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A. Last week we finished the seven trumpets. The book of Revelation has 22 chapters, so today with ch.12 we begin the second half of Revelation in terms of the number of chapters.
1. Greg Beale says that ch.12 can be seen as introducing the second half of the Apocalypse.
B. Rev.12 also provides a nice case study in the interpretation of the book of Revelation. It’s one of the easier visions to interpret.
C. Four Bible stories to keep in mind as we’re trying to make sense of this passage:
1. Genesis 3:14-15 God said to the serpent, “...I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring & her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
a. Re: “he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel”
(1) he = not the woman but a male seed of the woman
(2) your = the devil/serpent
2. The Exodus story
a. Deliverance from Egypt into the wilderness.
b. It was not a place of luxury or abundance, but it was a place of refuge. And God fed them there.
3. Elijah was sustained by God in the wilderness for 3½ years during the drought (1Kg.17, Jm.5:17).
4. King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents in Matt.2:1-18.
D. This is one passage. I’m going to preach on 1-6, but we’re going to read the whole chapter.
E. Revelation 12:1-6 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. 3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. 5 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, 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.
F. Revelation 12:7–17 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” 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. 14 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. 15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. 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. 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.
II. A radiant woman crying out in labor, a male child to whom she gives birth, a monstrous dragon – as hideous as the woman is beautiful: let’s talk about the characters in this vision and the indicators which point to their identities.
A. The great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns in v.3 is easiest because v.9 tells us who he is. V.9 ALSO tells us the identity of the “third of the stars of heaven” whom he cast down to the earth.
1. Rev.12:9 “The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” (Cf. Jude 6)
2. So, the dragon is the devil and his demons.
B. The male child is Jesus, that’s clear when we read in v.5 “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.”
1. You see how God tells us who this is by the description, “a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.”
2. This language is from Psalm 2:7-9 where God says to His messiah, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” (Cf. Rev.2:27)
3. There’s also a vision of Jesus coming up in Revelation 19:15-16, “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron... On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’”
4. “her child was caught up to God and to his throne” seems to combine the resurrection and the ascension.
C. Who the woman is is more controversial. 1-2 “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.”
1. It isn’t surprising that Catholics & probably Orthodox believers see the woman as Mary.
2. It’s also not surprising that I agree with the Protestant interpretation that this woman is the church.
3. The problem with seeing her as Mary is that doesn’t just give birth to Jesus. She is then persecuted, she flees into the desert for refuge, she has many other children – who are described as “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus,” plus her time of being nourished in the wilderness is the same time period as the church age, as we’ve seen in Rev.11:2-3 (cf.13:5). All this goes beyond what could be said about Mary and her other children.
4. This points us to the church as the correct interpretation. Now, this woman has an existence before Christ’s birth and after He left, so when we say she is the church we mean the OT church and the NT church, the church before and after Christ.
5. And the OT church did give birth to Jesus, as we see in the genealogies and in Rom.9:4-5.
6. The glorious description of the woman conforms to the description of Israel in Ezek.16:9-14, and to Paul’s description of the splendor of the church in Eph.5:27, and to John’s vision of the new Jerusalem in Rev.21:10-21
7. This idea of the church as mother also fits well with the church as the bride of Christ (Rev.22:17; 21:2, 9; Eph.5:31-32). Paul actually says that “the Jerusalem above (the heavenly church)...is our mother.” in Gal.4:26. Cf. Is.54:1, 2Jn.1,5 (w/ 3John9).
a. The crown of 12 stars is probably the 12 apostles.
III. Now that we’ve identified the characters, there are three other things in the story I’d like to point out:
A. If the woman is the OT and NT church, then why is she “crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth”?
1. Well, the OT people of God suffered a lot in the process of bringing the Messiah into the world.
2. But the emphasis here in not on her pain but on her crying out.
3. I think her cries were the messianic prophecies of the OT. As a woman's cries in labor signify the coming of the child, so the cry of the prophets signified the coming of THE Child.
B. When the messiah is finally born, the only thing we’re told at His birth is that He would rule the nations with a rod of iron. Now we saw how this is the interpretive tool God gave us to know who this child is. But God could have used a hundred other descriptions which would have served the same purpose. Why this one? Why is “to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” the one fact chosen to describe Jesus at his birth here?
1. Is it to explain why there is such opposition to Him? (Because they resent His authority? THEY want to be God?)
2. Is it to make clear that in spite of the opposition and persecution, there is no real threat to His dominion – He is destined to reign? Probably both.
C. This child had enemies from before birth. He was the target of dark & malicious spiritual forces.
1. 3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems...4b And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.
2. This part makes us think of King Herod, who tried to kill Jesus as a baby.
3. But much of the OT can be understood in terms of Satan trying to eliminate the Holy Seed.
a. Saul tried to kill David. Athaliah tried to kill Joash. Sennacherib tried to wipe out the family of King Hezekiah. Haman tried to have all the Jews killed in the days of Esther.
b. And then in the NT Herod tried to murder the holy child, & Satan tried to tempt Him into sinning.
c. Over and over again, both before and after He was born, He was targeted.
