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In our last sermon we looked at chapters 8-11. We saw the seven trumpets. More judgment was brought upon the earth. John was given a scroll to eat. The two witnesses which represent the church in their prophetic, or word proclaiming ministry was seen. Once their mission was done they were destroyed by the beast. The world rejoices at their demise and their death, but the story wasn’t over. Just when it seemed like all hope was lost the two witnesses, the church had a breath of life from God come in them and they were taken up to heaven. Jesus has returned for his church. Then the seventh trumpet was blown and their was an outburst of praise in heaven. No longer was God the one who is and was and is to come but He is the one who is and was because He has come again.
I must make one correction to something I said in the last sermon. When we talked about the witnesses we noticed their ministry lasted for 1,260 days. When we last spoke I said that this was the time frame of the tribulation, a time of intense persecution of the church right before Jesus comes again. I was partially right but the 1,260 days is not representing the tribulation but represents the time frame from which Jesus ascended to heaven up until he comes again. Within this 1,260 days the tribulation does happen and occurs before Jesus comes back. I still stand by the truth that the fifth and sixth trumpet seem to symbolize the tribulation because things are getting worse or more intense. But the 1,260 days does not represent the tribulation and I think this will become even more clear as we look at chapters 12-14, especially when we look at 13 and 14.
In this sermon we will focus on chapter 12. This is a good spot for us to pause a bit and slow down the pace because this chapter is pivotal in the book and you could even argue that this is the most important chapter in the book. Many key players are introduced in this chapter. We see the identification of the dragon explicitly something that has been implicit really through the first 11 chapters. We will see a woman and a child. We see a battle in heaven. There is a ton of stuff going on. The first 11 chapters also showed us the struggle that the church goes through throughout all of history. Chapters 12-22 constitute the second major section of the book. It reveals the deeper background to what is going on in the first 11 chapters between the church and the world.1
This morning we are going to encounter the cosmic struggle behind the struggle between the church and the world. Of course by world we mean the evil that we encounter in it. We will see what is going on behind the scenes if you will in our spiritual warfare.
No fancy points for this sermon. We are first going to see a woman and the dragon who wants to devour her child in verses 1-6. In verses 7-12 we have a battle in heaven between Michael and the dragon. These first two sections are two separate visions which teach us the same thing. After the battle in heaven we see the dragon pursuing the woman once again to destroy her and the rest of her offspring in verses 13-17.
Before we dive in look at 11:19. This is a scene we have in heaven. Last sermon we mentioned this was meant to wrap up the last section and to introduce what was about to come in chapter 12. With this heavenly view we have a signal or a clue that we are about to get a new perspective on things.
12:1-6 THE WOMAN AND THE DRAGON
John has a vision hear of a great sign in heaven. The sign is a woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet. On her head she has a crown of twelve stars. The woman was crying out because she was pregnant and in birth pains. She was in the agony of giving birth. Which I personally know nothing about but this seems like it sums that up. Another sign then appears in heaven. There was a great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and on his heads seven diadems or crowns. The dragon is monstrous. His tail swept down a third of the stars. The dragon is standing before the woman who is about to give birth. The purpose of the dragon is to attempt to destroy the male child as he comes from his mother. It is a gruesome picture when you think about it.
The woman is clothed with the sun and the moon is under her feet and she has a crown of twelve stars. These point to the splendor and beauty of the vision John sees. Who is this woman? Is it Eve? Is it Mary the mother of Jesus? Who is she? Who is this woman? First look at the child she has when we interpret this. In verse 5 we see this is a male child the one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. This is most likely drawn from Psalm 2 which is a Messianic Psalm about Jesus. In verse 9 the Psalmist writes “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potters vessel.” The male child no doubt is the Messiah, Jesus himself. Does this necessitate then that this must refer to Mary? This could not be the case because in v. 17 this woman has other offspring who the dragon will attempt to destroy.
