"Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days. And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, "Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time. Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. " (Revelation 12:1-17, NKJV)
Jesus has a burning message for His people - a powerful word for His churches. It is a word that is to be heard by everyone who "has an ear to hear." It is not a word of mere information, designed to enhance the theological expertise of His people. Jesus is reigning for one supreme reason-to bring God's sons to glory (Heb 2:10). They required the redemption He achieved when crucified "through weakness" (2 Cor 13:14). He has given them a good beginning, and they need to know it. He also sees them as they are, whether striving for perfection or drawing back in unbelief-and they need to know it. As well, He wants them to know the purpose is His, not theirs. It is the will of the Lord that is being fulfilled, not the will of fallen humanity. God has graciously chosen to fulfill that will in His church through the power of the Spirit-and they need to know it. Their adversary is fierce and relentless, but cannot overthrow what Jesus is doing-and the church needs to know it. All of this is particularly true for a suffering church, a persecuted people, and a rejected and oppressed society. A church that is comfortably ensconced in this world will realize little profit in the book of Revelation!
A Grand Overview
There are several portions of God's Word that provide a grand overview of Divine purpose. In relatively few words, great periods of time, and often time itself, is viewed from one particular vantage point. In such passages, details are not the point, but the objective being addressed. Because this is the type of passage before us, a few examples of this approach will serve to prepare us. Our thinking will become broader in its scope. Our understanding will be significantly expanded.
In the Garden
Before the guilty pair were thrust from the Edenic paradise, God proclaimed His intention. The history of the world was compressed into His brief summation. "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel" (Gen 3:15, NKJV). Redemption would be initiated by God amidst a realm of animosity. The ultimate Offspring would engage in mortal conflict with the perpetrator of all iniquity. Evil, together with its originator, would be thoroughly cast down by One from the very race overcome by evil. All of history is packed into that statement!
Another example of Divine summation is found in God's promise to Abraham. In this case, the outcome of Divine initiative is seen to involve more than the overthrow of the enemy. To Abraham God said, "I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen 12:2-3, NKJV). Again, the entire history of the world is covered from yet another perspective. The central nation, chosen for bringing forth the Messiah, will be Abraham's progeny-Israel. The whole world will be blessed through the promised Seed to the glory of God. Both blessing and cursing will be determined by response to the ones blessed by God-specifically Christ Jesus Himself.
One more example will suffice to confirm this Divine manner of summation. As spiritual light became greater, a clearer picture of the panorama of history is revealed. An example of this is found in Romans 8:29-30. "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified." Here is a perspective that spans from eternity past ("whom He foreknew") to eternity future ("He also glorified"). The people upon whom God focuses are identified, and the objective determined for them is specified. The means through which the process will be accomplished is even given. Here again, time is delineated in its entirety from the standpoint of God's great salvation.
The Text Before Us
Having established that it is the manner of the Lord to present concise views of the world, we now turn to our text. As with all Divine presentation, the purpose of God is the center around which everything revolves. We are going to see the objective of God, and the response of the devil. The provision of God and the attack of Satan will be seen. We will be exposed to the beginning of evil, and the beginning of everlasting righteousness for humanity. A vicious assault of the destroyer will be seen, as well as Divine protection and nourishment for those who are being attacked.
THE MEANING OF "APOCALYPTIC"
I have called this section "The Apocalyptic Gospel." A word of explanation is in order. The word "apocalypse," from which we derive "apocalyptic," comes from the Greek word (ap-ok-al'-oop-sis), which means uncovering, disclosing, or revealing. The word is used in Revelation 1:1 as a particular form of disclosure, in particular, as a vision.
This is a form of teaching that employs types and symbols. Forty-two times in Revelation, John said he "saw" something (1:12,17; 4:4; 5:1,2; 6:1,2,9; 7:1,2; 8:2; 9:1,17; 10:1,5; 13:2,3; 14:6; 15:1,2; 16:13; 17:3,6; 18:1; 19:11,17,19; 20:1,2,11,12; 21:1,22) . Various other forms of this word are used at least sixteen times (1:11,12,19,20; 6:1,3,5,6,7; 11:19; 18:8,12,15,16,18; 22:8).
It is as though truth were displayed on a screen, as opposed to spoken into the ear-a sort of spiritual animation. There is "the Lamb" (5:6), "Lion of the tribe of Judah" (5:5), "living creatures" (4:6,7), and two fierce "beasts" (13:1,11). There is a pure "woman" (12:4-17) and a defiled "woman" (17:4-18). We read of a "dragon" (12:3; 13:2; 20:2). John sees a corrupt "city" (11:8; 17:18; 18:10), and a "holy city" (21:2-19). There are "locusts" (9:3), "rivers" (8:10), "smoke" (9:2-3), and "horses" with their riders (6:2-8). We read of an evil "mark" placed upon men (16:2), and the name of God, the city of God, and the Son of God being placed on individuals (3:12; 22:4). There is a "star" that falls (8:10), and a "morning Star" (2:28; 22:16). We are told of a "mountain" hurled into the sea (8:8), and a "great and high mountain" from which the "holy Jerusalem" is seen "descending out of heaven from God" (21:10). There are also two fiery "witnesses" speaking for God (11:3-5), as well as two beasts belching blasphemous words (13:2; 16:13). This is apocalyptic language.
The Point is NOT the Figures, but the Realities Conveyed by the Figures or Symbols
As you must know, men greatly err in attempting to make these images real. One might as well look for the image of Nebuchadnezzar's dream to appear in time (Dan 2:31-33), and a small stone to fall out of a mountain, only to grow into a literal mountain that swallows up the earth (Dan 2:34-45).
We find in Revelation a display in imagery of things taught elsewhere in Scripture. Jesus, using metaphors, analogies, or comparisons, shows John what is elsewhere declared in doctrine, or teaching. There is a glorious harmony between what John saw, and what Paul and Peter wrote.
Why Speak in this Manner?
In a sense, the book of Revelation is like a parable. The design of the book is to comfort suffering saints, and to do so in a manner the world will not understand. You may recall Jesus said to His disciples, "To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that 'Seeing they may not see, And hearing they may not understand" (Luke 8:10). Thus, humanity is seen as comprised of two differing groups. Some are granted the privilege of knowing of Divine workings, and some are not. Those who, like the ostrich are "deprived of wisdom" (Job 39:13-17), hear of wonderful things in terms they cannot understand.
This very principle is employed in Revelation. The saints of God are addressed in words that will appear meaningless and superstitious to their enemies. They will derive great comfort, and even instruction, by things that appear to be nonsense to those who persecute them. When your heart grasps the truth conveyed by John's Patmos' vision, the effectiveness of Revelation will become apparent to you.
Familiarity with Scripture Necessary
There is an underlying assumption in this book: that the readers are acquainted with the Word of God-that they have a working knowledge of the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. If this is not the case, it will be extremely difficult to obtain lasting benefit from its indispensable message. Pilgrim's Progress, written by John Bunyan, employs the very same method of communication. Saints have, through the centuries, gained great comfort and confidence from this volume. They recognized in it the very things they themselves had experienced. Such will be the case with everyone who sees behind the symbols of this book, grasping what they already know to be the truth.
