Jonah Series: How to Experience Revival (Jonah 3)
Updated: Nov 25, 2022
How to Experience Revival
The Lord’s message came to Jonah a second time, “Go immediately to Nineveh, that large city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah went immediately to Nineveh, in keeping with the Lord’s message. Now Nineveh was an enormous city—it required three days to walk through it! Jonah began to enter the city by going one day’s walk, announcing, “At the end of forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!” The people of Nineveh believed in God, and they declared a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, took off his royal robe, put on sackcloth, and sat on ashes. He issued a proclamation and said, “In Nineveh, by the decree of the king and his nobles: No human or animal, cattle or sheep, is to taste anything; they must not eat and they must not drink water. Every person and animal must put on sackcloth and must cry earnestly to God, and everyone must turn from their evil way of living and from the violence that they do. Who knows? Perhaps God might be willing to change his mind and relent and turn from his fierce anger so that we might not die.” When God saw their actions—they turned from their evil way of living!—God relented concerning the judgment he had threatened them with and did not destroy them.
Jonah 3 (NET)
How can we experience revival in our communities, cities, and nations?
In Jonah 3, we see possibly the greatest revival to ever happen. After initially rebelling against God’s call to go to Nineveh to call them to repentance, Jonah obeys. He preaches a simple message saying, “At the end of forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!” (v. 4). Though he doesn’t call the nation to repentance, it is implied. Jeremiah 18:7-8 says:
There are times, Jeremiah, when I threaten to uproot, tear down, and destroy a nation or kingdom. But if that nation I threatened stops doing wrong, I will cancel the destruction I intended to do to it.
God warned the Ninevites of judgment so they would repent, and they did. In fact, in verse 5, it says “the greatest to the least of them” believed God and declared a fast in seeking God’s mercy. After the populist repented, it apparently moved the king to repent. He took off his robe, which was a symbol of humility. When nations were defeated in war, the kings were stripped of their robes which represented their submission to the new authority. The Ninevite king saw himself as defeated before God and in need of his mercy. From the poor to the rich the whole nation repented, and God had mercy. As mentioned, this was quite possibly the greatest revival ever.
Certainly, it’s possible that this revival did not lead to the true salvation of the Ninevites. The Ninevites were polytheistic, like most people in the ancient world—believing in many gods. It’s possible that they simply recognized Yahweh as a very powerful god amongst their pantheon of gods, instead of worshipping him as the only true God, as the Jews did. However, Christ used the Ninevites’ repentance as a warning to the Jews of his day who rejected him. In Matthew 12:41, he said:
The people of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented when Jonah preached to them—and now, something greater than Jonah is here!
So, it’s clear that their repentance was genuine to some extent. Surely, not all were truly saved, in the sense of worshipping Yahweh only, but that is true of every revival. In revivals, there is a great move of God, but for many, their repentance is only temporary, as they eventually go back to their sinful lives.
With the Ninevites, this was a genuine move of God that apparently lasted at least in their generation. Jonah’s mission is dated somewhere between 780-755 BC. The Assyrians did return to their sin and eventually destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC. However, God’s grace preserved Nineveh from destruction for 150 years after the great revival. In 612 BC, the Babylonians destroyed the city in the “Battle of Nineveh.” From that time on, the Assyrians never again rose to prominence.
Again, this was one of the greatest revivals ever, as it affected potentially the most prominent nation of that time and an extremely degenerate one at that. They were known for their extreme violence (v. 8). Tim Keller in his book, The Prodigal Prophet, said this about them:
… the Assyrians were known far and wide for their violence, showing no mercy to their enemies. They impaled live victims on sharp poles, leaving them to roast to death in the desert sun; they beheaded people by the thousands and stacked their skulls up in piles by the city gates; and they even skinned people alive. They respected neither age nor sex and followed a policy of killing babies and young children so they wouldn’t have to care for them (Nahum 3:10).
As we consider this great revival, we must ask ourselves, “How can we also experience revival in our families, churches, communities, cities, and nations?” Our nations continually grow in violence and general disregard for God’s Word. If they do not repent, they will, likewise, experience God’s judgment. No doubt, as salt and light, God is calling us to not only retard the decay but aid in significant change and revival in our communities. May the God of Israel and Nineveh bring great revival in our communities, cities, and nations as well!
Big Question: From Jonah 3, what principles about experiencing revival can be discerned from Nineveh’s great revival?
To Experience Revival, People’s Hearts Must Be Sovereignly Prepared by God often through Trials
Jonah began to enter the city by going one day’s walk, announcing, “At the end of forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!” … “Every person and animal must put on sackcloth and must cry earnestly to God, and everyone must turn from their evil way of living and from the violence that they do.”
