“The Lord of the Dragon”
So, we are right in the middle of this intense study of Revelation. Are we all doing alright? The reason I ask is because we’ve been looking at some heavy duty stuff dealing with the wrath of God on the earth and its inhabitants. There is death and destruction everywhere. And I would guess that some may question why we have to study this and hear it on Sunday mornings. I know you wouldn’t say that because you also know that it’s the Bible - inspired and profitable. But it’s tough sledding nonetheless.
Let me share a story that may help you out as it did me. While I was preparing this sermon, I happened to be in a coffee shop and looking at the verses regarding the nature of Satan. Perhaps God in his grace wanted to help me understand – I don’t know. I overheard a conversation regarding the devil. This guy said that he was married to Satan. Now I’m not exactly sure what that means but it certainly piqued my interest. The conversation transitioned to his family and the question was asked “how many children do you have?” The reply was “One that I know of”. Chuckle chuckle. He then felt quite free to elaborate on his sexual exploits and using of women even to the point of bragging about “knocking up” a fourteen year old girl. And this was a guy in his thirties. And some of you may have fourteen year old daughters. He then described how he went about aborting the child and I will spare you the details. He indicated that he was joking about his part in the abortion but had it nonetheless. I can’t fully express the anger I experienced in that moment and if the desire I had to help God carry out justice was actually from God or not. Perhaps it was His grace that gave me the ability to walk away from this “man”. But I’ve got to tell you that if I had any reservations about God’s justice before, they quickly disappeared in that moment.
So as we ponder the holiness, the glory, and the purity of God, can we see the absolute demand for his justice? There are many that are just so rebellious against Him and love wickedness and despise His grace, they leave God with no choice but to carry out justice. Remember Revelation 9 verses 20 and 21? “20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” Allow this study in Revelation to fuel your zeal for evangelism and see lives transformed by the Gospel. But realize that some will remain alienated from God.
Studying the Book of Revelation, many people get excited about details, charts, and timelines about end time events! And rightly so. You need to be able to get a handle on these events in order to properly understand them. So there is merit in investigating the details of this book. But there is danger in focusing solely on the minutia and missing the significance for today. In other words, we see things about God, man and Satan and the end but we may not translate these to current situations. We have been covering quite a bit of text over the last several weeks where we could have easily spent months. The primary goal in this current study is not to create neat timelines and graphs but rather to better understand the nature of God, mankind, and the Adversary (in this text). For when we do this, not only do we gain a better appreciation of what will happen in the end, but we also understand how these things pertain to us now! We better understand how God views sin regardless of time and how God views faithfulness in the lives of believers.
So as we view our text in Revelation 12 this morning, we will investigate details of characters and events within their chronological framework because this is necessary to determine the meaning of the text. But most of all I want you to see God! I want you to see God in ALL of life.
Let’s look at the text. READ Revelation 12. We left off last week with the sounding of the seventh trumpet. From here we would expect that the events of the end times would carry on, that the wrath of God would continue to be carried out on the earth and its inhabitants. But when we come to this chapter and chapters 13-14, we have a pause in the action. The next few chapters do not advance the events chronologically. In fact, we get a different perspective on the events of history and the future. To this point, we have viewed things primarily from God’s perspective. Now we will see things largely from the perspective of Satan, who is the enemy of God and His purposes. So we will be investigating events dating back to Creation, events in the first century A.D., and also the future.
There are battles in the Book of Revelation! But sometimes we don’t realize that there has been an ongoing war since the very beginning of time. Much of this ongoing historical battle is described in our text this morning. Let’s first look at the first six verses that introduce the first point which is The Combatants. Verse 1 begins with the indication that there was a great sign that appeared in heaven. This is the first of seven signs that we will come across in the rest of the Book of Revelation. When we approach Scripture, it is our aim to interpret events literally. That means that we take things at face value unless there is an indication to do otherwise. For instance, if the Bible says that God created the world by speaking it into existence, we believe that’s what happened. If the Bible says he destroyed the world with a flood, we believe that’s what happened. But we also understand that authors utilize figures of speech and thus when Jesus says He is a door or bread of life, we understand that he is using figurative language. So when we come to a great sign, this is an indication that this is a symbol that points to a reality.
So this great sign is here described. And this sign is a woman who is clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and on her head is a crown of twelve stars. Now there are four women mentioned in the book of Revelation. We have already seen the woman “Jezebel” in chapter 2. She was the prophetess in the church at Thyatira who taught and seduced them to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. And we have yet to meet the harlot mentioned in chapter 17 and the bride of the Lamb in chapter 19.
