************ Sermon on Revelation 12 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 11, 2009
"The Woman and the Dragon"
Remember where we are at in the Revelation? The seventh trumpet has sounded. The third woe has come. Jesus has been seated on heaven's throne and reigns for ever and ever. God's people have been rewarded. God's enemies have been judged. The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord. The consummation has arrived. So, what is left to say? Why doesn't the Revelation end with chapter 11? It could, you know. And, if it did we would never think it strange.
So, then, why does the Revelation continue at this point? In Revelation 12-22 we are shown what is going on behind the scenes. Nothing new is really introduced. In fact, Revelation 12-22 really does nothing more than flesh out what we have already seen at the blowing of the seventh trumpet. I've already mentioned the final judgment; want to know more? – look at Revelation 19 & 20; the reward of the righteous? – look at Revelation 21 & 22; the last battle? – Revelation 19; and so on.
In our study through the Revelation, I've mentioned persecution more than once. We started with John; he identified himself to the seven churches of Asia Minor as their brother and companion in suffering (1:9). We've looked at Antipas, the faithful witness to Jesus in Pergamum who was martyred for his faith (2:13). We've looked at the Christians of Asia Minor who were kicked out of the trade guilds – unable to conduct business and support their families. We've looked at the souls of the Gospel martyrs under heaven's altar and listened as they cried out for vindication (6:9). We've looked at the witness of the church and the resulting persecution (11:1-14).
Why all this persecution? We can go for the quick and easy answers and point to paganism, Rome, or the Jews. But we need to go behind the scenes and ask why? Why does paganism attack the church, why does Rome fear Christians, why do Jews hate believers? This question is answered for us in Revelation 12.
What stands behind the sufferings and persecutions of God's people? A dragon. An enraged dragon. A dragon representing Satan himself. A dragon who, with two beasts, serves as the evil counterpart to the triune Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I The Characters
A Revelation 12 introduces two characters to us: a woman and a dragon. Neither one is meant to be taken literally. Listen to what John says when he introduces the woman to us: "A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven ..." (Rev 12:1). The same thing with the dragon: "Then another sign appeared in heaven ..." (12:3). The woman is a "sign." The dragon is a "sign." In the Revelation and in the Gospel of John, a "sign" points beyond itself to something else. We are being told to look beyond the sign itself to what the sign is meant to convey.
Just outside of Visalia, on Highway 198, is a sign that says "Sequoia National Park 33 miles." Announce to your family someday, "We are having a picnic at Sequoia National Park." Into the car you load yourself, kids, picnic basket, blankets, chairs, and camera. You drive down the highway. You stop at the sign that says "Sequoia National Park 33 miles." You spread out the blanket. You set up the chairs. You take a picture or two of you and your family with the sign in the background. You eat lunch with cars and trucks whizzing by at 75 MPH. Does this sound crazy, or what?! Of course you don't do something like this. It is only a sign. It points to something beyond itself. Likewise with the woman and the dragon. They are only signs. Each points to something beyond itself.
B "A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman ..." Who is this woman? Listen to her description. "Clothed with the sun" – she is dazzling, even glorious. "With the moon under her feet" – this implies dominion and rule. "A crown of twelve stars on her head" – twelve is John's expression for the people of God.
What else are we told about the woman? "She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth" (vs 3). "She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter" (vs 5). Last time, we said the "iron scepter" image comes from Psalm 2. There, the One Who rules the nations is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. So, the child to be born is the Messiah.
What else? She fled into the desert where she was protected by God for 1,260 days (vs 6).
Who is this woman? Some think it is Mary – who gave birth to Jesus and then fled into the desert and Egypt. But it can't be Mary because the woman is a "sign." She points beyond herself, beyond Mary.
Who is this woman? Who else fled into the desert, to a place prepared for her by God? Israel. Remember the twelve stars? Twelve, John's number for the people of God. How does the Old Testament describe the faithful people of God? As a woman in labor (Is 54:1-5; 66:7-8). It is obvious, isn't it? The woman is Mother Israel; we are talking about the seed of the woman from whom the Messiah comes; the woman is the church of God, elect and glorious. This woman, this mother, is gloriously clothed with the sun, moon, and stars. Here is a reminder that we must always exalt the church – in our affections, our talk, our thoughts. She is the exact opposite of Babylon the Harlot that we meet later in the Revelation.