Jonah 1:4, 8
As we consider the revival in the city, it might at first seem confusing. Why did the Ninevites repent and believe in the Jewish God? They out of nowhere submitted to the God and prophet of their enemy, the Jews. Therefore, it seems clear that God had already been doing some type of preparatory work in their hearts before Jonah preached repentance to them. This is clear from both the biblical text and the historical context of that time. In Jonah 3:8, the king said, “… everyone must turn from their evil way of living and from the violence that they do.” From the king’s decree, we can tell that the city was excessively evil. They were living in evil and violence. No doubt, this evil included great sexual deviance as was common in pagan religions. The practice of homosexuality, bestiality, incest, and casual sex outside of marriage was common in pagan cultures and was a way to please their gods (cf. Lev 18). The violence the king referred to certainly was being demonstrated amongst the classes of people, as the rich enslaved the poor, the poor struck back through crime, and the middle class cheated each other (cf. Jam 5:1-6). In Romans 1:18, Paul said this about the pagan world which was rejecting God during his time: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness.” However, in that context, God’s wrath was not demonstrated in the way we might think. It was not seen in the destruction of societies through famine, flood, or drought, but God simply handing people over to the evil desires of their hearts and them receiving the consequences of their sins. Romans 1:24 says, “Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves.” Romans 1:26 says, “For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.” Romans 1:28 says, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done.” Throughout the rest of the chapter (v. 18-32), Paul described how idolatry, sexual immorality, violence, disobedience to parents, and every other type of evil manifested amongst the pagan world because they rejected God. No doubt, all this was happening in Nineveh as well, since they likewise had rejected God. When we’re in rebellion, often, God allows us to experience the consequences of our sin to help us turn back to righteousness, even as the good father did with his rebellious son in the story of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15).
With that said, historians give us further evidence of how God’s wrath was being manifest in Nineveh through his handing them over to their sins but also through other judgments—no doubt which were used to help them realize their sin, repent, and turn to God. Jonah Mackay said this:
If Jonah’s mission is dated between 780 and 755 bc, then few records have survived from that troubled period of Assyrian history. Those that have reveal many internal problems. For instance, each year from 765–759 bc has a note of an outbreak of plague, or of a revolt in some city of the land, or—and this would probably have seemed worst to the superstitious Assyrian mind—an eclipse of the sun. Throughout the first half of the eighth century bc Assyria was threatened by powerful tribes from the north, particularly by the kingdom of Urartu, near the Caspian Sea, and her zone of influence contracted considerably… It may be that the upheavals and sense of impending catastrophe were influential in predisposing the Ninevites to accept Jonah’s message when it was brought to them.
Tim Keller said something similar:
Historians have pointed out that about the time of Jonah’s mission, Assyria had experienced a series of famines, plagues, revolts, and eclipses, all of which were seen as omens of far worse things to come. Some have argued that this was God’s way of preparing the ground for Jonah. “This state of affairs would have made both rulers and subjects unusually attuned to the message of a visiting prophet.” So there was some sociological explanation for this response.
As mentioned, every year there was some major revolt, outbreak, or catastrophe. Through trials and the consequences of their sin, God was preparing the Ninevites to receive him. He shook their financial security, sense of safety, family and civic life, and their false religion to prepare them to receive the true God. Matthew 5:3 says this, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” Often poverty of spirit comes through trial, as we realize that wealth, relationships, career, health, and everything else can’t satisfy us. Those realizations turn us into spiritual beggars who recognize their need for God and take us to the door of the kingdom.
Surely, God was doing this in Nineveh through the various trials, including the extreme violence, they were experiencing. They could either stay on the path of destruction or repent and find salvation through God. Often God does the same in our lives through trials. It wasn’t until the Prodigal Son was poor and eating pig slop because of his sin that he decided to turn back to the father. It was when Jacob had the threat of his uncle Laban behind him and his brother Esau in front of him that Jacob wrestled with God and received a blessing. And earlier in this story, it was only after Jonah ran away from God and almost died in the sea that he was willing to obey God and preach in Nineveh. Often trials and difficulties precipitate some form of revival individually and communally. For this reason, James 1:2-4 says:
My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.
Also, Hebrews 12:7 and 11 says:
Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? … Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it.
This has been true for many unbelievers and believers. Trials prepared their hearts to receive Christ as their Lord and Savior, or trials led them to become serious about God after salvation. But, this has also been true historically with revivals in communities, cities, and nations. This also seemed to be true in Nineveh.
