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The Woman, The Child, and the Dragon

May 15th, 2015

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 … 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 …

Revelation 12:1-5

In Chapter Twelve of Revelation signs give us an historical perspective to the work of God to reclaim this world, to confront the evil rebellion of Satan and his demons, and to achieve our redemption. Without this chapter we would be left with the wrong impression, that the fight between God and Satan at the end of time belongs only there. It does not. It ends there but it started long before, even from the beginning. Our redemption is God’s work, not ours. We may join Him in this work by His invitation, but it belongs to Him, it begins and ends with Him. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, “Who is and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).

One of the aspects of modern society is the belief in the power of the human will. We are as a race growing confident in ourselves to solve our problems. This confidence is based only partly on experience, because frankly we have not solved too many of the problems that plague mankind – only a few have we resolved. Even the most ardent worker in sociology notes the conflicts and the tensions that we have barely begun to deal successfully with. Very often we resign ourselves to imperfections in our cities and find no successful means of resolving them.

The typical advice of how to run any human organization is to establish the purpose of your organization, to thoughtfully prepare the objectives on how you will meet your purpose, along with measurable goals, and then to go about confidently your work with diligence. This is not bad advice, of course, and we do much the same thing in churches as people do in business, military, medicine, and other types of human endeavors.

But there is one great weakness of this type of thinking: it omits God from the daily spheres of life. It leaves no room for the Almighty to work, nor do we expect Him to be involved in our work except to keep the seasons predictably consistent and then to leave us alone. And even in church work we can find this attitude, which is, of course, very unfortunately … no, not just unfortunately but as an indication of our lack of faith in God and our over confidence in ourselves.

In fact James wrote about precisely this attitude.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16)

And this is same thought is behind the words of Paul, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Cor. 4:6-7).

And this is exactly the issues we deal with in Revelation – the great movements of God that have shaped and shaken this earth. We see in Chapter Twelve a “great sign” in heaven – semeion mega in Greek. The word semeion is used throughout the New Testament and is generally similar to our word “sign.” The original King James translated it “wonder” in this passage, and it generally carries that idea, but the word is used frequently elsewhere – Matthew 26:48; Luke 2:12; John 2:11; Acts 2:19; 2 Cor. 12:12, for examples. Here it takes on the meaning of a miraculous event that portends or points to something greater. We will see the imagery will reveal the ages old conflict between God and Satan, between Israel, the Messiah, the Church, heaven, faithful angels, and the demonic hordes. This lays the historical foundation for us to understand the final show-down between Christ and the Antichrist.

The great matters of this world and of our lives are not achieved by us humans. Rather they are part of the redemptive plan of God, and will be resolved by Him. We take ourselves very seriously, but we need to do as James said and leave room for God, and not just a little space in our busy lives, but to put Him first and foremost in our thoughts. He is the Great Mover and Shaker and not us, so we should put first His rule and reign and power in all of our thinking: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you as well” (Matt 6:33). The kingdom of God is not a static thing, or a passive idea, but it comes with power and authority. “For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power” (1 Cor. 4:20).

The final verse of Chapter Eleven regarding the opening of the temple in heaven more logically connects with Chapter Twelve. (Remember, the chapter and verse divisions of the Bible were not part of the original writing. John did not add these, rather they were added later by men.) When the temple in heaven opens, suddenly a woman with a child is seen. The woman represents Israel, the imagery of the sun and the moon and the twelve stars refers to the dream of Joseph (Genesis 37:9), and the child she gives birth to is the Messiah “who was to rule all nations.” The rising of the nation of Israel was an achievement of God, as Genesis 12 and the story of Abraham’s call and his and his son Isaac and grandson Jacob attest to. And the Christ came not by the will of man but by the will of the Father, “For when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son …” (Gal. 4:4). John went on to stress that the church itself rose in the timing and by the power of God, not man (John 1:12-13).

And “another sign appeared in heaven” (Rev. 12:3), and this one represents the devil, Satan, the old Serpent. There are many names by which he is known in Scripture, and many passages that give us some insight into his historical development. Here he is described as a “fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads” (12:3), all emblems of power and earthly rule (see Daniel 7:6). Seven and ten are emblematic of completeness or fullness. The devil exercises his power in a large part through human beings, especially those in power.

We might say that he and Christ have precisely opposite methods. Satan takes the powerful and corrupts them and brings them down in morals and ethics, enslaving them to his will and his ways. Christ lifts up the poor, forgotten, and despised of the world and makes them His ambassadors, His family, and His future rulers.

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. 1 Corinthians 2:26-29

Satan is also described here as having drawn “a third of the stars of heaven” and thrown them “to the earth” (12:4). Precisely who these stars represent is not stated here, but it it not unreasonable to see this verse referring to the influence of the dragon in the realm of spirit beings, and to suppose that this represents one third of the angels who have joined Satan’s ranks. In 12:7 we read, “Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought,” so it is clear that the devil has angels who work underneath his authority, and we commonly call these angels demons (see also Eph. 6:12 and Matthew 12:25-29). Certainly Satan cannot be considered a world-wide power, the “prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2), unless he has a kingdom to rule and reign over.

From the beginning Satan was ready to devour the Child of the woman as soon as she gave birth, and this is evidenced historically by Herod the Great’s efforts to have the Christ Child put to death. But God miraculously protected Christ until the right time and He died on the cross according to the plan of God – a sacrificial substitutionary, saving death for believers – and then He was “caught up to God and His throne” (Rev. 12:5), a reference to His Resurrection and Ascension.

The remainder of the chapter we will examine on Monday.

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