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This is a continuation of Applying Revelation 11: The Two Witnesses.
The book of Revelation is commonly viewed as an orderly timeline of events. It’s time to toss this notion out and switch over to a more accurate metaphor. Picture yourself listening to one of your favorite songs. Suddenly your player gets stuck on replay. The same song keeps playing over and over and over again. That’s Revelation. We’re not moving forward in this book, we’re going over the same basic principles again and again. These principles are as follows:
1. There is a war raging in the supernatural realm between demons and the Almighty Creators.
2. On earth, humans have joined in that war by siding with either demons or the real Gods.
3. Rome has sided with demons, and now Rome is brutally assaulting God’s people.
4. The Christians are panicking that evil will win.
5. Yahweh and Jesus assure the Christians that everything is under control.
6. Yahweh and Jesus assure the Christians that the end of the war is rapidly approaching and that the real Gods will triumph.
7. Christians are assured that being persecuted for siding with the real Gods will result in eternal rewards that will more than compensate for their earthly miseries.
We’re halfway through this 22 chapter book, and we’ve already gone over these principles several times. Now we’re going to go over them several more times, and each time will be different.
Now suppose you were asked to give a brief, verbal summary of all your activities over the last week. In fact, you’re asked to summarize the same activities ten different times and each summary needs to sound very different than all the others. The historical facts that you have to work with are the same: perhaps Monday you went to the store, and Tuesday you got a flat tire, and Wednesday you had lunch with a friend. The facts don’t change, but each time you tell the story, you are required to change which facts you emphasize. In one summary, you might focus on the details of Monday. In another summary, you might really focus on your troubles with fixing that flat tire on Tuesday. Since you have to keep going over the same material again and again, you have to get pretty creative if you’re going to hold people’s attention. This is what we’re watching God do here in Revelation. He is going over the same historical facts again and again, and He keeps making the same future predictions over and over. Because He keeps inventing new, strange characters each time He starts over at the beginning, we are easily fooled into thinking He is working His way through the plot of a multi-chapter book and we assume that each chapter is building on the last and advancing the story. But no, there is actually only one chapter in this story and God keeps going over it again and again. It’s really not a complex plot at all: He describes the current conflict between good and evil, then He says He’ll win. It’s really a very simple story. It just sounds complicated because the characters He invents seem so mysterious to us. When we don’t understand something, we assume our confusion proves that there are deep layers of mystery which can be unearthed. Well, no. In this case, all it means is that we’re culturally out of touch with John. If we were John, this “Revelation” wouldn’t seem very mysterious at all. John understands what God is saying, and he gets how repetitive God is being. But John likes all the repetition.
How many times do you want to hear God say “I love you”? Once? Ten times? Try a billion times. There are some things that we never tire of hearing. When we’re feeling insecure about our standing with God, it really encourages us to hear Him affirm His love for us. When we’re feeling very afraid by the chaos that’s happening in the world around us, we just aren’t going to tire of hearing God say, “Don’t worry. I understand how you feel. I’m with you. I’m totally in control. It’s all going to be okay.” These are the messages Jesus and Yahweh are saying to Christian Jews in this book, and these are messages which no human ever tires of hearing from God. That’s why we’ve got so much repetition happening right on top of itself.
Repetition in biblical prophecy isn’t a new thing at all. Career prophets like Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah addressed the same problems and predicted the same future events over and over again. The big difference is that their repetitive prophecies were a lot more spaced out than the repetition we’re seeing here in Revelation. In Revelation, God is constantly hitting that replay button. This intense repetition reflects the intensity of the fears He is trying to calm. These Christians are extremely upset, and it’s going to take a lot of hammering to change the way they are currently viewing their circumstances.
Now as we get into Chapter 12, we’re going to start moving through a wild series of stories in which God is going to throw all kinds of new characters at us. There will be three different freakish creatures who have become famous icons of evil in the Church today. These creatures have some similar features, which makes them easy to confuse, so as we go along, we’re going to come up with unique names for each of them and we’re going to try and keep things as simple as possible. To not get utterly confused by Revelation, you need to keep stepping back and looking at the big picture instead of getting lost in all the weird particulars.