A SIGN OF PERSPECTIVE
"Now a great sign ('wonder,' KJV) appeared in heaven. . . " (12:1).
This is the first time anything John saw is called a "sign" or "wonder." Coming from the word µ (say-mi'-on), the word "sign" means what serves as a pointer to aid perception or insight.
As Used in Scripture
This very word was used to identify the Christ child to the shepherds. They were told of the "sign" of a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (Lk 2:12). It is also used to describe Abrahamic circumcision, which was a seal, or mark, of the righteousness he had by faith (Rom 4:11).
In both of these cases, the "sign" itself was not the point, but the reality of which it spoke. A person would greatly err to continue to view Jesus as a babe in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. That "sign" identified a Person greater than either swaddling clothes of mangers! The Savior of the world was as real as that child. His effectiveness would be as real as those swaddling clothes, and His salvation as accessible as that manger!
Too, with Abraham, the circumcision itself, while required, conveyed a greater reality-the possession of righteousness. His righteousness, given by God, was as real and effective as the circumcision of his flesh.
A Significant "Sign"
We are now introduced to something of great significance. This is no novelty! There is a great body of reality displayed in this "wonder." The fact that it appears "in heaven" indicates it is a heavenly perspective. We will behold things from heaven's viewpoint. Even as the earth appears smaller and more compressed from a high altitude, so the truth of God becomes concise and observable from heavenly places. You might say, this is a view of holy angels.
Broad in Scope
There will be detail in this "sign," but details will not be the point. It is a kingdom principle that the higher you rise in the Spirit, the less prominent details become. Objectives and outcomes are more the focus when we see things from heaven's point of view.
It is imperative that this view be seen by suffering saints if they are to receive comfort! As long as they are preoccupied with the details of life, they will be overcome by them! We must rise high enough in the Spirit where details shrink in the light of "eternal purpose."
A WOMAN IS SEEN
" . . . a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars" (Verse 1b). Remember, we are viewing history from a heavenly point of view. Here is what God beholds, what angels view, and what saints consider.
This is a picture of the people of God - "a woman." We will see them to be the means through which the Savior is brought into the world. As Paul said, speaking of the same thing, "But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman . . . " (Gal 4:4, NKJV). Herein is seen the great wisdom of God. The fall came through the woman, who was deceived (1 Tim 2:14). However, to the utter dismay and frustration of the devil, salvation also came through the woman!
The word "woman" is used in a general sense, although specifics are involved. It includes the consideration of Eve, who first heard of a Savior being the "Seed of the woman." "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Gen 3:15).
It also includes the nation of Israel, formed and cultured by God to be the people through whom he Deliverer would come. "Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen" (Rom 9:5). God once referred to His people Israel as "a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit" (Isa 54:6). Again, the Lord said of Israel, "I have likened the daughter of Zion To a lovely and delicate woman" (Jer 6:2).
There is also the perspective of the entire human race from whom the Savior came, and with whom He was identified. "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb 2:14-15).
Clothed with the Sun
Here the beauty of the "offspring of God" (Acts 17:27-28) is seen. God has set His love upon this fallen race (John 3:16), providing a Redeemer and inheritance for them. As the sun lightens the earth, so the "Sun of righteousness" enlightens and heals those struck down by sin (Mal 4:2).
In every good and noble sense, the Lord Jesus Christ is "the Light of the world" (John 8:12). Without Him, humanity is naked and shameful before God. With Him, they are fully clothed! God has provided Him for a covering like He provided coats of skin for the covering of Adam and Eve (Gen 3:21). Little wonder the holy life is described as "putting on Christ" (Gal 3:27).
The Moon Under Her Feet
I gather this accentuates the permanent nature of redeemed humanity. The moon is the source of natural change, i.e., the seasons. As it is written, "He appointed the moon for seasons" (Psa 104:19). From the wintery blast and fiery summer to the swelling tide, the moon causes change. In this heavenly "sign" however, the moon is under the feet of the woman.
The "sign" shown to John reveals the lack of "change" in Divine purpose. Change is subordinate to God's objective, and never takes place unless it serves that purpose in some manner. While change serves the Lord, the Lord never serves change. The appointed entrance of God's Son into the world placed all change under the foot, so to speak.
A Crown of Twelve Stars
A garland of stars! What a picture! It is something nature could not produce. This is the working of the Lord! Remember, the image is not the point, but the truth conveyed by the image.
Those acquainted with Scripture immediately think of two things when they hear the word "twelve." The "twelve tribes of Israel" (Gen 49:28; Ex 24:4; Ezek 47:13; Matt 19:28; Lk 22:30), and the "twelve Apostles" (Matt 10:2; Lk 22:14; Rev 21:14). How do they fit into this marvelous sign?
It is as though they were the sanctifying element of the human race-apart from the Lord's Christ, the most productive of its members. Prior to Jesus, the "twelve tribes of Israel" served to preserve the race, as well as being the depository of Divine benefit. Of them it is written, "Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen" (Rom 9:4-5). They are like a garland of luminaries about sanctified humanity!
The "twelve Apostles" raise the standard even higher. To them was unfolded realities kept secret from the foundation of the world. Especially selected by the Son of God Himself, they were given to see things beyond the grasp of mere mortals. Of them it is written, " . . . the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles . . . " (Eph 3:4-5). They too are a starry crown upon the head of redeemed humanity!
Why only twelve stars?
One might suppose twenty-four stars would be more proper than twelve. Only twelve are given, however, because a single purpose was being served. Whether it is the twelve tribes of Israel, used to introduce the Law, or the twelve Apostles of the Lamb, Jesus was the point behind them all! In these twelve stars we find a perfect depiction of sanctifying agents within a once fallen, but now redeemed, race.
Suffice it to say, the number "twelve" is significant, always speaking of Divine involvements. Not only were there twelve tribes of Israel and twelve Apostles, Revelation also introduces us to the "Holy City," which had "twelve gates of twelve pearls" (21:12), and "twelve foundations" (21:14). The trees on either side of the river of life had "twelve manner of fruits" with healing properties (22:2). When Jesus fed the multitudes, the fragments were gathered in "twelve baskets" (Matt 14:20). On a broader scale, the twelve stars show the woman as surrounded and protected by Divine activity.
The Purposed Birth
"Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth" (12:2). The woman herself was not the point of the vision. Rather, it was the Child to which she would give birth. As throughout Revelation, our attention will now be drawn to the Savior of the world, and Satan's vain efforts to thwart Divine intent.
From the very threshold of history, humanity was found in travail, anxiously awaiting the birth of the Deliverer! Whether we are considering Eve receiving a man "from the Lord" (Gen 4:1), the travail of aged Sarah in the birth of promised Isaac (Gen 17:15-21), or the labor of the nation of Israel to bring forth the Messiah (Rom 9:5), the purpose of God's chosen ones was to bring forth the Savior! His is the ultimate birth, the most significant entrance into the world, the most majestic and meaningful nativity. His conception transcends all others. His birth towers over every other birth!
Notice, the "woman" (God's people) cries out in "labor and pain to give birth." Here the groaning of illumined humanity is graphically shown. Having received the promise of a coming Messiah, insightful souls yearned for His coming. Everything pointed to His coming, like birth pains point to the deliverance of a child. The tears of the faithful, their discontent with the world, and their tenacious hope, were the groaning of travail! This is how heaven viewed humanity! The Lord saw our race embodied in the travailing cry of his people.
