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.

Hebrews 11:8-12, 17-19, “The Faith of Abraham”

[8]By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would after receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  [9]By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; [10]for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
[11]By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who has promised.  [12]Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude – innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.
[17]By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, [18]of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” [19]concluding that God was able to raise him us, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.  (NKJV)

(We believe that vs. 13-16 refers to people other than Abraham, though he may be included.  We’ll look at them in our next post.)

Abraham is one of the most-often-mentioned people in the Bible.  Indeed, his life forms the basis for a great deal of Biblical revelation and teaching, if not the majority of it.  Except for the Lord Jesus, perhaps no other person had more influence on the content of Scripture than Abraham.
In addition to Hebrews 11, there is Romans 4:16, which also mentions the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.  The term “father” isn’t used in the sense of “generation,” but of “relationship”.  Though the Bible doesn’t clearly support the term “spiritual Israel” to describe “the church,” it does clearly teach, to coin a phrase, that we are “spiritual Isaac,” Galatians 4:28.  That is, believers aren’t the children of Abraham “naturally,” but “spiritually.”
As the child bears a certain resemblance to the parent, so does “spiritual Isaac” resemble Abraham, particularly in the matter of his “faith.”  That we might not fall into the delusion that “faith” is mere intellectual acceptance of certain facts or doctrines, or that it is simply some sort of magic formula by which we may obtain our fondest desires, let’s look at what our text says about “the faith of Abraham”.

1. His faith did the impractical, vs. 8-10.

He left his native land (and family), v. 8.
His story begins in Genesis 12.  Ur was no insignificant little town, but a major metropolis of its day.  In v. 8, the thing that gets me about this move was that he didn’t know where he was going.

Have you ever thought about this?

Abraham comes home one day and says to Sarah,”Start packing.  We’re going to move!”  And Sarah replies, “Oh?  Where?”  And Abraham says to her, “I don’t know.”  And then, when the moving camels begin to appear around their home, the neighbors ask, “Where you going?”  And they reply, “We don’t know.”

There’s something else.

He lived inas in a foreign country“, v. 9.
Though it was his by promise, he never owned any of it, except for a parcel of land where he buried Sarah and some of his descendants buried their dead, Genesis 49:29-33; 50:12, 13.
In the words of the old Gospel song, “This world is not my home,” though I think we tend to forget that.  One day, that house we spend so much time fixing up, or that car that we think so much of – all gone!  Or if they’re not, we will be.

2. His faith believed the impossible, vs. 11, 12, 19.

The story of this is found in Genesis 17 and 18.  Abraham and Sarah had been married long enough for it to become evident that she was barren.  God promised Abraham a son, Genesis 17:1-8.  In all fairness to Sarah, considering what happened with Hagar before the birth of that son, God didn’t specifically say that Abraham would have a son through Sarah. Since she was his wife, though, that might be taken for granted.  He did specifically mention her after the birth of Ishmael, Genesis 18:10, more than thirteen years later.
What Sarah did was a common practice of the day.  Indeed, later on, four of Jacob’s twelve sons were born to women in situations similar to Hagar, Genesis 29, 30.
I guess this serves a lesson to be careful about how we approach the promises of God.  Perhaps it serves to remind us that, when we can’t figure out how God is going to do something, or if it seems that He’s not doing anything, we better not try to figure out how we are going to do it.  After all, the current uproar in the Middle East is a direct result of what they did all those centuries ago.  Something common, acceptable and legal.
It’s true that Hebrews doesn’t mention all this.  God doesn’t deny the faults and failings of His people, but He doesn’t dwell on them like the world does, and He doesn’t define them by their shortcomings.  Perhaps there’s a lesson for us in this, as well.  We’re not defined by the mess we tend to make of things, but by the grace and mercy of God.  There are no “self-made” Christians.

3. His faith did the inexplicable, vs. 17, 18.

The world has a huge amount of difficulty with this episode, recorded in Genesis 22:1-19.  I even heard a character on TV ask, “What kind of a father does that to his son?””

