“These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Revelation 7:14
There are many strange and unscriptural ideas abroad about revival and just as many about the “end times.” One harmful combination of such false notions is the idea that there will be no great revivals in the last days, that the eras of awakenings are past, and that we live in a time just before the second coming of Christ when no revival can be expected. Among the errors in this way of thinking is the doctrine that the divine promises on which revivals are based will somehow expire at a certain point in time, and that after that time God will no longer empower His people to win multitudes to His Son. This idea is found nowhere in the Bible. Actually, it is an idea that is contradicted by many Scripture passages. One powerful fact that puts these false teachings to silence is the biblical truth that there is to be another great awakening just before Jesus comes to set up His Kingdom!
The period just before the return of Christ in glory is called the Great Tribulation period. Although it will be a period of divine judgment upon the earth, Revelation 7 tells us, “A great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues,” will wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb during the “great tribulation.” There can be no doubt that a revival of saints that will produce a great awakening among sinners will be part of the Great Tribulation scenario.
The last great awakening will culminate in the mass conversion of Jews all over the world. This powerful event is predicted repeatedly in Scripture. Based on a promise in Deuteronomy 30:1–6 the prophets Isaiah (in chapters 26, 35, and other places in his book), Jeremiah (in chapter 31 of his book), Ezekiel (in chapter 37 of his book), Hosea, Joel, and Zechariah (in great detail in chapters 12-14 of his book) prophesy of this reviving of Israel which will culminate in their welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem at His return. Romans 11:26–27 speaks of this time when it says, “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: for this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.”
The final days and years before the Kingdom comes will be characterized by spiritual revival and effective evangelism, as well as awful judgments against the sins of the world. And the great awakening of the Great Tribulation will have characteristics common with the many other awakenings that have occurred over the centuries. The reason this will be true is that God doesn’t change, and He will send revival on the same conditions in any era.
“Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye unto Me, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will turn unto you” Zechariah 1:3a
I would like to share with you four characteristics that will be true of the last great awakening:
1. It Will Come in an Evil Time
The chapter before the first depiction of the awakening in the book of Revelation graphically symbolizes the terrible time which the Tribulation period will be. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse will ride upon the scene in chapter 6. On the white horse (Revelation 6:1–2) is the conqueror, who represents the Antichrist that will rule the world. In our day, conspiracy-theorists warn about the coming of the “New World Order,” and the evil that will result from it. But in the Tribulation period, the real “New World Order” (complete with the mark of the Beast) will put anti-God forces in charge of everything. However, there will still be an awakening. The political triumph of wicked men cannot hinder the work of God.
The red horse carries the one that represents war which will “take peace from the earth” (Revelation 6:3–4). The Tribulation will be a time of awful war and mass carnage. But war cannot stop God when He is moving. The black horse carries one that represents famine and economic woes (Revelation 6:5–6). But these things never prevent revivals and awakenings. The pale horse brings death and hell, which will “kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth” a quarter of the world’s population (Revelation 6:7–8). But pestilence, no matter how severe, has never and will never stop revival. The sixth chapter also speaks ominously of the murder of believers, and multiple divine judgments (Revelation 6:9–17).
The Tribulation will be an evil time in every way, but it will also be the time of a great spiritual awakening!
2. It Will Begin with a Dedicated Few
Every awakening has begun with a dedicated few. So will the Tribulation awakening. Revelation 14:4 describes the group that will ignite this awakening: “These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.”
The chapter begins with a vision of Christ as, “A Lamb… on the mount Sion,” with “An hundred forty and four thousand having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.” These 144,000 are the same 144,000 pictured in chapter 7, and identified as, “The servants of our God,” coming “of all the tribes of the children of Israel” (verses 1–8). In chapter 14, they are called “the firstfruits unto God” who are “redeemed from the earth.” “They are without fault before the throne of God.” These designations mean that they will be saved people, Jews that have turned to Jesus Christ for their salvation.
Early in the Tribulation period, many children of Israel will be converted to Christ. One way this might happen is through the reading of Old and New Testament Scriptures. In the Old Testament, the book of Daniel especially describes the times in which they will live, and points to Jesus as the Messiah. In the New Testament, the book of Matthew seems to be addressed particularly to the Jews, and chapter 24 is directed to Jews of the Tribulation period. Then there is the book of Revelation itself, which gives a blow-by-blow account of what will happen throughout the Tribulation, and will surely convince people living in those days of the need to turn to Christ before He returns to put down His enemies and set up the Kingdom.
Based on 2 Thessalonians 2:11–12, some question whether anybody will be saved after the Christians are taken out at what we call the Rapture, “God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” Clearly some will be locked into their unbelief at the Rapture. Verse 10 calls these lost souls, “Them that perish because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.”