Certainly, this reminds us to not give up hope when going through trials in our lives or families. God is the redeemer of trials, and he doesn’t waste them. He uses them for greater purposes. It also reminds us to not give up hope when our cities and nations continually rebel against God and experience the consequences of it, including great acts of violence. Like with Nineveh, God, in his grace, may use those terrible consequences to point them to God. In fact, we should see trials others experience as strategic opportunities for us to serve them, pray for them, and share the gospel and God’s Word with them. Often God softens hardened hearts through difficult circumstances. In Colossians 4:5, Paul said it this way: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone.” The word “opportunities” can also be translated “time” as in the ESV. However, the word “time” is not from the Greek word chronos which refers to chronological time. It is from the Greek word kairos—referring to seasons. In ministering to others wisely, we must recognize the seasons. In some seasons, their hearts will be hardened towards God’s Word, and as we discern those seasons, we must patiently, prayerfully, and lovingly wait. In the waiting season, we must not give up hope. We must remember God is able to break the hardest hearts. He blinded Paul who was persecuting Christians to help prepare him to become an apostle to the Gentiles. He used all types of difficulties, conflicts, violence, and even natural disasters to prepare the Ninevites, the enemies of the Jews, to repent and accept Yahweh. Often it will be during some trial or season of trials that people’s hearts will become soft ground for God’s Word. Therefore, like a good farmer, we must discern those seasons and strategically and gently sow God’s seed. God prepares hearts, we sow seeds, and he makes them grow. In all ministry, we must clearly discern God’s role and ours, lest we find ourselves frustrated at the lack of apparent fruit or the slow process of bearing fruit.
To experience revival, God sovereignly prepares hearts often through trials, as he did with the Ninevites. We must work and pray, while at the same time, trusting him.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced how God used trials to bring revival in your life, with others, or in a community? Since God often uses trials to prepare people’s hearts for revival, how should we respond when going through a trial or when others are going through them (cf. Col 4:5-6)?
To Experience Revival, Believers Must Be Revived First
the Lord’s message came to Jonah a second time, “Go immediately to Nineveh, that large city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah went immediately to Nineveh, in keeping with the Lord’s message…
After understanding the historical context in Nineveh, how God was preparing their hearts, we must remember the context of the book of Jonah. When God initially approached Jonah to go to Nineveh, he ran in the opposite direction towards Tarshish, which was located in Spain. While Jonah was disobedient, revival in Nineveh tarried. Likewise, Christ taught that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few (Lk 9:37). The implication of Christ’s saying that the “harvest is plentiful” is that there are many throughout the world, perhaps in what might be considered some of the most antagonistic nations, who would repent and accept Christ if only someone might tell them the gospel message. Therefore, one of the reasons that revival tarries is simply because many believers tarry, in choosing to not go. Some don’t go for fear of rejection. Some might not go because they are comfortable in their own country, like Jonah was, and not really interested in the salvation of others. Some don’t go because of love for sin or rebellion towards God’s call. Some don’t go because of concern for family. This was probably initially true with Abraham. In Genesis 12, God called Abraham while he was living in Haran to leave his family and go to Canaan, and that God would make him a blessing to all nations (cf. Gen 11:31-32). Abraham leaves and takes God at his Word. If we only had that text, we would think that Abraham immediately obeyed. However, in Acts 7, Stephen tells us that Abraham was originally called in Mesopotamia before he moved to Haran. Abraham obeyed God but only partially. He never left his family and maybe that was part of the reason he tarried Haran. Acts 7:4 tells us that Abraham didn’t leave until his father died. The implication is that he stayed in Haran because of his father. His partial obedience (taking his father and not going all the way to Canaan) kept him from full obedience. Acts 7:2-4 describes this account:
So he replied, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our forefather Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he settled in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your country and from your relatives, and come to the land I will show you.’ Then he went out from the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After his father died, God made him move to this country where you now live.
While Abraham delayed, there were polytheistic Canaanites who lacked a witness of the one true God. However, like Jonah, God’s message eventually came again to Abraham while he lived in Haran, and then, he fully obeyed (Gen 12:1-3). Likewise, revival tarries throughout the world, not because of a lack of Christians but a lack of revival amongst Christians. Many are too concerned with their career, too afraid of leaving their home country, too content with their creature comforts, too afraid of rejection or trials, or simply rebellious in other ways which keep them from doing God’s mission. Therefore, they don’t go wherever God has called them or remain quiet where God has placed and because of that revival tarries.