THE ARCH-FOE APPEARS
"And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads" (12:3). We are abruptly reminded that God's purpose is fulfilled in an arena of fierce conflict. The faithful do not travail in a bed, but in a cauldron of opposition. After all, the good news of a coming Deliverer was first announced to Satan himself (Gen 3;15). If you have not thought of it before, Satan DID take note of that promise. It is as though the Lord had prodded the old serpent, challenging him to thwart the birth of the Savior, if he could. We will find him utterly impotent to do so!
The Location of the Sign
Our text says John saw "another sign"-another spiritual depiction. This time, we are given to see Satan from heaven's point of view. Too, we will see his realm of operation is in "high places" (Eph 2:1-2; 6:12). While he is under Christ, he is above those unaffiliated with Christ.
As He Really Is
Satan is now seen as he really is. He is not seen as Eve first saw him, in the form of a serpent, "full of wisdom and perfect in beauty" (Gen 3:1; Ezek 28:12-13). There is nothing about Satan now that makes him attractive, or attracts us to him-not really. He is a "great, fiery red dragon," dangerous and threatening. His intentions are wicked, and his purpose intent. If there is any doubt that we are now beholding the enemy of both God and man, it is later said, "the great dragon . . . that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world . . . " (12:9; 20:2).
John speaks of this "dragon" no less than fourteen times in Revelation (12:3,4,7,9,13,16,17; 13:2,4,11; 16:13; 20:2). This is our paramount foe, the consummate enemy of our souls! He is formidable (great), destructive (fiery red), and dangerous (dragon).
Seven Heads and Ten Horns
This is a significant description. This phrase ("seven heads and ten horns") is found no less than four times in Revelation (12:3; 13:1; 17:3,7). Here, the heads and horns are found on the devil himself. In 13:1, they are found on a beast that rises out of the sea. The seventeenth chapter (17:3,7) associates them with a woman sitting upon a scarlet beast. In all of the instances, they are identified with aggressive and planned opposition. At the very outset, we see that the purpose of God is being fulfilled in an amphitheater, as it were, of intense warfare. That combat is both subtle and violent, indirect and predatory.
The "seven heads and ten horns" are specifically identified in chapter seventeen. "The seven heads are seven mountains," and "the ten horns . . . are ten kings" (17:9,12). Because we will deal with this description extensively in later chapters, a few remarks on the principles here revealed will suffice.
Both "seven" and "ten" are generally considered to be numbers of completeness (Dan 1:12,14,15,20; 3:17; 4:16,23,25,32; 7:7,10,20,24; Rev 1:4; 2:10; 5:1,11; 12:1 13:1 17:3). Both are prominent in Scripture. An analysis of the significance of these numbers, together with Scripture references, is found in this section.
Satan is aligned against God and the people of God. He employs those under his control to carry out this opposition. In this case, we have the totality of his power marshaled for an assault against the people of God. He uses earthly people and organizations that are invested the power of darkness.
In particular, the seven heads and ten horns portray organized and extended power-like the governments of this world. We know this is the case, because "seven crowns" upon the dragon's seven heads. This is an organized opposition through duly constituted earthly powers. In John's time, as well as several succeeding ages, this power was concentrated in Rome, once the greatest of all temporal governments.
This world is no friend to the people of God. The more quickly we recognize and receive this truth, the more progress we will make in the faith. Those who accommodate themselves to this world rob their own souls, restrict the flow of life from heaven, and become spiritually ignorant.
The Heavenly Insurrection
"His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth" (12:4a). Here is an allusion which many have desired were more fully explained. The Lord gives us enough information so we will know we are facing a powerful and influential adversary.
The devil did not fall by himself. Pointedly, Scripture speaks of "everlasting fire" being "prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt 25:41). Our text twice speaks of "the dragon and his angels" (12:7,9). He is the head of a diabolical and dark society.
Both Peter and Jude speak of his angels separately, and apart from their association with Satan. Peter refers to them as "the angels that sinned" (2 Pet 2:4). Jude speaks of them as "the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode" (Jude 6, NKJV). These are, then, fallen angels. Like the devil, they were not always evil, but descended into that state.
Our text gives a brief elaboration of their fall. It was the devil himself that influenced them. The graphic imagery John saw spells it out. "His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth" (12:4). Candidly, this is a staggering consideration-"a third part." Whether the expression denotes mathematical precision or merely a significant number is of no consequence. Even at this time, the holy angels (or the ones remaining) are "an innumerable company of angels" (Heb 12:22). We are speaking of numbers (if I may even use that term) that transcend human comprehension.
The point of our text is that the most influential personality for evil in the universe has focused on the people of God. His opposition is not to be taken lightly, for he has brought down greater personalities than us. Although he is not honored, he is even respected by such notables as Michael the arch-angel (Jude 9).
If the church knew nothing else than that the devil is aligned against them, and aggressively so, it would be enough to bring great sobriety and earnestness to its people.
The Devil's Intent
"And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born" (12:4b). Remember-"the woman" is the people of God, ranging from solitary Eve, to the nation of Israel. From the threshold of history, throughout the tenure of the nation of Israel, a coming Deliverer was announced. Isaiah declared, "For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this" (Isa 9:6-7, NKJV). Isaiah even announced the child would be born of a "virgin" (Isa 7:14), while Micah declared the birth would take place in Bethlehem (Mic 5:2). Every devout person longed for the birth of the Messiah.
Our text reminds us that Satan also heard these prophecies. Not being omniscient, as our Lord, God must first speak it before the devil can know it.
Crouching Over Humanity
Now Satan is seen crouching, as it were, over humanity, seeking to thwart the purpose of God. He is determined to stop "the man Child" from being born.
This single statement unfolds much of sacred history for us. Remember, the first man born was Cain, "who was of the wicked one." Because Satan could not stop the birth of righteous Abel, he provoked Cain to kill him (1 John 3;12). His strategy was doubtless to abort the Divine promise.
Seeing Abraham was "the friend of God," Satan was no doubt instrumental in causing the barrenness of Sarah (Gen 11:30; Rom 4:19). There was also the barrenness of Rebekah (Gen 25:21), Rachel (Gen 29:31), the mother of Samson (Judges 13:2), Hannah (mother of Samuel, 1 Sam 1:6ff), and Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist (Lk 1:7). While God was in all of this, so was the devil, working under Divine authority, yet with malice.
But our text states the dragon, Satan, was waiting to devour the Man Child that was destined to be born. His intent is seen in the slaughter of the innocents by Pharaoh, at the time of Moses' birth (Ex 1;15,16). It is also seen in the murder of "all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under" (Matt 1:16-18). However, praise the Lord, the devil was not able to accomplish his invidious intention! The Lord's Christ was born "in the fulness of the time," dragon or not (Gal 4:4). God sent His Son into the world in spite of the subtle strategy of the adversary! Satan is impotent to overthrow the purpose of Almighty God! Our faith in Christ will confirm this to be the case.
