First of all I would like to thank those of you that have returned after last weeks talk; I would also like to thank those of you that went out of your way to say how much you enjoyed the overview of Revelation 1-11. And I can just about guarantee that you won't be saying the same this evening.
You see there is one word in our first verse that really changes, or should change, the way we approach this book, at least for the next three chapters. And, frankly, it is a word that tells us that understanding the next three chapters is going to be rather harder work than the first 11. However, there is a payoff; in that understanding these three chapters will also fundamentally change the way you read your newspapers and possibly the way you view the life you are living today.
Let me read it to you, 'there appeared a great wonder in heaven'. The word translated wonder is actually semeion mega, it really means 'sign'. If you like a symbol that you need to take notice of. This is important for two reasons; the first is explicit. It means what we are about to read is a picture, a metaphor or an allegory for something else. In other words we can't just read it, we need to try to figure it out. The other reason is implicit; the fact that we are told when to take things allegorically gives us a very good indicator that we were correct in taking the first 11 chapters literally!
So why is revelation raising the stakes, why make things more complicated than necessary? For this reason, sometimes the Bible wants you to know the facts, then it makes them plain. Sometimes the Bible wants to get past your normal though process. Why? Because it is trying to explain something outside of our natural understanding. And by using allegory it can give us an insight that our scientific western minds would otherwise miss.
But let us look at what this sign is, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars upon her head. So what does that mean?
If you read some of the commentators there are some very interesting and exciting possibilities and it all becomes very confusing. However, if you don't read the commentators, but read your Bibles instead it actually becomes very simple. Whenever you come to a picture in your Bible you should search your Bible to find the picture again, if you need to know what a picture means then the Bible will always explain it for you.
We find this picture, or most of it, back in Genesis 37. In Genesis 37 we find Joseph, of 'technicolor dreamcoat' fame having a dream. He dreamt of the sun (his father), the moon (his mother) and eleven stars (his brothers), the twelfth star was Joseph himself. So this great wonder that we see in verse 1 is actually the nation of Israel or the Jews as we would call them today.
So if that is already known why is this called a sign? Well the new piece is the woman, as we shall see from verse 2, the woman that was with child. Now Israel had already been described as a woman and a mother already in the Old Testament, the shift here is that the wonder is in heaven. We are going to see the nation of Israel from a heavenly perspective.
And here we have it, from heavens perspective Israel is viewed as a woman on a mission, a woman going about her actions of thousands of years with the aim and focus of producing a child.
But what child? Another important rule of biblical interpretation is the so-call rule of first mention. The Bible, like many of us, define something the first time we mention it and then go on to assume everyone knows what we're talking about. And the first mention that matters to us here is in Genesis 3. This is the passage just after the fall when go is explaining the new deal that the world we be working under. Let me read v15 to you "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy see and her seed; it shall bruise they head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."
You see even when God was announcing the curse, and in the next verse he talks about all the pains the ladies will go through, he also announces the cure. And notice the cure and the curse actually work by the same mechanism. A child is going to be born that is going to crush evil. This child was promised to Eve, later to Abraham, then through Jacob then David.
So you see you can view history in general, and the history of Israel in particular, as a long protracted wait for this child to arrive.
Verse 3 gives us another wonder. This announcement is important, it isn't just the Bible being repetitious, it means we are about to be told something new. If you wish it is like one of those books where alternate chapters tell you independent stories of the main characters until they meet up in the middle of the book. Well we are about to meet character two.
Although as I have read Genesis 3 to you this is actually a character you've met before. In verse 3 he is referred to as a red dragon by verse 9 we are explicitly told this is the same as the serpent: the devil.
Please do not be fooled by the Disney Channel. The devil is very real and he is not very funny. Some of his power is alluded to here in this verse. The heads and the horns are not a grotesque picture of a strange animal it is prophetic language for kingdoms and power. In fact they are explained in detail in Revelation 17 so I won't tackle it this evening but there is something I wish to draw out for you.
The Bible tells us that all powers are ordained of God, in other words he puts them in place. Yet when the devil is attempting to tempt the Lord he claims that all the kingdoms of the world have yielded their power to him, and the Lord doesn't contradict him. Daniel 2 & 7 gives us a similar picture. In Daniel 2 we see four great gentile kingdoms ordained of God, in Daniel 7 we see the four kingdoms again acting as wild beasts.