Many people will teach that the woman is Israel. The argument then goes that Jesus is from Jewish descent therefore this must represent Israel and the offspring in verse 17 refers to Israelites or Jews. It is true that Jesus comes from the Jews. Jesus was a Jew there is no denying that. The question to ask is does this make sense in the context of Revelation? The answer would be no since we have not seen such a Jewish slant up to this point. So if it is not Mary or Israel who is this woman? The woman represents the people of God from all time. From Adam and Eve until now and through the rest of history. No doubt many first century readers would have thought of Genesis 3:15, which is the first gospel promise, where it is said that their will be enmity between the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent. The woman represents the true Israel of God, the church.
It would be wise to pause for a moment to unpack what the scripture says about the church being the true Israel. The reason this is important is there are many who teach that the church and the people of Israel are two distinct peoples. They represent the church as being plan B for God and sometime in the future He will go back to plan A which is the people of Israel. The people of God have always been one. The people of God are those who have looked to Christ for salvation. Whether this be in the Old or New Testament.
The question naturally arises how did an Old Testament believer have faith in Christ? Go with me to Hebrews 11. This is know as the hall of Faith by many. It speaks of the faith Abel had when he offered an acceptable sacrifice. The faith Noah had when he built the ark. The faith Abraham had when he left his home to go to a land that was promised him by God. Look at verses 13-16. They were looking to the promise that God made that the Messiah would come. Look at the end of the chapter at verses 39-40. These all were commended by their faith even though they did not physically see the fulfillment of the promises God made to them. So these Old Testament believers had faith in Christ who was the promised one to come.
The people of God are said to have Abraham as their father. Galatians 3:7 says “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” Those who have faith in Christ have Abraham as their father. In the same chapter Paul says those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham. So believer you are a son of Abraham, a son of the promise. How can this be since we are not of Jewish descent?
In Galatians 4:26 Paul says the Jerusalem above is free. This is referring to the church the people of God. Paul closes this book by saying “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” The Israel of God? Who is that? It is those who are the new creation those who have come to faith in Christ. The church is the Israel of God. It is not of physical descent but a spiritual descent if you will.
All that to say this the woman represents the people of God in the Old and the New Testament and today. It is the church or as one commentator called it the Messianic community.2 It is believers those who have come to faith in the male child the Messiah Jesus Christ. These people are the same throughout all of history. We must remember the Old Testament people of God was more of an ethnic thing. Now though as John taught us Jesus has redeemed people from every tribe, tongue and language to God the Father.
Before we move on remember John is speaking symbolically. The Messiah we all know came from God the Father. But God the Father planned it so that Jesus would be of Jewish descent, the people of God.
So we have the woman, the people of God. On to the dragon. What we want to look at is what is the purpose of the dragon, or rather what is he trying to accomplish. The dragon has seven heads with ten horns which signify his power. He has seven crowns which are false crowns because they represent false ruling. The dragon is waiting to devour the male child the woman is going to give birth to. First notice how sick the dragon is. He hates this child who is about to be born so much that he is going to devour it as it comes from his mother. The purpose of the dragon is to destroy Christ. There is just one problem we read in verse 5 that when the male child is born he is caught up to God and His throne. What we have here is the whole life and ministry of Jesus summed up in a few words. The dragon sought to destroy Christ but he fulfilled the plan the Father had for Him and ascended to the throne unharmed. Keep this in mind all acts against Jesus have the dragon behind it.
When the dragon tries to devour the male child the woman flees into the wilderness where she has a place prepared for God where she is to be nourished for 1,260 days, the time from the ascension of Christ to His second coming.
This closes the first section of this chapter. God the Father has protected the Messiah and has thwarted the plan of the dragon to destroy the Messiah, Jesus. The woman, the people of God flees into the wilderness where God protects and nourishes her. This is just the beginning of us getting a glimpse into the cosmic view of the hostility the church faces. As we will see later when the dragon could not destroy Jesus he goes after those who follow Jesus the church.
12:7-12 WAR IN HEAVEN
After the first vision closes this leads into Johns second vision. A war arose in heaven and Michael, the archangel, and his angels were fighting against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back but the dragon was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon is defeated and is thrown down to earth. The description of the dragon expands here and he is identified as that ancient serpent, the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. The ancient serpent is where we can see the parallel between this and the first gospel promise in Genesis 3:15. The dragon and his angels are thrown down to the earth.