THE RULER COMES AND GOES
"She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne" (12:5). Here is one of the most concise statements in all of Scripture. With one broad sweep of the Divine pen, the entire earthly life of the Christ is described-from beginning to end. The Child destined to subdue every enemy, and before Whom every knee will bow, was born. He was born by the precise individual and the exact people determined "before the foundation of the world." He was born in the determined city, and at the appointed time. All of this in spite of a fierce and relentless adversary that plotted to stop the birth from occurring. Whatever one may think of Satan, he is incapable of thwarting the will of the Lord! If ever you can get into the flow of that will, you have entered the realm where Satan cannot fulfill his intentions.
But look at this text again. The Child was not only born, but "caught up to God and His (own) throne." Do not suppose for a moment that this took place without the wicked one endeavoring with all of his might to stop it. When Jesus was but a small child, Satan sought to "destroy" Him (Matt 2;13). While we are not provided with the details, Satan doubtless sought to destroy him as He grew "in favor with God and man" (Lk 2:52). Like you, the maturing Jesus was protected by the grace of God. It is said of Him, during His younger years, "the grace of God was upon him" (Lk 2:40).
Satan Assaults Christ in His Ministry
As our Lord embarked upon His ministry, the devil tempted Him sorely, throwing his wicked arsenal against the Son of God (Matt 4:1-11). During His ministry, he moved people to make attempts to "destroy Him" (Matt 12:14). On one occasion the devil even provoked those who heard Jesus to lead Him "unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong." Our Lord "passing through the midst of them went his way," as though nothing had happened
(Lk 4:29) Another time they "took up stones to cast at Him," but again, He simply passed through the midst of them (John 8:59).
Throughout His ministry, Jesus confronted adversaries, stirred up by the wicked one, who was seeking to circumvent the purpose of the Almighty. He could not do it then, and he cannot do it now!
Christ Enters Heaven
Jesus being "caught up to God" speaks of His triumphant ascension from Olivet to glory. That ascension confirmed that He had finished the redemptive work assigned to Him. He accomplished it in the devil's own arena, while surrounded with impediments. When He ascended, He "led captivity captive," spoiling principalities and powers, and liberating the captives (Eph 4:8). Having accomplished His death, He also entered into "heaven itself" with His own blood, thereby making full atonement for the sin of humanity (Heb 9:12,24).
Remember, Jesus returned to heaven by passing through the very high places dominated by Satan (Eph 2:2; 6:12). Like king Sihon of old (Deut 2:10), Satan refused to let him pass through his territory. But Jesus passed through it anyway, bringing destruction to Satan's realm, and releasing those held captive by it.
To His Throne
Jesus ascended to "His throne"-i.e., to begin a reign of righteousness. Jesus has been "highly exalted" (Phil 2:9), and now occupies "the throne of David" (Acts 2:30-31). Satan could not stop Jesus from being born. He could not stop Him from growing up. He could not postpone or thwart His ministry. He was powerless to stop Jesus from reconciling the world to God and taking away its sin. The devil was impotent to keep our Lord from rising from the dead, appearing to and teaching His disciples, and ascending into heaven. All of the powers of darkness could not prevent Jesus from being seated on the Throne. All of that is in this verse!
Saints Need to Know This
It is imperative that the people of God hear this proclamation- particularly when they are oppressed by the wicked one. Satan is powerless against the Son of God, and that is where God has placed you (1 Cor 1:30). Hope now blooms eternal, scattering the shades of night!
DIVINE PROTECTION AND SUSTENANCE
"Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days" (12:6). "The woman" represents the people of God. Just as Jesus began His ministry with a wilderness temptation, so do His people. Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness (Mk 1:12). The people of God "fled into the wilderness." They "fled" from something to something. They not only escaped from the anger and intent of the devil, but to a place of Divine nourishment. That place is a "wilderness" from the earthly point of view. It is "heavenly places" from the higher point of view. Our entrance into it is mandatory, and possible!
It is written that "the woman fled." This is spiritual language representing an aggressive departure from "the course of this world" (Eph 2:2). It describes a corrupt and defiling environment from which escape is mandatory. Needless to say, this is a strange concept to the average churchman. However, much is said about it in Scripture, and the sensitive heart will immediately recognize its relevance.
Those who come to Christ are said to have "fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before" them (Heb 6:18). The situation was introduced by God in the Old Covenant. The Lord established "cities of refuge" for those accused of anyone killing a person "unawares," or accidentally (Num 35:11). There were six of them, strategically located throughout the land (Num 35:13). Those in the dilemma of accidentally killing someone were to quickly run to one of these "cities for refuge from the avenger" (Num 35:12a). Once within the city, they were safe until standing "before the congregation in judgment" (Num 35:12b).
While a provision of mercy for the Israelites is seen here, a still greater provision is seen. Men were here introduced to protection in the midst of jeopardy. Those in Christ Jesus would be faced with a fierce adversary-an avenger-who sought their lives because of their commitment to the Lord Jesus. In their case, they did kill a man accidentally, but come away from death deliberately. Their escape was not casual, any more than an accidental man-slayer was nonchalant about running to a city of refuge.
Right here we see the danger of a casual approach to Jesus-you might say a "seeker-friendly" approach, which is nothing but a human innovation. There is an urgency about coming to Jesus (Who is our city of refuge) that is scarcely known in our day. No half-hearted effort will yield entrance into Christ!
Just as a vast wilderness lay between Israel and Canaan, so a spiritual wilderness stands between us ultimate glory. It is a moral wilderness in which Divine supplies are essential. Like Israel, if God does not provide water, we will die of thirst (Ex 17:3-6). If He does not provide bread, we will die of hunger (Ex 16:3-4). In the wilderness, both Israel and the church are cast upon their Lord. There simply is no other source to sustain their life in Christ Jesus.
Faith brings us into a place where the world cannot feed us. In this sense, we are "strangers and pilgrims" in the world. Not only are we no longer citizens of the world, we have received a life that cannot be nourished or sustained by the world order. When those who feed the saints give them concepts of the world, they starve God's people. Those who serve up psychological jargon and numerous little anecdotes are depriving the people of God of nourishment. Such carnal ministers have drawn water from a dry corrupt well, and served up polluted bread.
A Prepared Place
The people of God must be nourished! They are away from their home, and are dwelling in a hostile and desolate world! This is why God Himself prepares a place of nourishment for them. While there is occasional nourishment in the presence of their enemies (Psa 23:5), that is not the primary place of feeding!
When the Lord began to unfold precious truth to His disciples, He took them way from the multitudes (Matt 8:25; 14:22; 24:3; Mark 3:7; 6:32; Lk 9:10; 10:23-24). When God communicated with Moses, He took him away from the multitude (Ex 24:1-2). Those who insist on lingering close to the world, refusing to flee into the wilderness, will receive no sustenance from the Lord!
This facet of the Kingdom is scarcely known in our time. Countless professed believers linger on the edge of the world, splashing about in carnal waters with glee, as though there were no dangers. Let such hear the word of the King. "Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits" (1 Cor 15:33). The flood of carnality that has swept over many professed church members has occurred because they remained in the place where the world's dangerous waters flow!