This woman is a picture of Israel. The Old Testament often portrays the nation of Israel as a woman. She is depicted as an adulterous woman in Jeremiah 3, Ezekiel 16 and the book of Hosea. And we know from Daniel 9, Jeremiah 31 and Amos 9 that Israel will be a primary player in the tribulation. In addition, the context also helps us make this determination in verse 5. We know that Jesus is the Messiah that comes from Israel. Matthew 1.1 tells us he is both descended from Abraham and from the line of David. He is from the tribe of Judah in Revelation 5.5, prophesied ruler from Judah in Genesis 49.10 and Micah 5.2.
The sun and the moon references would be quite familiar to the original readers. You might recall Genesis 37 where Joseph had a couple of dreams. The second is found in verse 9 and following which says, “Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” And we know that this regards Jacob and Rachel and his brothers. In our context, being clothed with the sun would likely allude to the special and prominent role that Israel has in the plan of God. John MacArthur says that “That the woman was clothed with the sun reflects redeemed Israel’s unique glory, brilliance, and dignity because of her exalted status as God’s chosen nation.” The crown of twelve stars refers to the twelve tribes of Israel.
The fact that the woman is pregnant and travailing likely refers to the suffering of the nation in anticipation of its promised Messiah. And we will see that the woman has had an Adversary since the beginning of time. We see the introduction to this foe in verse 3.
Another sign appeared in heaven – that of a great red dragon that has seven heads and ten horns and seven diadems on his heads. This one is pretty easy to identify. Verse 9 tells us that he was the ancient serpent who is called the devil and Satan. So the text spells it out for us. We will see it a bit more detailed in chapter 17 that the seven heads likely refer to seven consecutive world empires under Satan’s dominion and the ten horns are kings who rule under the Antichrist.
Remember, the text indicates that this image is a sign. We know that Satan isn’t an actual dragon but likely describes his character. He is large, ferocious and terrifying. The fact that he is red suggests that he is inclined to fiery destruction and bloodshed. His activity in verse 4 also helps us understand his nature. The text reads that his tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. This event recounts the fall of Satan and his demons from heaven. Though we don’t know the exact details surrounding the event, we have some indications through a couple of the prophets. Isaiah 14:12-15 reads, “12 “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! 13 You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ 15 But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.” Many commentators suggest that this refers to Satan. The Latin translation of “Day Star” is Lucifer.
Ezekiel 28:12-17 (ESV) reads, “12 Thus says the Lord God: “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. 14 You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. 16 In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. 17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you.”
So we see that from the very beginning, pride and rebellion were demonstrated by this foe of God. Though God had created him beautiful and powerful, the angel chose to rebel and influenced myriads of angels to follow suit. So they forfeited heaven as their domain for all eternity. And this was just the beginning for the opposition of Satan to the plan of God. Our text jumps from the fall of Satan all the way to the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
However, we can see the adversarial role of Satan throughout the Old Testament. It began in the Garden when the devil deceived the man and woman to rob God of his glory. We can see his influence in the role of Pharaoh to wipe out the Israelites when they were in Egyptian captivity. Satan attempted to use Saul to murder David and wipe out the messianic line. He also tried to use the Persians in the time of Esther to wipe out the Jewish nation.
And we see the attempts of the Adversary at the time of the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The end of verse 4 tells us that the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth so that he might devour it. This recalls for us the accounts of King Herod who tried to deceive the wise men to reveal the location of the birthplace of Jesus. And when Herod realized that he himself was tricked, he became furious and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and the region two years old and under. I would have to think there is Satanic influence to carry that out!
We also recount the devil’s temptation of Jesus in the desert where he tried to get Jesus to mistrust God and abandon His mission. And remember that Jesus’ life included instances where Pharisees and religious leaders attempted to capture or kill Jesus. But he was often supernaturally delivered because “it was not yet time”. Jesus had to go to the cross! And perhaps that’s where the “dragon” thought he had won. But the grave could not keep him either! He rose from the dead and, as our text indicates, he returned to God and to his throne where he lives for eternity!
Notice that we have a bit of a chronological shuffle going on in verse 5. First, we have the birth of the Messiah which happened in the past, then we have the future reign of Christ noted by the phrase “who is to rule the nations with a rod of iron” and implies it has not yet been completed. Then we revert back to the ascension of Christ where he was “caught up” to heaven in the presence of the disciples in Acts 1.
And then in verse 6 we are back to future events as the woman (Israel) will flee into the wilderness where she will be nourished for the latter half of the tribulation, also known as the Great Tribulation. This is fleshed out a bit in the last few verses of the chapter. So we will take a closer look at this in a couple of minutes.
But I just want to pause here for a second. You might be thinking “alright. We’ve digested a lot of identification information and historical information. I need a minute to breathe.” Ok. Breathe. You may also be wondering what is the takeaway from this first point, these first 6 verses? Beside the fact that Jesus fulfilled his mission and awaits ultimate victory, I want you to focus on a single word in verse 6. Do you see it? It’s the word “prepared”. This is a future event that the Apostle John is writing about. The Lord Jesus has shown the apostle what is to come. The woman will flee to the wilderness to a place that is “prepared”. None of any of these events take God by surprise. There is no uncertainty here. His plan is unfolding and He has already planned for the pursuit of the Enemy upon God’s people.