C "Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads" (Rev 12:3). You might think, "this is ridiculous because there is no such thing as a dragon." Of course there isn't. But there is no such woman as the one John describes to us either. Remember, they are both signs pointing beyond themselves.
Who is the dragon, the enormous red dragon? In many places throughout the Old Testament the dragon – and other mythological figures – are used to refer to kings like Pharaoh and kingdoms like Babylon that oppose God's people (Is 27; Jer 51; etc). But behind these dragons we are to see another. Listen to what John says when he takes us behind the scenes in verse 9:
(Rev 12:9) The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.Do you hear the unveiling? The dragon is the devil OR Satan.
He is enormous – that speaks of his size and ferocity. He is red – that speaks of his murderous nature. He has seven heads and seven crowns – which reminds us of his false claims of sovereignty; remember how Isaiah 14 describes his attempt to take over God's throne? He has ten horns – a symbol of power and great strength.
II The War on Earth
A Two characters have been introduced to us: the woman and the dragon. How are they tied together? What is the relationship? Listen to what John says:
(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.Remember, the Revelation is a book to be seen, in 3-D, in living color. The image here is so graphic it makes me blanch and I hesitate to say it with children present. In our minds, we are to picture a pregnant woman in child birth; the dragon crouches by her open legs, waiting for the child to be born so he can devour it!
Do you see what the Devil is doing? The Devil is trying to stop the Messiah's coming. Does he succeed? Of course not! The dragon's lethal plot is foiled with split-second speed. Listen to how John puts this:
(Rev 12:5) She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.The life, suffering, and exaltation of Christ are summarized in this one verse: born, snatched up to God, shares His throne. The dragon was there waiting for the baby to be born, crouched like a lion waiting to spring on its prey. But before it could act, the baby was snatched away. Just like that. The dragon looks so powerful and frightening but in actuality he is pathetic and helpless. He can do nothing to the child. Satan has no power over the Messiah.
B This is not the only time the Devil has failed in his attempt to stop the Messiah's coming. In fact, salvation history is filled with his attempts and failures. In the Garden already, God said this is what would happen:
(Gen 3:15) And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."You are going to try Satan, but you are going to fail!" That is what God says. So what do we see?
-Satan prompted Cain to kill Abel. Why? To get rid of the Messiah's blood line. But God preserved the seed of the woman when He raised Seth in Abel's place.
-Satan then prompted the descendants of Seth to marry the daughters of men. Why? To stop the promised blood-line. But God raised and protected righteous Noah and his family.
-Two times, Abraham claimed Sarah as his sister rather than his wife. Two times, Sarah was taken by a heathen king. Satan's intention here: to stop the promised blood-line. But God intervened to protect Sarah.
-Abraham had a child, Ishmael, by his wife's handmaid; Ishmael mocked Isaac and made life miserable for him; in Ishmael we see the enmity of Satan to the chosen blood-line. God told Abraham to send Ishmael and Hagar away.
-Remember what Satan did in Egypt? The people of Israel were oppressed and afflicted – the goal was to work them to death as slave labor. The midwives were commanded to kill the Hebrew boys at birth. But God preserved and raised up Moses to lead His people out of Egypt.
-Remember Israel on the way to the Promised Land? Edom, the descendants of Esau, their own family, would not allow them passage. That was Satan at work. He wanted the chosen people to die in the wilderness. He didn't succeed.
-King Saul hated David and tried more than once to kill him. That was Satan at work trying to stop the Messiah's birth – because the Messiah was to be from the lineage of David. But God protected David.
-Haman in Babylon tried to wipe out the Jewish race. That was Satan at work. But God turned the tables on Haman.
C Once the Messiah was born, Satan tried to stop the Messiah's work:
-Who can forget wicked King Herod and all the slaughtered baby boys of Bethlehem? But baby Jesus was kept safe from Satan's attack.
-When Jesus started His ministry, remember what Satan did? He came to Jesus in the wilderness and tempted Jesus to gain a Kingdom without the cross.
-We see the enmity of Satan when Jesus went to His hometown of Nazareth. The people responded by trying to throw Jesus off a cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
-Peter rebuked Jesus about the cross saying, "Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!" Jesus recognized it was Satan at work: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."
-Satan came to Jesus in the darkness and loneliness of Gethsemane; his goal, to stop the Messiah's work.
