The Christian Life

Chatswood Baptist Church
Revelation 12

When C. S. Lewis wrote the Narnia stories he was seeking to provide a metanarrative, a big story of how the world works. He did this by using an imaginary world to convey big R, Real Reality to us. His story helps us see deeper levels of meaning in the things we already know. It then helps us to see how we fit into that expanded understanding of reality.

As one winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature Ben Ocri said, ‘Stories can conquer fear…They can make the heart bigger.’ John’s Revelation, especially chapter 12, is an imaginative retelling of the Christian Grand Story – the big story of God’s plans for the world…It allows us to explore its inner logic – to experience and live out that logic rather than just thinking it as an intellectual thing.

We’re enabled to see how the Christian worldview coheres and makes sense of life especially life in this world. It spells out the victory scene of chapter 5 in terms of life as God’s people today. It uses imaginative ‘apocalyptic’ symbolism and story to show the coherence of the Christian big story. It helps us make sense of what’s happening now – helps us see Reality at greater depth thus giving us resources to cope with life’s ambiguities and challenges. And John’s readers were suffering, and were confused.

The central vision of the book of Revelation is chapter 5 – the picture of the lamb slain who is the Lion who has conquered. That very victory is the cause of confusion as the ambiguity of the lion who is also the lamb works itself out in the life of the Christian.

The lion has won, but he’s won as the lamb that was killed! John’s Christians could be forgiven for thinking that Jesus’ victory should have brought them peace and prosperity.

Christian life after Jesus’ victorious death should be good! Instead they’re caught up in a war that’s played out in their lives as they’re persecuted, falsely accused before Roman tribunals, denied economic rights, even thrown to lions. You can imagine them thinking: are we wrong about Jesus? How should we think of what’s happening to us? Does it all make sense? Should we give up? And especially ‘How can we cope?’

John, in this central part of the book, gives us three related scenes – the 1st is a general view of the present situation, the middle scene presents the reality that lies behind all that happens here. The 3rd scene is how this expanded, deepened vision works out in life today.


Scene 1: Historical Reality – what we can see with just our eyes, 1-6

First, we’re introduced to the main players in the drama. These are the woman, the dragon and the child in 1-3,

A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven. A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven – an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads.

Let’s take the Dragon first. He’s rather terrifying! He has 7 heads and 7 crowns on them; in other words, he has great authority; a pretender to God (‘7’ – is God’s number – Roman emperors like Nero and Domitian called themselves ‘Lord and God’ – Dominus et Deus).

He’s got 10 horns: horns symbolise power, 10 is its fullness of power. This is no enemy to be taken lightly! This is shown in 4 with the poetic report of his tail; His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth – one flick and they’re gone! Here, in this scene, he stands for evil oppressive, persecuting powers – political, economic, religious and especially the Roman Empire, all exemplified in king Herod seeking to murder Jesus at his birth, and also 30 years later by the powers that executed Jesus.

The child in 5 is Jesus, who rules the nations with an iron sceptre (that’s a big clue for interpretation – a reference to Psalm 2:9, a messianic Psalm promising God’s great king who will rule the nations). But note though 5 – the child’s snatched up to God and his throne. As happens with this type of apocalyptic literature, John’s telescoped time together to make a point – he’s emphasising his resurrection and his ruling with God. We’ll see why later.

The woman’s a bit harder: she gives birth to Jesus, so is she Mary? But she wasn’t chased into the desert or persecuted at all. Instead, she symbolises the people of God. Several things tell us this: first, the 12 stars (parallel Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37) – 12 represents God’s people. The clothes of the sun and the moon show her heavenly status as God’s people. Then in 14, she’s given eagle wings: in the OT that’s a picture of God’s rescue of his people.