The devil once again has been defeated. We could assume that at the sight of Satan being thrown down a voice cries out: NOW THE SALVATION AND THE POWER AND THE KINGDOM OF OUR GOD AND THE AUTHORITY OF HIS CHRIST HAVE COME, FOR THE ACCUSER OF OUR BROTHERS HAS BEEN THROWN DOWN, WHO ACCUSES THEM DAY AND NIGHT BEFORE GOD. AND THEY HAVE CONQUERED HIM BY THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB AND BY THE WORD OF THEIR TESTIMONY, FOR THEY LOVED NOT THEIR LIVES EVEN UNTO DEATH.
We must not be quick to think that John is teaching us that Satan was defeated actually by Michael and his angels. Satan was defeated when Jesus died and rose again. Jesus even says in Luke 10:18 “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” Satan is defeated by Christ. Therefore Satan can no longer hurl accusations against believers to the Father. This concept of Satan accusing people before God is not unique to John. We see it happen twice in the book of Job and once in the book of Zechariah. The accusations of Satan are null and void. They no longer carry any weight because Jesus completed His work for the Saints. Satan may accuse but God the Father can simply reply look what my Son has done. Satan has been disbarred from his role as prosecutor of the believer.
Not only has Christ conquered Satan but so have those who follow Christ. The voice in heaven cries that they have overcome Satan first by the blood of the Lamb. This is the ground by which we can overcome. Without the blood of the lamb we cannot overcome. Jesus must conquer first, which He already has, then His disciples can conquer. Secondly they have overcome Satan by the word of their testimony which we can say is nothing less nothing more than the blood of the Lamb which makes a way for sinners to be made right with God and conquer Satan.
The third way they conquer is by not loving their lives even to the point of death. Think about this. How could this be conquering the devil the great dragon? It is conquering because Jesus has defeated death for the Christian. Satan may think he is winning when he is behind a believer being killed but it is just another victory for the Lamb. Another way to look at this is that in some ways there are things as believers that are worse than death. This is not original to me, it came from DA Carson. He says as believers sinning against the one who paid your ransom is worse than death. There are many things he goes on to say that are worse than death. Death for the believer is not the end but the beginning of an eternity that will be spent in the presence of the Lamb.
In verse 12 the heaven is called to rejoice because the dragon, Satan, has been defeated and thrown to the earth. This is a cause for rejoicing. But there is a WOE. Woe to those who on earth and sea for the devil has come down to you in great wrath for his time is short. Satan knows he is a defeated foe but he keeps on fighting. He is full of wrath, but the fear of him is limited because he is defeated and his time for spreading his wrath is short. One commentator likened this to Nazi Germany after D-Day. Hitler knew that he was defeated but he still kept fighting even though he knew it was a lost cause. Because of his persistence in fighting one of the bloodiest and deadliest battles of the war The Battle of the Bulge took place.3 This is the same picture we have of Satan here. He is a defeated foe and he knows it but it does not stop him from continuing the battle. Satan has a hard time with reality. Think about it. He knows he is a goner yet he keeps going. Throughout history he has been defeated time after time. But that only increases his wrath.
Verses 7-12 picture for us a heavenly perspective of what was happening on the cross. On the cross Jesus defeated Satan by taking on the sin of those who will come to faith in him. And in His resurrection Jesus put the final nail in the devil’s coffin and sealed his fate. Because of this defeat Satan continues to fight and fight and fight. He could not destroy Christ and now he will turn his attention to the woman, the people of God.
12:13-17 THE ONE BEHIND THE HOSTILITY TO THE CHURCH
So far we have seen that the dragon Satan is in a war with Christ. Every action Satan takes is an attempt to destroy Christ. Every attempt he makes is an utter failure. But the devil does not have a good grip on the reality of his situation. He is a defeated foe but he is still a ticked off foe and he is full of wrath. The dragon has been cast to the earth and their was a WOE to those who dwell on the earth because the dragon is filled with great wrath.