The answer: the kind of father that Abraham was.

You see, Genesis isn’t all that’s said about this.  Hebrews 11 gives us a look “behind the scenes,” if you will, into the mind of Abraham, though Genesis does give us a glimpse there.  When Abraham was giving instructions to the two men who accompanied him and his son, as they were being left behind while Abraham and Isaac continued on, Abraham said, “The lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back,” Genesis 22:5.  Actually, it loses a lot in translation.  The sentence shows strong determination.   What Abraham really said was, “We are determined to go, we are determined to worship, we are determined to return.”

And notice that Abraham rose early in the morning  to be obedient to God.  There was no half-hearted or reluctant response, though God hadn’t made it “easy” for him:  “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…,” Genesis 22:2.
1. He didn’t argue that this was inconsistent with or nullified the promise of a lot of descendants.
2. He believed God could do something that no one had ever yet seen – resurrect a dead body, Hebrews 11:19.  That’s how he was able to say, “We will return….”
3. Though Isaac wasn’t actually killed, he was sacrificed!

There are some misconceptions about the part Isaac played in all this.  Just yesterday, I saw a picture where he’s shown as 10 or 12 or so, with Abraham’s arm around him.  It’s a common view, if not the usual one.

For the last part of the journey, Isaac himself carried the wood, Genesis 22:6.  This wasn’t just a couple of sticks.  And when it came time for Abraham to prepare him for the sacrifice, based on the fact he was able to carry a heavy load up a mountain, Isaac would have been well able to defend himself and prevent it.  He was a willing participant.  This shows a great respect for and trust in his father.  Perhaps also for the God of his father, Genesis 22:8.  What do you suppose passed between father and son when God did indeed provide for Himself the lamb?  Do you think they had any trouble “worshiping”?  Needed any special “music”?  Do you think Isaac ever forgot those moments?

Somehow, we’ve gotten the idea that faith is “easy.”  And maybe “faith” as the world defines it is.  A few little religious formalities.  Or even a lot of them.  An ornate religious building.  Special days and seasons of the year.  But the “faith of Abraham” isn’t so easy.  Our Lord said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it,” Matthew 16:24, 25.

“Take up his cross.”  I think we misunderstand this, too.  Perhaps a long-suffering spouse with a less than ideal spouse might think this is a “cross” to bear.  Perhaps some situation in life – health problems, financial difficulties, or some other burden.  We’ve never seen a cross, at least as it was used in executions.  We’ve prettied it all up and made it respectable, but it was an ugly thing.  It wasn’t a “burden of life;” it was an instrument of death!

Picture a condemned man carrying a cross to his execution.  In the crowd watching him, he might see his wife and children.  He might pass some friends.  He might pass his place of business or where he had worked.  He might have made plans for the future.

None of this mattered.

He was carrying his cross.

At the same time, to “carry our cross” doesn’t mean that we simply abandon everything and go out into the desert somewhere.  It does mean that if there’s something preventing us from serving God as He would have us serve Him, we do have to abandon that.  We have to “deny ourselves.”

And, no, it’s not easy.

4. His faith received the immeasurable, v. 12; Romans 4:13.

Abraham gave up a great deal, and was willing to give up even more.  Did he lose?

Not in the least.

He was promised –

An innumerable family, Genesis 22:12.

God used two figures to show the number of Abraham’ posterity:
1. stars of the sky.  We’ve dealt with this in another post, so will just recap here.  Even as late as the 17th Century, men had only catalogued a little over a thousand stars.  It wasn’t until January 7, 1610, with the first telescope, that Galileo began the discovery that the stars are indeed innumerable.
I can imagine what the “science” of Abraham’s day might have said – and yes, I know I’m reading into the text here – “That’s not possible!  That’s not scientific!”  So God uses another figure.
2. sand which by the seashore.  Of course, I suppose that science and rationalism, in whatever form they might have taken back then, would exclaim, “Aha!  There are contradictions in the Bible!” – just like they do today.  “There are only a few stars!  Nothing at all like the sand of the sea!”  But now we know that God was right.  And the skeptics were wrong.

