The Lady, the Dragon, and the Children

An account of a magnificent lady and a terrible red dragon may sound like a fairy tale. Not only is it a true story, found in Revelation 12, but it is a story in which you are involve. You are among the children mentioned in that chapter.

Behold the woman and her Son. The woman is the church, the faithful people of God. The woman, majestic looking lady, is identified as a sign. John is not talking about one individual, but about the people of God, the church in the Old Testament, from whom the Messiah would come. Mother Israel will have her house filled with children by her divine Redeemer-Husband, Isaiah 54:1-8. The 12 stars take you back to the 12 sons of Israel, and Joseph’s dream, Genesis 37:9. The woman is not Mary as an individual, but is present as part of the covenant people from whom the Messiah comes.

The Son rules the nations with a rod of iron. He is not just a child, but is the Son of God, the one born to rule the nations, to break them with his iron scepter. The description quotes Psalm 2. That Psalm begins with the nations conspiring against the Lord, but in Revelation 11:15 we have just heard the shout, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” John’s description of the child is extremely brief, but he has already identified this majestic figure: Revelation 1:12–18 and 5:5–14. The church in suffering, whether open persecution or the subtle eroding pressure of living in a sin-cursed world, needs to remember that Jesus Christ is the King.

Beware of the dragon. The dragon tries to devour the Son—and fails. The second sign is this large red dragon. The woman gives birth to a son, a male child. Satan, represented by the red dragon (picturing a combination of cunning wisdom, power, and authority–see Daniel 8:10), stands ready to devour the child. The conflict goes back to the first mention of the gospel in Genesis 3:15. Trace it down through the history of the covenant people. See it come to expression in the birth narrative in Matthew, as Herod does his best to murder this newborn King.

Revelation 12:5 is a wonderfully compressed description of the incarnation, birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Satan accused God’s people. John uses dramatic symbolism, but he helpfully identifies the dragon as Satan, who, as his name indicates, is the accuser of God’s people. Think of Satan accusing Job before God, or again, bringing an accusation against the high priest, Joshua, in Zechariah 3. There is a superficial validity to Satan’s accusations—since God’s people are sinners (the serpent-dragon had something to do with that), how can a holy God forgive them? How can God’s justice do anything but condemn?

The serpent-dragon loses the battle and is cast out of heaven—onto the earth. The dragon is overcome by the the blood of the Lamb and by the faith of his people. The battle is fierce, but the victory has been accomplished. The battle involves angelic powers. Daniel 10 gives you a glimpse of that conflict, one that was still to come in the prophet’s day. As in Job, you are given a glimpse behind the scenes into the conflict of spiritual powers—those who serve God and those who have rebelled against him. The blood of the Lamb is victorious over Satan. Jesus died, not as the passive victim of Satan’s cunning, but as the sacrificial Lamb. His blood paid for the sins of Job and of Joshua, the high priest. Every time a lamb was sacrificed by a believing Israelite, his sins were forgiven, not because of some inherent value in the life of the animal, but for the sake of the One to whom the sacrifice pointed. The benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection flowed back to Old Testament believers, and flow forward to us who trust in him. Notice that the heavenly voice speaks not only of the blood of the Lamb, but also of “the word of their testimony.” Those who are suffering demonic persecution, those who endure Satanic accusations, are delivered through our trust in the Lion-Lamb.

Be faithful children. Recognize your danger. The dragon, Satan, tries to destroy the woman, the church, but God provides protection. Frustrated, he attacks the “other children.” That’s where you and I come in. You are among those against whom Satan is making war. He does that by false teaching, flowing out of his mouth like a river. He attacks through persecution—perhaps he can make you suffer enough that you will reject your Lord. Perhaps he makes you discouraged to the point that you give up. Don’t be complacent about the enemy. But there is hope.

Hold to the testimony of Jesus. Grasp John’s note of triumph. The Lamb was slain, but he is victorious! His death is inseparable from his resurrection. He has been caught up to heaven, but he has not abandoned his suffering people. He will reappear in Revelation 19 as the conqueror on a white horse. In Revelation 20 he will cast the Accuser into the lake of fire for eternal judgment. Revelation 12 gives you an important warning: prepare for suffering. If you are united to your Lord by faith, you will share in his sufferings before you share in his glory. But you do so in confidence, because your Accuser is a defeated enemy. Surviving in the wilderness (which is where the woman finds refuge) may seem like a last resort to you, but don’t read that back into the picture John paints. The wilderness is the way of salvation, as Exodus makes clear. The Lord redeems his people by taking them out of Egypt into the wilderness—before they reach the promised land. The wilderness is the setting for the great covenant-making event at Sinai, where God promises to be the God of his people. The wilderness is the location of the voice crying in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. That salvation-in-the-desert theme is underlined by the wings of eagles given to the woman, see Deuteronomy 32:10-12. She flees, not aimlessly, but to place prepared for her. Hebrews 3 and 4 make clear that you, the church today, are a wilderness people. Yes, you undergo testing. Yes, you face suffering. But as you persevere, you have the assurance that you will enter the perfect rest that God is preparing for his people. You survive clinging to your Lord, holding firmly to the testimony of Jesus. And as you do, you live in obedience to his commands. You may not, you must not, ignore what God wants you to do.