With that said, the great thing about God is that though we are unfaithful, he remains faithful. He continues to work in the hearts of his children through various circumstances, including discipline, until they’re ready to obey. God brought a storm to turn Jonah back to the mission. He took Abraham’s father home to get him to the land of promise. And as our hearts let go of our idols and turn back to God, he often renews his call. One of the sweetest Scriptures is, in fact, Jonah 3:1, “The Lord’s message came again to Jonah.” Though Jonah was unfaithful, God was faithful. He worked in Jonah’s circumstances and heart to prepare him to obey God’s call. James Boice said this about how God continually recalls his children to service:
The Lord comes a second time to all who are his true children. Have we never, like Abraham, stopped at our Harans? Of course, we have. We are sent on errands, but some sin or preoccupation detains us. Have we never, like Moses, taken matters into our own hands and formulated our own plans? Of course, we have. Like Peter, we have even denied our Lord on occasions when we should have spoken for him. We have disobeyed him. We have run away from him. Some of us, like Jonah, have run very far indeed. Does God cast us off? Does he disown us? No! He disciplines us, it is true. But, having done that and having brought us to the place of repentance, he returns the second time to recommission us to service. Moreover, he comes a third, a fourth, a hundredth, a thousandth time, if necessary, as it often is. None of us would be where we are now in our Christian lives if God had not dealt thus with us. Oh, the greatness of the unmerited grace of God! We deserve nothing. Yet we receive everything, even when we foolishly turn from it.
With that said, it must be remembered that our opportunities to serve God do not last forever. We all have limited time on this earth and therefore limited time to obey God. And while we live in disobedience, people go without the comfort and instruction we can give them, some go without ever hearing the gospel. Revivals have always started like it began in Nineveh—they began when the heart of a Christian or Christians became revived. They turned away from their Tarshish, their Haran, their love of comfort and sin, and at times even family to obey God and minister to others.
Are we allowing God to revive our hearts, so we can be a blessing to those around us and those we have not yet met? Revival first starts with believers being revived. One pastor used to always say, “Give God one person on fire for God, and he will do more with them than a thousand who have simply been saved by the Spirit.” Will we let God revive our hearts and use us to bring revival in people’s lives?
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced seasons of Tarshish or Haran where you rebelled against God or delayed full obedience? What were the opportunity costs of those seasons—opportunities lost to better serve and build God’s kingdom? How is God calling you to be revived now so you can better serve the Lord (cf. John 15:5, Phil 3:12-13)? Where and who do you feel God is calling you to go serve or better serve?
To Experience Revival, Believers Must Grow in Loving Others as God Does
Now Nineveh was an enormous city—it required three days to walk through it!
Jonah 3:3 says Nineveh was an enormous city or great city. It was great in history. It was founded by Nimrod, who was the great-grandson of Noah, sometime after the Genesis flood (Gen 10:8-10). It was great in size. Including the suburbs, it was about sixty miles (or ninety-seven kilometers) in circumference. As verse 3 says, the city itself took three days to walk through—probably referring to Jonah’s ability to walk through its major locations to preach. However, the phrase enormous city or great city can literally be translated that it was a “great city to God.” Of course it was great to the surrounding culture because of its size, power, and influence, however, it was great to God—probably referring to his love for the city. God re-emphasized this in sharing with Jonah in Chapter 4 about how he cared for the city. He said, “Should I not be even more concerned about Nineveh, this enormous city? There are more than 120,000 thousand people in it who do not know right from wrong, as well as many animals” (4:11). When it says 120,000 people who do not know right from wrong, many believe God was referring to small children. If so, Nineveh probably had over 600,000 people. Though Jonah did not care for the people, God did, and throughout the narrative, God was trying to help Jonah care for them as well. We’ll see more of this in Jonah 4, as God teaches Jonah about caring for the Ninevites through the shriveling of a plant. Jonah was upset about a plant that he did nothing to help grow, but God cared for the Ninevites who he had created, provided for, and protected.
Likewise, if we are going to be used to help others experience revival, we must grow in our love and concern for them as well. Jonah initially did not go to Nineveh because of his hate and lack of concern for the Ninevites; however, he went because God disciplined him to go and through God’s ministry to them, God sought to change Jonah’s heart. Similarly, often we don’t share the gospel with others or carry others’ burdens in general simply because we don’t have God’s heart for them—we don’t love them as we should. As with Jonah, it can be very difficult for us to care for people who have hurt us personally or with ethnic groups or nations who have been historically antagonistic to our ethnic group or nation, but nevertheless, God loves them and so must we.
Application Question: How can we develop a greater love and concern for others so that we will faithfully minister to them as God wants us to?
1. To grow in loving others, we must understand God’s great love for them.
Certainly, that is something Jonah was learning through experience and God’s Word. God disciplined Jonah through a great storm, in part, because he loved the Nineveh and wanted them to repent. God saved Jonah from drowning through a great fish so Jonah could speak to them. In Chapter 4, God will grow a plant, destroy it, and cause a hot wind and the sun to beat across Jonah’s head to make him faint to teach him how much God cared for the Ninevites. Likewise, as we study God’s Word and spend time with him, we will learn about God’s love for us and others, which will help us love others as well.
