Are Our Revivals Like Pentecost? (Part 1)

The revival that broke out in the chapel of Asbury University on February 8, 2023 is spreading. Campus Reform, a publication devoted to reporting on the state of civil liberties on American college campuses, reports that there are “seven student-led revivals across the country.” According to the Christian Post, “Cedarville University President Thomas White described what was happening as ‘a special outpouring and sensing of the presence of the Lord,’ adding that it ‘will be left to the historians’ to determine if it was truly a revival.” Campus Reform writes that students from Cedarville, a school in the Baptist tradition located fifty-six miles southwest of Columbus, OH, “traveled to campuses across the region to proclaim the gospel…[s]ome students have even taken to spreading the gospel in other states with one traveling to Michigan State University to share the gospel in the wake of its recent mass shooting.”

The revival has also spread to another Baptist University, Baylor, located in Waco, TX. After the revival began at Asbury, students at Baylor “began praying for mass spiritual renewal…”. Students at Samford University, in Homewood, AL, a suburb of Birmingham, have been “gathering to pray and worship since Wednesday.” The revival is reported to have broken out “with one student who began playing music and singing.” An Assistant to President of the University, Ken Blackwell, says, “God is ‘doing something.'”

The chapel of Lee University, in Cleveland, TN, 32 miles northwest of Chattanooga, TN, in the Church of God tradition, is reported to have been “filled for nearly two weeks with student worship.” The revival there was discovered by filmmaker Alex Kendrick.

Revival is also said to have broken out at Belmont University, a school with connections to the Baptist tradition located in Nashville. Campus Reformed reports that students who attended the Asbury Revival have carried to the University of the Cumberlands, a Baptist school located 70 miles north of Knoxville, TN where students have been praying continuously.

The Antioch United Methodist Church, in College Station, TX, says the revival at the school “is the closest thing I’ve seen to Acts,” according to Campus Reform.

The Asbury revival has spread to seven other schools, most of which are in the revival and/or revivalist tradition. The report from College Station captures the way many in those traditions think about revival. They see a strong analogy with Pentecost. This analogy should be explored to see whether it holds up.

What Was Pentecost?

In order to assess whether Pentecost was a repeatable event, we need to know what it was. The Feast of Weeks (Ex 34:22) was one of three annual feasts that required attendance to Jerusalem (Ex 34:23). In the Feast of Weeks, the Israelites presented to the Lord a “new grain offering” (Nu 28:26). It was a Sabbath and required a burnt offering (Nu 28:27) along with the grain offering and a male goat to make atonement (Nu 28:30). Pentecost (πεντηκοστός) is a Greek word meaning “fiftieth” and it was used because the Feast of Weeks began on the fiftieth day after the second day of Passover.

In the New Testament, of course, the Old Testament (typological) Feast of Weeks was transformed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, in which “divided tongues” of fire appeared and “rested on them” (Acts 2:3; ESV), and the disciples were “filled with the Holy Spirit” and spoke in foreign languages by divine power. This was the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Baptizer, that Jesus would baptize with “the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt 3:11).

Jews, gathered in Jerusalem for the feast, heard the sound and came to find out what was happening. The Jews, who came from across the region, from multiple language groups (vv. 9–11; Parthia, Media, Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, Crete, and Arabia), heard the disciples speak in their own languages (Acts 2:6, 11). NB: All these were, by the way, known natural languages. The miracle here is one of speaking and hearing not one of people speaking an unknown language.

The confusion, however, was not cleared up until the Apostle Peter stood up to preach the law and the gospel and thereby explain to the gathered multitude what was happening and its significance. (Acts 2:14)  He explained that they were not drunk but they were full of the Holy Spirit. What they had witnessed was the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham (Gen 12 and 15, and again through Jeremiah 31:31–33) as expressed through the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28–32).