Do you see Satan at work throughout the history of salvation? There is enmity between the seed of the woman and Satan. Again and again, Satan tries to snuff out the seed of the woman. Again and again, Satan tries to prevent the Messiah's work. Again and again, Satan is stopped by God.
III The War in Heaven
A In two verses, we have been given a glimpse of Satan's work and defeat on earth:
(Rev 12:4-5) 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. (5) She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.The battle is shortened to a few sentences so we realize the dragon has no real strength.
The age-long battle between the seed of the woman and Satan takes place not only on earth but also in heaven. John gives us a heavenly perspective on the battle. Again, the battle is shortened to a few sentences so we realize the dragon has no real strength:
(Rev 12:7-9) And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. (8) But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. (9) The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.Do you see the dragon's weakness? He was "not strong enough." He "lost" his place in heaven. And, three times the Greek language uses the word "hurled" – he and his angels were "hurled" to the earth. They were cast out of heaven as casually as a fisherman casts his net, as casually as a basket is scored in basketball, as casually as a bride throws her bouquet.
What happened? Notice how the heavenly scene begins? It begins with "and." The child was born, snatched up, enthroned AND there was war in heaven (vs 7). Once Jesus gets to heaven there no longer is any room for Satan. Once Jesus suffered and died and arose and ascended, Satan is kicked out of heaven.
We hear similar language in Luke 10. Jesus sent out the seventy-two. They returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name." Jesus replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (Lk 10:17-18).
B When Jesus entered heaven, Satan was kicked out. How are we to understand this? What is going on? Is this simply a change of address for Satan?
The key idea is found in verse 10: "the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down [there is that word "hurled" again]." Who has been hurled down? The "accuser." John says Satan is the "accuser of our brothers." That word "accuser" reminds me of the book of Job. Satan was Job's accuser. He said to God: "Job is a fake. He doesn't love and serve you from his heart but because of what You give him." He said to Job: "Job, your faith is fake, your worship is insincere, your service counts for nothing, your giving is miserly; you don't deserve grace and forgiveness."
And you know what? Satan has an airtight case. He is right in his accusations. Our faith is a sham. Our worship is insincere. We don't deserve grace and forgiveness.
But now that Christ has suffered and died and arose and ascended, Satan is kicked out of heaven. His job as accuser is no more. Why not? Because of the "blood of the Lamb" (vs 11).
Follow me here, this is very important. Jesus intercedes on our behalf. He says to God, "Yes, they are guilty. But, by my blood I took their punishment and suffered Your wrath." And, He says to the sinner, "Yes, you are not worthy. But by my blood I have made you righteous and holy."
With the presence of Jesus, with the sacrifice of Jesus, with the blood of Jesus, Satan has nothing left to say. So, he has been "hurled" out of heaven.
IV The Battle Continues
Does Satan quit? Does he give up? Does he surrender? Listen to what John says:
(Rev 12:12) Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short."Joy in heaven – Jesus has come, the accuser is gone. Woe on earth – the devil/serpent/dragon has come.
Satan cannot attack Jesus anymore. With the death and resurrection of Jesus, he no longer has a job as accuser. So what does he do? He attacks the church on earth instead.
In this light, consider what the Revelation says to us in verses 6 & 13:
(Rev 12:6,13) The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days ... (13) When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.
What comes to mind when you hear this? Doesn't this make you think of Elijah? Remember Elijah's confrontation with the seed of the serpent – Jezebel and the prophets and priests of Baal? Remember how Elijah fled into the wilderness? Remember how God looked after him? Elijah was under attack! And God protected him. That is the point.
Similarly, the woman is under attack. Remember, we are talking about the church. She is under attack for 1,260 days. We see this number – 1,260 days – in Revelation 11. I told you, then, that 1,260 days is the same as 42 months and is the same as "time, times and half a time." That is the length of time that the two witnesses – who represent the church – will prophesy. In Revelation 11 and Daniel 7, this is also the length of time of the world's persecution. The woman is under attack, but God protects her. The church is under attack, but God protects her. That is the point (cf verses 6, 14, 15,16).
Don't ever forget, my brothers and sisters, that there is enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Again and again, Satan strikes like a serpent, like a dragon. When we look at chapter 13, we will see exactly how he goes about attacking. "He is filled with fury because he knows that his time is short" (Rev 12:12).
Let me end with the very familiar words of Martin Luther:
And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.
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