2. To grow in loving others, we must minister to them.
Even before Jonah cared for these people, God sent him to preach to them. No doubt, part of God’s desire in Jonah ministering to these people was to give Jonah a heart for them. Often by touching the leper, ministering to someone in a different culture, or even serving our enemy, we start to value them and care for them as well. As long as we stay away from them, often our hearts will remain detached from theirs or even angry with them. Personally, I experienced this when applying to be a house parent for people with developmental needs while in seminary. Theologically, I knew that as a Christian I should care for the most vulnerable and love them (cf. Jam 1:27); however, because I had little experience with that population, I had a fear of actually living with them and ministering to them. They were so different from me. However, after I started working, I quickly fell in love with them. God removed my fear and gave me a heart for them. They became some of my best friends. That’s often how God works in the hearts of others as well. As they go on a mission trip to a specific country or start serving at a nonprofit caring for vulnerable groups, God gives them a heart and call to minister to them long term. Often to grow in love for others, we must go out of our way to listen to them, care for them, and serve them.
3. To grow in loving others, we must pray for them.
We don’t see Jonah ever pray for the Ninevites. In fact, he did the opposite of that in the final chapter as he complained to God about his sparing them. However, since God has mercy on the Ninevites, we can assume someone was praying. With Sodom and Gomorrah, it was only because of Abraham’s prayers that he considered not destroying them (Gen 18). Also, Ezekiel 22:30-31 says this about God:
I looked for a man from among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it, but I found no one. So I have poured my anger on them, and destroyed them with the fire of my fury. I hereby repay them for what they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.
Often, God spares a city or judges a city based on the intercession of saints or the lack of it (cf. Is 62:6). Maybe, there were some Ninevite God-fearers who worshiped Yahweh and continually prayed for their country, and/or maybe there was a faithful remnant of Jews who not only prayed for their country but their enemies and the nations in general (cf. Prov 25:21-22). Since God commonly saves people and nations based on prayer, we can assume someone was praying.
With that said, as mentioned, Jonah was not praying for them. But, if he would have prayed for them, no doubt that would have aided in changing his heart towards them. Christ, who in some way Jonah typifies (cf. Matt 12:38-41), taught his followers to pray for their enemies and to bless them (Matt 5:44). He also modeled this on the cross, as he prayed for his enemies, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34). As we pray for our family, church, nations, and the nations of the world, often God gives us his heart for them. God not only ministers to others through our intercession, but he also ministers to us, as he gives us his heart (cf. Rom 12:21).
If we’re going to be part of bringing revival, we have to grow in loving others as God does. Jonah who most likely wrote the book bearing his name said that Nineveh was a “great city to God” (v. 3). Do we realize how much God truly loves our neighbor, community, city, and nation? Do we know how much he loves our enemy—those who might hate or mistreat us? As we grow in loving others like him, we become consumed with their salvation and/or spiritual growth and therefore aid in bringing revival.
Application Question: Why is loving others so important for ministry? How have you experienced God increasing your love for others, including your enemies, through praying for them and serving them (cf. Matt 5:44, Rom 12:17-21)? What should we do to increase our love for others and our willingness to do ministry in general?
To Experience Revival, Believers Must Boldly Preach God’s Word, including Harsh Words
“Go immediately to Nineveh, that large city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” … Jonah began to enter the city by going one day’s walk, announcing, “At the end of forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!”
Jonah 1:2, 4
Another thing we must notice about this revival is that Jonah was called to “proclaim” the message that God would tell him (v. 2). This means Jonah wasn’t free to speak about anything he wanted. In fact, God gave him a harsh message to share. In forty days, Nineveh would be overthrown by God (v. 4). This is a staple of revivals that have happened throughout history. God called people to faithfully proclaim his Word, and people responded. With the revival in Nehemiah 8, Ezra and the Levites led Israel in the reading and teaching of God’s Word for six hours of the day while people were standing and listening (Neh 8:3-9). As they listened, they were struck with conviction and began to weep, because they had not obeyed God’s Word (Neh 8:9). Soon after, the Israelites restored the practice of religious festivals in the Mosaic law and renewed their covenant with God. Likewise, in Acts 2, when the Spirit fells on the disciples, Peter proclaimed the Word of God to the Israelites celebrating Passover—that they had crucified the Son of God, that in God’s sovereignty Christ died for their sins, rose again and ascended to heaven, and that people needed to repent to be saved and received the Holy Spirit. In response, three thousand repented that day and were baptized, and the first church was born (Acts 2:41). The bold preaching of God’s Word has always been a staple of revivals.
