Revelation 14:14-20, The Darkness Before the Dawn

14] Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle.  15] And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”  16] So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.

17] Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.

18] And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the cluster of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.”  19] So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.  20] And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.  (NKJV)

Though we’re only about 2/3 of the way through Revelation, we’re down to perhaps the last few weeks before our Lord returns to this world and history as we know it will be over.  I say “perhaps” because it’s difficult to know for certain the “overlap” of various events in the book.  At least one of them takes five months, 9:5.  And we read of the days of the blowing of the seventh trumpet, 10:7, which actually includes what happens during the time of the pouring out of the seven bowls, or vials.  We tend to read the book as if A follows B, but A and B might overlap to some degree.  Further, the narrative switches back and forth between heaven and earth.

Chapters 15 and 16 give us the “bowl” judgments.  Chapters 17, 18 and through 19:10 give us heaven’s perspective.  From 19:11 through ch. 20, we have the final chapters of this world’s history.  21 shows us the creation of new heaven and new earth, where righteousness dwells, or “is at home,” as 2 Peter 3:13 puts it.

Under the guise of a harvest, our text, Revelation 14:14-20, gives us something of the events which will precede our Lord’s return in 19:11 and explains a little of why He wears a blood-stained robe, 19:13.

Of note is the fact that there are two “harvests,” one in vs. 14-16 and one in vs. 17-20.  The first one involves the Son of man, and the harvest of the earth.  The second one involves an angel and the harvest of the vine of the earth.

Our Lord spoke of this first harvest in Mark 13:27, “And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of the earth to the farthest part of heaven.”  See also Matthew 24:31.  There’s a great deal of discussion of all that’s involved with this topic.  It’s possible that this verse refers to the gathering together of Israel, not “the church.”  It’s not our purpose to get into all of it.  It’s enough to remember that Paul wrote that 

we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18.

We believe that Revelation 14:14-16 give us this same event.

Verses 17-20 give us a description of the expression of God’s wrath toward this earth.

Several Scriptures gives us details of this time.  Perhaps the best known are found in Zechariah.  According to chapter 14, Jerusalem will finally be captured and terrible atrocities will be committed against her inhabitants.  When all hope appears to be lost and Israel will finally be destroyed after centuries of her enemies trying to do that, the Lord will suddenly appear and will “destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem,” Zechariah 12:9.

At the same time, Zechariah 12:10 tells us that God “will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced.  Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.”

At this time, Romans 11:26 will be fulfilled:  all Israel [alive at that time] shall be saved, as it is written:

“The Deliverer will come out of Zion, 
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

Isaiah 63:1-4 refers to this time, as well:

Who is this who comes from Edom,
With dyed garments from Bozrah,

This One who is glorious in apparel,
Traveling in the greatness of His strength? –

“I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.”

Why is Your apparel red,
And your garments like one who treads in the winepress?

“I have trodden the winepress alone,
And from the peoples no one was with Me.
For I have trodden them in My anger,
And trampled them in My fury:
Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments,
And I have stained all My robes.
For the day of vengeance is in My heart,
And the year of My redeemed has come.”

So great will the slaughter of God’s and Israel’s enemies be that Scripture tells us that it will take seven months to bury them all, Ezekiel 39:12, and seven years to get rid of all their weapons and equipment, vs. 9, 10.  The arterial spray from their deaths will even reach as high as horses’ bridles, Revelation 14:20.

This view of God is foreign to our time, even repugnant to many.  We’ve so distorted the Bible’s teaching about God that He’s been reduced to little more than an indulgent Grandfather chuckling over the follies and foibles of His grandchildren.  But we are NOT all His children, as so many believe.

We are, however, all His subjects.  He is our Creator and God.  Evolution has taken care of the idea of His being Creator and our materialistic worldview has taken care of any idea of God.  We’re all that there is – except maybe for alien civilizations which might have evolved on other planets – a popular tenet of sci-fi programs.  Nevertheless, we are as subject to His moral and spiritual laws as we are to His “natural” laws – like the law of gravity.  Even those who’ve never hear of Him have some idea of “right” and “wrong.”  They may not agree with our ideas, but still, they recognize that some things are “wrong.”  The thing is, no one has even fully lived according to those ideas, and are as guilty as those who have full access to the Bible.  This is Paul’s teaching in Romans 2:14-16.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.  All of us are condemned in His sight.  This is why the Lord Jesus came to this world – to save sinners.  Yesterday was Easter.  Yes, I know some much prefer “Resurrection Day,” and I understand why they prefer it.  The point isn’t so much what we call it, but what God was doing during it.  He was showing that our Lord’s death which has occurred three days and three nights before had been effective.  It was His receipt, if you will, for what Christ had done.  Sin had been paid for, and judgment satisfied for those for whom Christ died.

