Tuesday, May 27, 2014

REVELATION 12:1-6 : SPIRITUAL WARFARE - THE BIGGER PICTURE !

               

REVIEW :

A. THE PARALLELISM OF REVELATION

According to W. Hendriksen [1] there are 7 parallel sections in the book of Revelation. Each of them spans the entire dispensation from the first to the second coming of Christ. Each period is viewed now from one aspect and now from another .

1. Christ in the middle of the Lampstands / Churches ( 1:1-3:22)

2. The Vision of Heaven and the 7 Seals ( 4:1-7:17)

3. The 7 Trumpets ( 8:1- 11:19)

4. The Persecuting Dragon ( 12: 1-14:20)

5. The 7 Bowls ( 15:1-16:21)

6. The fall of Babylon ( 17:1-19:21)

7. The great Consummation ( 20:1- 22:21)


B. TWO MAJOR DIVISIONS IN THE REVELATION TO JOHN

1. Chapters 1-11 are a general survey of the church’s struggle in the world. The world attacks the church, but the church is always protected and victorious.

2. Chapters 12-22 reveal that this struggle has a deep and sinister root. It is the revelation of Satan’s war with God . It is essentially an exposition of Ephesians 6:1, 2
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Revelation  12:1-6  The woman and the dragon:

Having considered the  struggle of the church on earth (the first 11 chapters)  we are now  given a glimpse behind the curtain. We now  learn that behind  the struggle of the church   there  is a far more sinister  struggle. It is the revelation of Satan’s war with God (Eph. 6 :10-20). This  vision  which introduces the 4th cycle,  begins with  a revelation  to John of  two  signs in heaven.
The first sign (12: 1-2)  (note  “a great sign“)   is that of a woman. She is majestic and glorious in appearance. She is clothed with the sun. The moon is at her feet. On her head she wears a crown of 12 stars. Remember, this is all symbolic language!    Despite her majestic appearance, she is in pain. She is about to give birth.
The second sign (12:3) forms a terrible contrast:  “ a great red dragon”  - a grotesque creature with 7 heads and 10 horns and 7  diadems (crowns)  on  its head.  It has a monstrous appearance . In 12:9 it is described as ‘that ancient serpent’. What does this ancient serpent  do? In 12:4a we read that “his  tail  swept down  a third of the stars  of heaven  and cast them to  the earth.”  Clearly,  the dragon has great power in this universe. In 12:4b we read that this dragon threatens  the male child that is about to be born to the woman.  And so we  must ask : Who is this woman? Who is this child?  Who is this dragon? What is  the meaning   of this  revelation given to John on the island of Patmos? Let  us begin with the identity of the dragon .

1.  The Dragon

He is revealed  as  a great red dragon. (v.3) The word ‘red’ (Gr.  purros) comes from the word ‘fire’. Why is he pictured in this way with … 7 heads … ten horns? There can be no doubt that this dragon is Satan. This is clear from  12:9. He is that ancient serpent whom we find in  Genesis 3:1. He is  Satan, the deceiver of the whole world (12:9). What do these grotesque features mean? It shows us simply that the devil is an unnatural and deformed being. He is indeed a monster. But God did not make him that way. When God created the angels - those glorious heavenly beings,  Satan  and his angels were among them. He  by his own free will (i.e. the free will assigned by God to His unfallen creatures) made himself a devil and an evil power when he rebelled against God.[2] In so doing he became  this grotesque  being. This is true with all evil - it quickly degenerates a beautiful person. See what anger, bitterness  or  substance abuse does  to people.
We must understand  that this all happened with God’s permission  and under God’s power and providence. God  did  not make the devil as the devil, just as little as God designed  the human race as a fallen and evil people. The root of evil comes from Satan,  who  induced  mankind to choose sin over obedience  to God.  That is  why  mankind  has become a  participator in that evil nature, and that is what we are before we  become children of God. 

It appears then that Satan may have been among  the greatest among all the angels in terms of power, beauty and glory , although he has now  lost his glory in heaven. He has turned all his power into intense hatred for God, and for all that God has made. He operates through the twin tools of destruction and deception. He has become an enormous red dragon.

Note the attention that is given to his head. He has 7 heads, with 10 horns and on the 7 heads he wears 7 diadems  (crowns) . The numbers 7 and 10 are symbolic numbers. They are both numbers that denote completion. 7 is a holy number, denoting completion of the kingdom of God and its fullness. 10 is a number that denotes the measure of fullness of time and space and power,  which is  given  to any creature by God’s decree. The crowns are usually symbols of royalty (kingly power) and authority. The horns are always symbols of strength.

We must be careful how we apply this to the interpretation of this dragon. Remember that he is a deceiver. He fancies himself to be the ruler of God’s creation.  All these symbols (heads, crowns, horns) are boastful statements about his ugly  intentions.  You must not be deceived by the symbols of power and authority which he bears. This power and authority  is ‘second-rate’ and counterfeit. The devil loves to portray himself as strong (e.g. a roaring lion). The truth is that he is not nearly as effective as he’d like to be. We shall see that he is in  fact  chained ( Rev. 20 :2) . His strength is limited  and you may be sure that after he has done all that is permitted for him to do, God will take those crowns away, crush those 7 heads, break the horns and cast  him into eternal hell  (20:10) .  The apostle Paul in conclusion of his letter to the Romans (16:20) reminds them that,  “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

One more thing: what is meant by v. 4a where Satan swept down  a third of the stars  of  heaven to the earth? These stars are Satan’s fellow fallen angels. In Job 3:9 and 38:7 the angels are called ‘morning stars’, and Satan himself was the morning star (Isa 14:12). Although that passage refers most literally to the king of Babylon, it is clear that this king is a type of Satan. The big point here is that when Satan rebelled against God, he did not do so on his own. He instigated a  rebellion amongst the angels of heaven and dragged a third (i.e. many, but not the majority) of his fellow angels with him. This is also confirmed in Jude 6 :  “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. (cf.  2 Pet 2: 4 )

2. The Woman

The interpretation of the identity of the dragon has not been difficult. Our text is self -explanatory. What then about the woman and the male child? This too is not difficult. Take careful note of the details! The woman is pregnant. Satan the dragon is watching her intensely. His mission is to devour (Gr ‘kataphage’- lit. to swallow / eat up greedily) the male-child which she is about to bear.
Now note, what is said about the male child in 12:5: “He will rule the nations with an iron scepter”. There is your clue about the identity of the male-child. It is the Lord Jesus Christ himself! This ties up with reference to Rev 2:27 and Ps 2:9 – both which are clear messianic references.