4. Have you ever noticed how the demons knew who Jesus was before the people did?
5. At every step of His earthly life, Jesus faced the full onslaught of demonic attack, His birth and His ascension representing the beginning and end of the time when he was within Satan’s reach.
6. Jesus came to undo the work of the devil (1Jn.3:8). Do we think Satan was going to go down without a fight?
IV. There’s a second part to this drama, which we’ll look at next week, but what can we see in this first part, and what can we take from it to help us in our lives? After all, this is given to us to help us understand our lives.
A. The first things is that there is wonderful news: there is hope for the world! There is an answer to the human predicament! God has sent a male child born of the people of Israel – a ruler who lived only a short while on earth and is now with God in heaven.
1. Jesus is our only hope as well. Every hour of every day.
2. We have what we need! We have a Redeemer! We have a Helper!
3. The most powerful way Satan gets people to look elsewhere is by persuading them that they don’t have the thing they really need. This is what he did in the garden.
4. But if you have Christ, you have what you really need.
5. “No, but there’s something better! There’s something which will make you feel better, feel more secure, feel more happy, feel more acceptable.” – lies from the evil one.
6. Jesus is in heaven with God: “her child was caught up to God and to his throne.”
7. Just because He is with God in heaven doesn’t mean He’s not with you every moment of the day.
8. He rules for us; He pleads His blood on our behalf; and yet He is still present with us through His Holy Spirit.
B. The problem is not everyone is excited about this hope, this answer, this ruler.
1. You see, egged on by a lying deceiver, many have been convinced that the male child born of Israel is not the hope of the world. Some have even concluded that not only is He not the solution to mankind’s problems, He Himself is actually man’s big problem.
2. We wish people didn’t think this way. We wish Jesus was received and welcomed by all.
3. But that’s not the way the world is. God has provided mankind with another alternative. People are not forced to choose Christ. And many people – most people – have chosen the other path.
4. It’s not a democracy. God doesn’t defer to human opinions. This is why they reject Him.
5. You see, God’s solution to mankind’s dilemma involves submission and surrender. It involves recognizing that He’s the boss, He’s the King, He’s the Lord. It’s to be done His way. And those who won’t go along with it, not matter how much they protest, will be dashed to pieces with a rod of iron.
6. So, the story of the coming of the Prince of Peace isn’t a story of bringing peace and harmony to the world. It’s actually brings war.
7. Simeon understood this: “This child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed.” Luke 2:34
8. And Jesus Himself said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” Matthew 10:34-36
9. And so if we are faithful to Christ we will be the objects of the same hatred and opposition which came against Jesus – not because we’re obnoxious, not because we hate others, but because people resent Christ. And if they hate Christ, they’ll also hate Christ’s people (Jn.15:18-21).
10. And some of that opposition may come from our own loved ones, like it did for Jesus.
11. But unlike Jesus, some of the opposition also comes from our own hearts. There’s a part of us which wants to go our own way and do our own thing, a part which fights against Jesus. Gal.5:17
12. The opposition, of course, is led by and inspired by a dragonish enemy. That’s why this story is here – to help us understand why we are not loved and appreciated, and why people persecute Christians all over the world and all through history.
C. But the glorious thing we see here is that in spite of all of the dragon’s malicious efforts, the redemptive purposes of Christ CANNOT BE THWARTED! No matter how hard Satan and his friends work to derail them, GOD WILL NOT LET IT HAPPEN!
1. Satan may have his Herod the Great. But God’s people have Jesus the Greater.
2. And if Jesus is on our side, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)
3. Oh, our health goals may not be achieved; our career ambitions may fail; our family dreams may never be accomplished.
4. But it doesn’t matter, because Christ’s redemptive purposes in the world and in our lives will certainly succeed.
D. But there’s one more thing here. God’s protection of the Redeemer is not just out of love for Him but out of love for the redeemed.
1. God is not just concerned about the safety of the male child, but of the woman, the church. “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.”
2. God has prepared a place of refuge and nourishment for His children. What could it be but the church? By God’s grace, Jesus’ church is made to be a place of nourishment.
3. It is still the wilderness. It’s not a place for luxury or indulgence. It’s not heaven on earth.
4. But God feeds us here. There is water from the rock, and manna, and quail.
5. There are a lot of malnourished Christians choosing to avoid the nourishment God has provided. There are a lot of grumbling Christians refusing to partake of the nourishment God has provided.
a. May God give His church grace to fulfill His calling to nourish His people.
b. And may God’s people recognize their need for this nourishment, and faithfully come to eat.
6. What is the church being nourished with? What is the food that strengthens her? It’s the word of God. It’s the truth of Christ, which we eat just like the apostle John ate the little scroll -Rev.10:10.
a. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation, 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1Peter 2:2-3, cf. Heb.5:12-14)
b. “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:15)
7. Yes, we live in a world hostile to the things of Christ, and yet God still leads us in green pastures so our souls can be restored (Ps.23:2-3); He still prepares a table before us even in the presence of our enemies (Ps.23:5).