Revelation Part 24
Spiritual Warfare: What’s it all about?
AUDIO FOR THIS SERMON CAN BE FOUND HERE
Last time in our study, we saw how ch. 11 gave us what we called “The Tale of Two Cities”: The City of God, and the City of Man or This World.
The City of God being a way of speaking about God’s people as a citizenry which is under the authority and rulership of Jesus. A society established according to His values. It is in fact our being under His rulership that makes us citizens of His City.
In contrast to that stands the the City of This World – a citizenry of those opposed to Christ’s rule. Not necessarily consciously opposed to His rulership, as much as committed to self-rulership and the values we create or adopt for ourselves. All of those outside of Christ.
2 cities in perpetual conflict. So we saw that this conflict is a spiritual one as referenced in 2 Cor. 10:3–5 “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
So we see that our battle isn’t political, economic or even moral though it has implications in all of those areas.
Chaps. 12 & 13 go on to develop that pattern in a very interesting and helpful way by focusing on revealing to us the nature, the work and the motives of our great enemy – Satan. Exposing him as the one behind the City of This World – he is its chief influencer.
So much is this true, 1 John 5:19b can assert: “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”
And so Col. 2:8 warns: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
This is the conflict in a nutshell.
So ch. 12 will make abundantly clear what the nature of Satan’s involvement in this conflict is, and how God keeps His church through the conflict, and gives her ultimate victory.
Thus the chapter opens with 2 “signs” – or amazing spectacles to catch our attention.
And in these 2 “signs” or spectacles given here – we are chiefly meant to see 2 things:
The savagery of Satan’s involvement in this present world system. His thoughts, reasoning and purposes.
What provisions are made for Believers in this battle. That victory is ours. And that it is ours in a very precise, practical and rational way.
That’s where we are going this morning.
Next time, God willing, we’ll go on to Ch. 13 where the text will explain more of the complexities and realities of the battle. Especially Satan’s tactics. What we can expect in our day, right up until Jesus’ return. In this way chapter 12 acts like a lead in to 13.
I am going to approach this chapter a bit differently for what I hope is clarity’s sake. I want to be less technical than we’ve been recently, and will not tease out as much detail. I want to get to how this passage helps me personally, and thus I trust helps you as well.
- First sign: The Woman / Rev. 12:1–2 “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. “
Let’s put the facts together. 12 Key facts.
Some of these need some unpacking and then the others become self-explanatory.
1 – CLOTHED WITH THE SUN. This is most likely picking up on ideas given to us in Matthew 17:2 and again in Rev. 1:13–16 “and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.”
One immediately thinks of 2 Cor. 4:6 “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
And coupled with 2 Cor. 3:18 “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
i.e. The brightness of Christ’s glory in some way clothing this woman – whoever or whatever she is.
THE MOON UNDER HER FEET. Someone or something being under the feet of another is a common Biblical picture of one having authority. I’ll let you all look up references to that idea.
A CROWN OF 12 STARS. This has echoes of Joseph’s dream in Gen. 37:9–10 Where Joseph “dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?”
The 11 stars there being Joseph’s brothers or the 12 patriarchs when taken all together.
This picture will come up again later in the book in Ch. 21 where the New Jerusalem which is also called the Bride of Christ comes down out of Heaven and has 12 gates which bear the names of the 12 tribes of Israel, and 12 foundations which bear the names of the 12 apostles. Old Testament satins and NT saints comprising 1 city.
(2) PREGNANT AND IN THE THROES OF BIRTH PAINS
(5) GAVE BIRTH TO A MALE CHILD WHO WAS TO RULE THE NATIONS WITH A ROD OF IRON / Here we start to get more concrete help. “Ruling with a rod of iron” is a phrase used in at least 3 places to refer to the Messiah: Ps. 2:9; Rev. 2:27; Rev. 19:15
(5) HER CHILD WAS CAUGHT UP TO HEAVEN / This would seem to be a clear reference to the ascension of Jesus. Eph. 4:9–10 “(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)”
(6) FLED TO THE WILDERNESS WHERE GOD HAD PREPARED A PLACE FOR HER AND NOURISHED HER FOR 1260 DAYS / Where have we seen this before? 1260 days / 42 months / 3.5 years? The period of time we saw in Ch. 11 when the Church is both persecuted and protected. A period of tribulation extending from Jesus’ ascension to His return. That thought is being enlarged on here.
(13) PURSUED BY THE DRAGON / Now we get insight into this persecution that is “dragon fueled”. This will get unpacked as we go.
(14) ENABLED TO ESCAPE TO THE WILDERNESS
(15) SERPENT TRIES TO OVERWHELM AND DESTROY HER
(16) EARTH HELPS HER IN SOME WAY
(17) OFFSPRING ARE THOSE WHO KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD AND HOLD TO THE TESTIMONY OF JESUS / So she both gives birth to the Messiah, AND, to those who believe and hold to the Gospel.
Who is she then: “Paul gives us the clue to the meaning of the heavenly woman when he speaks of the Jerusalem which is above, who is the mother of the people of God on earth (Gal. 4:26). She was the mother of the true Israel in the Old Testament, and of the people of the Messiah in the New Testament. The woman is the ideal church in heaven; her children are the actual historical people of God on earth.” George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), 167.
A picture given to us in Gal. 4:26 “But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.”