Unfortunately, one of the reasons that revival tarries in our churches, communities, cities, and nations is because God’s Word is not faithfully proclaimed. In 2 Timothy 4:1-3 (ESV), Paul said this to Timothy:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,
Part of the reason Timothy was called to preach the Word was because faithful preaching of God’s Word would be in short supply. There would be many teachers, but most of them itched people’s ears—telling them what they wanted to hear instead of what they needed to hear. The time that Paul described has come and been here for a long time. Most pulpits are full of stories meant to stir one’s emotions instead of the clear exposition of God. Other pulpits are full of politics, sports, psychology, or self-help. Everything is proclaimed from the pulpit but God’s Word. And sadly, as Paul said, this is what most believers want. Again, 2 Timothy 4:3, Paul said, “having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” People get the teachers they want. Unfortunately, our desires are often led by our flesh and not God and therefore hinder the work of God.
With that said, this is not just a message for preachers and teachers, this is a message for all believers. We all have a role in sharing God’s Word and promoting it. We should share it with our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. We should share it at church and on the mission field. Jonah’s call to go to Nineveh and preach God’s Word is our call in the Great Commission—to go and make disciples of all nations by teaching Christ’s Words (Matt 28:19-20).
Faithfully Sharing the Bad News
In considering our call, we must remember part of teaching God’s Word is not just sharing the good news of God’s love but also the bad news of his judgment. There is no good news without the bad news. Jonah was called to proclaim the bad so the Ninevites could experience the good. We are not called to proclaim half-gospels that make people feel more comfortable by only considering God’s love and salvation. We must also proclaim God’s holiness, wrath over sin, and how his wrath was poured out on Christ for us (cf. Is 53:4-5, 10, 1 John 2:2). This message may not make us feel good, but it is the message we have been called to proclaim, and it’s necessary for others to experience salvation and revival.
Donald Whitney said this about our need to initiate opportunities to share God’s Word and specifically the gospel with others. He said:
They [opportunities] won’t just happen. You’ll have to discipline yourself to ask your neighbors how you can pray for them or when you can share a meal with them. You’ll have to discipline yourself to get with your coworkers during off-hours. Many such opportunities for evangelism will never take place if you wait for them to occur spontaneously. The World, the flesh, and the Devil will do their best to see to that. You, however, backed by [the] invincible power of the Holy Spirit, can make sure that these enemies of the gospel do not win. (Spiritual Disciplines, 131–32)
Are we faithfully sharing God’s Word with others to help them know Christ and be saved? Also, are we contributing to raising up teachers who faithfully proclaim God’s Word—the full counsel of it? Or are we contributing to raising up teachers who simply itch ears—just sharing the parts of the Bible we want to hear or not sharing the Bible at all? Paul said the lean teaching in the pulpit would largely be because of the hard-hearted people in the pew (2 Tim 4:3). We all have a responsibility in making sure God’s message is proclaimed so people may be saved.
Will we diligently study God’s message so we can share it with others? Or, will we neglect it and therefore have no message to share with others—leading to God’s judgment on them instead of his mercy and revival?
Application Question: Why is the preaching of God’s Word so unpopular in churches throughout the world? In what ways have you seen or experienced how faithful teaching of God’s Word is being replaced in pulpits around the world by everything else other than God’s Word? How can we aid in the restoration of God’s Word to his church and therefore the world?
To Experience Revival, People Must Humble Themselves Before God through Repentance and Faith
The people of Nineveh believed in God, and they declared a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, took off his royal robe, put on sackcloth, and sat on ashes. He issued a proclamation and said, “In Nineveh, by the decree of the king and his nobles: No human or animal, cattle or sheep, is to taste anything; they must not eat and they must not drink water. Every person and animal must put on sackcloth and must cry earnestly to God, and everyone must turn from their evil way of living and from the violence that they do. Who knows? Perhaps God might be willing to change his mind and relent and turn from his fierce anger so that we might not die.”
After the Assyrians heard God’s Word through Jonah, they humbled themselves before God from the least to the greatest (v. 5)—meaning all classes of people. They humbled themselves by putting on sackcloth, which was a dark, rough, uncomfortable clothing often made from goat’s hair and worn by the poor or those mourning the death of someone. They adopted a humble outward posture to represent their inward grieving. The Ninevites not only put on sackcloth but also declared an absolute fast—meaning no one ate or drank. In fact, they even made their animals fast. Without water and food, some of the animals might die. It was basically like them saying, “Who cares about our business interests and food, we are in trouble with God. If we don’t fix our relationship with God, our money and food won’t matter because we will perish.” Even the king humbled himself before God. He rose from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth, and sat down in ashes (v. 6). By humbling himself, he was declaring that God was the true sovereign, that they were sinners deserving of judgment, but that they desired God’s mercy.