When the dragon realizes that he has been thrown down to the earth he once again goes after the woman who gave birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the eagle so she could flee from the dragon into the wilderness, notice the similarity with the first section. She flies away from the ancient serpent Satan to the place where she is to be nourished. The wings show God’s protection and the wilderness is the place where God will provide for her for a time and times and half a time, or three and a half years, which is the same thing as the 1,260 days we saw earlier. Seeing that the woman is fleeing from him the serpent is once again ticked off and from his mouth comes a great river with which he is attempting to drown the woman. Once again God is protecting the woman and the earth opens up and swallows the river. The river coming out of his mouth symbolizes the lies Satan attempts to use against the church to destroy her.
Now the dragon is sufficiently frustrated and ticked off. Since his plan against the woman has failed he now goes off to make war with the rest of her offspring. The rest of her offspring are those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. In other words when his first attempt to destroy God’s people, the followers of Jesus, fails he continues to make war on them. Once again he does not grasp the reality of the situation he faces.
TYING IT ALL TOGETHER
How then do these sections fit together? They all talk about the same characters the woman the dragon. They all have the same outcome. Satan attacks and Satan fails and then he attacks again. What we see here is what lies behind the hostility the church faces while they are on the earth. Not to adopt a Flip Wilson theology but behind all the hostility that believers, churches, face is the devil himself. If we think of it in light of what Jesus said in John that those who are not believers have Satan as their father this makes perfect sense. Satan has been against Christ since the day he was born. He could not destroy Christ while he was on the earth so now he attacks the followers of Christ and attempts to destroy them. But once again these plans are frustrated as well.
We will notice this more next week but notice the duration which the church is protected from Satan. It is for 1,260 days. That is a long time. It is almost as if John was saying the protection you have from God is going to last longer than the persecution you face as a church. Also in the first century mindset this would be comforting to them as well. They were facing evil everywhere and many were being killed. In that time there was more of a recognition of the power of Satan and what he was behind. The devil was ultimately behind all of the emperor worship that they were facing. The heretics that attempted to infiltrate many of their churches had Satan as its source.
This should also solidify for us today that we are in the midst of a spiritual war. The enemy is a baby eating scoundrel who will do whatever it takes to destroy the plans of God. Satan will do whatever it takes to destroy the church. He wages war on the church at every juncture. Whether he can get a congregation to be complacent or send wolves in sheep’s clothing who act as if they preach the truth but would not know it if you hit them between the eyes with it.
So what do we do with this? How do we apply this today? How is this about Jesus? First we must not have a defeatist attitude when it comes to our spiritual warfare. We are conquerors. We can conquer by the blood of the Lamb, our testimony to the truth and even our death. We can be confident in the face of trials and hardships. We can be confident when someone attempts to conquer the church. We can speak out boldly against false teachers who come in the guise of love and unity and destroy the truth revealed in the Bible. We can live full lives because even if Satan is behind our death one day we know that even in our death Satan is a loser and a failure and he always will be.
Jesus is the one who won the victory already to make this available to us. Even now Jesus has his bronze foot on the throat of Satan and is slowly taking the life from him and crushing his throat. Jesus is our protector. He provides for His people even in the midst of persecution. He provides for them even when they die because He has already defeated death and there is no reason for His disciples to worry one bit about the day they die. Jesus has thrown Satan down from heaven with His work on the cross and His resurrection.
Know that even in the midst of Satan attacking and hurling the church Jesus does not give us more than we can handle. It is hard sometimes to think that something that is going on in the spiritual “realm” is something that we as believers are able to handle. But we can. We can because Jesus has already faced what we are or may be facing.
Look to Jesus. Things will get worse. Bad times are coming. We are slowly losing our ground in many ways here in our own country. People are being lambasted because gay people went to a Christian counseling clinic and God forbid the people there tried to help them. Satan is in that my friends as well. Satan is behind it, but know that someone more mighty than Satan is for us and against him. One day Jesus will return and Satan will be crushed and will scream like a little school girl when Jesus crushes him. Until that day we must focus on Jesus. We must keep our minds on Him. If we do not then we have lost the only ground we have to stand on. Once again I will close every sermon this way look to Jesus, focus on Jesus. Make Him the point of your work day, your time at home, your time at school, and your time at church. Focus on Him and you will overcome Satan, because He is the one who dealt the death blow to Satan. Focus on Jesus.