Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 12:3-9

Revelation 12:3-9

Then another sign appeared in heaven: a huge red dragon that had seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadem crowns. 4 Now the dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born.
5
So the woman gave birth to a son, a male child, who is going to rule over all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was suddenly caught up to God and to his throne, 6 and she fled into the wilderness where a place had been prepared for her by God, so she could be taken care of for 1,260 days.
Then war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But the dragon was not strong enough to prevail, so there was no longer any place left in heaven for him and his angels. 9 So that huge dragon the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world was thrown down to the earth, and his angels along with him.
(NET Bible)

War in heaven!

As a boy I learned my stellar constellations early. My favorites were Orion in winter — because of its bright supergiants named Rigel and Betelgeuse — and the summer constellation Sagittarius, which looks like a teapot and contains the galactic core of the Milky Way with its vast black hole.

I was also familiar with another constellation near the Big Dipper. It winds sinuously and dimly between the Big and Little Dippers and bears the name Draco, Latin for Dragon. In our brightly lit urban skies, you can hardly see it, but its namesake is our ancient enemy, the Dragon. He is more commonly called Satan.

Greg Beale[1] explains that chapter 12 is the start of most of Revelations remaining visions. It reveals that Satan is the driving force behind the persecution of the saints as well as being the one behind the beast, the false prophet and the whore named Babylon.

By now you know that no group of symbol-interpretations meets with universal acceptance, and most of the dispute falls on the identity of the woman (12:1-2). Craig Keener says: The woman represents Israel or the faithful remnant of Israel. . . . Scholars have found here hints of the story of Eve. God had promised that this womans seed [Jesus, the Messiah] would ultimately crush the serpent (Gen. 3:15), a promise surely echoed in Revelation 12:9, 17.[2] That identification seems correct to me.

We need not guess the identity of the dragon because John expressly identifies him in 12:9 as the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan. Grant Osborne[3] explains that the dragon was a familiar symbol in every ancient culture; indeed, the dragon was a symbol closely associated with demonic powers throughout the ancient world.

Osborne[4] also interprets the seven heads and ten horns (12:3) by using the ancient idea that horns symbolized strength, especially military strength. He connects this section with 17:12-14 where the ten horns are explicitly identified as ten kings who give their authority to the beast.

Before trying to destroy the newborn Christ, Satan first led a revolt in heaven, described symbolically in 12:4. Keener says: Jewish people recognized that Satans revolt had long ago led to the fall of many angels (often associated with Gen. 6:2), a view supported by 1 Peter 3:19-22, 2 Peter 2:4.[5] The rebel Satan and his angelic allies attempt to destroy Jesus at birth (12:4). This may refer to King Herods attempt to find and kill the infant Messiah (Matt. 2) by using the wise men to locate him.

In an apparent reference to Jesus resurrection, John speaks of Jesus being caught up to God and to his throne (12:5) by using the forceful Greek verb harpaz? (snatch away).[6]

Rev. 12:6 informs us that a remnant of Israel — others say it is the church — will be preserved in some fashion for the 1260 days (42 months). This would appear to be the same period of time identified for the two witnesses (11:3) to speak out.

By any measure, Rev. 12:7 is one of the more astonishing statements in the Bible: Then war broke out in heaven. While the prior verses dealt largely with events on the earth, next we have an expansion of the idea broached in 12:4: Now the dragons tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth. Keener[7] informs us that in Revelation stars usually symbolize angels. When Satan rebelled, he took allies down with him.

A more literal translation of 12:8 would be: No longer was any place found for them [i.e., the dragon and his angels] in heaven. This is a divine passive! God found no place for Satan and his angels in heaven. The NLT aptly paraphrases, And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven (12:8, NLT).

Keener points out: Satans being hurled to the earth ends his position of privilege in Gods court. Ironically, Satans loss of place ([Greek] topos, 12:8) contrasts starkly with the place (topos) of refuge God provides his own people persecuted by Satan (12:6, 14).[8]

How goes the war?