This is important to consider because the fact that the Assyrians immediately humbled themselves instead of trying to justify themselves proved that they knew they were wretched sinners deserving of judgment. They could only be saved by mercy. Likewise, there can be no salvation or revival as long as people in pride cling to their righteousness. In Luke 5:32, Christ said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” This means, there can be no revival, and salvation for that matter, if people think they are righteous or will be spared because of their “so-called” good deeds. In revival, people recognize that they are sinners deserving of judgment and repent before God in hopes of his mercy. This is important because most people think they are overall good people (especially in comparison to others) and therefore don’t deserve God’s wrath or hell. However, Christ came to save sinners, not the righteous. Without this humble recognition of our sin and how we deserve wrath, no one can be saved.
Therefore, Jonah 3:5 says the Ninevites “believed God”—they believed they were sinners deserving of God’s judgment, they committed to turn from their wicked ways, including their violence, and they put their hope in God’s mercy (v. 8). They believed God and repented. In response, God graciously and mercifully turned from his wrath and did not judge them for their sins. He withheld justice and instead gave mercy.
In Scripture, repentance and faith are requirements for salvation—both in the Old Testament and the New. Luke 4:46-47 says,
Thus it stands written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
John 3:16 says, “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” Even Abraham and other Old Testament saints had to believe in God to be saved. They were never saved by works but by grace through faith. Genesis 15:6 says, “Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord credited it as righteousness to him.” Repentance and faith (or belief) are both taught as necessary for salvation.
In Scripture, sometimes faith is only mentioned as needed for salvation (cf. John 3:16, Eph 2:8-9), and sometimes repentance is only mentioned (cf. Lk 13:3, Acts 2:38). When one is mentioned and not the other, the other is implied. At other times, they are mentioned together as necessary for salvation. In Acts 20:21, Paul said he testified “to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.” To be saved, we must recognize we are under judgment for our sins, turn from our sins to God, and put our faith in Jesus.
Repentance and faith have often been called two sides of the same coin. To put our faith in Christ, we must turn from seeking to be saved by works, putting our faith in any other gods for salvation, being lord of our lives, and from sin in general to God. We can’t just believe in Christ to be saved and continue to live a life of sin. We must turn from a self-driven, idol-driven life to a God-centered life. Christ must be our Lord and not just our Savior. Romans 10:13 says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” We must recognize and follow him as our Lord and not just believe he is Lord. According to James, that’s simply demonic faith, since demons believe in God but don’t follow him (Jam 2:19).
It might be helpful to think of salvation like a marriage. In marriage, one not only commits to his spouse forever but also, in one sense, turns away from all potential spouses. There is both repentance (turning away) and faith (turning towards). Likewise, there can be no revival apart from repentance and faith. Those who are not saved need to respond to God in repentance and faith to be saved. And, those who are saved, must continue to practice both of these for the rest of their lives which are proofs of them truly being saved. They are still repenting of sin instead of clinging to it. They fall into sin, but sin is not their master (cf. Matt 7:23). They are still believing in Christ as their Lord and Savior and committed to his Lordship. They may at times deny him, but like Peter, they always repent and come back to him.
This is what happens in revival. In revival, those who have lived apart from God and feel no need for him, humble themselves in recognizing themselves as sinners under judgment. After they recognize their need for a Savior, they repent of their sins and put their faith in him as Lord to be saved. And for those who already know Christ, in revival, they renew their repentance and faith. The sins that were keeping them away from worship and full commitment, they repent of. They humble themselves under God’s mighty hand, and he exalts them (1 Pet 5:6).
Are we still repenting of sins like laziness, materialism, pride, anger, unforgiveness, and anything else hindering our relationship with God? Are we still trusting in and committed to Christ as our Lord and Savior? These are proofs of salvation and necessary for our continual spiritual renewal. Also, are we still calling others to repent and put their faith in Christ? It’s necessary for the salvation of the lost and to transform our societies.
Application Question: What is saving repentance and faith in Scripture and what is it not (cf. Jam 2:19, Matt 7:21-23, 2 Cor 13:5)? Why is false repentance and faith, and therefore false salvation, so common (cf. Lk 14:25-33)? How is God calling you to practice repentance and faith in this season of life?
Application Question: What are some general applications we must take and remember from this great revival?
1. Remember that God does not need many people to bring a revival—one obedient person can be enough.
Jonah was alone in the city and possibly the only follower of Yahweh. Yet, God used him to bring a great and improbable revival. All people from the greatest to least believed in God and repented of their sins in one of the most prominent and evil cities in the ancient world at that time. Often as Christians, we will be a minority in our family, workplace, city, or country. God does not need a multitude. He delights to work through just a few (Jdg 7). Will we allow ourselves to be one of those few? God may choose to use us alone, even as he did with Jonah.