Here, at first, she’s the OT people of God from whom the messiah, God’s king, is born, but it’s clear that she also, in 5, stands for the NT people of God, as she flees into the desert, a place of security. This tells us that there’s danger and pain for God’s people. The story’s fairly straightforward; the woman is pregnant; she’ll give birth to the Messiah. And the Dragon (who stands for evil political/economic powers) stands in front of her, waiting, waiting to kill him, to devour him when he’s born – here the part stands for whole – of what happened to Jesus in his life. The Dragon tries to wreck God’s plans, but fails. Throughout Jesus’ life, he tried to destroy Jesus, and of course, he thought he’d succeeded as he looked at Jesus hanging on the cross – that’s the success of the Roman Empire! But Jesus rose again and ascended, in the language of v. 5, to God and his throne; that is, to rule with God.

The woman (the church) flees to the desert where she’s kept safe – the 1260 days is a period from the resurrection to the end of the age. So this scene is a brief history of the church amid evil opposition, from Christ’s birth to the very end. It raises the question: if Jesus, whom they believe in, is on the throne, why the difficulty? Why did she have to flee? We see how the dragon actually failed and what all this means in the second scene.


Scene 2: Spiritual Reality – the deep Reality; 7-12

In this scene, we move to a deeper view of reality. We see here there’s a spiritual reality behind the events of Scene 1 (historical reality). Now Scene 2, It’s a different depth of focus. Scene 1 just tells us the Dragon tried to kill Jesus but failed. Here we see what this means and how it happened. 7ff:

And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he wasn’t strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down. That ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

This is a description of what happened on the cross of Jesus – a picture of the cosmic victory of Christ over sin, death, evil and Satan! Here we now learn that behind the evil in the world is a spiritual reality – the dragon is really Satan (9). He’s God’s great enemy (and ours) – he’s the power of evil. Emphasis is placed on his role of accusing people and leading them astray. He’s called the ancient serpent – the one of Genesis 3 who first led people to rebel against God by deceivingthem and who still does.

Note two things: this is not the ‘fall of Satan’ – the rebellion of Satan (this view has more to do with the ancient British poet John Milton than the Bible); and also note that heaven takes the initiative – God fights Satan; it’s not Satan attacking! It’s God dealing decisively with evil. What’s it about then?

Christ won the decisive victory against Satan when he died on the cross: a victory proclaimed as he rose from the dead and ascended to the very throne of God, the place of greatest authority. The devil’s a defeated enemy and that’s why he’s symbolically hurled from heaven – he can do nothing there. He has no voice there – especially as the accuser. He can’t get at Jesus: he’s secure as Lord of Lords. And importantly, he can’t get at God’s people there either, because they’re totallysecure in Christ.

Well, v. 10 announces that victory: Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. You see, this is a great statement of the gospel! It shows us that the vision of Michael fighting the dragon is actually symbolic of the atonement;…a symbol of Christ’s saving death for us…the real victory won by Christ.

For John’s readers, this would have meant a lot: accused before earthly tribunals of being criminals, they know that before the only tribunal that really counts – God’s tribunal – they’re forgiven, there’s no condemnation. This means a lot, too, for the way we live. Notice the surprise in 11 – who overcame the devil?

They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. Christians! by their testimony about Jesus and his death for us. The Dragon’s defeated, not by some super-angel Michael eating his congee for breakfast and then fighting him. No, he’s defeated by Christians putting their trust in Jesus and in his death. The Lamb suffered the penalty of all the Dragon’s accusations and released us from bondage to evil, and delivered us from the kingdom of darkness. There’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The verb ‘overcame’ is the same verb used in 5:5 of Jesus’ great victory – the Lion triumphed!

The question is: how is that victory translated into our lives? It means we no longer fear Satan despite his power and fury. Satan is overcome by the blood of the Lamb (Jesus’ death) and so he’s defeated, he’s defeated by the faithful testimony of Christian people, by speaking the gospel, by our persistent faith in him no matter what trials and difficulties come in this world. This is where victory happens! Because Satan is defeated – there’s nothing for us to do except trust it and talk of it, and claim it.

If Satan’s the accuser who tells people they’re guilty, wrong, hopeless; then he loses when people trust Jesus and have their rebellion forgiven forever! He loses his work of deceit when people stop believing the lie that we should live our own way without God; he loses when we give our lives to God. Heaven rejoices at this, but look out earth! v. 12, the devil’s furious! Why? Because he’s thoroughly beaten – and knows it, so he knows his time is short, 12!

