August 17, 2014.
A while ago I did a post entitled “The gospel according to Isaiah” in which the good news of Jesus was proclaimed by a prophet long before the time of Jesus. Today, I want to do something similar, but perhaps with a passage of Scripture that is more difficult to understand/interpret than Isaiah 52 and 53. I want to take you with me on a journey of what I call “the gospel according to Revelation.”
John’s revelation giving to him by the Most High and recorded for us in that ominous final book of the bible is one that has both terrified and fascinated different people for centuries (well, millennia I suppose). There are indeed a lot of symbols and dramatic scenes that are hard understand, especially from our point of view, close to 2,000 years removed from the time and culture in which the apocalyptic book was written. I have done a few different studies on the book of Revelation, and I in no way claim to be an expert in the material, but I do think there are some spectacular things that we can take from the book of prophecy, even though it was written to the early church during a time of heavy persecution (or what would soon be heavy persecution, depending on when exactly it was written). Revelation is a polarized book of black and white, good and evil, with no middle ground allowed in it dramatization. The central them is the struggle between the church and Satan’s forces, embodied by the Roman empire that was persecuting the church at the time. There are many concepts that we can pull from the book, but I want to focus on one that is preeminent throughout the book: the Christ. We will be focusing on chapter 12.
“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. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. 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. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.”
This is a dramatic scene, in which different elements of history are embodied in dramatic symbols. The woman symbolizes God’s ideal or God’s embodiment of his people, such as Israel before she gives birth and spiritual Israel after the male child is called up into heaven, extending salvation to all the world. She is in labor at the beginning of this vision, symbolizing the pains that Israel went through before the Messiah came, with their cycles of obedience and non-obediance, enemies and eventual captivity. The stars that are swept out of the sky is said to be the death of many of the children of Israel before the Christ came, as history and Old Testament prophecy both bear out. Only a remnant of the children of Israel were to be spared. I think this passage parallels one that Paul wrote when John writes about the serpent waiting to devour the male child but failing.
“Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”
(I Corinthians 2:6-9)
Satan’s forces tried to extinguish the Son of glory, but in the end his plan fail and Jesus overcame both sin and death. This was God’s plan from the beginning. God through Christ had always had a plan of redemption for the sons of man, and it was carried out accordingly. Paul asserts that if they had known, the rulers of this age would not have crucified the Christ. These “rulers” could be a reference to the physical rulers of the earth at the time, but it likely that Paul was referring to those rulers in the spiritual would who wage an ongoing war to which we are blinded. This is why it was a mystery before Christ, secret wisdom. This mystery was the downfall of Satan, in the ultimate display of the power of God.
Then the vision takes a turn that I find very interesting.
“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. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 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. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
Notice what Satan is called here: the accuser. Do you remember our study on Job where God asks Satan where he had come from? “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” Then God offers his servant Job to be tested. Satan was an accuser. That’s what he was doing while walking the earth. Looking to find accusation against the sons of man. I listening to a really good sermon series on Revelation and when he got to this chapter, the preacher made a very good point. Before this time, before the male child was born, Satan actually had a reason to accuse man. Man was evil, full of sin and transgression, and the blood of Christ had not been shed to take away the sin of the world yet. Notice how in Job, Satan was in the presence of God, by implication in heaven. Before the woman gives birth to the child here in Revelation, Satan and his armies have not been cast out of heaven, but there is a war going on. After the child is born and called up to sit on the right hand of God, Satan and his armies are defeated and cast out of heaven. He no longer had any basis to accuse man, because man had the power of the blood of Christ that cleansed their sins. That’s the gospel! That’s the good news we preach! Right here in dramatic form. “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.” This is why we are more than conquerors in Christ.
“And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 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. And he stood on the sand of the sea.”
Now Satan is mad. He has been defeated and cast down to earth, and he is trying to take all he can with him. He first goes after the woman, God’s ideal, the church, the bride of Christ, but she is protected. Then he turns his attention to the individual members of the church. Though this prophecy was about Rome, the cycle continues today.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
(I Peter 5:8)
We still wage war against the powers of sin and death. Satan is still looking for whom he may devour. He is mad. He is out to get us. And he has been doing it for a long time. He knows what he is doing. But we have the power of Christ, that has overcome sin and death. We are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to righteousness. We serve our Lord and gain the victory though Him. All mankind has been called. All can see his glory. All can accept his salvation. All can be born anew in Christ. This is the message we preach. This is the good news. This is the gospel according to Revelation.
Suggested Daily Reading: Matthew 28, John 1, Romans 6, Colossians 3, Revelation 12.
All glory to his name.