2. Remember that we don’t have to be perfect to be used by God.
Certainly, our lack of righteousness can hinder how much God uses us (cf. 2 Tim 2:21, 3:16-17), but God often uses frail, vulnerable people to do his work. Jonah was obedient to preach, but it was only partial obedience. As we’ll see in Chapter 4, his heart was not right with God. He preached to the Ninevites, but while doing so, he didn’t even want them to be saved. And, yet God used him. Likewise, Abraham lied and married a second woman. David committed adultery and murder. Peter denied Christ. God does not need perfect people, but he does need people who are willing to repent and obey. That’s what Jonah did, and God used him to bring a revival. Are we still repenting of our sins and obeying God, even if we fall at times?
3. Remember the need to share both the bad news and the good news.
We may be quick to share that God loves people and wants to save them, but are we also willing to share that God is holy and just and will judge people eternally in a real hell? Often, we only give partial truths out of fear of offending or making people angry. With the Ninevites, it was hearing the bad news that led to their salvation. To accept the gospel—the good news—people first need to hear the bad—that they are sinners under the judgment of the holy God. However, this holy God is also merciful and gracious. Therefore, he sent his Son to die on the cross for our sins and rose him from the dead, so that we can put our faith in him to be saved (cf. John 3:16, Rom 10:9-10). Are we telling both the good news and the bad news? Or, are we in fear holding back the message God has called us to speak? Certainly, God is calling us to share the gospel with unbelievers, but he also will at times call us to challenge believers who are in sin, so they can repent and experience refreshment from God. Are we willing to share both the good news and bad news with others?
4. Remember God may call us to leave the comforts of home to go to a foreign land to be his mouthpiece.
Jonah was a reluctant missionary. He was only consumed with the revival of his own people—the Israelites. However, God was concerned with not just Israel but also the nations, including Israel’s enemies. And God is not just concerned about Korea, America, or countries in Europe or Africa. He is concerned about the whole world. Therefore, like Jonah, we must be willing to go to foreign lands to share his message. Are our hearts open to that?
Oftentimes, people are more open to receiving God’s message from foreign missionaries than indigenous ones. In Mark 6:4, Christ said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, and among his relatives, and in his own house.” Often a foreigner stands out, ignites curiosity, and a listening ear amongst the locals that might not be there with an indigenous witness. Are we willing to go when and where God calls?
5. Remember to pray for our families, communities, cities, and nations because God is merciful and mighty.
Though prayer is not mentioned in this passage, we can be sure it happened somewhere in the background. It is through prayer that God brings his kingdom on the earth (Matt 6:10). And it is because of a lack of prayer that God often brings his judgment. Ezekiel 20:30-31 describes how God judged the land of Israel because of a lack of intercession for it. God said:
I looked for a man from among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it, but I found no one. So I have poured my anger on them, and destroyed them with the fire of my fury. I hereby repay them for what they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.”
Maybe, with Nineveh, there was a faithful Israelite somewhere who had often prayed for his enemies, the Assyrians. Or, maybe there was a family of Assyrian God-fearers somewhere who worshipped Yahweh and prayed for their nation. We can only speculate. But since God sent Jonah to preach to the Assyrians, against Jonah’s desires, and God saved them when they repented, we can assume somebody was praying. Likewise, it’s because of the prayers of believers that God saves a family, heals a church, and revives and restores a nation. Therefore, we must pray.
Are we willing to petition for the revival of our city and nation and also foreign ones?
Application Question: What other applications did you take from this great revival in Nineveh?
As we consider the greatest revival possibly in history, we must recognize and apply principles from it in hopes that we might experience revival in our families, churches, communities, cities, and nations. Lord, let it be so.
1. To Experience Revival, People’s Hearts Must Be Sovereignly Prepared by God often through Trials
2. To Experience Revival, Believers Must Be Revived First
3. To Experience Revival, Believers Must Grow in Loving Others as God Does
4. To Experience Revival, Believers Must Boldly Preach God’s Word, including Harsh Words
5. To Experience Revival, People Must Humble Themselves Before God through Repentance and Faith
Application Question: Which principle about revival stood out most and why?
• Pray for God to prepare the hearts of individuals, communities, cities, and nations to experience revival.
• Pray for God to bring revival in his church—turning them away from sin and compromise, drawing them to God’s Word, obedience, and worship, and unifying them for God’s purposes.
• Pray for God to give us a love for our family, friends, church, nation, and the lost throughout the world, so we can work towards their salvation and spiritual renewal.
• Pray for God to draw us to and teach us his Word, so we can teach others. Pray that God would raise up faithful teachers throughout the world to build up and unify the church and win the lost.
• Pray for revival in our family, friends, church, community, city, nation, and the nations of the world. Pray that they would, by God’s grace, experience repentance, faith, and the new birth.