This picture shows us some important things about Reality. There are powers of evil (spiritual, political, physical like disease) and those powers are still rampant. But, the powers are in their death throws. Yes, they’re dangerous, but they’re doomed. The great turning point in history is the death of Christ where those powers were defeated. And that has immense consequences for how we live in this world amid all the difficulties. For at the heart of this universe, Jesus is at the throne, absolutely sovereign, totally good whose grace is fully sufficient. This is the ‘deeper magic’ that the Narnia stories speak of, the deeper Reality that John shows us as he opens heaven to let us see in. More to say but we’ll see it by looking at the third scene through this new perspective.


Scene 3: Our Reality now – in new focus; 13-17

The Dragon’s angry, and angry Dragons are very scary! In scene 3, the Dragon attempts to destroy the church here on earth (13 When the dragon saw that he’d been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman…). Now we know why the woman fled in 1-6. He lost the crucial battle, he can’t touch Christ, and he can’t touch believers in ‘heaven’, meaning that in Christ we’re secure forever!

Yet, he still won’t admit defeat. It’s clear here the woman is the Church. This scene describes our situation today, but seen in new focus. What we have is a picture of Satan knowing he’s ultimately defeated, symbolically thrown out of heaven; his role of deceit and accusation foiled, so he goes after God’s people (the first Christians, and then those through the ages who are the rest of her offspring, 17). The devil vents his fury on Christ’s followers.

But again he fails! 14, the woman was given the two wings of a great eagle and flees to the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. This is a return to the picture of 6, and explains the state of God’s people while we wait for the new creation at Christ’s return. In the OT, the desert’s both a place of rescue and also where God’s people face trial, temptation, and difficulty – this is a picture of our Christian life now.

The point is that Satan can’t destroy the people of God, either by chasing the woman or by spewing evil after her, 15 – spewing water is an extraordinary picture of the futile efforts of Satan (dragons usually spew fire!) He’ll try to destroy us! He’ll still vent his fury (like a spoilt child) but he can’t get rid of them! We see his terrible, evil tactics in chapters 13-14 (a picture of the spewing water) with political and coercive powers; yet for all his tactics, he can’t get rid of God’s people. God protects his people throughout this whole period of history, that’s what ‘a time, times and half a time’ in 14 means – 3½ years that’s the same as 1260 days – it’s symbolic of the time of the Church from Christ’s resurrection to his second coming when all evil will finally be put away. He may hurt us physically but not ultimately – all he can do is promote us to full life in glory. This is well illustrated when Chrysostom, an early church leader in 300’s, was on trial for his life. The emperor said to him, ‘We’ll banish you!’ Chrysostom replied, ‘You can’t banish me, the whole world is my Father’s home.’ ‘Well,’ the emperor said, ‘We’ll execute you.’ ‘You can’t,’ he replied, ‘My life is hidden with Christ.’ ‘Well, then, we’ll take away your goods and estate.’ ‘You can’t. I haven’t got any. All my treasure is in heaven.’ ‘Well, then,’ the emperor said, ‘We’ll put you in solitary confinement.’ ‘You can’t! For I have a divine friend from whom you can never separate me. I defy you!’ he said, ‘There’s nothing you can do to hurt me.’ He was right, because ultimately the worst God’s enemies can do is by sudden death promote Christians to sudden glory!


Conclusion: What is the Nature of Reality?

There is a greater reality, a deeper Reality, to this world than what we can see.