When I read this, my mind immediately thought of the words of the Lord Jesus in John’s Gospel. Please turn there with me. John chapter 14. Actually, let’s first look at the first verse in chapter 13. John indicates that Jesus knew that his hour had come. He knew that the plan was continuing to be carried out. He was shortly headed to the cross. Notice also the devil once again opposing the plan of God in verse 2. He was behind the actions of Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus. But Jesus begins to lay it out for the disciples. He prophesies many of the events that will soon take place in the rest of this chapter. This news must have been disturbing for his followers, and confusing for many reasons.
But then he begins in chapter 14 by stating, “Let not your hearts be troubled” This is all part of the plan. You may not understand now. But trust me. Believe in God and me. “2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to [[prepare]]] a place for you? 3 And if I go and [prepare] a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus has gone to prepare a place for believers. Our God has a plan and He will carry it out to completion. He is all-knowing and all-powerful. This means that He knows everything – beginning to the end and he is powerful to make it happen. For the believers in Jesus Christ, we can be sure that there is a place prepared for us and despite any hardship, adversity, or trials, we know with certainty that God will bring us home for eternity!! Amen??
Let’s move on. Next we see The Battle Intensified. The Battle Intensified. Read vv. 7-12. Our timeline now brings us to the introduction to the end. We have seen glimpses of the ongoing supernatural war that has gone on throughout history. But now we come to the climax of this war. You may question how there is a war in heaven if Satan and his demons were cast out. I believe the best answer is that their initial expulsion was from their place of residence and identity. We remember that Satan still had access to God’s presence in Job 1 and 2.
It appears as though the battle is initiated by the holy angels as Michael and his angels fight against the dragon and his angels. Michael we know as the archangel from Jude 9. But we first come across him in the book of Daniel. Michael is the one who the defender of God’s people against satanic opposition. In chapter 10 of Daniel, Michael is the angel who came to the rescue of the messenger that was delayed because of the prince of the kingdom of Persia. And in chapter 12, we see the prophecy about this particular event. Daniel 12:1 reads, “At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book.”
And here we see that the dragon is defeated so that there is no longer ANY place for them in heaven. They are now no longer able to access this domain. The great dragon is thrown down permanently. And we see that John clearly identifies him as the ancient serpent and names him as the devil and Satan who deceives the world. The word “devil” comes from the original “diabolos” and the verb form “diaballo”. It means “to defame, slander, accuse falsely”. Contrast this with the words of Jesus we just read from John 14 where he indicates that He is the truth. There is a clear distinction between the two.
Jesus Christ and all who believe and follow him should be characterized by this trait. We should be characterized by truth. The problem is that we have downplayed many forms of falsehood in our culture so that we even refer to some as “white lies” or “partial truths”. If Jesus is characterized as the truth and the devil is characterized by deceit, slander, and false accusation how could we continue in such things? Whose kingdom do we operate from? The devil is the father of lies (John 8.44).
At the permanent expulsion from heaven the apostle John hears a loud voice in heaven that proclaims that “10 …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. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
The certainty of the end is declared in the past tense as it was in chapter 11. Things will rapidly come to completion. Consider that the voice is from heaven and sees how the plan comes together and the excitement around it! The salvation is the redemption and deliverance of the saints. Power refers again to God’s omnipotence and triumph over opposition. The authority that belongs to Jesus Christ is realized. And notice that the declaration includes “our” God and “our” brothers. It is the cry of the redeemed and glorified saints in heaven.
Satan is the accuser of those who cannot be condemned. Romans 8 tells us that there is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. There are many Christians who continue to wallow in sin and guilt. If you have trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, there is no need to entertain that guilt any longer. Satan continues to accuse believers so that they become ineffective for Christ. That does not mean we don’t remorse over sin but when we come to the cross for salvation and confess our sins to God, they are counted against us no longer! Any feelings of guilt that follow are not from God but Satan. And he is a defeated foe!
He is defeated because of the shed blood of Jesus. His fate was secured at the cross and will be ultimately realized in the end. For the believers in the tribulation period it is the word of their testimony that allows them to overcome the dragon. Remember it is the one who overcomes, the one who perseveres to the end who will show themselves to be true believers. And this may even cost their lives.
