Tuesday, June 10, 2014

REVELATION 12: 13 - 17 : “ THE DRAGON PURSUES THE WOMAN “

Our  passage today starts with these dramatic words: "[13] And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child." Before we consider  this section,  allow  me to briefly  summarise  what we  had  discovered  last week.  
We noted  that  there was "war in heaven…" (v.7). This spiritual warfare is not   only global, it is cosmic. We saw that the heavenly armies under the leadership of the angel Michael  had defeated  the  demonic  armies of Satan  (v.8). From that moment on “Satan was thrown  down to the earth” (vv.  9,10,13).  
Verse 10 is a  key verse, for it  tells us of  the ultimate reason  as to why  Satan is thrown down:  “…the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of  his Christ have come…”.  With Christ’s birth,  presence, teaching , death, resurrection, and ascension  the devil has been  thrown  out of  the heavenly  courts,  where He had formerly appeared before God  with the angels  (see Job 1& 2 ) and he is thrown down to the earth. Now this sounds  like bad news for us, who live on the earth , and to some degree it is , but we  must  take note  also  that
Christ’s first coming   is also the beginning of the kingdom come  on earth. The most notable sign of His  kingdom  was  the casting out of demons.  However, it was on the cross that Jesus  “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them …” (Col 2:15).
So  in summary , Satan is  now excluded from  heaven  and thrown down to the earth. On the  earth  he is now a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8) but  he is progressively downsized and doomed , and on the road to hell.  And,, instead of overcoming  those that he  was constantly accusing  (that  is ,  the  OT saints for whom the atoning blood of Christ had not yet become a reality)  he is now overcome by them  “who have conquered them by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony “ (v.11).
Having failed to destroy the O.T. church,  and having failed to destroy the spiritual  seed - the Lord Jesus Christ  (12:5),  he now  continues his fury against the woman - the church.

This is all  of tremendous importance to us, for  it  explains  history and the future of all things to us.  It also  gives us understanding   concerning  that  which  is  happening right now in our world. It helps  us to understand  why  the true church  in this present  world hardly ever seems to experience real, lasting  peace - even though in the midst of it all,  true Christians do  know that peace  of God which surpasses  all  understanding (Phil 4:7). All this is explained here.

And so we take note of the following:
1.     The devil cast out of heaven, and  crushed by the cross is now in his last  days as  he   pursues the   church  that  had metaphorically given birth to the male child, who is Jesus Christ - the Son of God.
2.     The  church is enabled to escape the fury of the devil: “ But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. (v.14)
      a.      She is  metaphorically helped to escape by the wings of an eagle.
     b.     She is sheltered in a prepared place in the desert where she is taken care of for "a time, times and half a time", which is the same period as  the 1260 days in 12:5 and the 42 months in 11:2.
      c.    Whilst she is  protected there  and nourished  there , this does not mean  that she does not experience  the attacks of the devil  in that  desert. Vv. 15 - 17 shows that she is safe there, but not exempt from  his presence  and from his attacks. We must now  consider this in some more detail.

1.     Satan pursues the Church:
"[13] And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child." … [15] The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood.
Having been  thrown down,  Satan is now  focused  on the church – the  people  whom  our Lord Jesus Christ  died for. That sounds very disturbing ! Remember that this revelation of Jesus Christ was  given  to  John on the island of Patmos (Rev.1:9)   for the comfort of the church in these last days.   We need to  read, hear and understand this. It is intended  to  fill us with courage and hope (Rev 1:3) , for  although the  church  shall suffer through all this , the church shall also be kept   through this time.  Jesus promised that He would keep His church (Matt 16:18).
But right now, "the whole world is under the control of the evil one" (1 Jn. 5: 19).  Jesus Himself calls the devil,  " the prince of this world" (Jn.12:31; 14:30; 16:11), and for this reason the Lord Jesus warns His disciples,  "in this world you will have trouble", whilst at the same time  encouraging   them : "Take heart. I have overcome the world."  (Jn. 16:33)   