Satan is not a fairy tale but a very real enemy. The lady, the woman who gives birth to a son (and whose sons and daughters you are) may seem helpless and vulnerable. But angelic powers enter the battle—on the side of the woman and her children. You overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the testimony. The victory is yours as you trust in Christ and live in fellowship with him.

And He Will Reign For Ever and Ever

Six trumpets have sounded. With each there is an unfolding of some act of judgment that God brings on a rebellious earth. Now the seventh and last trumpet sounds. Here you see, not just God’s final act of judgment, but also the joy that results from the triumph of his kingdom.

Thank God that his judgment has come. Listen to the sound of the seventh (and last) trumpet. When the trumpet sounds, great voices from heaven break out in praise. God has accomplished his work. As each of the seven seals were broken aspects of God carrying out his will were revealed. Similarly, each trumpet has unfolded part of God’s plan. Both conclude with the final judgment and the glory that follows. At first glance it may seem strange to have joyful praise and judgment intermingled—but remember that the triumph of God’s kingdom means justice for the martyrs and for all of God’s people who have suffered. It means, and later in the book this will be explicit, Satan, the ultimate rebel against God and the enemy of his people, will be cast out. Continue reading “And He Will Reign For Ever and Ever”

Be God’s Faithful Witness

As you read through Revelation, you notice many references to the Old Testament. But perhaps no section is more full of those references than Revelation 11:1–14. This forms the second interlude (Revelation 10 is the first) following the sounding of the sixth trumpet—before the seventh one sounds. This interlude focuses on the concept of witness.

Be a powerful witness. You are safe in suffering. In Revelation 10 John’s call to bring God’s Word, symbolized by the scroll he had to eat, was confirmed. Now he is given a measuring rod and told to measure God’s temple, together with it altar and the worshipers there. As in Ezekiel 40, where the prophet in exile has visions in which he is measuring the temple, the act of measuring indicates protection and certainty. As you read through the New Testament, you come to see the reality that was symbolized by the magnificent Old Testament building. On Mount Zion stood a physical building where God was pleased to dwell in the midst of his people. That building was temporary, subject to destruction, first by Nebuchadnezzar, then its replacement by the Romans in 70 A.D. But following the death and resurrection of Christ, a better temple has been built, as both Paul and Peter indicate, one made of living stones, one in which you are built to be the dwelling of the Holy Spirit. Revelation 3:12 has introduced that idea into this book. Rather than thinking of the dimensions of a building, John is showing God’s protection of the living temple, his people. In what seems paradoxical, the Lamb protects hs church, his people, from apostasy. But, at the same time, part of the temple structure is subjected to being trampled by the nations for a limited period of time, symbolized by 42 months or 1,260 days (look back to Daniel 7:25; 12:7, 11). In a book where the Lion of the tribe of Judah is announced, and John sees a Lamb, and the Lamb was slain but is alive, don’t be surprised that the church is protected in one sense and subjected to suffering and persecution at the same time. “In Revelation 11 the measuring connotes God’s presence, which is guaranteed to be with the temple community living on earth before the consummation. The faith of his people will be upheld by his presence, since without faith there can be no divine presence. No aberrant theological or ethical influences will be able to spoil or contaminate their true faith or worship.” (G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, p. 559). Continue reading “Be God’s Faithful Witness”

A Bittersweet Scroll

The Book of Revelation has strange images. Revelation 10 (and the first part of 11) form an interlude between the sounding of the sixth trumpet (Revelation 9:13) and the seventh (Revelation 11:15). Revelation 10 can be seen as reaffirmation of John’s commissioning to write, and that point is made with the imagery of John being commanded to eat a scroll that is both bitter and sweet. The imagery may be strange, and people may differ in understanding the details, but the basic message is one of comfort—God is in control and he will not delay the end.

Take comfort in God’s promise. A mighty angel swears by the eternal Creator of all. John sees a mighty angel coming down from heaven. This figure is majestic. Robed in a cloud reminds you of the pillar of cloud and fire that led Israel through the desert. There are echoes of the majestic figure of Revelation 1, and of the Lord swearing in Deuteronomy 34:40. Some have identified this figure with the Angel of the Lord, Christ himself. But, more likely this is a glorious angelic creature (notice that “another might angel” brings to mind the earlier mighty angel of Revelation 5, who shouts the question as to who can break the seals of the scroll held by the Father). He reflects the glory and majesty of the Lord he serves. “The radiance of the angel’s appearance marks him as one who bears the image of his Master, reflecting the Master’s glory as he brings the Master’s message. . . . Throughout Revelation angels are superhuman servants of God, doing his bidding and carrying his revelation to the embattled saints on earth.” (Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, p. 158). His stance with one foot on the sea, the other on land, indicates that nothing is outside of the control of his Lord. The shout of the angel is answered by seven thunders, but John is forbidden to record what they said. The focus is on the words and actions of this angel. In the midst of the disasters brought by the sounds of the first six trumpets, God’s people may be wondering if things are spinning out of control. This angel swears by the eternal God (see Daniel 12:7). The universal sovereignty of God reassures you, as it was intended to reassure John’s hearers. Continue reading “A Bittersweet Scroll”