Those who believe on Him will never endure the wrath of God against their sin.  Christ endured it for them.  Those who reject the Lord Jesus?  He who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides [remains] on him, John 3:36.

I don’t know the spiritual condition of those who read these posts.  I only pray that they – that you – will consider your future.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31.

As much as men might deny the God of the Bible, the time is coming when this will not be possible.

Revelation 14: The Patience of the Saints

1] Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads.  2] And I heard a voice from heaven, like the voice of many waters, and like the voice of loud thunder.  And I heard the sound of harpists playing their harps.  3] They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth.  4] These are the one who were no defiled with women, for they are virgins.  These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.  These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.  5] And in their mouth was no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God.

6] Then I say another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth – to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people – saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”

8] And another angel followed, saying, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”

9] Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and that image, and received his mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10] he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured  out full strength into the cup of His indignation.  He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  11] And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

12] Here is the patience of the saints; hear are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.

13] Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”

14] Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle.  15] And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”  16] So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.

17] Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.

18] And another angle came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.”  19] So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.  20] And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs. (NKJV)

After reading the verses for our post, the title seems strange:  patience in the midst of such troubles as will happen in this world.  The fact is that Scripture has a lot to say about patience, or endurance.  It talks about the patience of Christ, 2 Thessalonians 3:5, the patience of God, Romans 15:5, the exercise of patience in God’s people, as in Hebrews 6:12.  The English word occurs 23 times in the New Testament.  Its occurrence in Revelation 14:12 is the last occurrence.  It shows us the ultimate reason for the patience of the saints.

Perhaps it also answers the vexing question of the unfairness and inadequacy of earthly justice to punish crime and sin.

“Punish.”

We don’t even like that word anymore.  We want to “rehabilitate” those who have committed the most heinous or numerous sins.  We want to let them out to wreak havoc again.  They’ve “paid their debt to society.”

What’s forgotten is their debt to God.

I’ve told before of the individual who had been guilty of twelve incidents of rape and assault, and the puzzlement of law enforcement officials as to what to do with him because “at some point you run into the constitutional rights of the offender.”

Sorry, but there is no “constitutional right” to be an offender.  And, yes, I know that’s not what meant by the idea.

What do you do with a man who assaults twelve women?

Human justice in some cases can’t really punish crime.  Only God can.

That’s the reason Scripture says, It is appointed to men to die once, and after this the judgment, Hebrews 9:27.

Revelation 14 gives us some instances of this judgment to come, both as to the individual and to society in general.

Of course, this brings up another difficulty – the whole idea of eternal torment in fire and brimstone, v. 10.

One of the local cults has a series of “Bible studies” at their church next week.  One of the topics listed in the flyer they left in our screen door was titled:  “Is God criminal?”  Then they ask the question, “If God is almighty, then why does He allow evil and then suffering with hell fire?”

Leaving aside the whole problem of a “Christian” implying that God might be a criminal, to say nothing of the existence of evil, why is there a “hell” at all?

Our Lord answered that:  it is “prepared for the devil and his angels,” Matthew 25:41.  Scripture also reveals that it is the final stop for those who die without the Lord Jesus, Revelation 20:5.

The idea of God punishing sin is so far removed from our thinking.  But look at it from this angle.  If someone kills a fly or an insect, few people think anything of it.  if someone kills an ordinary citizen, that’s worse.  However, if someone were to kill a ruler, that would be serious indeed.  Justice is related to the seriousness of the offense.

Sin is an offense against God.  Even if it’s against another person.  Cf. Joseph’s response to Potiphar’s wife:  “How then can I do this great wickedness [by doing what she wanted], and sin against God?” Genesis 39:9.

In all this, we forget God.

Sin against God is sin against an infinite Being.  It requires an infinite, that is, eternal punishment.

I’ve also related the story of the Bible class which was discussing the attributes of God, and the teacher’s discomfort with the idea of the strictness of God’s justice and judgment.  But God’s justice is as real as His love.

We’ve forgotten that.

The time is coming when that won’t be possible.

Revelation 13:11-18, A Beastly Situation, part 2.

11] Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.  12] And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.  13] He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men.  14] And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived.  15] He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.  16] He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads. 17] and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

18] Here is wisdom.  Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man”  His number is 666.  (NKJV)

Here is the second “beast” of the two.  The word translated “beast” in both cases is “therion,” a wild beast, not a tame or domesticated one.  This one has been called, “The False Prophet.”  His role is to promote the worship of the first beast.  He is described as having two horns like a lamb, a harmless and inoffensive creature, but he spoke like a dragon.  There’s a lesson here for us.  Our Lord warned against “false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves,” Matthew 7:15.  And John wrote, Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try [test] the spirits whether they are of God:  because many false prophets are gone out into the world, 1 John 4:1.  It’s no good having horns like a lamb if one speaks like a dragon.

But not only does this individual have words; he has mighty works, to the point that even he makes fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of men, v. 13.  His ultimate work is to make an image of the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived, an image that is able both to speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed, v. 15.

This probably seemed like an impossible thing in John’s day, but with the advent of electronics and “special effects,” perhaps this will not be as hard as it might appear.  Regardless of how it’s accomplished, it will be a serious thing, to the point of death for refusal to bow down to the beast.  A final test will be to receive a “mark” on the right hand or forehead, a mark that will be required in order to “buy or sell.”  In other words, it will affect the basic necessities of life.

There’s something for us here.  There’s a lot of talk about “miracles” in our day.  Whole ministries are built around them.  Perhaps these verses could warn us not to place an undue emphasis on “signs and wonders”.

There’s been some discussion about what this mark is.  Some have suggested that it might be some kind of electronic chip imbedded under the skin, like a tracking chip in an animal.  That might be, but I believe that it will be a visible symbol, readily apparent to all who look at the person.  There will be no “secret” disciples during this time.  I further believe that it will be in answer to those servants of God who have His mark in their forehead, Revelation 7:3; 9:4.

Perhaps there will be some who reason that they will receive the mark in order to be able to live and even seem to worship the beast, but “in their heart” they won’t be agreeing to these things.  That dog won’t hunt, because the very act of receiving the mark itself will doom the person, cf. 14:11; 16:2.  One of the things spoken of those who are saved in this time is that they have not received this mark, 15:2; 20:4.  They “have not loved their life to the death.”

What about “the mark of the beast” or “666,” v, 18?  There’s a lot of discussion about this, and even the world recognizes the number.  I don’t know that it’s all that important at this time.  When it does become important, it will be readily apparent as to its meaning.  There will be no doubt.  There will be no hiding from it.

The mark or the number may have no meaning to us today, but there is something that does have meaning, a meaning that will affect eternity.  That is our relationship and reaction to the Word of God.  The phrase, “the word of God,” appears five times in Revelation:  1:2, 9; 6:9; 19:13; 20:4.  In Revelation 19:13, the phrase is given as the name of the Lord Jesus as He returns to this world.  The other times, it occurs in connection with another phrase.  In 1:2 and 9, it’s the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.  6:9 records the cry of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.  In 20:4, we read of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast.

The Word is to be the ultimate measure of everything we believe and do.  It will not do to say that Dr. So-and-so is teaching this or that some preacher on TV preaches it.  It’s not enough that some “Study Bible” has notes about it.  Do not not get me wrong on this last; study Bibles can be very useful.  I have several myself.  Commentaries can be very useful, and the writings of men.  I even hope my posts are helpful.  But none of these in themselves are authoritative.

A Puritan whose name I don’t remember said this:  “There are only two things I want to know:  has God spoken, and what has He said?”  It’s not, “What do men say that God has said,” though some today (falsely) claim to be His mouthpiece.  What does God say?  And the only place we can find that is in the Scriptures, that is, the Holy Bible, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments.

But even the Scriptures have a purpose.  Our Lord spoke to some very serious Bible scholars of His day, men who would have died defending what they had of the Bible.  He said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.  But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life,” John 5:39, 40.

The purpose of Scripture is not to make us scholars, but saints.  If we don’t know the One to whom the Scriptures point, then what we know of them, no matter how much, will only add to our condemnation.  At the same time, we can’t truly know Him apart from the Scriptures.  This may seem like a paradox, but it isn’t.  We have to know Scripture, not just for the sake of that, but for the sake of knowing the one to whom they point.  If our study of Scripture doesn’t ultimately take us to the Lord Jesus, we haven’t studied it correctly.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Romans 5:1.

Revelation 13:1-10, A Beastly Situation, part 1.

1] Then I stood on the sand of the sea.  And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.  2] Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion.  The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.  3] And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed.  And all the world marveled and followed the beast.  4] So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast?  Who is able to make war with him?”