It is very important for us to see that Peter did not preach the miracle of Pentecost nor did he explain to the gathered multitude the steps to transmitting and repeating this episode. Rather, he preached the law. He explained to them the greatness of their sin and misery and he preached Christ—the gospel, that the very same Jesus, whom they had crucified (Acts 2:23, 36), was actually delivered up to according to God’s sovereign plan and providence. God raised him from the dead because, unlike King David, he was the Messiah, the anointed one sent and come to save all the elect (Acts 2:24–32).

Unlike David, who remains buried, the risen Jesus of Nazareth is now seated at the right hand of the Father. He is ruler of Psalm 2 and Psalm 110 (Acts 2:33–36). Because Christ has been raised and because he ascended, as he promised, he has poured out God the Spirit, the co-eternal, co-essential third person of the Holy Trinity, upon the Apostles in a singular act of redemption (Acts 2:33).

In response to Peter’s pointed and powerful preaching of the law and the gospel, those whom God had elected, for whom Jesus had obeyed, died, and been raised “were cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37; ESV) and cried out for salvation. In response, Peter told them to “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit because the promise is to you and to your children and to all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:28–39).

Is Pentecost Repeatable?

The short answer is yes and no. Luke records a “second Pentecost” among the Gentiles in Acts 10:34–38. In Caesarea, Peter had a vision (Acts 10:9–16) showing him that the Old Testament ceremonial laws and food restrictions were abolished. They had fulfilled their purpose. In Christ, the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:11–22; Acts 10:28–29) has been broken down. Remember, our Lord promised that the gospel is to go to from Jerusalem to “Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8). At Pentecost, Peter had implied the very same thing. He preached to Jews but the promise is to Jewish believers, their children (Acts 2:39), and to the Gentiles. This is what the Lord had promised to Abraham in Genesis 12 and 15. Abraham is about to become the spiritual father of many nations, as many as the stars in the sky and the sands of the sea shore.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

Part Two (coming Wednesday, March 1, 2023).

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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3 comments

  1. Dr. Clark,

    This is excellent. Thank you!

    A quick note to argue in support of seeing Pentecost as “unrepeatable.” While you rightly note Acts 10 and the Spirit falling on Cornelius & Gentiles, I would ask all to reconsider a “second Pentecost” (even with scare quotes!). Instead, Acts 10 represents an organic development of the one, unrepeatable event of Acts 2.

    In support of this reading, note that the Spirit also “comes” (ἦλθε) to those who only knew John’s baptism in Acts 19:6. Ought this be thought of as a “third Pentecost?” I suggest a better read is to see this as an organic outgrowth of the once-for-all Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit, begun when Jesus breathed on His disciples (John 20:22).

    If I recall my MG Kline _Structure of Biblical Authority_, there is significant covenantal parallel between Joshua and the Book of Acts, as both record Kingdom expansion of the covenants. Asking if Pentecost is repeatable is a bit like asking if the Conquest under Joshua is repeatable today. While the Conquest is one time event, there is organic growth and connection from Jericho, to Ai, to the other Canaanite cities. The Spirit’s being poured out at Pentecost is not “repeated” (especially in modern times), but in the transitional era of Acts we see it effected in real time. At no point do we find apostolic writing encouraging New Covenant believers to “repeat” Pentecost or asking God to pour out the Spirit “again.” Instead, we see a once-for-all giving of the Spirit, that we are not to quench (I Thess 5:19), but to be filled with the Spirit who has been given (Eph 5:18).

    Again, a minor point; and none of this is anything else but to say “Thanks!” for all the great analysis above.

  2. Hi Dr. Clark,

    I appreciated reading your measured analysis. Your yes-no short answer at the end seems wise. I found Brian Lund’s post to be really helpful in places. Not only is the Spirit poured out on the Gentiles in Acts 1o, but also on Samaria Acts 8. It seems to me that the repetition in Acts isn’t really Acts 2 all over again, but the same event occurring among the demographics deemed beyond the pale by Israel in the flesh. But now, Israel in the Spirit (the wild olive branches) are. being grafted in according to the promise. It’s been awhile since I’ve been on your blog, but I always find something thought-provoking.

    Thank you,

    Matthew

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