What about the woman? Who is she?  
She is the church !  But let me hasten to add that she is not the NT church. She is the OT church.  She lives before the birth of Christ. She is the OT church, the seed of Abraham - the household of faith in Israel . She is,  metaphorically speaking the womb (the seedbed) into which our Lord Jesus was conceived and born. Scripture meticulously and carefully traces the genealogical descent of Jesus through Jewish (OT) history!  Godly OT believers lived continually in the hope  and expectation that the Messiah would soon come to Israel. We meet some of these people in Luke 2 . [3]
But Satan was also expecting this child to be born. He was watching for His birth. He knew the promises of the OT, namely  that out of the root of Jesse and the seed of David there must come the promised  Messiah. He has heard the prophets speak of Him. And so he must do everything in his power to devour that child, since that child would greatly threaten his kingdom.
We read   that the devil does not succeed in devouring the child: Revelation 12:5, 6 records: “She gave birth to a male child, one who is  to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and  to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1260 days.”   

What does this mean? This speaks of Jesus taken up to heaven at His ascension. The church is born at Pentecost and continues to exist in a spiritual wilderness ( through persecution etc. ) until His coming  i.e. for a symbolic period of 1260 days . We  will consider more of this next  time .  Now follow the Bible logic here:

The church of the OT is labouring in pain to bring forth the Messiah. He must come! God’s promise is certain. But, as we said,  the devil also lives in anticipation of that event . He wants to strike his heel  (Gen 3:16)  He knows that if this child is born, he will be deprived of his power, and his head will be crushed (Gen 3:15 à cf Rev 13:3). So, he must destroy that seed. You will see that this has been Satan’s desire throughout the OT. He always seeks to wipe out the seed of the woman: Cain kills Abel, God’s chosen man. The devil thought that this was the end of the promised seed. But Eve gives birth to Seth, and the spiritual line multiplies through Seth. The next step the devil takes is to compromise the seed by enticing the sons of God to marry the daughters of men (Gen 6:1, 2). But again, God interferes through sending the flood that destroys all wicked men.  God saves the seed of the woman through righteous Noah. Now the building of Babel after the flood is nothing less than Satan seeking to establish a stronghold for himself. But God calls Abraham, a righteous man and a friend of God. He promises Abraham that he will be the father of a spiritual seed. In Egypt, the devil tries to extinguish that seed , but God helps Israel to escape  from Egypt.  In the desert, in the Exodus, the devil  stirs them up to apostasy. In the Promised Land he entices them to compromise the faith of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. David has a hard time to maintain the kingdom under devious and hostile men. Eventually Israel is led into captivity. Yet, always a remnant is kept by God and a remnant returns to the land of Israel. In spite of all the negatives and hard times, Christ is born out of the suffering and yet glorious OT church!
Satan understands the consequences. And you too must understand the weightiness of these words in Rev 12:4 “…The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. “How do we understand this? Our knowledge of the NT gospels is important:
(i)The first attempt by Satan to kill this child is found in Matt 2: 13, where through his human agent Herod, he seeks to destroy that child, and in the process induces  a genocide of baby boys. Note the hate and fury that must drive such a campaign!
(ii) He does not succeed to kill  Christ . What does he do then?  He  tries  to get Christ to compromise! See the deceit tactic in Matt 4. “All the kingdoms of the world I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.” But Satan fails again! 
(iii)What does he do now? He reverts to murder tactic once again. He stirs up the people against Jesus, so that they might kill Him. He thought that he got it right when Jesus was nailed to the cross, but then He rises from the dead and is taken to heaven - just as it says in Rev 12:5!
(iv) What does he do now? He turns his fury against the woman - the bride of Christ, the apple of His eye. We will consider this in some more detail next week when we get to v .13 
CONCLUSION:
(i)               Note the greatness of the church in God’s plan. She is the woman from whom Jesus is born, but she is also the bride of Jesus. Let this teach us to have no small view of the church. She must have a large place in your heart!
(ii)             Note the reality of the titanic  spiritual struggle in the heavenlies and the enormity of the enemy - just as Paul teaches us in Eph. 6:12,13
(iii)           Consider the protective covering that the church has through the shed blood of Christ. Nothing can separate the bride from the bridegroom - the love of Jesus.





[1] William Hendriksen : More than Conquerors : An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation , p.19
[2] 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6;  cf  Rev.  20:2
[3]  E.g. Simeon ( Luke 2:25ff) and the prophetess Anna  ( Lk 2:36ff) 

1 comment:

jesusandthebible said...

Satan looms large also in the early chapters about the seven churches. A "synagogue of Satan" attacks faithful churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia (2:9; 3:9). And in Pergamum, the church dwells where Satan's throne is, and has been misled through false prophets to participate in idolatry and immorality. It is warned that if it does not repent, Jesus will come and "fight" (speak) against it with the "sword" from his mouth. Thus while some churches remain faithful, despite Satan's designs, other churches are in danger of facing Christ's judgment.