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Revelation 12:1-17: Know Your Enemy Print E-mail
Sunday, 06 May 2012

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Preaching the gospel is not safe.  Holding fast to the Word of God is a dangerous act in the enemy-occupied world in which we live.  We saw an example of such dangers even this week in the news.  A Church in Portland had rocks thrown through its windows on Thursday night.  An email was sent out later to local media outlets claiming that the people who did it opposed the Church because of its belief that homosexuality is a sin.  For those of us who came to the “Love Costs Everything” simulcast a few weeks ago, we know that such an attack is actually mild in comparison to what is taking place in other parts of the world.  Should we be surprised when a local Church has to face such challenges?  Should the persecution of believers be unexpected?

The Church faces a real enemy as they await the return of Christ.  The Bible calls this enemy Satan, or the devil.  He is the enemy of God and the enemy of God’s people.  He is real and he is vicious in his attacks against the saints.  The Bible has much to say about spiritual warfare and how we are to defeat this ancient enemy.  We ignore such teaching at our own peril.  Rather, we should know the truth about the devil by laboring to understand what the Bible teaches.

A good place to start is Revelation 12-14.  We have identified this section as an extended interlude between the seven trumpets (8:2-11:19) and the seven bowls of wrath (15-16).  In this section we learn much about our enemy and his war against the Church.  In particular, we are given a vision of the devil’s struggle against God’s people in chapter 12.  One of my commentators states: “Revelation 12 is one of the most important passages in the Word of God for studying the doctrine of demonology.”1  Thus, we want to pay attention to what God is teaching us here about our enemy.  And I think the basic lesson can be summarized with this statement: Satan’s plots against God and His people are repeatedly frustrated.  He wins battles but he never wins the victory.  He causes pain and suffering but he never really conquers.  He is fierce, but he is not to be feared, for he has been overcome.  The chapter itself can be broken up into three sections: v. 1-6, v. 7-12, and v. 13-17.  It seems that v. 1-6 and v. 13-17 parallel each other and tell the story of Satan’s fight against God’s people on the earth, while v. 7-12 tells of the heavenly battle, which serves as the foundation for the earthly one.  In our time together this morning, let’s walk through these failures of the enemy.

His failure to destroy the child (v. 1-6)

The first vision runs from Christ’s first coming to His return.  The focus in this vision is the enemy’s failure to destroy Christ and thwart His mission.  This becomes clear as we walk through the text and identify the various symbols that John is using.  Look at v. 1-2.  Who is this woman?  Some argue that this is a reference simply to Mary, the mother of Christ.  Others see it as only a reference to ethnic Israel.  Yet, in light of what is said about her in verses 13-17, it seems best to identify her as the people of God (including faithful Israel and the Church).  Thus, the believers under the old covenant played their role in the coming of Christ, who was born the son of David and the son of Abraham.  They suffered as followers of Yahweh (the birth pains and the agony of giving birth), but eventually the Messiah did come.

The enemy is introduced in v. 3-4.  Look at those with me.  The enemy is described as a red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems.  This description, which points back to the book of Daniel, reveals the power and might and rule of the dragon.  John states that the dragon’s tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth.  This could be a reference to the falling of the other angels with Satan or it could just be a general reference to his power, but either way, we see that the enemy is a serious foe. 

What does John tell us that the dragon is trying to do?  He wants to destroy the woman’s child.  So then, what happens?  Look at v. 5-6.  As we have noted, the child is Christ, the One who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.  And even though the dragon was ready to destroy the child, we are told of his failure.  If you read the life of Christ in the Gospels, you see all of the ways in which the enemy tried to destroy Christ.  Herod tried to kill the child.  Satan tempted him in the wilderness.  Peter tried to get Him to avoid suffering.  And in the end, the religious leaders rose up against Him and handed Him over to the Romans to be crucified.  John does not tell us of these events in this verse.  Rather, he simply speaks of Christ being caught up to God and to his throne, which assumes the events of Christ and speaks of His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father.  Likewise, as we will see again in verses 13-17, the dragon is not able to destroy God’s people either.  God protects His Son and His people from the enemy.  Satan fails to destroy the child or the woman because God protects them.

His failure to conquer the angels or the martyrs (v. 7-12)

The vision now shifts to what is taking place in heaven.  We are told of the battle between Satan and the angel Michael.  Look at v. 7-9.  Some see this as a further description of the dragon sweeping down a third of the stars (v. 4), which would have taken place at the beginning of Creation.  Some see it as occurring after the cross and the resurrection of Christ.  Others see it as occurring at the end of this age.  And others see it as a combination of them all.  Although it is hard to be sure, I see it as a combination of what took place at the cross and what is taking place even now as we await the return of Christ.  I think this because of what is said about the martyrs in v. 10-12.  Look at that with me.  These verses are connected to the previous verses and seem to be the announcement of Christ’s victory at the cross.  This victory also includes the victory of those who conquer through His blood, namely the martyrs.  Heaven rejoices at this victory and the earth shutters because of the wrath that the defeated dragon will bring.  We are enduring such wrath even now as we await the return of Christ and the consummation of His victory.