5] And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months.  6] Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven.  7] It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them.  And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation.  8] All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

9] If anyone has an ear, let him hear.  10] He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword.  Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.  (NKJV)

This chapter introduces the last of the seven beings.  We’ve seen the woman, the Child, the dragon, Michael the archangel, the remnant, and now we’re introduced to two “beasts,” one from the “sea” and the other from the “earth.”  There’s a lot of discussion about these two beings.  Until the time they’re actually here, this will continue, but it will be seen that John describes them perfectly, not in a “physical” sense, but in a moral and spiritual sense.  We’ll join the discussion on the first one in this post.

As we get into the chapter, the first thing is a note on the phrase, Then I stood on the sand of the sea, v. 1.  It’s said that this should read, “he stood on the sand of the sea,” referring to the devil as he goes about to make war with the remnant of the woman’s offspring, 12:17.

Then John sees a beast rising up out of the sea and goes on to describe it as having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.  There’s some discussion about what this means.  Some say it refers to a “revived Roman Empire.”  Others say it refers to the leader of that empire.  I kind of like the phrase, “revised Roman Empire,” because I don’t know that the actual empire will be revived.  And certainly one individual is singled out, as we’ll see.  However it happens, it will be a political thing in play at the same time as other things with the same description, or these things being explained, 12:3; 13:1; 17:3.

It was a boast of the Roman conquerors that they never totally destroyed their enemies, but assimilated the best of their societies.  Hence the description using a leopard, a bear and a lion.  These are reminiscent of the beasts that Daniel saw in Daniel 7:2-7.  There, they represented successive world empires; here they embody a single empire with the speed of a leopard, the strength of a bear, the splendor of a lion’s roar.

It isn’t just these physical qualities that propel a particular person into the spotlight.  A singular event happens to him: he is mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed, v. 3.  This astonishes “all the world,” so that they marvel and follow the beast.

There’s a lot of discussion about this.  Did the man actually die, or did he fake it?

The latter is certainly possible.  There are drugs and chemicals which mimic death to the point that it’s very difficult to know for sure if a person is alive.  That may be, but I tend to the view that he actually dies and is brought back to life.

There are instances, even in our own time, of people being declared dead and returning to life.  One such instance is the book, Heaven is Real, the story of a little boy who gives evidence that he actually was in heaven for a time.  Another instance is the book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, the story of Don Piper, who was declared dead for an hour and a half, a book in which he describes what happened, both to his body and to himself.

There are instances in Scripture of folks dying and coming back to life:  2 Kings 4:34-36; 13:21; Matthew 27:53; Luke 7:14, 15.

The main argument against the idea that he actually dies is that only the Lord Jesus died and rose again.  And that is true.  No one has even risen from the dead as He did.  The individuals mentioned above were or are still mortal and did die or will die again, though I’m not sure about the folks in Matthew 27.

And what about Hebrews 9:27:  It is appointed for men once to die? emphasis added.  That’s generally true, but the instances in Scripture are miracles, which don’t follow natural or normal experience.

What about the devil performing such a miracle?  Scripture tells us that he has on occasion done marvelous things,  Exodus 7:11, 12, 22; 8:7.  Revelation 12 will happen in an unusual time, a time where “normal” isn’t necessarily what happens.

There is more than “normal,” or natural, in all this.  We read in v. 4 of the dragon who gave authority to the beast.  I believe this will be a time when it is obvious that there is more to what’s going on than what meets the eye.  It will be acknowledged that demonic forces are in play.  Men won’t care, but will be deceived into openly following and worshiping Satan.  Such things won’t be hidden, as they are now.

There’s something else here, as well, perhaps only hinted at.  We’ve already seen that the devil as active in all this.  Verse 5 says that this man, whom we’ll call the Antichrist, is given a voice and given authority.  Verse 7 says it was granted to him to do something.  This reminds us so much of Daniel 7:25,

He shall speak pompous words against the Most High,
Shall persecute the saints of the Most High,

And shall intend to change times and law.
Then the saints shall be given into his hand
For a time and times and half a time.

You see, and perhaps you’re getting tired of me making so much of it, but I think it’s necessary in these apostate and degenerate times, the devil can only do what God permits him to do.  Cf. Job 1, 2.  I remember a story of a high school student saying, “Satan rules,” and another student, a believer, didn’t know how to answer him.  He should have answered, “Well, he’d like to have you believe that, but it isn’t true.  God rules.”  He rules even Satan.  That’s what got him in trouble originally.  He wanted to be God.