Okay, so now let’s hit the replay button and get ready for God to once again tell the story of the epic battle between good and evil. As usual, He’s going to back up and start at the beginning—not the true beginning, but the beginning that these Jewish Christians care about, which is the time when Yahweh so drastically overhauled His Covenant, introduced His Messiah, and founded His New Covenant Church. These Christians don’t care about ancient history—they are focused on their own lives. They want to hear God talk about everything in terms of their personal chapter of the timeline of human history. So that’s what He’ll do.
Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth.
Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth. He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born.
She gave birth to a Son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her Child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to Yahweh and to His throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where Yahweh had prepared a place to care for her for 1,260 days.
Then there was war in Heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of Heaven. This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels. (Rev. 12:1-9)
Here is a very condensed summary of the long awaited Messiah finally being revealed to the Jews. The woman represents Israel: the nation which persevered through much trauma as she yearned for Yahweh’s promised Savior to arrive. From the perspective of the Jews, Jesus was a true flesh and blood descendant of Jacob’s son Judah. They view Jesus as coming out of Israel, which is why we have this picture of a stressing Miss Israel literally birthing the Messiah.
Now when Devil Dragon realizes that Miss Israel is in the process of birthing the long awaited Messiah, Devil Dragon gets all agitated and tries to kill the baby. Devil Dragon is the first of three evil beasts which we’re going to be introduced to. He has seven heads and ten horns. The numbers seven and ten both symbolize power to the superstitious Jews. Animal horns and crowns are also symbols of power. Unlike the nasty locust leader Apollyon from Chapter 9, Devil Dragon doesn’t come up from the pit of the underworld, but instead he comes from Heaven.
Now things are looking bad for the future of the Messiah as Devil Dragon closes in for the kill just as Miss Israel is giving birth. But happily Yahweh intervenes just in time and snatches the Messiah away before Devil Dragon can make a meal out of Him. The Messiah is whisked off to Yahweh’s throne in Heaven. At the same time, Yahweh has Miss Israel flee to some wilderness hideout where she is to stay for 3 ½ years.
After this attempt to devour the Messiah fails, a great war breaks out in Heaven. We learn that Devil Dragon is an angelic being who plays a leading role in revolting against God’s Authority. Michael is the angel who leads the angels who are staying loyal to God. After battling with each other, Michael’s army wins and Devil Dragon with all of his followers are given the boot. Now we’ve got good angels up in Heaven with Yahweh and the Messiah, while the earth has become polluted with really angry rebel angels.
Okay, now that we’ve got the basic idea, how accurate is all of this? Not very. According to this little drama, it wasn’t until the birth of Christ in Israel that demons took a major stand against God. All we have to do is look back through all of the demonic activity in the Old Testament to realize how phony this depiction of history is. Way back in Moses’ day, we find Yahweh complaining that the Jews are worshiping demons in the fields around their wilderness camp. In the Garden of Eden, we find a very rebellious Adam and Eve boldly denying any guilt when they are called out on their blatant defiance of Yahweh’s orders. By Noah’s day, we find Yahweh saying that His entire Creation had turned against Him. Clearly there was some point in angelic history when the angels divided into two camps and Satan’s camp resolutely chose to defy God’s Authority. But that moment had already occurred before human beings were even created. So the way that God is portraying angelic history in Revelation has very little to do with reality. The point here is not to pinpoint for the Jews exactly when certain angels rebelled against God, but to confirm God’s understanding of their worldview.