Assemblies and Feeding
Those who denigrate the frequent gathering of the saints, betray a level of spiritual ignorance that is lethal to the soul. The place that has been prepared for the nourishment of the soul is occupied by more than yourself. Of old time, the Lord taught Israel the value of godly assemblies (Ex 3:16; Lev 8:3; Num 8:9; 11:16; 20:8). Although Israel corrupted the feasts, they were intended to be a place of consecration and blessing.
During a time of great spiritual deterioration, the prophet Malachi wrote; "Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, And the LORD listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him For those who fear the LORD And who meditate on His name. They shall be Mine, says the LORD of hosts, On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them As a man spares his own son who serves him" (Mal 3:16-17). Like all scripture, this is written "for our learning" (Rom 15;4) and "admonition" (1 Cor 10:11).
The benefit of the day of Pentecost was realized when "the multitude came together" (Acts 2:6). Early disciples "came together to break bread" (Acts 20:7). These times, when we "come together" (1 Cor 11:17,20,33; 14:23,26), do play a significant role in our lives. They are especially a place prepared by God where spiritual nourishment is enjoyed.
The Psalmist spoke of such assemblies when he wrote, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, Running down on the beard, The beard of Aaron, Running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, Descending upon the mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing; Life forevermore" (Psa 133:1-3).
The Duration of the Nourishment
The prepared place will yield spiritual nourishment for "one thousand two hundred and sixty days." We have already identified this period of time as one of severe trial and opposition. It speaks generally of the time of our sojourning in the world. It speaks specifically of times of increased oppression and persecution of the people of God. In short, it is a time when the devil hurls his worst at the saints. It is also a time when, in seclusion from the course of this world, they receive the best from their Lord.
An underlying Assumption
I cannot leave this section without emphasizing the necessity of nourishing the soul. The people of God cannot fly to glory on automatic pilot. Their souls cannot survive if they are not fed. Their strength will dissipate if they do not feed on the good things of God.
No believer, regardless of their circumstances, is obligated to remain where their soul is not fed. You already know that God has prepared a place in the wilderness where you can be fed. If you are being spiritually starved, you are not in that place. It is just that simple. Take whatever measure are necessary to be fed!
THE HEAVENLY WAR
"And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer" (Rev 12:7-8). The language jars upon the soul-"war broke out in heaven." Remember, we are seeing a vision, not hearing an academic explanation of events. This particular war immediately relates to the birth, exaltation, and reign of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are going to see that something of great significance occurred in the heavenly realms when Jesus reconciled the world to God.
The Case of Job
Prior to "the day of salvation" (2 Cor 6:2), Satan had been seen in heaven. The most notable example is probably that of the patriarch Job. At least two appearances of Satan in the very presence of God are recorded for us in the book of Job. "Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them . . . Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD" (Job 1:6; 2:1, NKJV).
Joshua the High Priest
Another occasion is mentioned in the book of Zechariah. "Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him" (Zech 3:1). That this referred to the very presence of the Lord is clear by the following verse, in which "the LORD said to Satan, The LORD rebuke you, Satan!" (Zech 3:2).
The Prophet Micaiah Speaks
Yet another occasion mentions an evil spirit (or one of Satan's angels) in the very throne room of God. The prophet Micaiah told the king of Israel he "saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right hand and on His left." From among that august assembly surfaced one who would be a "lying spirit," sent to deceive the hard-hearted king (1 Kgs 22:19-23; 2 Chron 18:18-22).
The Text Before Us
The dragon and his angels are the same personalities mentioned in the text before us. Following the exaltation of Christ, a conflict began in heaven. It was not between the Son of God and Satan, but between "Michael and his angels" and the rulers of darkness.
While "the dragon and his angels" fought aggressively, there was no longer any place for them in the heavenly places. They "did not prevail" because they had no more position. At this point, their strength was not the point, but their location. The same evil personalities that found a place in Job's day, lost that place. The same wicked host that surfaced when Joshua the high priest stood before the Lord no longer had a place to stand. The spirits that were deceiving spirits were not ouw of place before the Lord!
"So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (12:9). The exalted Christ introduced a circumstance that found Satan and his hosts being hurled from the heavenly chambers. If there is any doubt that "the great dragon" is, in fact, Satan himself, the record is clear. The dragon is defined as "that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan."
Into the earth
Notice, the devil and his angels were not cast into the lake of fire, their final appointed destination (Rev 20:10; Matt 25:41,46). Instead, the evil horde is cast into the earth, where the saints have been sequestered for Divine nourishment.
Our attention will now be turned to the good fight of faith. We will behold the situation into which our faith has placed us. The need for nourishment will be apparent. We will also see that severe limitations are upon Satan.
SALVATION HAS COME
There is a tendency in men to speculate about the Word of God, often imposing their own theology upon it. Our text leaves no room for such a procedure. We will be able to understand what has occurred in the expulsion of Satan by the heavenly response to it. The Lord will now set before us a vivid portrayal of His great salvation.
"Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down" (12:10, NKJV). We have before us a high view-the effect of salvation. Mind you, it is not salvation itself that is being described, but the effect it has had in the heavenly realms.
Prior to the sacrifice and enthronement of the Lamb, sin maintained an unbreakable hold upon the human race. Like a mighty black shroud, guilt covered the human conscience, driving humanity from the presence of the Lord. Sin had not been removed, and there was a basis for accusation before the Lord. Satan could hurl accusations at those possessing faith, because sin had not yet been "put away" (Heb 9:26). In His death, Jesus took away "the sins (not sins) of the world" (John 1:29), and in His resurrection, God attested to the effectiveness of His Son's work (Rom 1:4). Sin in its totality was removed, and now the issue was the Son Himself.
With the removal of sin, Satan could no longer accuse Christ's brethren before the throne. They had been justified! Salvation had come, together with the Gospel, which was God's power, or means, unto salvation. Strength was granted to the believers to "resist" the devil, and the power of a defiled conscience was smitten to the ground!
Thus, the devil, who had been accusing those with faith "night and day" had no further basis of accusation. Jesus had "made an end of sins," and brought in "everlasting righteousness" (Dan 9:24). Robbed of his power, Satan was now expelled from heaven.
Heavenly Things Purified
The powerful effects of justification are affirmed in the book of Hebrews. At first, the words used are startling. "Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these" (Heb 9:23). The "copies of things in the heavens" were found in the tabernacle of old. The blood of sacrificial animals was employed in the purification of the tabernacle itself, the furniture within it, the vessels of ministry, and the priests. In this way, they became suitable for use by the people, and acceptable to God in His service or worship.
Christ's blood purified heavenly things by sanctifying them for our blessing and use. Involved in this was the expulsion of the "accuser of the brethren." In this regard, because there was no further basis for condemnation (Rom 8:1), the heavenly things were purified for us. Thus, the devil and his angels were expelled from the seat of accusation, having nothing more to say against us.
A Prelude Seen in Christ's Ministry
A prelude to this triumph took place when Jesus sent out seventy disciples with power. Upon their return, they joyfully reported, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name." Jesus immediately diffused any notions that what occurred was owing to their power. He replied, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven"(Lk 10:17-18). Satan did not fall because of the power of the disciples! Rather, they had power because he had fallen by the Word of the King.
If, when He was upon earth, the Lord Jesus could plunder Satan's power, what do you suppose has occurred now that sin has been removed, and He is seated at the right hand of God? More now occurs than the demons fleeing! Salvation has come! For this reason, Satan and his hosts no longer are where accusations may be heard by the Living God! This is nothing less than JUSTIFICATION!