In the time spoken of in Revelation, Satan is given great sway, even more than he has now, when he deceives the whole world, Revelation 12:9.  Also 1 John 5:19.  Satan works through a number of intermediaries to accomplish this, but in the time of the Antichrist, he will have one man in particular to do his bidding.  He will be successful: All who dwell on the earth will worship him – but only to a point – whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

Our Lord said that this time would be so deceptive and so “real” that, “there shall arise false Christ, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect,” Matthew 24:24 (KJV).

Paul put it like this:  …the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.  The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.  And for this reason [not receiving love of the truth] God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness, 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12, emphasis added.  See also Isaiah 66:3, 4; Romans 1:21-32.

It’s a solemn thing, this having access to God’s Word.  This country has been extraordinarily blessed in this manner.  We’ve enjoyed almost unparalleled prosperity and freedom.  But I’m afraid we’re seeing Romans 1 being played out right before our eyes.  Things that were generally unthinkable and unacceptable only a few years ago are openly and aggressively pursued and promoted.  We are truly “worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator.”  And we see the results of that, too, in our culture.  Things described in Romans, the “unrighteousness” described there, are everywhere in our society.

But what about you and me individually”  We can’t do much about society in general, but how about in our own lives?  Where is the Word of God in them?  Do we read the Word?  Do we know it?  Does it influence our lives?  Our thoughts?  Or does it sit, neglected and forlorn on a shelf or table somewhere?

O that more Christians could echo Job’s words in Job 23:12, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”

Revelation 12:7-17: Turmoil in Heaven.

7] And war broke out in heaven:  Michael and his angel fought with the devil; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8] but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer.  9] So the great dragon was cast out, the serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

10] Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before God day and night, has been cast down.  11] And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.  12] Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them!  Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea!  For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.”

13] Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child.  14] But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.  15] So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood.  16] But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.  17] And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Verses 7-17 give us some details about what verses 1-6 have to say.  For example, this “war” in heaven happens before the woman flees into the wilderness.  They also introduce us to two more of the seven beings in chs. 12 and 13, as well as giving us further information about “the woman.”

They are:

1. Michael, v. 7.

War broke out in heaven:  Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer.

Daniel 12:1 refers to this event.  It says, “At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time.

Revelation tells us why there will be such a “time of trouble.”

One thing about this “war.”  Daniel 10:13, 20 tell us that Satan and his angels oppose and try to hinder God at every step, but that does not mean that they can in any way alter His purpose or ultimately prevent God from doing what He wants to do.  There is entirely too much of this idea, however veiled it might be, that God and Satan are equals, that the “forces of good and evil” are somehow evenly matched.  Or as one false teacher puts it, if the church doesn’t pray enough, then, in effect, heaven falters.

*sigh*

From the earliest record in Scripture, it’s taught that Satan has access to heaven, Job 1, 2.  And, as we see in the life of Job, he accuses the people of God.  This tells us the significance of 1 John 2:1: we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  And don’t overlook the significance of the fact that Jesus is called “the righteous.”  He appears before the Father as our Substitute, our Savior.  It’s His righteousness imputed to us through faith that we must have because we have none of our own.  Religion, yes, routine and ritual, bucket loads, righteousness that God will accept, not a bit.

Revelation tells us that there is coming a time when Satan will finally be thrown out of heaven and that will result in a time of trouble on this earth never seen before and never to be seen again, a time referred to in Jeremiah 30:7 as the time of Jacob’s trouble.

Lest there should be any doubt as to who this “dragon” is, he’s clearly identified as the serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, v. 9.  Further, he’s characterized as one who deceives the whole world.  We could do a whole series just on this.  He deceives, he denies, he distorts, he counterfeits.  Do you really think that everything in our time that calls itself “Christian” is of God?  To say nothing of all the other religions in our world, or the cultural chaos that has engulfed society?

Woe is pronounced for the earth, though heaven rejoices that, at long last, this would-be usurper of the Throne, this interloper, is finally banished.  There is one thing these who rejoice say, and that is that, once thrown out of heaven, the devil knows he only has a little while remaining before he himself is judged.  It’s an interesting study in Scripture to see what the devil knows to be true and what he teaches about it, as, for example, the existence of God.

