Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Revelation 12, The Conflict of the Ages

Satan's age-long conflict with God and His nation Israel are the focus of this chapter. And with the use of highly graphic word pictures and symbols it reveals the reason for Satan’s disdain for the Jews and the motive behind his savage attempt to utterly destroy them during the second half of Tribulation.

v.1-2 "Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and pain to give birth."

The "sun" the "moon" and the "garland of twelve stars" clothing this woman are all interpreted elsewhere in Scripture to signify the nation Israel (Gen.37:9,10). The child she carries is Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, Who is the true offspring of the nation, and through the ancestral line of Mary was indelibly linked to Israel through every generation back to Abraham (Luke 3:23-34).

Therefore, this great sign shows the Nation of Israel, long in labor, about to give birth to its Messiah the Savior of the world and our Lord Jesus Christ. (See also—Luke 2:25-32).

Allow me to point out why I don't believe that this woman is either the church or the Virgin Mary. The church didn’t exist when Christ was born, but itself was born only after a miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit subsequent to His death and resurrection (Acts 1,2). Plus, it was Christ who gave birth to the church (Matt.16:18), not the other way around. Moreover, the image is a “sign” (a symbol) not a literal person. The image doesn't exclude Mary because she did conceive and give physical birth to Jesus, but the sign is greater than, and extends beyond, the mother in the manger.

v.3 "And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads."

This is Satan, who is named the dragon (Revelation 20:2).

He is called "great" because of his great power. Once the “anointed cherub who covers” (Ez.28:14), Satan was corrupted by pride and removed from his angelic office, yet still maintains a great power that even Michael the Archangel dares not challenge (Jude, v.9). He is called a "fiery red dragon" because of his ferocious and cruel nature; a "murderer from the beginning" Jesus said (John 8:44). His "seven [crowned] heads" are seven kingdoms (see notes—17:9-11), and his "ten horns" are ten kings who comprise the ruling world government empowered by Satan during the Great Tribulation (see notes--17:12).

This sign shows Satan as a powerful and ferocious entity that rules over the governmental affairs of man. He is the malignant and sinister force that influences the nations of the earth to oppose God both openly and contemptuously (see Dan.10:13,20-21).

v.4 "His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born."

The two most prominent Scriptural references to the origin, rebellion, and fall of Lucifer are found in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. In this sign, John is shown more.

"His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.” The “stars of heaven” is interpreted to mean angels (Job 38:7), suggesting that Lucifer, staging his rebellion against God, was able to influence one third of the angels against God and in so doing, by “his tail” brought them into contempt before God and thus cast from heaven down to earth.

“And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born." Satan's rebellion against God didn’t end on the earth. In the Garden of Eden, he successfully assaulted man with a temptation that created the enmity between God and man that has existed to this day.

Upon learning that God would deliver One through humanity Who would bring an eternal judgment upon him (Gen.3:15), Satan set out like a roaring lion seeking to devour humanity before it could produce the Offspring. Without hesitation he attacked Eve's family by inspiring the murder of one of her sons, and causing a curse to be brought upon the other (Gen.4:8,11). Later, in an attempt to contaminate man’s bloodline some believe he influenced copulation between women and demons, resulting in the flood that destroyed all but Noah and his family (Gen.6:2-4, 8-12).

When subsequent prophecies made it clear that Jesus would be a descendant of Abraham (Gen.12:3; 18:18), Satan set out to exterminate the nation Israel (the origin of Antisemitism). He murdered their children (Acts 7:19; Matt.2:16), attempted their genocide (Esther 3:6; Ps.83:4), and morally corrupted them as a people (Num.31:16).

Notwithstanding, God’s plan was not defeated, humanity survived, and inside humanity the nation chosen of God from whom the Messiah would come (Israel) survived. Therefore, in a tense confrontation with the woman, having failed in every other attempt, Satan stands ready to devour the Child Himself (check—Matt.2:13).

v.5 "And she bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her child was caught up to God as to His throne."

The blessed truth is that Satan failed to prevent the birth, or to devour the Child. Jesus Christ was born (Luke 1:8-14), “The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst man” (Jo.1:14). Moreover, Jesus completed His earthly ministry, and following His death and resurrection was caught up to heaven (Acts 1:9), seated with the Father, and given rule, authority, power and dominion over all things (Eph.1:17-23). Despite every evil intention Satan waged to prevent it, Satan has been defeated.

Okay, let’s consider it.

When Satan failed to avert the birth of Christ, or to devour Him (Matt.2:19-20), he set out to obstruct and spoil His ministry. He was there tempting Jesus to compromise Himself as His ministry began (Matt.4:1-11). Throughout its duration, he influenced many to mock Christ’s Divine authority (Matt.12:24). He silenced others from openly speaking of Him (Jo.7:13), and assaulted some closest to Him (Jo.12:10).

When that failed, he launched his plan to murder Him (Jo.11:53; Matt.12:14); ultimately choosing crucifixion to destroy Him knowing that Christ would be cursed by God in crucifixion (check—Deu.21:23).

But Satan failed to see the true intention of God. For it was the will of God that Christ be crucified (Jo.18:32), and the purposes of the Father for Jesus to be made a curse (Gal.3:13). When God raised Christ from the dead three days later, however, it was too late for Satan. The glorious triumph of God over the works of the devil became one of public record. “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Col.2:15). Scripture tells us that Satan "would not have crucified the Lord of glory" had he known (I Cor.2:7-8).