With the expulsion of the devil came power to overcome him. This is "sanctification," or the spiritual life. Listen to the triumphant shout. "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them!" (12:11, NKJV).
Prior to the commencement of Christ's intercessory ministry, the most holy people were overcome by the devil. Those who were exemplary in most every way would often do things that cause us to marvel. In anger, Moses forgot what God had said and struck the rock instead of speaking to it (Num 20:12). It cost him entrance into the promised land. His brother Aaron constructed a golden calf at the behest of faithless Israel (Exodus 32). Samson, used mightily of God, fell to the lust of the flesh (Judges 16), as well as mighty David (2 Sam 11). Numerous other examples are known by most believers.
These saints are not to be judged as though they lived in the blazing light of the Gospel of Christ. Nor, indeed, are they excused as though they did not sin. They lived, however, when Satan had more accusing power than he has now. The conscience was more easily defiled, and not really purged, in those days. An understanding of this will answer a lot of troublesome questions.
You will note that such things are the exception in Christ Jesus, and are never excused or treated lightly. It is out of order for those in Christ to compare themselves with Israel, thereby excusing their unbelief and lapses into carnality. Redemption has been wrought, and Satan has been driven out of heaven as an accuser. There is no excuse for being overcome by the devil-none at all!
Saints Participate in the Victory
Three elements are mentioned in the triumph of the saints. First and foremost, they overcome the devil "by the blood of the Lamb." That is what removed their sins, thereby relieving them of a defiled conscience and granting them peace with God (Rom 5:1).
Second, they are so integral to the Kingdom of God, that the word of their own testimony plays a role in their victory over Satan. Their "testimony" is their acknowledgment of participation with Christ. It is THEIR testimony, or witness. It comes from their mouths, and is attested to by their lives. Satan cannot contend with what the saints say or the manner in which they conduct their lives.
Third, being "joined to the Lord" has moved them to a high plateau of living. They have willingly forfeited their own lives, taking up the cause of their King. It is not them that lives, but Christ that lives in them (Gal 2:20). They thus overcome the evil one because his appeal is to our lives in this world. All of sin, and all of Satan's temptations, are confined to this world. They are summarized as "all that is in the world. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:15-17). Since such things are now detestable to those in the Spirit, they overcome the devil. His ploys have thus been robbed of their power.
A Fierce Adversary
One might suppose that Satan has become a vacillating and powerless foe, posing no threat to humanity. However, this is not the case at all! A solemn warning is sent to all who are in the world. "Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time" (12:12, NKJV).
Those of us who remain "in the body" (Heb 13:3), and are confessed "strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Heb 11:13), remain in the danger zone. If heaven cries a warning, who is the fool who would make the saints think there is no jeopardy for believers? Remember, this message is written "to the churches," not the unregenerate and ungodly. The "earth and the sea" describe the realm of the curse, where there is danger and turmoil.
Satan has Not Quit
Although the devil and his angels have been banished from heaven, they have not given up. They remain determined in their diabolical objective. They cannot accuse us "before our God night and day," but they can sure stir things up in the earth!
Satan has been bruised in his head, but has not yet suffered the full affects of it. With great anger, he now targets those who are in Christ Jesus. No longer having access to the throne, he now focuses on those whose lives are "hid with Christ in God" (Col 3:2). He does not have recourse to the martyrs under the altar (Rev 6:9). They are out of his reach. He is limited to "the inhabitants of the earth."
Having Great Wrath
Satan's nature may be seen in the brute creation. I understand that a wounded lion or bear is even more dangerous than one that is not. Their wound inflames them, making them more vicious, and more determined to do away with their oppressor. So it is with "our adversary the devil" (1 Pet 5:8). He not only prowls about "as a roaring lion," but one that has been mortally wounded. It is one thing for a man to have "great wrath," it is quite another for the devil to have it.
Satan's expulsion has made him more subtle, more cunning, more crafty. He is more like a subtle snake than a raging bull. With his anger, he becomes more shrewd and calculating. Remember, it is heaven that cries out "Woe to the inhabitants of the earth!" If such a warning does not fit into your theology, then change it, for it is wrong and will destroy you. Satan is angry with YOU! He is angry because you had the faith to take hold of and obey the Gospel. He is enraged because you are fighting the good fight of faith and cleaving to the Lord with purpose of heart. He is infuriated because you have renounced him, his ways, and his lies. He has, in every sense of the word, "come down to you having great wrath." However, you, like saints before you, can overcome Him because of the glorified Christ!
Satan is an intelligent being. He is angry, but he is not thoughtless. He knows something many saints either do not know, or readily forget: "he hath but a short time." Oh saint of God, the devil's time is running out, and he knows it. It makes him angry, but it makes us glad!
If Satan's knowledge of the brevity of time causes him to work with more intensity, what ought that knowledge to do for us? He knows what was said to John, and it is our business to know it even better. "And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer" (Rev 10:5-6). Like a sweet elixir, the Word of the Lord declares, "For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry" (Heb 10:37).
Dear child of God, you will not always be engaged in a battle! The Lord has appointed a time when fighting will cease, and swords will be beaten into plowshares (Isa 2:4; Mic 4:3). Preachers and teachers, declare with power and expectation the soon consummation of time! It speaks of the demise of Satan and the cessation of having to deal with his devices. Strengthen the people of God for the battle, and help them overcome the devil, instead of the devil overcoming them. You serve them well when you put them in mind of these things. You hurt them when you do not.
In the meantime, let us give heed to the solemn warning concerning our adversary. Let us not live as though he were stupid and we were invincible. Our adversary is real, and so is the warfare in which we are engaged!
AGGRESSION AGAINST THE SAINTS
"Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child" (12:13. NKJV). For at least forty centuries, the devil had focused on stopping the birth of the promised "Seed of the woman." This does not mean he had not sorely tempted humanity. In fact, while involved in his vain effort to keep the Messiah from being born, he had successfully "deceived the whole world" (1 John 5:19; Rev 12:9). He had also instigated opposition to, and persecutions of, the greatest of our race until Jesus. Included in those attacks were Abel (1 John 3:12), Joseph (Gen 49:23), Job (Job 12:4,5), David (Psa 11:2), Jeremiah (Jer 11:19; 15:10), and others. It has ever been true that the righteous have felt the pain of rejection, the bitterness of insult, the sorrow of mocking, and the wearing effect of opposition.From the beginning, this has always been the case (Psa 37:32; 56:5; 94:5; Prov 29:10,27; Isa 59:15; Amos 5:10).
Now, however, the Satanic opposition of the saints has picked up, being increased because of Satan's expulsion from heaven. No wonder Paul wrote, "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Tim 3:12, NKJV). There came a time when, in some sense, it registered with Satan that he had been "cast to the earth." He had operated before in the earth, but had not been confined to it as he is now. The situation enraged him.
Satan is angry - not so much at the people of God, but because of the brevity of time that remains. He delights to do iniquity, and can do no good. The thought of his time being limited has caused him to rage. That seething anger is taken out on the people of God-"the woman who gave birth to the male child."