Beale (Revelation (NIGTC)): “Vv 2–6 reveal that this woman is a picture of the faithful community, which existed both before and after the coming of Christ.”
2. Second sign: / The Dragon: Revelation 12:3–4 “And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. 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.”
This is unambiguously Satan: Revelation 12:9 “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” I won’t go into the symbolism of the horns and diadems here for brevity’s sake.
So what is the scene?
Satan was waiting for the birth of the promised Messiah, with an aim to devour – eat – destroy Him. It is a grotesque picture. Remember Herod trying to kill all the children 2 and under after the Wise Men came? Or the storm on the sea when He was asleep in the boat in Luke 8? And again in John 10 – the time when a crowd tried to stone Him? All thwarted. And just when Satan thought he had won in the crucifixion, that turns out to be the source of Satan’s actual defeat. Jesus was resurrected. Caught up to Heaven.
And what was the result of that?
Rev. 12:7–9 “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 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.”
Satan and his angels (the 3rd of the stars of heaven in vs. 4) are cast out NOT by Jesus – but by a peer – Michael, another angel.
Cast down to earth and no longer an accuser of God’s people to God, because Christ has died and atoned for sin, justifying God as the judge of sin even though He had waited so long in not judging sin, it began to look as though He was unjust. So Rom. 3:21–26 “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
What did his accusing look like before? Job. But since Christ has paid for our sin and we are justified by His grace, Satan no longer has such an outlet.
Robbed of that, angered by his expulsion and the reality that his time is short – that final judgment is coming upon him soon – what does he do? 12:17 “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.”
He pursues the Church. Furiously!
How? We’ll see this in more detail next time – but the essential is in vs. 15 – opening his mouth to overwhelm us. A picture we’ve seen several times before. Like Jesus with the sharp 2-edged sword coming out of His mouth; the fire, smoke and sulfur out of the mouths of the demonic hoard in Ch. 9 and the plagues of the 2 Witnesses in Ch. 11. – the Devil does his work THROUGH HIS LIES!
Now I don’t know about you, but when I hear the term spiritual warfare, it conjures up all sorts of mystical and maybe even spooky ideas.
Chasing demons around with Bible equivalents of light sabers; wielding scripture verses like magic spells; using Christian symbols like good luck charms and that sort of thing.
The reality of spiritual warfare however is nowhere near as curious as those things. But because of its subtlety, is far more insidious and dangerous.
500 years before Sun Tzu penned the famous Chinese war manual “The Art of War” which said: “Know your enemy” – King David penned Psalm 144:1–2 “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; he is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.”
By God’s grace, Christians are well armed for the true spiritual warfare we find ourselves in the middle of.
But what this portion drives home is the fact that all Christians need to understand that we ARE in a battle. And to have that battle mentality. We have not entered Heaven yet, not gone into our eternal rest, even though it has dawned some. And if we imagine that life now is to be free of conflict and struggle, and disregard the reality of a real enemy who hates us, we will not be able to make sense of the hardness of life which sometimes caves in on us.
This devil opposes Believers, because he opposes God. There is no more painful way to strike at someone, than to attack those he loves most. So, as I’ve said already, the devil rages the way he now does because he has been deposed from Heaven, and because he knows his time is short.
BUT! God continues to protect and provide for His people even during this appointed period of opposition.
Christian, we are in a sort of wilderness now, but God has also provided nourishment in this wilderness just as He did for Israel when she fled from Egypt.
We have His Word vs the Devil’s lies. His Spirit vs the spirit of the Age and the culture. His People vs the World.
The devil creates a false reality to keep the lost bound in their sin, and the Believer paralyzed – all by false notions of God, sin, our guilt, the need of the Cross and eternal life and judgment.
He lies to humankind that we aren’t fallen, in rebellion against God and do not need a Redeemer.
That sin will satisfy and fill our souls.
That politics, science, education and material wealth will cure all of mankind’s ills.
That the Gospel – if there is one – is one of human effort.
That there is no final judgment.
That Christ isn’t who the Bible says He is and neither are we.
That if God loved us as Believers, life would be smooth, and we would not face disease, poverty, trials, loneliness, sorrow, loss, disabilities, disappointments, or unfixable circumstances.
And how is the Saint’s victory won? Rev. 12:11 “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.”
FIRST: The victory of the saints in this battle is won by: The truth of the Gospel! The fact Christ has redeemed us with His blood, (we know our guilt has been fully discharged before God) and so justified by faith we have peace with God and the absolute guarantee of all His promises yet to come. And that it was all done by Him! And given as a free gift. That salvation has already been accomplished in the finished work of Christ. We aren’t trying to somehow finish that salvation, but learning how to live more and more in the fullness of what has already been done by Him.
SECOND: When we refuse to abandon the Gospel and following Christ, regardless the cost.
This is how we win the war.
We know our enemy’s real motivations – hatred of God and all those who are His; his anger over being thrown down from Heaven and bound to earth; and his fury over an impending final judgment that is about to take place.
And we live by the knowledge of our being the recipients of God’s eternal, unchangeable, unfathomable love and mercy and grace in sending Jesus to die for our sins – rescuing us from our sin and shame.
And by living as unto Him according to His truth as it is in Christ, no matter what the cost.
These are the things we cling to, to anchor our souls in the darkest, scariest, most confusing places. And by means of them, crush the enemy under our feet as Jesus said we would.