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Forgotten Power: The Lord’s Supper and the Biblical Pattern of Revival

 
In spite of Josiah’s splendid spiritual accomplishments, the Lord did not change his mind about destroying Jerusalem and punishing the people, and Huldah’s (and Jeremiah’s) prophecy came to pass. Within less than twenty-five years after Josiah’s death, Jerusalem was captured, its people killed or exiled, and the temple destroyed. The consequences of the apostasy and evil done by the kings and people of Judah had brought God’s severe judgment. This, however, did not cancel the promise of further revival and restoration—the theme that the Chronicler hints at in the last paragraph of 2 Chronicles and elaborates in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

 

Revival after the Babylonian Exile: Ezra and Nehemiah

The book of Ezra records how after the years of “Sabbath rest” in exile, a contingent of Jews returned to the ruins of Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and reestablish the worship of the Lord their God. The Chronicler’s main concern in this work is to show how the returning exiles, under first Zerubbabel, a prince, and later Ezra, a priest and scribe, cleansed themselves in order to become the restored people of God.

When the exiles returned, they found Jerusalem in ruins. They trusted the Lord for protection and built a temporary altar to begin the daily sacrifices mandated by the law. They also celebrated the Feast of Booths (Ezra 3:4). The temple foundation was laid, but the work was stopped because of local opposition.

Under the prophetic encouragement of Haggai and Zechariah, work on the temple started up again and was eventually finished. The Jews then gathered to dedicate the temple: “For seven days they celebrated with joy the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because the Lord had filled them with joy” (Ezra 6:22). Only then, when the community was strengthened with proper worship, did the central drama of the book of Ezra unfold: dismissal of foreign wives and children.

The story of the purified Jewish community is continued in the book of Nehemiah. This work completed the Chronicler’s cycle by showing the remnant Jewish community safe behind newly built walls and spiritually protected by a reinstated Mosaic law. This occurred through a great revival led by Nehemiah the governor and Ezra, who earlier had led the community to dismiss foreign wives and children.

The book of Nehemiah opens at the court of the Persian king Artaxerxes I (465–424 b.c.). Nehemiah, personal cupbearer to the king, prays to God for the restoration of the Jews and the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls with promises found in Deuteronomy 30:2–4. God answers that prayer, and Nehemiah is given a royal commission to rebuild the walls of his beloved city.

Soon after Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he oversaw the rebuilding of the walls. He shamed the ruling class Jews into forgoing all usury and to free enslaved Jews. The work on the walls was completed in spite of opposition from local chieftains and an attack of false prophecy by prophets bought by the opposition (Neh. 6:10–14). Nehemiah then called a convocation of the returned exiles to dedicate the walls and reestablish the holy covenant of the Jews with God. Ezra the priest began the convocation with praise and worship and proceeded to read the Mosaic law. He read from morning to night, and priests assisted him in explaining the law to the people.

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. (Neh. 8:9)

As Jonathan Edwards might have said, the crowd had been “exercised” by a spirit of conviction, which surprised the leadership.

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.”

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. (Neh. 8:10–12)

The next day the people gathered for further instruction in the law of Moses. They found in the law the command to celebrate the Feast of Booths.

So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves booths on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. The whole company that had returned from exile built booths and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.

Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the feast for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly. (Neh. 8:16–18)

That assembly on the eighth day was the opposite of the one they had just celebrated. The people fasted and wore sackcloth, and they repented of their sins and the sins of their fathers in rejecting the law of God. Finally, the assembled Jews recommitted themselves to God and to obedience of the law through a renewed covenant. In this case a covenant that outlined the obligations of the law was signed by the leadership of the renewed community.

 

The Chronicler as Sacramentalist

It is obvious that besides being a revivalist, the Chronicler was also a sacramentalist.10 He positioned the liturgy of the Israelite feasts and the covenant rites of temple worship in the midst of, and causally connected with, revival. Other factors were also important in his presentation of revival. Repentance was a major factor, of course, as in renouncing, with great tears and weeping, the idolatry and syncretism that continually infiltrated Israel and Judah.
 

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Category: Church History, Summer 2003

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include, Quenching the Spirit (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), and Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He and his wife Carolyn continue in their healing, teaching and writing ministries. He is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook AnglicalPentecostal.blogspot.com

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