All humans are egocentric, and the Jews naturally view human history as revolving around Israel. They don’t care about the troubles other nations are having at this time: they only want to hear God talking about the trials Israel has gone through, and here Israel is being painted in a far more positive light than she deserves. She is portrayed as some helpless, distressed woman, when in real life she was a defiant rebel who delighted in spitting in God’s face. One of the main themes of the Old Testament is Yahweh’s endless grief over Israel’s refusal to sincerely love and cherish Him. He frequently describes Israel as His beautiful bride who delights in flaunting her adulterous love affairs with other gods in His face. He describes her sexual flings with other gods in the crassest terms possible, saying things like:
“At every street corner you built your lofty shrines and degraded your beauty. You spread your legs to everyone who passed by and increased your prostitution.” (Eze. 16:25)
Israel is not at all some innocent woman who is toiling to bring forth the promised Messiah. It’s more like Israel is the defiant prostitute who despised the Messiah the moment He was born and then butchered Him to pieces with an axe. It was the Jews who demanded that Jesus be crucified. The religious leaders in Israel intensely hated Jesus and the general rabble had no use for Him once He stopped giving them miraculous cures. But in spite of all this, we must remember that the Jews were a fiercely patriotic people who always viewed their nation in the most positive light possible. Just as many Americans today want to only talk about the good things America has done in the world and totally ignore her outrageous treatment of God, the ancient Jews fancied themselves to be the innocent victims of evil Gentile oppressors. The New Testament Jews were as obsessed with demons as we are today, and they taught each other to view Satan as the powerful ruler of the world who was constantly throwing up obstacles for God. Paul paints absurd pictures of Jesus having to struggle to overcome that mighty devil by dying on a cross so that Jesus might somehow wrestle away the great power that the devil has always had over humans.
Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death—that is, the Devil—and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. (Heb. 2:14-15)
No, this theology is pure rot. Satan didn’t “hold the power of death”. Satan is just a pathetic demon who can’t do anything without God’s permission and help, but that’s a truth that these ancient Jews just aren’t willing to hear. They want Satan to be some super ultimate foe, just as our foolish prayer warriors today love to exalt the power of demons so that they can make themselves sound all the more glorious for knocking those evil foes down with their potent prayers. It’s all a bunch of rot, but when you’re working with closed minds, there’s no point in trying to correct the many errors in their thinking. Yahweh and Jesus are determined to comfort these Jews, despite all of the insulting beliefs these folks are hanging on to. So Yahweh and Jesus create these short melodramas which are intentionally playing on the warped theological beliefs of Their audience. The Jews view Israel as some innocent victim, so that’s how Jesus and Yahweh portray her. The Jews want to conveniently forget the major role their own people played in Jesus’ crucifixion and instead exalt Israel as some kind of ultimate victim on earth while Satan gets the blame for everything that both humans and demons did. Fine, that’s how Yahweh and Jesus portray things. The Jews think Satan is some big player on earth, so that’s how Jesus and Yahweh portray him by showing Devil Dragon being thrown down to the earth to attack everyone. This is a picture of our Gods working with us where we are at, and They continue to operate like this with all of us today. Instead of blasting us with the real truth about the way things actually are, They ease us into reality one small step at a time. They let us go years thinking that They’d never lie, or thinking that the Bible is perfect. But if we’re growing, the day must come when we start breaking out of these infantile delusions and realize that we do not get to define who our Gods are or how They can operate.
There are many truths which have always been true, yet we’ve refused to accept them because we don’t personally approve of them. It was utterly obnoxious the way the ancient Jews kept defending the righteousness of their nation no matter how abominably she treated Yahweh. It is just as obnoxious today when American Christians drive around with “God bless America” stickers on their cars. At some point, we need to own up to what we’re doing and realize that the Creation doesn’t revolve around us, it revolves around our Gods. Trying to downplay our own rebellion while we pray for God to punish our enemies will get us nowhere. We each need to take responsibility for ourselves and realize that God has good reasons for bringing hardships into our lives. Instead of incessantly whining and demanding that He stop doing things that we don’t like, we need to practice submission and ask Him to help us learn what He wants to teach us. We aren’t seeing these ancient Jewish Christians modeling much submission to God’s will.
Then I heard a loud voice in Heaven say: “It has come at last—salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God Yahweh, and the Authority of His Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth—the one who accuses them before our God Yahweh day and night. They have defeated him by the Blood of the Lamb and by their testimony, for they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.” (Rev. 12:10-11)
This is very lousy theology, but it is a reflection of how these Jews thought. Satan is not who we should be focusing on in life. Satan isn’t who we should be trying to defeat. Satan isn’t the one who accuses us before God and causes us to end up in Hell—this is utterly foolish theology. Yahweh has always taught people that He is the One who will be damning them in eternity if they don’t submit to Him on earth. He never taught people to view Satan as some kind of judge who might effectively turn His mind against them. Yahweh isn’t some halfwit who is so out of touch with His own creatures that He relies on Satan to interpret reality for Him. We need to be very careful when reading exchanges that God is having with people who are so out of touch with truth. The attitudes the Jews are reflecting here in Revelation are not at all attitudes that we want to be imitating.