So if the devil is real are there demons too? Yup, and we see them in verse 4. In scripture the angels are often described as stars. This verse tells us that one third of those angels followed the dragon and that they are now active upon the earth. How are they active? In attempting to stop the birth of the seed.
If you look at the seven kingdoms that have had control over Israel they all have one thing in common; they have tried to exterminate it. Start with Egypt, pharaoh commanded all the boys to be killed. Assyria attempted to kill Hezekiah (the last of the royal line) whilst he was childless. Babylon took the royal seed and rendered them eunuchs. In the Persian Empire Haman attempted a wipe out of the Jews that were saved by Esther. The Greeks also embarked upon an extermination campaign under Antiochus Epiphanes. We have all heard of the Roman attempt under Herod to kill Jesus by slaying all the boys in Bethlehem.
But now all of these things, that maybe you had viewed as bad luck, are seen in perspective. An extremely strong malignant force was trying to prevent the arrival of the seed that would cruse him.
Now we get one of the most important, challenging and potentially confusing verses in the whole of Revelation. Unless you accept it.
After all the waiting, all the pain, all the turmoil the child was brought forth. And look at the kind of child this is. One born to rule. How? With a rod of iron. Power. Then look what happened. Did he rule? Did he wield his power? No. He went straight back to heaven. How could that be? After all that hard work, if the Lord Jesus, and it is the Lord Jesus we are referring to, had the power to defeat the dragon then why on earth didn't he do so?
I have a couple of answers for you. But first let me ask you a question. Suppose I were to tell you that you were going to wake up tomorrow to a new government. One that was totally holy. Where every crime, every misdemeanor, even every illicit thought was going to be instantly punished with a beating how well would you sleep this evening? And don't think you'll find a way around it; this is a government where your every thought is known, in fact measured as we saw last week. Sure it would be nice to know that the people around you can't do anything bad to you put how many beating a week do you think you would be taking?
So why didn't he just defeat the dragon and take the world by the scruff of the neck. Well, he actually got a far greater victory. By dying on the cross he made it possible for God to save some people, to make some people worthy of a life with Him. Justice insists that one day the devil will roast in the pit. Justice also insists that you and I do the same thing. So if the Lord had come a dispensed justice the you, I and the devil would be in the lake of fire. And you and I would be defenseless. The devil hates us, we are created in God's image. There is nothing he likes more to see us in pain and anguish, sure he will amuse us, please us and doing anything else he has to to keep us working for him but ultimately he wants us to have as unsticky an end as possible. So if the Lord had taken control straight away, and dispensed justice, the devil would get his desserts but he would have the grim satisfaction of knowing you and I were going through it to.
By dying on the cross the Lord has given us a way out. We can come to him, accept him as Lord, accept that he died that we might be forgiven and then we escape the devils clutches. We have an eternal future in glory well away from the devil and the lake of fire.
Verse 6 can confuse you a little, it rather looks like the Lord went to heaven and then the woman flees to the wilderness, a picture of Israel in the tribulation without any period in between. And that is exactly how time looks from the point of view of the majority of the Bible. You see we are in the 'church age' the so-called dispensation of grace. We have an opportunity so special that even the Jews, the bearer of the messiah, were not allowed to know about it. So the whole time of our existence from the death of the Lord up until the rapture is hidden in the old testament, and is hidden in Revelation once we get into chapter 4, ie after the rapture.
Verses 7-12 we cut back to another little story that doesn't directly involve the woman of verse 1. This story actually fits us back into the right time slot, it takes place at the mid-point of the tribulation.
Remember that the red dragon and the demons are actually angels; Satan was actually described as the 'covering cherub'. Angels were created in and for the heavens and even today Satan and his followers have access to parts of heaven. We see pictures of this in a number of places the opening chapter of Job is the most famous.
Well, for some reason, and we're not actually told why, a battle now actually starts in heaven. Some commentators suggest that with the death of the two witnesses and the rapture and wedding preparations under way Satan now decides it is a good time to attack God. Again it is better to ignore the commentators and go to scripture. Verse 7 mentions Michael is we search back for Michael we find him Daniel 12 verse 1at the mid-point of the tribulation. And we are told 'he stands up'. My reading of that is that it is actually Michael that starts, and leads, the eradication process. Look at verse 8, neither was their place found any more in heaven.