There is something about persecution that separates true believers from merely confessing ones. We likely encounter a bit of this in our times. Many see the benefits of Christianity when there is no cost. But when adversity comes and there are no longer any perceived benefits, many fall away. In the tribulation period, I don’t think that will be an issue. It seems as though many will give up their physical lives for their eternal destiny. Jim Elliot, the martyred missionary to Ecuador said “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Do you love the things of this world? How much do you love them? Do you love your life? How much? Are you willing to give “things” up for the sake of Jesus Christ? Money, relationships with friends and family, recreation and vacation… What are you pursuing? As the twentieth century evangelist, Leonard Ravenhill asked “Are the things you’re living for worth Christ dying for?” With regard to these saints in the tribulation period, John MacArthur rightly notes, “They knew that all martyrdom could do to them was usher them into the eternal bliss of Christ’s presence”. Paul said, “for to me to live is Christ and to die is gain”.
12 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!”
There is rejoicing in heaven for the redeemed saints are with God but beyond that perhaps it is because they do not have to participate in what is to follow. The Devil is ticked off! Throughout all of history he has opposed the plan of God and he keeps running up against a wall. Time and time again he is defeated and time is running out!
And that brings us to the third and final point: Pull the Goalie! Anyone familiar with hockey knows that when the goalie heads to the bench this signifies that their team is losing and time is running out! Desperate times call for desperate measures. The dragon sees that he is one step closer to his eternal fate and he pursues Israel with a vengeance. This pursuit becomes more emotional and less rational. It is full of wrath!
But we remember the prophecy from Daniel 12. It was written that “at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book”. And so the woman was given special protection from God identified as the two wings of a great eagle in order that she might escape the dragon to a place of nourishment. Of course we are familiar with the concept of God’s protection with wings. The Psalmist declared in 17:8, “hide me in the shadow of your wings”, in 36:7, “the children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of our wings”, in 57:1 “in the shadow of your wings I take refuge” and so on.
So the woman was protected as she fled into the wilderness. Matthew 24 describes this as well, 15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.”
And it is there that the people will be nourished for the last half of the Great Tribulation. It appears as though the dragon knows where they have gone but is unable to harm them because of the divine protection. This was the place prepared by God in verse 6 and refers to the same time frame. The 1,260 days equate to the time, times, and half a time – 3 ½ years.
The next attack is a bit more difficult to understand. The text states that the serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman and the earth came to the help of the woman. It’s interesting to read the different interpretations of what this could refer to. I think that the best suggestion is because invading and destroying armies often attack as a flood that it could be an army that Satan has launched against the people of God. And perhaps one of the earthquakes opened up the earth and swallowed up the army. In the Song of Moses in Exodus 15, he recounts that God caused the earth to swallow up Pharaoh’s army. And we also remember Korah’s rebellion against Moses in Num. 16 and the ground opened up and swallowed up Korah, his men, and his possessions. Whatever the understanding of this event, it is clear that God continues to protect this people and the dragon continues to be defeated.
And this doesn’t help the morale of the dragon. This begins the third attack in this short section. He becomes furious with the woman and then diverts his attention to the rest of her offspring. The offspring is likely to be more all-inclusive – those who name the name of Jesus Christ. Notice that the offspring are characterized. He indicates that it is those who keep the keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. In chapter 14, he writes “12Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” John wrote similar things in his Gospel. John 14.15 says, “15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” 1 John 2:3-4 (ESV) 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him”. He says similar things in some of his other letters as well. Obedience to God’s Word is a strong indicator of faith in Christ. Disobedience suggests the opposite.
How would you like to be one of the “rest of the offspring”? Perhaps you have seen or heard of some of these events that are taking place as Satan pursues the remnant of Israel. Then you see his anger kindled as he is defeated again. Then he turns and rears his ugly head at you. I have to believe that those who remain obedient to God at this time would stick out a bit. They would not be hard to detect.
This begs the question. Are we hard to detect as Christians? Are we fairly adept at blending in with the world? Perhaps we suggest that this gives us better opportunities to share the Gospel? If that is our stated reason, are we faithful to declare the Gospel? And if so, do we demonstrate we are calling people to? Just something a little different with Jesus mixed in? I think that in this time period we are studying, it will be quite clear those who are believers in Jesus Christ.
So I believe there is a lot here that we can take away to help us understand the nature of the battle we are in and who are the key players. This is ultimately carried out in the end. But as we have seen, Satan is active in his efforts to oppose God’s purposes. And he is a powerful and formidable foe.
In his classic book The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis wrote, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight” ([New York: Macmillan, 1961], 9). John MacArthur adds, “The same is true of the leader of the demons, Satan. He is pleased when people hold any unbiblical view of him, whether they deny his existence or worship him. The devil always seeks to create confusion about his true nature and purposes.”
And so we learn much about the nature of Satan in this passage. And we learn a great deal about the LORD of the dragon. Despite the numerous and intense warfare that the dragon initiates, he is a defeated foe who will bow and be judged by God. Imagine the hopeful message this must have been for the Apostle John as he is isolated on the island of Patmos under heavy persecution. We look to the same God in our times of suffering and adversity knowing that temporary afflictions are producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all! He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”