Since the Bible teaches that many will be saved in the Tribulation (which comes after we are taken out in the Rapture), 2 Thessalonians 2 must be referring to people who had heard and understood the truth of the Gospel, and defiantly rejected it before the Rapture. The teaching that many will be saved after the Rapture and in the Tribulation gives no sinner cause to put off receiving Christ. Those who have heard the Gospel and defiantly rejected God’s mercy (the Lord knows just who they are) will not accept it after the Rapture.
Many Jews will receive Christ early in the Tribulation. Chapters 4 through 19 of Revelation tell about events in Heaven and on earth during the Tribulation, and nowhere in those chapters is the word “church” used. The servants of God in the Tribulation will not be Christians in the normal church-age sense of the term, gathering in churches. They will be Jews, “Which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17).
The 144,000 will be a still more distinct group. It is clear from Revelation 14:4 that they will be men. The chapter later indicates (in verses 6 and 7) that they will preach the Gospel around the world during these times. They will be a host of evangelists whose witness will shake the whole human population. As in every great awakening, the evangelistic ingathering will result from the absolute dedication of a few to the Lord Jesus Christ.
They will be morally pure (“not defiled with women”). They will deny themselves (“they are virgins,” unmarried, like Paul and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself). They will be true disciples of Christ (“follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth”). They will be men of integrity and straightforward words (“in their mouth was found no guile”). These blessed men will dedicate themselves to reach the world for Jesus Christ, and will do so with total abandon and absolute surrender. Awakenings begin with a dedicated few.
3. It Will Be Aided From Above
The account of the Tribulation in the book of Revelation follows a clear outline. The opening of the seven seals in chapters 5 and 6, and then chapter 8 unfolds in a general way the terrible tribulations of the period. When the seventh seal is opened in chapter 8, seven angels appear to blow the seven trumpets. As these are sounded in chapters 8 and 9, and then in 11, a new judgment that will devastate the world is announced with each sounding. In chapter 15 we are shown seven other angels with vials that contain “the seven last plagues,” and in chapter 16 they pour them out on the earth. These plagues are more devastating than the judgments announced by the trumpets, “For in them is filled up the wrath of God.”
Natural disasters, horrible wars, economic collapse, and demonic activity will characterize the Tribulation period, and they will apparently come with increasing rapidity. It is shocking to read what will happen.
But as we read about the judgments and plagues in the book of Revelation, we should remember the awakening that will be taking place. Revelation 8:1–6 seems to indicate that the trumpet judgments will come in response to “the prayers of the saints.” Revelation 9:20–21 seems to say that one reason for the judgments will be to motivate men to repent of their sins:
And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.
The record is that men did not repent, but the implication is that God intended for sinners to be motivated to repent through the trouble they experienced. But instead they rebelled.
Heaven will aid the work of the evangelists who will be calling mankind to repentance by doing what God has often done to encourage repentance, sending awful troubles. The prophets said that God chastises nations through the sword, famine, and pestilence (Jeremiah 42:17, Ezekiel 7:15), and the horsemen of Revelation 6 indicate that the same judgments will come in the Tribulation period. Job 37 teaches that sometimes the weather is sent by God “for correction.”
Although men will be blaming God for the carnage and devastation of those times, the hosts of Heaven will affirm God’s justification in allowing them. And although the plagues will come to give a final warning before the end, the masses will not repent, but will harden their hearts.
The One Who rules the Universe is the One for Whom and with Whom we are working when we call men to repentance. Therefore we can expect that nature, the weather, and world events will cooperate with the efforts of the dedicated few who spread the Gospel. We can look for these things in our times.
4. It Will Fulfill the Great Commission
We saw in Revelation 14:6–7 that during the Tribulation the Gospel will be preached, “To every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.” Revived believers will commit themselves to fulfill the great commission. Revival and the filling of the Spirit are not for holy living alone, but also for empowered evangelism (remember Acts 1:8). The great revivals always produced intensive evangelism, and they always will.
Speaking of the end times, Jesus said, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations” (Matthew 24:14), and His words will be fulfilled in the Tribulation. Christians in our day ought to be serious about evangelizing the world, and doing it quickly. Real revivals produce awakenings, and the greatest awakening ever seen is needed right now! If past awakenings have brought thousands and even millions into the family of God, the next one ought to see a billion saved!
Every preacher knows that we are falling behind in reaching the world with the Gospel. The earth’s population is growing faster than our success in spreading the news of God’s love. We can have another great awakening now, and we need to have one. The times will not prevent it. The times of the last great awakening will be much worse than ours. God will not prevent it. He is in favor of it! He will empower a dedicated few in the final days before the Kingdom comes, and He is willing to empower us just as soon as we are ready to humble ourselves and seek Him for the power we need to accomplish the task of calling the world to His Son.
“And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” Romans 13:11