The number one crisis for these Jewish Christians is the fact that they are being so brutally slaughtered by the Romans simply because they are Christians. We’ll find martyrs getting special recognition all throughout this book, and that extra encouragement is meant to help these Jews who are still alive on the planet accept the possibility of being martyred themselves in the near future. Yahweh has plainly said that He still plans to have more Christians chopped down. It’s hard to gear up for that kind of fate, so here in Revelation, martyrs receive praise from God for putting their loyalty to God first.
“Therefore, rejoice, O heavens! And you who live in the heavens, rejoice! But terror will come on the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you in great anger, knowing that he has little time.”
When the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male Child. But she was given two wings like those of a great eagle so she could fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness. There she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time. (Rev. 12:12-14)
God is emphasizing that being martyred will result in great peace and joy in eternity. He is pointing out that it will be far better for Christians to be in Heaven than to be stuck in a world where evil abounds, therefore they needn’t be so afraid of dying.
Now as God continues the story of Devil Dragon versus Miss Israel, we see Miss Israel safely arriving in her wilderness sanctuary where she’ll be protected by God during this period of intense persecution. The point here is that Yahweh isn’t just throwing His people to the demons like so much dog meat. He is actively involved in their lives and supplying them with a lot of help. Not every Christian was martyred by Rome. In Acts, we read about God performing all kinds of miraculous interventions in the lives of His early apostles. In Revelation, the focus is on the trauma and the killing, but in real life there were many positive miracles in the mix as well. As Jesus’ seven letters to the churches demonstrated, not all Christians were living in dire straits. Even now, some were living in luxury and feeling quite secure and safe in their worldly situations. But remember that John is the main recipient of this letter, and John has probably been through many hellish experiences. Being decapitated is a very real possibility for John. He’s a trapped prisoner. At any time, his Roman keepers could decide he’s too much trouble to keep feeding and off him. John could personally use all of the encouragement God has to offer on the subject of being martyred.
Then the dragon tried to drown the woman with a flood of water that flowed from his mouth. But the earth helped her by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that gushed out from the mouth of the dragon. And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep Yahweh’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus.
Then the dragon took his stand on the shore beside the sea. (Rev. 12:15-18)
As Miss Israel slips out of his immediate reach, Devil Dragon searches for some new way that he can wipe her out. He creates an epic flood—a symbol of many kinds of hardships—which he hopes will overwhelm her and snuff her out. But once again, she is miraculously helped by God, who causes the earth to swallow up the flood waters before they wash her away. Devil Dragon now throws a hissy fit and decides to hunt down and destroy the rest of Miss Israel’s children. Those children would logically be all Jews, but notice the parameters of faithfulness to Yahweh and Jesus which narrows the focus to Jewish Christians. This letter is speaking to Jewish Christians, so that’s who gets the bulk of the praise and sympathy in it. Once again, reality is being intentionally ignored as Israel is portrayed as being nothing but innocent. In real life, non-Christian Jews played a major part in persecuting their own countrymen. For example, before he personally became a Christian, the apostle Paul (who was also a Pharisee) made a career out of torturing Christian Jews into denying Christ. So the way Devil Dragon is being portrayed as the only antagonist while innocent Israel hides out in the wilderness is utterly absurd. God isn’t even attempting to give an accurate depiction of the situation in this vision. He’s only focused on encouraging Jews who have decided that Romans and demons are their main oppressors in life.
Well, so far Devil Dragon’s attempts to singlehandedly wipe out Miss Israel have failed. If he’s now going to try and take on all of her kids, he could use some help. In our next chapter, that help will arrive in the form of two more evil beasts.
UP NEXT: Applying Revelation 13: Two More Beasts & 666