All persecution of the godly is instigated by the devil. It makes no difference what form it takes, whether it is the mannerly snicker of the skeptic, or a violent and aggressive opposition of a persecutor. But there is something else to see here. It is not you personally that is Satan's focus, but "the woman who gave birth to the man child." Even if godly Stephen is killed, and removed from the battle arena, the devil's wrath is not assuaged! He seeks to remove the people of God, not merely a few representatives form within them. His attacks are personal-make no mistake about that. However, his intention is to eliminate the people of God, not just some of them.
This condition, among other things, is what provoked Paul to pray so much for the church-the people of God (Phil 1:9; Eph 1:16; 3:15; Col 1:9; 2 Thess 1:11). He knew the ferocity of their adversary, and therefore was constrained to pray for them.
The Larger Picture
How our prayers should rise for the church of God-the woman that is being persecuted by the devil! After all, Jerusalem which is above, is "the mother of us all" (Gal 4:26). While God is our Father, our mother is His people. There comes a time when we must forget about ourselves and consider our "mother." She is under attack from an angry and subtle adversary. There must come times when my own interests-even the interests of a local congregation-are placed into the background. It is then that we pray, "Lead US not into temptation, but deliver US from the devil one" (Matt 6:13).
Think of the Mother
It is true that there have been, and continue to be, failings in the body of Christ. False prophets have invaded her. She has made errors in judgment. Unfaithfulness has been found within her ranks. Some of her number have swerved aside. Some have even cast off their first faith, left their first love, and are seeing their works ready to die. But my prayer still rises for her! She is still my mother! She is still the target of Satan's aggression. I love her! The sweet Psalmist put it well when he said of Zion, "All my springs are in you" (Psa 87:7).
Again, the spirit of which I speak is articulated by the Psalmist in regard to Jerusalem. In his case, it was a city upon earth. In our case, it is the people of God. "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth; If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy" (Psa 137:5-6).
The Spirit of Sectarianism
One of the many blights of sectarianism is its failure to consider "the woman that brought forth the man child." Legion is the name of the congregations whose thoughts never extend beyond themselves. For many, their local congregation represents the totality of their involvement with the people of God.
In view of our text, such an attitude is reprehensible and inexcusable. It must not be allowed to surface among us, but must be subdued in the power of the Spirit. If Satan has targeted the persecution of "the woman," we just seek her welfare, her edification, her strength, and her preservation.
THE SECRET PLACE
The devil is not the only one thinking about the people of God! In His wisdom, and in strict accord with His "eternal purpose," the Lord has made provision for a people under attack. "But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent" 12:14, NKJV).
For God's people, provisions are not sparse. They are bountiful, and appropriate for the realm in which they are living by faith. Solomon spoke of a "flying sparrow" (Prov 26:2), but the people of God are not given the wings of a sparrow. Sparrows fly too low! The nature of the persecution leveled against them, and the exceeding greatness of the reward set before them, requires that unusual strength be given to them. Although in a defiled realm, "the woman" will be granted a means of escape. That escape is imperative for her survival.
The means of escape hinge upon a gift. The woman was "GIVEN two wings of an eagle." She does not escape the intentions of the devil by her own ingenuity, or some gift she possesses by nature. Her escape comes by Divine provision. As it is written,. "But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint" (Isa 40:31). This signifies that the appropriation of the Divine means will be granted within an acute consciousness of the Lord. The "wings of an eagle" will not be given to those who choose to live at a distance from the Lord!
Second, the escape is upward! We do not hide from the devil, but soar into the area from which he has been expelled! The "heavenly places" are the place where spiritual blessings are appropriated (Eph 1:3,6; 2:6).
Protection in Obscurity
Third, the required nourishment is found in "her place." This "place" is not found in the world system, or "fashion of this world" (1 Cor 7:31). Too, it is not found in the earth, into which Satan has been cast. If the people of God are to experience spiritual nourishment and strength, they must get to their "place"-the "heavenly places." The closer the church is to the world, the further she is from "her place." This accounts for the emaciated state of many believers.
Nourishment Is Vital
Fourth, the nourishment received by the people of God is vital to their survival. The nourishment lasts as long as the persecution, for she cannot survive without it. The spiritual sustenance she enjoys is for "for a time and times and half a time," which is the same length as 1,260 days. However, in the presence of the Lord, where the nourishment is received, there is less of a sense of time than when we are conscious of persecution. Pretended religious leaders who do not "feed the flock of God" (1 Pet 5:2) have sinned against God and His people. Unless believers can overcome such ministers, they will fall to the devices of the wicked one.
From the Face of the Serpent
Fifth, the sustenance realized is "from the face of the serpent," or "out of the serpent's reach" (NIV). While she is feeding, the devil cannot reach her, for she occupies the realm from which he has been expelled. This is why it is written, "Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (Gal 5:16). We also learn from this text that we are receiving from "the face of the serpent" or "the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 4:6). Those who are not eating at Jesus' table, are feasting at the table of the devil.
Take Hold of this Truth!
It is imperative that the people of God take hold of this truth! God is serious about saving us. The Lord Jesus is serious about providing for us. The Holy Spirit is serious about strengthening us. The holy angels are serious about ministering to us. The devil is serious about persecuting us. If we attempt to live in such an arena with a half-hearted spirit, there is no hope of survival. If we do not engage all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength in a quest for eternal life, there is no hope of obtaining it. I will tell you that this attitude is so scarce it boggles the mind.
THE TROUBLED REALM
"So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood" (12:15, NKJV). The devil knows about the place prepared for the people of God, but cannot enter into it. In the bosom of Jesus, we become inaccessible to Satan. However, he remains relentless in his efforts to destroy us. One thing you can say about him, he certainly is not a quitter. In this respect, he is more comely than many professed Christians.
With great subtlety, the serpent sends a gigantic flood "out of his mouth," seeking to destroy the woman from a distance. This deed is related to, what is later called, the release of Satan for a season (Rev 20:3). It speaks of an unprecedented rise in iniquity, sin, and moral defilement. Isaiah referred to this type of action as the enemy coming in "like a flood" (Isa 59:19). Jesus referred to it as iniquity abounding (Matt 24:12). Paul spoke of it as "perilous times" (2 Tim 3:1). Speaking of this kind of experience, the Psalmist said, "The floods have lifted up, O LORD, The floods have lifted up their voice; The floods lift up their waves" (Psa 93:3, NKJV).
In my opinion, we are experiencing such a flood in our time. There has been a dramatic increase in wicked trends, wicked customs, moral depravity, religious decay, corrupt laws, evil rulers, bad schools, bad literature, and base entertainment. It is a flood from the mouth of the serpent.
The Target Is the Woman
Satan's target is "the woman"-the people of God. Although society in general suffers from his attack, society in general is not his focus. Those who attempt to live on the periphery of the Kingdom will be affected by this flood. Jesus described such people in these words. "And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" (Matt 24:12).
Our adversary cannot reach us "in the Spirit" (Gal 5:16,25), or when our lives are experientially hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). He seeks, however, to mitigate our love for the Savior, make us lukewarm, and lure us out of the place of nourishment. He knows that if he can entice us to come away from the place prepared for Divine sustenance, he can overthrow us. Oh, that every professed believer knew as much about their condition as Satan does!