Under the first 6 trumpets of Revelation 8&9 we see heaven declaring war upon the earth. Yet even while that war was going on the leader that the earth was following, the devil, had a residence in heaven. Well in chapter 12 we see heavens response. Ok, you want to follow the devil then you can have him, permanently.
Verse 10. From heaven's perspective this is tremendous. Satan uses his time is heaven to say bad things about all those that follow God. From this point onwards he is gone. Heaven has always been holy. Now the heavens (that is the sky and space) are holy too. God has established total air supremacy. The devil is now confined to the earth along with the people that are following him.
Verse 11 provides a useful little reminder. Remember that be default since the fall, man follows the devil. Oh you may not be a Satanist but you do wrong things. You lie, cheat, want things you shouldn't have, I know, because I do too. Well, one day if you follow him you're going to be left alone with him. The only way out is what we get in this verse. The blood of the lamb. Accept that the Lord Jesus shed his blood for you. The next step. The word of their testimony. The Bible does not accept the concept of a secret Christian. Christians are, by definition, those that have accepted the Lord Jesus and have testified to the fact. Have you really, really done that? Look at the challenge in the remainder of the verse. What is more important to you? Your life or faith in God. If the former then the latter isn't going to work for you.
Verses 13 to 17 are a very short description of one aspect of the remainder of the tribulation, or the great tribulation as it is sometimes referred to. The remaining 3.5 years.
What we will see during the remaining time is that whilst heaven is at war with the earth, the earth is at war with the Jew. She will be persecuted, hunted and killed in ways far more barbaric than anything she has seen to date.
Which leads us to a problem. You'll remember from our opening verses that the woman was travailing in pain and was delivered. So how comes Israel is still going through so much pain? I just love the way our Bible hangs together. Here is a verse from the prophecy of Isaiah Ch 66v7, this was written about 700 years before the passage we are reading this evening.
66:7 Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child.
You see the Bible was quite clear about this, the baby was going to come before the pain.
Let us have a quick look at the pain.
Verse 13 the devil is furious, he only has a short time and aims to show what he can do with it. The woman, remember that is Israel is given eagles wings to fly to a place of safety. This is exactly the same expression as used in Exodus 19 when Israel was brought out of Egypt. We know from other parts of scripture that this will be somewhere in Moab or Edom. We also see there will be supernatural provision. No one will trade with the Jews it becomes impossible under the mark of the beast as we shall see in later chapters. But God provides. There is a lesson there for us. I said earlier that if you loved your life more than God then your faith would not work for you. Here is a picture of what happens when faith is working. God will provide everything you need.
Verse 15 again is symbolic; the serpent is casting out a flood. A flood of what? Again go to your Bibles. In Is 28:2 when the Assyrians attacked Israel it was described as a flood. So here I believe we see an army that is sent out to destroy Israel except that the earth intervenes and the flood is stopped. Again this is exactly the expression used in exodus of the destruction of the Egyptian army pursuing the Jews.
We are in danger of confusing ourselves if we try to discover things the Bible didn't see fit but of course we all want to know precisely what army this is. Well I don't know. The simplest would be to say it is an army led by the beast we will see in the next chapter. A more interesting possibility is this may actually be the attack from Gog and Magog referred to in Ezekiel. If it is then it is literally stopped by a rain of fire from heaven. However I respectfully suggest you stop worrying about what the flood is, or what prevents it, and just look at the lesson. GOD CAN PROTECT YOU AGAINST ANYTHING IF YOU ARE WITH HIM.
Verse 17 tackles one last important subject that I want to tackle in closing. The devil was waging war with the whole Jewish race got will work nationally with that entire people independent of there personal faith. When the devil realizes he cannot get at them he goes to a smaller group, the remnant those that have personal faith and actually obey the Lord.
When the tribulation comes it will become very clear to everyone that there are two choices, follow God or follow the Devil.
It isn't so clear today, unfortunately, but actually you have the same two options this evening. Which one are you going to pick? Remember the default from Genesis 3 is that you are following the devil and one day you will be left alone with him, for eternity. You have the option, during this dispensation of grace of turning your back upon him and following God.
If you would like to do that then please talk to one of us, let us help you. It isn't complicated but we just want to ensure you understand what you are doing.
In his name,