There are some things said about our brethren that we could spend a lot of time on, as well.  We’ll just touch on them.  Even though they possibly die, they are still called “overcomers.”  Three things about this in v. 11:

a. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb. Remember that John saw a Lamb as though it had been slain, Revelation 5:6.  This is where it all starts, because without shedding of blood there is no remission, no forgiveness of sins.

b. and by the word of their testimony.  We have a lot of misconceptions about the Devil in our culture.  Some people deny his existence altogether, some people run around rebuking him, other spend all their time worrying about him.  1 Corinthians 6:20, You were bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.  What price?  This gets us back to the first point:  knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct…, but with the precious blood of Christ, 1 Peter 1:18-19.  We don’t overcome the Devil by “rebuking” him, but by living for God and eternity.

c. and they loved not their lives to the death.  Our Lord makes a promise to such:  “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life,” Revelation 2:10.  While that promise was given to a specific church, don’t you think it applies to those who were hunted and killed in their thousands by Rome and the Reformers and by groups like ISIS in our time?  Jim Elliot, who himself gave his life serving our Lord, said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.”

2. The woman, vs. 14-16.

These verses amplify what’s already been told of this woman’s plight and persecution.  For example, she is given some sort of assistance in her flight.  John describes this as wings of a great eagle, v. 14.  By some means, she is enabled to flee quickly from her persecutor.  Again, her place is mentioned , vs. 6, 14, and a specific period, time and times and half a time.  This corresponds to the one thousand two hundred and sixty days, or three and a half years, mentioned in v. 6.  The devil sends a flood after her.  Ezekiel 38 describes an invasion of Israel from the north by many armies.  See also Zechariah 14:2.  Perhaps this is a contingent from that army pursuing the fleeing Jews.

The references to “her place,” the assistance given her when fleeing, the fact that she is nourished during her time of isolation, these all remind us of what Zechariah 14:2 tells us.  God says, “I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem.”  In all this God is in control of events.  He’s not sitting up there on His throne anxiously waiting for someone to take the first step so He can step in Himself.  That’s the only real hope any of us have as we see our world, perhaps maybe even our lives in one way or another, circling the drain – that there’s a reason, a purpose, for what’s going on around us.

The enemy sends a flood to destroy the woman, but, again, she is delivered:  the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood, v. 16.  If necessary, God can even marshal “the forces of nature” to aid His people.  Now, we’re not told exactly what this intervention is, perhaps an earthquake, as in Exodus 15:12, Numbers 16:31.  Perhaps it’s the result of the earthquake which accompanies the Lord’s invasion, Ezekiel 38:19, 20; Zechariah 14:4.  There are historical references of sandstorms burying armies.

Whatever this deliverance is, it introduces the last of the five beings or groups:

3. the remnant, vs. 17.

And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Jews are spread all over the world and even in the time of temporary peace for the nation that Daniel speaks of, not all of them will come back to the land.  Those who do not become fair game for the anger of the devil as he finds himself backed into a corner, as it were, knowing he has only a short time to do damage to Israel.  But it isn’t simply that the objects of his persecution are simply ethnic Jews; they are describes as those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

In short, they receive both halves of Scripture.

Some folks have difficulty with the idea that saved people, in this case, Jews, “keep the commandments of God.”  The whole subject of the Law is well beyond the scope of this post.  Just let me say that the Mosaic Law wasn’t simply the Jew’s “religion.”  It was his culture, his life.  True, if he “kept” it, it became a means of “righteousness” for him, but even after a Jew “knew the Lord,” like Paul, the Law was his culture.  It defined what he was.   He didn’t throw it out simply because he had found the One to whom it pointed.  He DID NOT look to the Law for his salvation, but then, neither did he abandon living by its principles.

We see an example of this in Acts 21.  Paul had returned to Jerusalem.  While he was there, he was told that his enemies had circulated rumors that he had been teaching “all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses,”  v. 21.  To counter this, he was advised, “therefore do what we tell you:  We have four men who have taken a vow,  Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law,” vs. 22-24, emphasis added.

But pay attention to the rest of what it said!  But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols,” etc, v. 25, emphasis added.  The whole story of this edict is found in Acts 15.

Once again, let me repeat, it was not a matter of salvation for the early church, which was, after all, composed almost entirely of Jews.  It was a matter of simply continuing to be who they were.

In the same way, this remnant is defined as made up of those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Revelation 12:1-6, A Damsel in Distress

1] Now a great sign appeared in heaven:  a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.  2] Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.