"But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth" (12:16, NKJV). Here is a most marvelous thing. I believe it is the only place such a statement is found in Scripture: "the earth helped the woman." The principle is stated several times by the prophets, and it is a most awesome consideration. We will see that the protection of the godly has cost the lives of many ungodly. If that is too difficult to receive, let us hear the Word of the Lord.
"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in your place. Since you were precious in My sight, You have been honored, And I have loved you; Therefore I will give men for you, And people for your life" (Isa 43:2-4). If this was true of Israel (included in "the woman"), how much more is it true of the body of Christ! Solomon also articulated this principle. "The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, And the unfaithful for the upright" (Prov 21:18).
It is as though God said, I exchanged the wicked for the righteous. I did not permit Satan to touch you, but rather allowed the wicked to absorb the shock of his flood. "The earth helped the woman!"
When we see wars, plagues, pestilence, earthquakes, floods, winds, and drought, let us ponder what we have read! In those things, Satan designs to reach the people of God--to dislodge them from the secret place prepared for them, where they are receiving nourishment. Too, the sudden rise of iniquity is a Satanic effort to lure believers from heavenly places.
There Are Other Ways
But there are others ways in which the earth helps the woman. It yields its bread to us, and provides an arena in which we can care for our own. Here we receive outlets for lawful creativity and industry. There are relationships in the earth that "help" us in our walk, including marriage, family life, personal relationships, and enjoyable and lawful activities. Indeed the earth does help the woman, because it belongs to her (1 Cor 3:21-23), and will soon be given to her in a purified state (Matt 5:5).
There is one final way in which "the earth helps the woman." It is the only realm in which the saints will experience opposition, hardship, chastening, and sorrow! It helps by absorbing all of those things. When we leave this world, we shall leave everything that is against us. Then, there will be no more "flood," sent from the serpent's mouth to destroy. Then, we shall be free from all Satanic initiatives.
THE WAR IS ON
"And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (12:17, NKJV). The nature of spiritual life is seen here from the underside. It is an aspect of life in Christ that is not often mentioned. It ought to make every believer sober to hear of Satan being "enraged with the woman." No wonder Peter wrote, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world" (1 Pet 5:8-9, NKJV). He was describing an enraged adversary. His activities are associated with "sufferings" being "experienced" by the people of God. No person, regardless of their gifts and abilities, can contend with this adversary without being steadfast and consistent in the faith. If Satan is not resisted, or withstood, he will run roughshod over you. Your ONLY power is found in the place prepared for nourishment. Leave it, and there is no hope.
Satan's failure to wash away the people of God collectively has not caused him to abandon his wicked initiative. He now turns to individuals, fighting on a personal level. Generally speaking, "the rest of her offspring" are those remaining in the world-who have not yet died. Specifically, they are individuals who "keep the commandments of God, and maintain their testimony of Jesus." While the people of God may be tempted to approach their life with something less than an aggressive effort, their adversary has declared "war."
From another perspective, the "remnant of her seed," or the "rest of her offspring," are those who survived his attack. They did not die in a persecution, nor did they throw the faith overboard. This group of people are often called the "remnant" (Isa 11:11; 37:31; Ezek 6:8; Amos 5:15; Rom 9:27; 11:5). This group of faithful ones confirm the following.
Satan cannot remove the church from the world. Delusion cannot undue the work of Jesus. Faith does overcome the world. As long as there is a world, God will not leave Himself without a witness. Satan does have limitations. Spiritual nourishment is effective. After Satan's most vicious attacks, some are left that have not been consumed. The Remnant Specified
The Lord does not leave us wondering about the identity of this remnant. They are not mere religious professors, or members of a religious organization. Satan does not make war with such. Instead, such wayward souls are the enemies of God, who is at war with them (James 4:4)!
Keep the Commandments
These are God-conscious people! They keep, or retain, His commandments, hiding them in their hearts that they sin not against Him (Psa 119:11). In Christ, of course, keeping the commandments of God has a high priority. As it is written, "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters" (1 Cor 7:19).
These are not merely the Ten Commandments, as some professed believers affirm. The phrase "the commandments of God" is much broader than that! There are pivotal commandments that are not mentioned in the decalogue. "And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ . . . " (1 John 3:23-24).
The meaning of "keeping the commandments of God" relates to the heart. As Joshua, referring to the Law, once said, "Therefore be very courageous to keep AND to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses" (Josh 23:6). Before Joshua, Moses had said the same thing (Deut 7:12). Even more specifically Moses said, "For if ye shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you, to do them . . . " (Deut 11:22).
By saying the remnant keeps the commandments of God, the Lord is emphasizing their preference for what God has said. They live to do His bidding, and love His commandments, which are not grievous to them (1 John 5:3). Satan has declared war on all such people!
It seems to me that in our day there is a need for a revival of interest in "the commandments of God." You might refer to such a frame of spirit as a "what wilt Thou have me to do" attitude. Religion has become so refined and cultured that "the commandments of God" are of little interest to many. But this is not the attitude of the remnant! Their love for God is identified by their attitude toward His commandments (1 John 5:2-3). This is what prompts the Lord to answer their prayers (1 John 3:22). It is also the means of knowing they are in Him (1 John 2:3,4).
The Testimony of Jesus
This is not speaking of a personal testimony, as ordinarily conceived. Rather, it speaks of what Jesus has testified being retained by those who have heard it. The Spirit refers to such Divine testimony. The Ephesians, for example, were told of the efectiveness of this testimony. "But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus" (Eph 4:20-21). The very book we are studying is called "the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev 1:2). The Gospel is called "the testimony that God has given of His Son" (1 John 5:10-11).
Those keeping "the testimony of Jesus" are those who have heard and retained the good news of the Gospel. They have joyfully received the ministry of Jesus in opening that Gospel to them, and expanding on its greatness. Satan has declared war on all such people! They are his enemies, because they are a threat to his kingdom of darkness. Their presence inhibits his will, and thwarts his purpose. He knows he has but a short time, and thus vigorously opposes them.
Thus you have heard the Apocalyptic Gospel. It has been declared in a vision, and a most effective one at that. God's purpose has been affirmed, and the character of His people has been declared. The effectiveness of redemption has been seen, together with the impact it has had upon our adversary. The ferocity of the devil has been delineated, together with the focus of his attack. Even the ministry of the cursed earth has been declared, showing us that God is working everything together for our good.
Settle it in you heart: the devil has made war, but he will not win the war! Also consider that Satan hates the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus so much, he makes war against everyone that retains them. Our safety, however, lies in cleaving to the very things Satan hates so vehemently. As we rejoice in them, refusing to let them go, we frustrate the devil. If it ever comes to the point where the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus are grievous to us, and hard to bear, Satan has influenced us.
It is not possible to take this passage seriously and conclude that the "good fight of faith" is not important. Every person receiving the truth herein declared will see the absolute necessity of spiritual nourishment, and getting to the place where it is ministered. Availing themselves of Divine enablements, they will fly to realms Satan cannot enter, and receive what he cannot take away!
Blessed be the name of the Lord for His merciful consideration of our situation. All praise to Him for alerting us to the nature of our adversary and his wicked intentions. Thanks to Him for a prepared place!