He still is.  And they still are.

An inconceivable future, Romans 4:13.

Paul wrote that Abraham was promised that he would be heir of the world.  This isn’t the place to get into a lengthy discussion of the different views of prophecy.  I’ve done that in several other posts.
Let’s just leave it with 2 Peter 3:13, we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, [or, “is at home”].

I can’t wait!

Faith… ! ?

There are a lot of “definitions” of faith, a lot of thoughts about it.  I just saw one talking about a “leap of faith.”  “Faith” has become a synonym for “religion,” so that we hear of “people of faith,” regardless of what that “faith” might be.  There are “faith-based” organizations.  “Faith is the willingness to act upon your sense of what you think lies behind the external circumstances.”  This one from a well-known Christian artist whose paintings are indeed beautiful.  However, faith deals with what God says lies behind the external circumstances.  Our “understanding” of such things tends to be faulty, to say the least.  Then there are those who think faith is some sort of bell we can ding to get God to do something for us.

The world has its “definitions” of the word.  “Faith is believing what you know not to be true.”  “Faith is a leap in the dark.”  “Faith is believing in something despite the evidence.”  Now, there may be some truth in that, though not the way the world thinks of it.  “Faith” is irrational and unreasonable.  Faith is for the weak and ignorant.  Faith is for the gullible.

To  restate one of the “definitions” above, I prefer to think of faith as “a leap into the light.”  Or maybe, because of the light.

Faith is not some vague, nebulous, wishful thinking.  According to Hebrews 11, it is something based solidly and only and completely on the Word of God.  As you go through that list of Old Testament saints, you’ll find that their guiding light was what God had told them and promised.

The writer starts off with the idea that “faith” indeed deals with things not “in evidence.”  This is what I meant a moment ago in my comment about one of the world’s definitions.

The writer starts off with creation itself:  the worlds were framed by the word of God.  He refers to and corroborates Genesis 1 and 2.  God said.   God said.  God said.

By the way, how did the “ignorant goat herders” who are alleged to have written the Bible know that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible?  That is, they were not “in evidence”?

Abel offered the sacrifice God commanded.  Cain thought the best he could do would be good enough.

Enoch walked with God in a time of increasing ungodliness and wickedness, kind of like 2013.

Noah built an ark to escape a flood in a world where it never rained.

Abraham pulled up stakes and moved somewhere he didn’t know about simply because God told him to.

[Have you ever really thought about that?  Abraham comes home one day and says to Sarah, “Start packing.  We’re going to move.”

“Oh?  Where are we going?”

“I don’t know.”]

Abraham and Sarah both believed they would have the child God promised them, though they were well beyond the ages for such things.

Abraham believed God could raise Isaac from the dead when he was told to sacrifice that very same beloved son of promise.

On and on.  I leave you to read the rest of the chapter.  See how the Word of God guided and controlled what these “faith-worthies” did – and suffered.

So you see, “faith” is an active and obedient response to the Word of God.  It isn’t about what we think or can see, but about what God says.  It isn’t just some vague feeling.  It’s not about some momentary emotional response based on some “experience”.  It’s a solid, every-day commitment to what God says.  It isn’t  just about “doctrine,” though doctrine is very important, and should have much more attention paid to it than is usually done.  It does matter what you believe.  But what we believe must be based on what the Bible says, not just on what men say the Bible says.  This means that we have to read it ourselves.  One of the sad things about the church in our time is the fact that only a small percentage of “Christians” read the Bible and know what it really says.

Why do you think there are such attacks against the Bible?  Why are there such efforts to destroy its credibility?  Because it tells us things the enemy of our soul doesn’t want us to know.  It tells us to do things that we don’t want to do in and of ourselves.

Oh, let me encourage you.  Read the Bible.  Believe what it says.  Do what it says.  It’s God’s love letter to you.

[If you want some more on this, read my earlier posts of “Abraham and Isaac,” and “Look Now Toward Heaven”.]