The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Part 24, Revelation 12:1-17, The Epic Battle
Revelation Part 24, 12:1-17: The Epic Battle A quiz: what is the exact center of Bible’s story? Genesis 3. First half of the story--Gen 1-2: God’s very good creation. The exact center of the story--Gen 3: How the creation got so messed up—the Fall. The last half of the story--Gen 4-Rev 22: How God makes right his creation we messed up. But what does this have to do with Revelation 12:1-17? Everything. Because this chapter tells the story from Genesis 3 to the second half of the Great Tribulation. Indeed, this is a grand and glorious story! And just like every good story, there are main characters. Let’s see who they are. The woman and the dragon are center stage. John refers to them as “signs”. Signs are pictures which point to something else. When we’re new in town and our GPS dies, what do we do? We rely on maps and road signs to get us where we need to be. We know the sign is not the actual road-you don’t drive on a sign. But the sign points you to the right road. So, let’s talk about the woman and the dragon. The woman is in labor and anguish and about to deliver. Mothers—can you remember? How can you forget? Now this woman is a sign. For she is a nation-Israel. Joseph, the youngest of the sons of Israel, had a dream and he pictured his family as sun, moon and stars. And as hard as her labor is, the pain of her birth is the least of her worries. For John sees a second sign. A dragon is waiting to devour the baby as soon as the woman delivers him. The word “devour” is graphic: It’s what a starving person does at the dinner table. The dragon has evil intent. And that baby is in trouble! These two signs paint the most vivid picture of what has been happening since the day Adam and Eve sinned—the middle of the Bible story in Genesis 3. You remember how it goes. They disobeyed the Lord and he called them on the carpet. Then they began to play the blame game with God. Adam: “it was this woman who you gave me that caused all this trouble”. Eve: “it was this serpent who deceived me that caused all this trouble”. And after hearing their story, God mercifully went to work. He shed the blood of innocent animals and covered our first parents with those skins. He promised them in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you, serpent, and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he, the offspring shall bruise, literally, crush your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This is known as the first preaching of the Gospel. The serpent’s head is going to get crushed by the offspring of the woman. A human will destroy the authority and the power of the serpent, and eventually God will put him where he belongs . From Genesis 4-12, we see the Lord begin to work his plan that he had before the foundation of the earth to save people. Genesis 12: God called Abraham and told him “I will bless whoever blesses you.” God continued to faithfully work his salvation plan through the rest of the Old Testament. But Israel—the people with whom he established his covenant with? Abject failure. Over and over again, Israel spurned the Lord. Proved themselves unfaithful. God sent prophet after to prophet to warn them. But they failed to follow. So the Lord sent multiplied judgments, and finally Assyria, then Babylon and Persia to punish them. But not without renewing his promise to them of their return to the land and eventual offer of forgiveness. He promised to have David’s descendant sit on his throne as king; God was not about to let humans thwart his plans to be faithful to keep his word. And when the time was right, it was Christmas. Well, the way we have heard it so often anyway. Gabriel came to Mary and said, “You, a virgin, will become pregnant and bear a son. He will sit on the throne of his father David.” “He will save his people from their sins.” At the perfect time, God sent the redeemer. In fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, Israel experienced “Immanuel”—God with us. That would be Jesus. But the dragon was not pleased. From the day God made the promise to our first parents to save them, the dragon tried to stop him from doing so. And he, along with the one third of the angels who came with him from heaven-we call them demons-tried their level best to prevent the woman-Israel-from arriving at delivery day. From the famine and captivity in Egypt to their gross idolatry throughout their history. But right on schedule, Jesus was born. Jesus is who John saw Israel deliver. He was the male child, the one who was to rule the nations with a rod of iron in v.5. And who was right there trying to kill that baby? The dragon—the evil spiritual force behind wicked Herod who will have no rival. But who exactly is the dragon? Like with so many people, the dragon is interpreted so many different ways. But let’s just stick with who the Scripture says he is: Revelation 12:9: the ancient serpent, the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. We’ll talk more about him in a bit. But more about Israel, and specifically about the man child--Jesus. In v.5, we see the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus. The very one who John the Baptist saw as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And the very one who the Apostle John sees as the slain and resurrected Lamb with the scroll in his hand, revealing before all creation the things that must take place. Salvation’s door is now standing open for all people. The lamb died and is alive forever! The price for sin was paid. Now it is time to dispatch the enemy. But before that dispatching comes a lot of trouble for Israel. In v.6, we John giving us a snapshot of Israel’s future suffering. She will have to flee to the wilderness to survive. And as a matter of full disclosure, I found it very difficult to understand the relationship between vv.5 and 6, because it reads like Israel fled into the wilderness immediately after Jesus went back to heaven. So, I sort of understand why there are those who believe that everything John wrote down in this book already happened. That is one way of seeing the book of Revelation. It’s called the preterist view. And many people see this book through those lenses. But it makes much more sense to see this portion of Revelation as happening in the future, during the days of the Great Tribulation. And I see some of Revelation 12 as belonging to the last 3 and a half years of the Great Tribulation. So, it seems to me that the white space between v.5 and v.6 is a long period of time. Jesus returned to heaven in v.5, and we are now in the white space. Until. The last half of the Great Tribulation: Revelation 12:6: and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. What will trigger the last half of the Great Tribulation? I believe the Lord told us. He called it the Abomination of Desolation in Matthew 24. It’s where the temple will be desecrated and the Jews will realize that who they think is their Messiah, will then understand he is not. And when that happens, Jesus told his disciples to high tail it out of Jerusalem. And the most horrendous time of persecution will come upon Israel, lasting for 1260 days—3.5 years based on the Jewish calendar. We will see this amount of time again in v.14: “time, times and a half a time.” Most people who study these things for a living see that Daniel, in his prophecy, interprets this phrase as: time being one year, times is 2 years and half a time is a half a year. So, both timelines are the same. And God is going to preserve Israel, rebellious, unfaithful Israel, for the 3 and a half years of the Great Tribulation. Push pause with Israel and let’s focus on the dragon in vv.7-12. And here is where I see the awesome sovereignty of almighty God. Those who were here last week or were able to catch the message on our Facebook page remember when we talked about the kingdom of the world has now become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. The Lord has begun to reign. But until the war between the unfallen and the fallen angels, the dragon was able roam around in heaven and on earth. Scripture says that he is the prince of the power of the air and the god of this world. But because Jesus has begun to reign, the first thing the Lord takes sovereign control over is the length of the leash the Lord has always had dragon on. Before, he had access to heaven. Now, he is cast out of heaven and the door is shut. His place to create havoc has become a bit smaller. And the noose is getting tighter. Hallelujah! Let’s notice something else about the dragon’s smackdown. He no longer has access to the throne of God to accuse his people. Until this time, he stood before the throne day and night accusing the brothers and sisters. Never again! But there’s more. And this is the icing on the cake! Notice in vv.10-11 about the victory of the martyrs over the dragon: they have conquered him. Imagine the scene! The satanic spirit wells up in an enemy of the cross of Jesus and kills a Christian. Though this brother or sister is absent from the body they are present with the Lord. And when they arrive in heaven, imagine the anger and frustration of the dragon. They hear the dragon falsely accuse them before the throne. But because they loved the Lord more than their own lives, they, and the dragon realize that, once again, he lost. Because the greatest weapon the dragon has is the fear of death, as the writer to the Hebrews tells us. These brothers and sisters overcame because they no longer feared death. No wonder those in heaven rejoice! The devil lost. And the devil lost access to the throne. Perhaps the rejoicing in v.12 is a rejoicing of relief! They will no longer have to hear the continual slander before the throne of God! But they also realize how horrendous it will be for those on earth, now that he has limited space in which to move. And they pronounce a woe on those who will dwell on the earth. They know that he knows his time is short. They know that he wants to cause as much damage as he can. I can’t help but think that the dragon knows his ultimate destination, though the text does not say it. And in his absolute fury, who does he go after? Verses13-15 tell us it is Israel. The dragon exercised death and destruction before, but now, because he knows he has only a limited place and a limited time, his wrath is concentrated. As we know by now, the devil is the power behind willing countries and governments bent on doing his will. As the days get closer to the Great Tribulation, anti-Semitism will become ever more vicious and intense. Anyone who has been following current events knows how much the world hates Israel. But why Israel? When we step back for just a moment, what do they have? What have they done that makes the world hate them so much? Of course, the meme is they live in occupied territory. Most of the world says they are not allowed to be there, and many say they are not allowed to exist. But God gave the land to Israel. It doesn’t belong to what the world calls Palestine. And in the ultimate sense, it doesn’t belong to Israel either. The earth is the Lord’s and all that fills it-Psalm 24:1. But the blessing, and protection, God gave Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 still stands. God says, “Whoever curses you I will curse.” Among other things, I take that to mean whoever attacks Israel militarily, unless God specifically sends them, the Lord will see to it they will survive. As many of us know by now, when President Trump announced we were pulling out of the very bad Iran deal, in my opinion, who was attacked? It was Israel, not us, which was met with rockets shot from Syria but with love from Iran. But tiny Israel warned powerful Russia and Iran to back off. What you are about to see is a video by a Messianic Jew who heads up a ministry called “Behold Israel”. Amir Tsarfati was born in Israel and has lived there most of his life. Since fulfilling his mandatory service in the Israeli Defense Force, he has continued as a major in the IDF Reserve. His home overlooks the valley of Megiddo (Armageddon). In my opinion, he has his finger on the pulse of what is going on in Israel. Here is Israel’s answer to the Syrian attack. This is a good example of God protecting his people. That is the good news. But there is bad news as well. The Great Tribulation was predicted in the Old Testament and was called the time of Jacob’s trouble or a distress for Jacob. Part of the reason for the Great Tribulation is a purifying and a wooing of God’s rebellious people back to himself. During this time, Zechariah tells us in Zechariah 13:8 that two thirds of his people will die. But Jesus gives them and us a promise: Matthew 24:34–35: Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Generation” in v.24 can mean a people living who are of the same kind or those who are living at the same time. I am convinced it is the former. In other words, Jesus guarantees that God’s people will survive. In fact, the reason why the Great Tribulation will only be 3.5 years is for the sake of Israel’s survival. Matthew 24:21–22: For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. God is faithful, even to his rebellious, elect people! Look at everything that has happened to Israel down through the ages. His people were scattered for over 19 centuries. We know