There are spiritual forces: there’s God and there’s also forces of evil. BUT they are not equal in power. It’s important to remember that God has won already. Satan is a defeated foe. Another important consequence is that you can’t be a materialist anymore. You can’t just believe reality is merely matter and energy. Otherwise we’ve no way of coping with reality or with evil, or especially with evil in our own lives, or evil forces opposed to God’s purposes. you see, the Dragon’s work is everywhere, and we may be tempted to think the Dragon gets his own way; that evil spiritual forces are greater than God. Yet, this passage shows us that far from having the upper hand in the world and in our lives, Satan and evil are mere defeated enemies – they’re doomed, active but doomed! You’d be foolish, very foolish, to throw in your lot with merely defeated powers; foolish to the extreme to give up on Christ, which is what Satan wants more than just hurting us. We need to see life in its proper perspective. Put on these glasses and see life and the world through the grid of true Reality. So instead of collapsing at every bad thing that happens to us, look deeper and cling on to the true Lord of Lords, the victor who has you safe, who has defeated all our enemies.

How does all this show in our lives? On the one hand, there’s trial – there is trial! But the victory’s won! Satan’s already expelled from heaven. There’s triumph, but the battle continues. Satan’s lost, but he hasn’t admitted defeat. He’s furious, furious that he can’t touch Christ and his people in heaven, and so he turns his anger on God’s people on earth. So perhaps we’re confused as to why the Christian life’s so tough. Confused as to why temptation is such a battle. Why life’s so hard and awful things happen – think of present Christians in the Middle East and other places around the world. John’s explaining what’s going on. Satan is defeated, doomed, hurled from heaven. He knows his time is short and wants to destroy as many of God’s people as he can. That’s why we have difficulties. But the even deeper Reality is that the outcome is secure. Christ has conquered!

And we’re told how we live within this tension, this battle. Now it’s not like the movie The Exorcist, a ridiculous film with a silly view of how evil and the devil are defeated. Hollywood thinks that by some magical acts, holy water and candles and a dog-collared man carrying a crucifix doing some strange ritual the devil’s defeated. Some well-meaning Christians occasionally talk a lot of rubbish about spiritual warfare – the idea that we need to sort of claim the ground and magically chase the devil away by doing things (like clearing away demons, and so on). Satan is causing havoc and is attacking Christians, but we don’t defeat him by magic rituals and exorcisms and the like.

What we see in this passage is that he’s simply defeated by the gospel, by God’s people trusting the gospel, by trusting Jesus. That’s where the devil is defeated. The fact is, when you and I each day believe the gospel, and share it, and give up our lives for the gospel. That’s when the light of God breaks through in the darkness. Every defeat of evil here comes from the message of Jesus, And from people trusting his death to be freed from their guilt and bondage to evil. In this dark world, the only hope for the world, for you, for me, is that people trust in the one that God sent – that’s where good triumphs over evil and only there.

Did you notice in each scene the Dragon fails again and again – because of Jesus?  The book of Revelation gives a coherent picture of the world and of life. It gives us what scholars call a “comic vision” – that’s the opposite of a “tragic vision” that ends in…well, tragedy – tears, bloodshed, death. Rather, history ends in ‘comedy’ in the old sense of the word – it ends in celebration, a wedding, feasting, rejoicing! Exactly as Revelation does! If we know that life and the world end well, it changes how we think of love, and life and death, and life’s purpose. We can get on with life, and even suffer, because we know the end is pure and complete love. We can stand up and get on with things because God loves and so history ends not in tears and bloodshed but in celebration – it ends with the great vision of Revelation 5: a victory party.

If life ends well, we can stand firm against the enemies of life – whether dictators, disease or disasters or even Satan; indeed we can stand against all who don’t acknowledge God. Grace will come, love will come; an end of tyranny and injustice will come; an end to pain and sickness will come. Their time is short! That’s the worldview Christians should have of God’s plans for the world and for the fulfilment of time and the joy of eternity. So John says to us: Don’t despair as you look at the world and see it so evil and difficult – Christ has won the battle already.

John says, Stand firm; in fact, stand up – get on with living for him: trusting the gospel and the Word of God – v. 17 tells us to obey God and hold to the testimony of Jesus…no matter what!

And so it says, Rejoice! How can Christians come across so joyless when believers are so safe and so, so loved?

For…Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses [us] before our God day and night, has been hurled down. 11[and we] overcome him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of [our] testimony… 12Therefore rejoice!