3]  And another sign appeared in heaven:  behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads.  4] His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.  And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.  5] She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.  And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.  6] Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

In early days of man-making, when an area was unknown, sometimes dragons or other monsters were drawn in, with the phrase, “here be dragons,” or “here be monsters,” perhaps to signify the dangers of the unknown.  Truly, the chapter before us enters the unknown, because it talks about the spiritual world, and talks about forces and events far beyond our ability to discern.  In fact, with our eyes and ears and tactile senses, we’re able to “see” only a tiny, tiny part of what goes on around us.  Furthermore, unbelief and skepticism tells us there is no “spiritual” world, that the material universe is all there is.  There is no “spirit,” no “God.”

God says otherwise.  That, in fact, without Him, there would be no material world.

This chapter tells us something of the unseen happenings of this material world.

Chs. 12 and 13 introduce the first of a series of “7s” in the rest of the book.  There are: seven beings, chs. 12, 13; seven visions, ch. 14; seven bowls, chs. 15, 16; seven dooms, chs. 17-20; and seven new things, chs. 21-22.

Chapter 12 introduces us to five of the seven beings.  We’ll look at the first two in this post.  They are:

1. The woman, v. 1.

Many attempts have been made to identify this woman:  the church, the Virgin Mary, Mary Baker Eddy, Ellen G. White, a host of others.  It seems to me that Scripture identifies her in a description which reminds us of another, similar description in Genesis 37:9, 10:  And [Joseph] dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream.  And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.”  So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed?  Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?”

“The sun, the moon, and the eleven stars.”

It seems to me that these two descriptions identify the woman in Revelation as Israel, but Israel from a particular standpoint:  in labor, that is, in childbirth.  A few verses later, more detail is given.

2.  The dragon, vs. 3-6.

This being is identified as Satan in v. 9.  Here again, though, there is a particular context.  The seven heads and ten horns identify a particular time, which we believe is yet future, as we’ll see, and the rest of these verses identify a particular theme: opposition to and attempts to destroy her Child, that is, the Lord Jesus.  Reference to His birth doesn’t change our view of Satan and that what Revelation tells us is still future; it simply tells us that it wasn’t just Herod trying to kill the infant Jesus, but Satan himself as well.  He has consistently opposed God’s revealed redemptive purpose.  It’s beyond the purpose of this post to pursue this study, but from the Garden of Eden onward, Satan has tried (unsuccessfully) to thwart God’s working.  All he’s managed to do is to further its accomplishment.

Two things only are said of her Child: that He was to rule all nations with a rod of iron, and that He was caught up to God’s throne.  It’s important to understand that Scripture never says that He was caught up to His own throne, or that this is just a reference to His headship over the church.  Cf. Revelation 3:21.  We’ve mentioned this before and will visit it again later in these studies.

Perhaps there is one thing:  how can we say the woman is Israel, and yet it was not “the nation” who gave birth to the Lord, but the virgin Mary?  For most, if not all of her history, Israel has yearned for the coming of the Messiah.  It was simply through this young woman, this virgin, that God brought the Messiah into Israel.  The fact that Israel rejected Him because He didn’t fit their notions of what the Messiah would do doesn’t alter the fact that God has a redemptive purpose for Israel, and that she’s not permanently put aside.  That purpose will one day be completed.

Between vs. 5 and 6 lies the whole church age.

In v. 6, the woman flees into the wilderness to a special place prepared by God, where she will be preserved, protected and provided for during a time identified as 1260 days, or three-and-a-half years.  More details are given later in this portion of Scripture.

Revelation 11:3-14, The Two Witnesses.

3] And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.  

4] These are the two olive trees, and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.  5] And if any anyone wants to hurt them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies.  And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner.  6] These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.

7] When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.  8] And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.  9] Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and will not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves.  10] And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

11] Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.  12] And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.”  And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.  13] In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell.  In the earthquake seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.

14] The second woe is past.  Behold, the third woe is coming quickly.  (NKJV)

There are several things of interest in these verses.

1. The ministry of the witnesses, vs. 3-6.

First, there are two of them.  This is in agreement with Deuteronomy 19:15, which says, by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.

Second, they have unusual power, being able to bring drought or to turn water into blood.  These abilities have led some to believe that these two witnesses are Moses, cf. Exodus 7:20, 21, and Elijah, cf. 1 Kings 17:1, though they are never actually named.