about the holocaust. And yes, contrary to an increasingly popular belief, the holocaust of the Jews did happen. And during this time, the Lord himself will protect them in Revelation 12:14. The eagles’ wings remind his people of another time of God’s protection and provision. In Exodus 19:4, the Lord told his people he delivered them out of Egypt, carrying them on eagles’ wings. God is faithful to protect his people. King Jesus has begun to reign. By his blood, he offers salvation for the human race. The dragon’s power is taken away piece by piece. Hallelujah! No more access to the throne. He experienced what is probably his worst nightmare—because of Jesus, Christ followers are not afraid of death. And now he can’t destroy Israel—his nemesis since Genesis 12. So what is left? To go after the rest of Israel’s offspring. And who is that? Revelation 12:17: Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. That would be the Messianic Jews and grafted in Gentiles-the church. The dragon is getting increasingly desperate. And so he will unleash even more hatred and use the willing to wreak even more havoc on all of God’s people. We focus prayers for our brothers and sisters who suffer persecution, and every week it’s a new country. This week it is Algeria. Almost all Christians there are from a Muslim background. Like most Muslim countries, the law prohibits non-Muslims from meeting together for worship. Pray that the Lord would encourage them and help the believers escape detection from the government when they meet. Pray as well that the Lord would give them strength equal and even exceeding the task of withstanding the persecution, so that the church of Jesus Christ can thrive there. It’s getting increasingly hostile for followers of Jesus all over the world today. But as we will see in the coming chapters in Revelation it will get much worse before the Lord returns. And how the believers in John’s day needed to know that they were not alone. Jesus gave John a vision of many who did not love their lives even unto death. When John wrote Revelation, the persecution was not all that widespread. But it was about to ramp up. And now, the last sentence in chapter 12--And he—the dragon--stood on the sand of the sea. The high drama continues. So, what do we do with this chapter? God chose Israel to bring forth the Messiah. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He was dead, and is now alive forever! We have seen over and over in this passage of God’s faithfulness to his people. Even his unbelieving elect. Until. It’s that until that we will deal with in later chapters. The Lord has purchased eternal salvation and offers it to all who respond in repentance and faith to the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. And that brings us to a response. For how can we not respond? We have the example of those who overcame the dragon by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony. These did not love their lives even unto death. Paul captures it in a great way. In the letter to the Philippians, the apostle did not know what his outcome before Nero would be. And you can see him sort of struggle as he wrote Philippians 1:21–23 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. Paul was ready for whatever. If the Lord wanted him to remain, as in not die, then he would continue to engage in what he calls fruitful ministry. But if things with Nero would go south and his head would be severed from his shoulders, then he considered that a one-way ticket to be with Jesus. And if he had the choice, he honestly did not know what he would choose! I’m convinced that for Paul it did not matter about his physical death, for in a sense, he was already dead. In a letter he wrote to his friends in Colossae about a year prior to the Philippians, he encouraged his brothers and sisters to live in the reality of who they were. Colossians 3:1–4: If then, literally, since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. And you know what? If we are truly born again, we have died as well. For that is what we have signed up for. A sobering question: when you began to follow Jesus did you just add him to your life, or did you die to yourself? That is what Jesus calls all of us to do. Is your life his? Or are you trying to get him to go your way? See, Jesus will not follow anybody. He demands we follow him. And when it gets really tough in the future, if the Lord has not returned, and we are still vertical, we will know beyond the shadow of a doubt where we stand with the Lord. And we will know it in a hurry. When the pressure comes to compromise then, what will you do? The answer is, whatever is really in your heart is how you will respond. The time to get serious with him is now. Because when the squeeze begins, it will be too late. If you claim to follow him, then live for him. Today. If you are cherishing sin, repent by his spirit. If you are living for no more than today, ask the Lord to give you a bigger vision for your life. If you have not made time for intake of the word or prayer, don’t put it off. If you are at odds with someone, humble yourself and seek reconciliation. Make the first move. And above all, if you have been just dabbling at Jesus, but have never truly given your life to him, do it now. We have heard what we’re about to say together several times over the years. And I think it’s appropriate to interact with this again. I thought that instead of a corporate prayer this week that we would make a corporate declaration as a response to the message today. My desire for each of us is to declare this before the Lord, in the same way as we have been praying our corporate prayers. It’s a letter written by a pastor in Zimbabwe. The day after his gave his life for his Lord, and sealed his discipleship with his blood, this declaration of commitment was found on his desk. I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made—I’m a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure. I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals. I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, am uplifted by prayer, and labor with power. My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my Guide is reliable, my mission is clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the enemy, pander at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won’t give up, shut up, or let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, preached up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must keep going until He comes, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He stops me. And, when He comes for His own, He will have no problem recognizing me. My banner will be clear.