Before we move on to the last section, we need to look closer at what is said about the martyrs and their victory over Satan.  Look again at verse 10.  We see that Satan’s work is to accuse the brethren.  He has lost our souls, yet, he aims for our joy and our hope and our unity in Christ.  We battle under such accusations but Paul tells that they have no place before God.  He writes: Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:33-35a).  Because of the work of Christ at the cross, the enemy has no grounds for accusing us anymore.  We are justified by the grace of God through the blood of Christ.  The accuser of the brethren, and all his accusations, has been thrown down.

So then, how do we conquer him?  What do we do?  Look at verse 11.  We conquer the enemy by the blood of the Lamb.  We believe that the Lamb has given Himself for our redemption.  We trust in His sacrifice for our sins.  We conquer through faith in Him and through our testimony of His work in our lives.  At the end of the day, we love Him more than we love our own lives.  We believe with Paul that to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).  We take up our cross and follow hard after our Savior (Mark 8:34ff).  When it comes to our lives, we say to the enemy and to the world: “Christ matters more.”  The enemy will never be able to conquer such faith.  He will never be able to defeat Christ and those who love Him more than anything else.

His failure to capture the woman and her offspring (v. 13-17)

As we saw in verse 6, the enemy not only comes after Christ but after God’s people as well.  It is this theme that is revisited in v. 13-17.  The enemy has been defeated at the cross and cast out of heaven to the earth.  He knows that his time is short.  He rages like a cornered beast.  And yet, he still fails.  Look at v. 13-14.  He pursues God’s people, but they are once again delivered by the Lord, who gives them wings to escape.  Look at v. 15-16.  He tries to drown the woman, but the earth swallows up the water, again pointing to God’s protection of His people. 

The enemy then turns his attention to the rest of her offspring.  Look at verse 17.  If the woman represents the people of God, it is hard to know who this group is.  In light of the next chapter, it could be a reference to the Church at the end of the age, meaning that this verse serves as a transition to the vision of the end of the age in chapter 13.  Although this interpretation (and the others as well) has its problems (no real indication of time in this verse), it seems to fit the context best.  However we identify the other offspring, it is clear in these verses that the enemy is once again frustrated in his plans.  He fails to capture the woman and her offspring, whoever they may symbolize.

What can we learn from these visions of the enemies repeated failures?  First, we must not minimize the power and hatred of our enemy.  Satan is not to be denied or ignored.  We do not need to pretend that he is not real.  No, the description here is of a real enemy with real power.  He is a great red dragon who hates God and His people and seeks to destroy them with all of his power.  We should not underestimate him. 

Yet, second, we must never forget that he is not strong enough to defeat God or His people.  There is no threat of God being defeated.  In fact, the battle in the heavens does not even take place between God and Satan, but between Satan and Michael, another angel.  Satan is part of the creation and God is His Creator.  Thus, we deny any sort of dualism in the Bible.  Satan is a great enemy, but God always wins.  One of my commentators writes: “The evil one has been cast out of heaven.  His power on earth is, to be sure, terrifyingly real to believers.  But this is not because he is triumphant.  It is because he knows that he is beaten and has but a short time.  Let the church then take heart.  She will have her martyrs, but ultimately triumph is sure.” Or as Don Chaffer put it: “The animal is bigger than I thought, but he’s not big enough.”3

If these two ideas are true, if our enemy is great but not great enough to actually defeat us, then how much more should we press on in the battle against him?  The Church is not, nor will it ever, be defeated by our enemy.  No, he is the defeated one.  Rather, we serve the One that could not be defeated.  He was crucified on a cross but came back victoriously.  We serve the Risen King!!  And we battle against a defeated foe. 

John wrote this to churches who were tempted to despair, tempted to give in and follow the ways of the world, tempted to shrug offer their suffering and embrace the comforts of this life.  His message to them is clear: “Do not abandon the King, not because He necessarily needs you, but because He is already victorious.  Do not join forces with the enemy because his days are numbered.  Fight on.  By the blood of the Risen Lamb, fight on.”  O Church, may we in our day, take up the battle cry for the Risen King and storm the enemies territory with boldness and confidence because we know his days are short.  He will rage, but he will not win.  One little Word shall fell him.  Amen.

1 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), p. 465.
2 Leon Morris, Revelation TNTC (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), p.151-52).
3 Don Chaffer in the song “The Animal” off the album Old Stuff.

~ William Marshall ~

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