Now the question: How does Satan presently control the world?  How does   he  pursue the church? Since  Satan is a spirit , he works  spiritually . The way in which he  exercises  his  fury is by  instigating evil men  and women – which John calls  “ the world” -   against the church.  He uses  world systems to  do this. He uses decadent,  materially affluent  western   culture to  subvert the church. He uses  anti- Christian  religious systems such as  Islam or Hinduism to suppress the  church.  He has used Marxism – Communism in Russia and China  to kill many Christians and  to forbid  churches to meet.  He uses all the  so-called  Christian cults  such as Mormonism , Jehovah’s Witnesses, the present  “ Word of Faith Movement”    etc.    to confuse people  in this world concerning the true nature of Christ who alone is the Saviour  of those who believe. Paul says : “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:4). Satan hates the church  and he makes the world hate the church.  Jesus reminds  His disciples in Jn. 15:18,   "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first…"
All  this  is very important to understand. Here is the  ultimate reason as to why the true  church, wherever you find  her  in this world,  has  such  a hard time -  whether by persecution (i.e.  by killing or imprisoning Christians) or by deception … e.g. by tempting Christians to compromise the truth ; by keeping the truth hazy in their  minds; by causing Christians not to think - and thus  not to pray ; by  making Christians think that Satan doesn’t exist ;  by making evil an abstract, indefinable  matter;  by causing  unspiritual squabbles and foolish controversies to erupt in the church - which make the church look like any other secular organisation in this world; by keeping  Church leaders weak and worldly; by  encouraging prayerlessness -  by making people believe that prayer is not that important to our work; by lack of discipline, and by allowing sin to go unchecked in the church; by allowing truth and doctrine to become so unimportant, that it doesn't matter anymore in the end what you believe, as long as you believe it sincerely etc.
I stress the latter point  concerning  deception so much because  this is the primary tool which the devil uses here,  in our country and in  our churches.

2.     The Church  remains victorious in the midst of her struggle
We  have made this point already, but it is worth  emphasising  this point again. Although the church is persecuted and subjected to deception, she is  not  at the mercy of Satan! She is  always kept by the Grace of God. All this is in  harmony with the general teaching of Scripture , and the particular teaching of our Lord : "I will build my church , and the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18).  And our Lord has  reminded  His disciples  on at least 2 occasions  through the apostle John that "the prince of this world now stands condemned". (Jn 12:31;  16:11) . The Satan who has failed to destroy the O.T. seed , and the Lord Jesus Christ at his birth and on the cross , will also ultimately fail to destroy the NT church.  

3.     How  will Jesus preserve His church through this  time?
a.     He helps her by making a way of escape  :  “But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.(v.14). We have seen this before!   This is what  God did for the Israelites when He helped them to escape from Egypt:   "You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles wings and brought you to myself." (Ex 19:4 see also  Isa 40:31 : "Those whose hope is in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles…")
b.     He helps her  by creating  for her a safe place  in the desert. Once again we note the  similarity between   the Exodus and the  Revelation. Just as God delivered His people from the Egyptian powers,  by making a way of escape  for her through the  wilderness, so now also  He  delivers  His  NT  people   from  the  fury  of Satan in these last days.  Christians are kept by the pure  grace of God in this spiritual wilderness.  The true church  is the demonstration of the kingdom of God, and she  is intended  to be  a safe  place  for the believer as they live in a spiritual wasteland.  This does not mean  that she is unassailable. Please note that the  church  is only a safe place as long as she maintains the marks and disciplines of a biblical church.    She is safe - but she is not immune, just as a walled city is a safe place - but by no means unassailable! History is  full of examples to prove that. The city, despite its impregnable walls must be guarded. The Lord Jesus said to His disciples on the eve of His crucifixion: "Watch and pray , that you may not fall into temptation".  

The devil is  never   at rest . " The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. This is all symbolical language - the dragon, the woman… the spewing of the water. But the  principle is clear. The evil one wants to flush the church out from her place of safety. As soon as she passes the boundaries of her safety (hidden with God in Christ) he can devour her. The strategies that he employs, we have seen,   are many –  and either through subversion or  extinction.
However , in this  this situation , the Lord God helps His people:  [16] But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth.  God has used the earth  to provide help  of escape. He provided a path of escape  via the Red sea and the Jordan. And so it has been with the church in history . The earth has often provided a refuge for Christians   simply by  way of national boundaries . e.g. Baptists who were persecuted in 16th /17th century England found a refuge in Holland and in America.   Prior  to the destruction of Jerusalem  in AD 70 , the Christians were advised to flee to the mountains (Matt 24:16).

The War spreads  into  the whole World
Initially the conflict was located  in Jerusalem and Judea , but as  the church spread throughout the whole world , so  Satan  followed  suit : [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. And he stood on the sand of the sea.  We will consider this   in more detail as  we come to chapter 13

Summary:

1.     The church  is living in  intense days, in which  Satan has been cast down to the earth .
2.     We are engaged in a spiritual war ( cf.  Eph.  6: 10 -18) in which the church has no natural defense against Satan. We stand by the grace and in the Name of our God alone.  He is the Provider of our spiritual armour and we do well to study  and use  this armour.
3.     Humanly speaking  our safety  depends  on abiding in ( Christ)  the vine (John 15).  We need to obey His commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus (12:11). 

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