Pentecost: An Earthquake with Ongoing Tremors
In some respects, Pentecost may be viewed as the inaugural revival of the New Testament epoch. Certainly, the description of the conviction of sin experienced, the “sense of awe” (Acts 2:43) which was evoked, and the detailed model of what church life ought to be (Acts 2:44–47) point in that direction. This is what revival is. We might say that revival is the unstopping of the pent-up energies of the Spirit of God breaking down the dams which have been erected against his convicting and converting ministry in whole communities of individuals, as happened at Pentecost and in the “awakenings” which have followed.
In these contexts, duplicating the pattern of the Day of Pentecost, the proclamation of Christians appears to possess a special access of “power” as the Spirit bears witness to Christ along, with, and through the witness of disciples (Jn. 15:26-27; cf. Acts 4:33; 6:8; 10:38). This is evident in Philip’s mission in Samaria. Paul’s letters indicate that he experienced this in a number of strategic centers in the course of his journeys (e.g. 1 Cor. 2:4; 1 Thes. 1:5).
The powerful coming of the Spirit by no means solved all problems. The spiritual quickenings which took place always seem to have had mixed consequences and even to have been mixed in character, being open to the destructive influences of spiritual pride and wrong-headedness, as in Corinth. That the same is true in later “awakenings” in the history of the church should therefore not surprise us.
Jonathan Edwards, the New England theologian of revival, may be guilty of no more than over-emphasis in writing that:
It may be observed that from the fall of man to our day, the work of redemption in its effect has mainly been carried on by remarkable communications of the Spirit of God. Though there be a more constant influence of God’s Spirit always in some degree attending his ordinances, yet the way in which the greatest things have been done towards carrying on the work always has been by remarkable effusions at special seasons of mercy.
Such occasions may well be what is in view in Peter’s words in Acts 3:19–20: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ.” The order of the clauses here (forgiveness, refreshing, return of Christ) suggests that seasons of renewal and revival are in view.
Thus we find two phenomena in the pattern of Acts. We are given “case-studies” in the Spirit’s activity in personal regeneration and conversion. But it is by the single empowering of the Spirit (first exemplified at Pentecost) that monumental advances take place in the kingdom of Christ. The inaugural outpouring of the Spirit creates ripples throughout the world as the Spirit continues to come in power. Pentecost is the epicenter; but the earthquake gives forth further aftershocks. Those rumbles continue through the ages. Pentecost itself is not repeated; but a theology of the Spirit which did not give rise to prayer for his coming in power would not be a theology of ruach!
Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from The Holy Spirit by Sinclair Ferguson and is reproduced with permission of the Licensor through PLSclear.