What these powers do tell us is that this is a different time than the “church age,” that is, our own age or culture.  Cf. Luke 9:51-55, where the Lord rebuked His disciples for wanting to bring such judgment down on a Samaritan village which rejected Him.  Because it failed to make that distinction, history is filled with examples of “the church” doing things it never had the right to do.  The church was never given civil authority, that is, that it was the “power on the throne.”  When it assumed that role, it ceased to be a true church and began to persecute those actually were.  The Reformers could never have envisioned or embraced such a concept as “the separation of church and state.”  To their time and thinking, the church was the state.

Of course, the modern view isn’t any better, where the church is to be completely isolated from the state, and there’s no room in “the state” for “religious” thinking.  What the so-called anti-establishment clause in our Constitution means is that there will never be an “official” Church of the United States, as there is an official or “established” church in other countries.  It does not, repeat, not, mean that there is to be no Christian influence in our government at all.  I know that the Founding Fathers weren’t necessarily “Christian” in a Biblical sense.  Washington was a Unitarian.  Jefferson was a Deist and cut out large portions of the Old Testament which he found offensive.  This is known as “the Jefferson Bible.”  Ben Franklin’s greatest desire was for a society formed on the basis of reason.  I wonder what he would think of our society.  Nevertheless, these men had a respect for the Word of God that is sorely lacking in our culture.  When the Scripture was banned from public life, decay and depravity set it, resulting in what we see all around us today.  Many of these things were unthinkable in my youth.  We are truly reaping what we have sown.

One thing of interest isn’t actually there.  Verse 3 quotes God as saying, “I will give power to My two witnesses.”  In the original language, the verse reads, “and I will give to My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy….”  There is no word for “power”.  So what is it that God is going “to give” to His servants, His “witnesses”?  I think it’s open.  Not to what we want, but what we need to do the job God has for us, whatever that may be.  He will give to the witnesses in Revelation 11 what they need, and He will give to you and me what we need to serve Him.

Finally, we’re told that the witnesses’ ministry will last 1260 days, v. 3.  This comes out to three-and-a-half years.  I believe this will be during the first part of “the seventieth week,” what we know as “The Tribulation Period.”  I believe that it’s the first part because their murder gives rise to a man called “the beast,” and the time of persecution where Jerusalem is trodden underfoot for forty-two months.  Remember the seven-year covenant or treaty we wrote of in an earlier post.  I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the witness’ ministry is to denounce that treaty and to point people to the true God.

2. The martyrdom of the witnesses, vs. 7-10.

Here we’re specifically told that “the beast” kills them.  It’s what clinches his rise to power, cf. Revelation 13:4.  The world rejoices over this murder and now it’s time to celebrate!

Earlier commentators envisioned people making special trips to see the dead bodies of the witnesses, with special trains and excursions.  The advent of television changed that, so that people around the world could see all this in the comfort of their own living rooms.  Now, of course, with the ubiquitous cellphone, nearly everybody who’s there can take pictures and send them to their friends.

There will be a world-wide sigh of relief and joy that “these two bigots who dared to speak out against our wonderful leader have finally been silenced.”

3. The Miracle of the Witnesses, vs. 11-13.

For three days, the rejoicing and celebrating continues.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be vendors selling “I was there” T-shirts and souvenirs.  In the middle of the fourth day, suddenly, the dead bodies come to life and stand up!  Wow!  That’s not supposed to happen!  I can imagine the stunned silence.  Hilarity is replaced by great fear.  Then a voice, a loud voice, saying to the two men, “Come up here,” and the world sees them ascend in a cloud into heaven, like their Master did before them.

That’s not all.  Almost immediately, there is a great earthquake, which kills seven thousand people.  This results in people giving glory to the God of heaven.  This doesn’t mean that they were saved or any such thing.  It simply means that they couldn’t deny what happened.  At the same time, neither would they receive what really happened.  Cf. Acts 3, 4, and the healing of a man born unable to walk.  When Peter and John were arrested and brought before the authorities for this healing, the man standing there with them made it impossible for them to deny that a miracle been performed.  Did this cause them to bow to the Lord Jesus?  Read their own words from Acts 4:14, And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.  But these leaders, who couldn’t deny the truth, v. 15, would not receive it either, and forbade the disciples from further talking about the Lord Jesus, v. 17.

We have lots of people today talking about and looking for miracles.  Large ministries have been build around the “performing” of them.  But by themselves, miracles mean nothing, especially if those who witness the miracles remain unchanged.  A momentary excitement means nothing by itself.

4. The “Meaning” of the Witnesses, v. 14.

Their ministry is called “the second woe.”  This simply means that one more stroke has been taken toward the ultimate defeat and destruction of evil, and the third and final “woe” is coming quickly.  The seventh angel is about to sound.