So the Child was born, and having prevailed, was caught up to God and given authority to rule all nations with a rod of iron (Ps.2:9; Rev.19:15).

v.6 "Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days."

The balance of this chapter surrounds the bitter struggle that ensues between the dragon and the woman and the subsequent persecution of her offspring. It marks the middle of the Tribulation throughout the days remaining until the end of Tribulation.

Let's summarize it.

In an unholy alliance with Antichrist, Israel will sign a seven-year agreement with Antichrist at the beginning of the Tribulation. But after three and a half years he will betray Israel and break the agreement by invading Jerusalem, overthrowing the temple worshippers, and placing an image of himself in the Holy of Holies, thereby desecrating it (Isa.28:18; Dan.9:26-27). As a result, in the event also foretold by Jesus (Matt.24:15-21), one-third of the nation will flee Jerusalem and go into hiding (Zech.13:8).

This remnant of Jews will remain in hiding, miraculously cared for by God for the entire last half of the Tribulation, three and a half years, or one thousand two hundred and sixty days. They will surface, refined as silver is refined, fully acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord (Zech.13:9).

v.7-9 "And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to earth, and his angels with him."

At the same time Israel flees the Antichrist (during the middle of the Tribulation) a full-scale angelic war erupts in Heaven that enables Michael and his angels to cast Satan and his angels from heaven to earth.

For reasons unknown to us, Satan’s freedom to access heaven and approach God was not revoked after his rebellion. We read that he accused Job before God (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7), stood by to oppose Joshua the high priest before God (Zech.3:1), and accuses us before God (v.10). Moreover, none of his power was taken away; he is able to stand his ground and has power to defend it. Seemingly, he is under no command to relinquish anything, resolved to lose nothing, and all things must be wrestled away from him by the angels of God (check—Eph.6:12).

Let’s take a look his names.
  1. He is called the “dragon” because he is the great dragon in the Revelation shown to be the enemy of God from the beginning
  2. He is called "the old serpent" because he was the serpent in the Garden of Eden who introduced man to sin
  3. He is called “the Devil" (Gr.diabolos, meaning “accuser”) because he accuses man before God, and accuses God before man
  4. He is called "Satan" (which means "adversary") because he is the enemy of both God and man.
He is said to be the one "who deceives the whole world" because by him, all men have been deceived, and in the days to come, the entire world all at once will reject truth and believe the lie (see—2Thess.2:8-12). "When he speaks a lie," Jesus said, "he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it" (John 8:44). There is no truth in Satan.

v.10-12 "Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, 'Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.' "

Satan’s permanent expulsion from heaven gets a thunderous response from God’s angels. Surely, they must dread his presence in heaven and be anxious for this moment, and relieved when it finally does happen. As another puts it, “You can almost see the angels nudging one another and saying, ‘It’s about time.’ ”

But even within the throws of their exuberant celebration, the angels display infinite pity for the inhabitants of the earth. They know Satan is enraged because his time is short, and that the inhabitants of the earth will become the objects of his great and diabolical wrath. This is the third and final prophetic “woe” announced earlier upon the inhabitants of the earth (Rev.8:13).

v.13-15 "Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth."

God’s intervention alone prevents Israel’s annihilation. As Satan, through the person of the Antichrist, attacks Israel and besieges Jerusalem in order to destroy the Nation, God will give Israel “two wings of a great eagle” and deliver a remnant of the Nation—the same idiom used in the Old Testament to describe God's liberation of Israel from Egypt (Ex.19:4). He will prevent the serpent’s "flood" (probably alluding to a military force) from overtaking them, and then in turn will destroy the military force (see also—Ex.14:13-14). And God will nourish this remnant of Israel in the wilderness (from the presence of the serpent) for the entire second half of the Tribulation (see notes—v.6). During which time He will speak comfort and show mercy and as a result will forge unto Himself a holy and godly people. Listen to the prophet,
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her…Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’ “ (Hosea 2:14,23).
v.17 "And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ."

The “rest of her offspring” speaks of those believers that come to know Christ as Savior during the Tribulation. The dragon’s war against them speaks of the murderous persecution that causes many of them to be martyred (Rev. 6:9-11; 20:4).

Okay, now let’s consider what might be the root cause behind Satan’s rage with Israel and the rest of her offspring, and his frantic rush to destroy them.

If we take it to be retaliation against Israel for having given birth to Christ, we would have to conclude that Satan’s aim is merely to hurt God by hurting the people of God. But I don’t think so. It’s my opinion that the rage isn’t vengeance, but Satan’s attempt to prevent the Second Coming of Christ. And it's not merely his hatred of the Nation, but the threat it poses to his survival by its very existence, that enrages him.

Just days before His crucifixion, while lamenting over Jerusalem, Jesus seemingly revealed a condition upon which His Second Coming is determined. Listen to what He said:
"See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!' " (Luke 13:34,35)
Is it possible that Jesus was disclosing a truth that Satan understood and seeks to prevent, perhaps explaining why Satan so desperately desires to annihilate Israel and their converts? That the Second Coming of Christ will occur, but only after a repentant Nation of Israel is birth and made ready to receive Jesus as their Messiah, and yet not until it does.

It seems so.

In any case, dear ones, the greatest persecution of Jews and Gentile believers this world has ever known is scheduled to occur inside the second half of the tribulation. And it all stems because of this unseen spiritual conflict between God and the devil.

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