indwell the saved permanently? Are we not to be filled with the Holy Spirit at all times? Is not the Word of God sufficient? Why, then, chase after signs and wonders as though unusual manifestations prove that God is at work while neglecting what God has already given us? Or why not study the Word of God to see and understand what “revival” truly means, and whether it is even found in there, rather than simply parroting the theories of others?
Unfortunately the false teaching of “revivalism” rampant among IFB churches has corrupted the minds of many. It is nothing more than a man made act used to draw increased people into the pews (And fill the coffers). Yes many regular attendees at these churches do need revival but not as the revivalists and others might think. Majority need to be saved, so yes they need to be revived, just not the revival show being offered to them by the “evangelist.”
Click here if you've never been revived by God or are unsure.