“What is a revival?” Answers to this question are essential if you want to understand the rationale for the Church Growth Modelling project. The fifth and final in this series of five articles comes from a sermon I have preached in many churches. The passage is Acts 1:1-12.

Read parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 to set the context[1].

Throughout this article, I treat revival and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit as synonymous. See the previous parts.

In this part, I show that revivals are like repetitions of Pentecost. Exceptional works of God that occur in different degrees.

Repetitions of Pentecost

Revivals are like a repetition of Pentecost. Of course, it cannot literally be repeated because it was the first outpouring. However, there will be future outpourings similar to Pentecost.

Let me return to our original text, Acts 1:8

You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.

Acts 1:8

Look at the verb “has come upon you”. Translated literally, this verb means “is coming upon you”. It refers to a specific event, but one that can happen again and again. It is not a single event but typical of how God deals with his people. The coming of the Holy Spirit is repeated. There is always a present aspect to the Spirit’s work. Acts is the story of the Lord’s repeated coming in power.

The Day of Pentecost (generated with NightCafe)

Five Outpourings of the Spirit

In Acts, Luke records five specific incidents of the Holy Spirit coming upon people. The first is the day of Pentecost itself (Acts 2:1-21). Next, the Holy Spirit comes on a prayer meeting in Jerusalem (Acts 4:23-31) so powerfully that the room shakes! Luke records a specific outpouring on Samaritans (Acts 8:9-25). There are further revivals among Gentiles at the home of Cornelius (Acts 10:1-11:18). The final such outpouring is on a group of disciples at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7)[2]. Each of these has the same characteristics. In that sense, these are repetitions of the first one, Pentecost.

Of course, in one sense, the whole of Acts is one long revival. However, it is composed of different revival incidents at various times and places. Like Pentecost, they are exceptional. That is, they stand out in power or significance. It is for this reason that Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes these incidents as repetitions of Pentecost[3]. They are works that stand out. Referring to past revivals, he asks

What happened a hundred years ago in these various countries? The best way of answering that question is to say that it is in a sense a repetition of Pentecost. It is something happening to the Church that inevitably and almost instinctively makes one look back and think again of what happened on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2.

Revival. DM Lloyd-Jones, Ch. 8, p100.

As at the Beginning

The apostle Peter does exactly this when he reports back to the Jerusalem church the outpouring of the Spirit on the Gentiles at Caesarea:

“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’

Acts 11:15-16

 “As he had come on us at the beginning”! The outpouring of the Spirit reminded Peter of Pentecost and the Lord’s promise of how his baptism would compare with John’s. The event at Caesarea was a repetition of Pentecost. Revivals are a repetition of Pentecost.

Revivals Vary in Degree

No two revivals are the same. There is variation, as seen in Luke’s accounts in Acts. Luke also highlights this variation with the words he uses to describe the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, he uses seven such expressions. Our text in Acts 1:8 says the Spirit will “come upon”. In chapter 2, Luke says the Spirit is “poured out”. He also says they are “filled with” the Spirit, “baptised with” the Spirit, and that they “receive” the Spirit. The Spirit is said to “fall upon” them, and the Spirit is said to be “given” [4].

These expressions do not mean substantially different things. They are Luke’s way of describing the work of the Spirit in giving the power to witness through revealing the presence of Christ in the disciples. This work is so profound that Luke wants to describe it in as many ways as possible. Indeed, the more powerful the revival, the more words Luke uses!

For the prayer meeting in Acts 4, Luke uses one expression. In Acts 19, he uses two for the disciples in Ephesus,. For the Samaritans, he uses three (Acts 8), and for the Gentiles at Caesarea (Acts 10, 11), he uses five. Of course, he uses all seven expressions for Pentecost[4]! That was the mightiest outpouring, maybe because it was first, or the numbers involved, or the sheer boldness of the disciples.

The Prayer meeting where the room shook, generated by NightCafe
The Prayer meeting where the room shook (generated with NightCafe)

Revivals are repeated, but clearly, they are not repeated in the same way or with the same power. But they are still revivals. They are still outpourings of the Spirit. Each one stands out in different ways and to different degrees.


Some revivals are exceptionally fast. For example, in Wales in 1904, the revival lasted little over a year, but 100,000 people were converted. Likewise, in 1859, 120,000 were saved. Similar fast revivals happened in the USA, Scotland and Northern Ireland at that time. However, a parallel revival in England was not as geographically spread but lasted much longer throughout the 1860s.

Some revivals are comprehensive, as in the Breadalbane revival, 1800-1820, referred to in the introduction. In this case, an area with few believers became one where most people were converted. A revival that started with one individual saw a whole area converted.

Some revivals are associated with particular towns, such as Cambuslang, 1742; Kilsyth, 1742, 1839; and Beddgelert, 1817[5].

Some revivals were exceptional because they lasted so long, such as the Methodists from the 1730s – 1850s. Revivals like the Reformation are exceptional because of their political impact and their impact on church reorganisation. Pentecostalism is an exceptional revival because it has covered the globe and is continuing to grow the church.

Next Revival?

The next revival where you are may not look like any of these in the past or present. If you are in a post-Christian area, a new revival may well be slow. The small number of existing believers would initially be limited in the number of people they could contact, a bit like the early church. But if sustained, such a revival would be effective. The revival may start so slow that it does not come to the attention of the media, either secular or Christian[6]. Maybe we are not looking for the signs.

Do you see the need for revival? Do you see the need for God to convert people? A passion for people’s souls and the desire to see God glorified should surely drive us to our knees and pray for revival. Surely, it should drive us to want to witness for Christ whether revival has come or not! Maybe the last sixty years of church decline has been God trying to get our attention and saying, “You need me in power” in our mission, church life and personally. Will you pray for revival? Will you conduct your life so that God may use you this way? Are you open to his intervention? Will you long for his presence and his power?


  1. Blog posts:
    Part 1: What is Revival? Introduction.
    Part 2: Revival is a Work of God.
    Part 3: An Outpouring of the Spirit concerns the Kingdom of God.
    Part 4: Revival Involves the Presence of God.
  2. There are other incidents where the Holy Spirit comes upon individuals. For example, Paul at his conversion (Acts 9:17) and Peter as he stands to speak to a crowd (Acts 4:8).
  3. Revival. DM Lloyd-Jones, Ch. 8, p100, Marshall Pickering, (1986). See also chapter 14, page 184.
  4. The following table matches Luke’s Holy Spirit expressions with the different revivals in Acts:
Revival and Holy Spirit Expressions used by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles
Revival and Holy Spirit Expressions used by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles
  • I am indebted to James DG Dunn, “Baptism with the Holy Spirit”, SCM Press, (1970), for his original analysis of this issue. I would not necessarily agree with every part of his book, but his work is an excellent counterpoint to more rigid views on the terms used to describe the activity of the Holy Spirit. A more informal application of these terms is similar to their usage during the Methodist revivals, particularly the Welsh Calvinist Methodists.
  1. UK Wells has documented every revival in the UK.
  2.  Iain H Murray argues that it would be better for the church if revival does not attract the attention of the media. See “Pentecost Today?”, Banner of Truth, (1998), p.168. Chapter 6 highlights the possible dangers of revival.


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