No, I am not talking about Afghanistan or Iraq; nor do I speak of the dozens of smaller wars now occurring world-wide. Satan has waged total war against God, his people, and you personally from the beginning. Jesus said this about Satan: He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44).

Remember what Jesus said for our benefit: I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage I have conquered the world. (John 16:33).

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 622-623.

[2] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 314-315.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 458.

[4] Osborne, Revelation, 460.

[5] Keener, Revelation, 317-318.

[6] This same verb is used in 1 Thess. 4:17 to refer to the believers who will be suddenly caught up together with them [the dead in Christ, who rise first] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.

[7] Keener, Revelation, 317.

[8] Keener, Revelation, 321.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 9:1–6

Revelation 9:1–6
Then the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the abyss. 2 He opened the shaft of the abyss and smoke rose out of it like smoke from a giant furnace. The sun and the air were darkened with smoke from the shaft. 3 Then out of the smoke came locusts onto the earth, and they were given power like that of the scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to damage the grass of the earth, or any green plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their forehead. 5 The locusts were not given permission to kill them, but only to torture them for five months, and their torture was like that of a scorpion when it stings a person. 6 In those days people will seek death, but will not be able to find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.(NET Bible)

The opening of the seventh seal

If there is one thing Revelation accomplishes, it is to make each of us feel insignificant in comparison to the awesome forces God unleashes on the world. The effect is to remove any sense of controlling our environment or future.

In truth, God is no less sovereign at this moment than during the visions John presents. But, for the moment, God is withholding his hand of judgment and power to allow time for repentance. Be careful not to let God’s forbearance lull you into believing you are in charge!

Previously I have said that the seventh seal encapsulates the increasingly severe judgments pictured by the seven trumpets and seven bowls. The escalating severity is building to a crescendo of violence. Many commentators have noted the numerous parallels between the plagues God brought on Egypt (Exod. 7–10), and the trumpet and bowl judgments.

Keener describes the surprising effect of Rev. 8:1: “After six thunderous seals of judgment (6:1–17) and a dramatic interlude in 7:1–17, the reader may be pardoned for a sense of anticlimax when reaching the final seal and hearing — silence.”[1]

After the seven angels are given trumpets (8:2), another angel offers burning incense along with “the prayers of all the saints” (8:3) before God. Then the same censer (a brass container or fire-pan) used for the incense is used to scoop coals of fire from the altar that are then hurled onto the earth. Osborne says: “The thrust of the first coals was to lift incense and prayers to God [8:3-4], but now the coals become the ‘fire’ of judgment [8:5]. . . . As we have seen, worship and judgment are interconnected throughout this book.”[2]

The first four trumpets affect one-third of the earth in a deadly way (8:6–12). But these hard blows are nothing to the coming three trumpets, as we are told in 8:13: “Woe! Woe! Woe to those who live on the earth because of the remaining sounds of the trumpets of the three angels who are about to blow them!”

Beale explains why the last three trumpets are worse than the first four: “The woes are worse than the initial four in that they directly strike the wicked.”[3] Even while judgment is falling, repentance is what God desires.

The identity and allegiance of the angel described in 9:1 is disputed. Though there are good arguments on each side, I am inclined to agree with the ESV Study Bible, which says, “The star fallen from heaven to earth is Satan, whom Jesus saw fall like lightning as a result of his disciples’ ministry (Luke 10:18).”[4] Note that “he was given the key to the shaft of the abyss” (9:1), which is a divine passive. Beale says, “Christ is ultimately the one who bestows this key, since he has overcome Satan and now ‘possesses the keys of death and Hades’ (1:18).”[5]

The abyss (NET, NIV, HCSB) is also translated as pit (ESV, KJV, NLT); in fact, it is the common Greek word phrear, meaning “well.” However, the word well is modified by the Greek noun abyssos, meaning “an immensely deep space.”[6] So, the “well of the abyss” has been rendered by NET as “the shaft of the abyss” (9:1). Of greater importance is what the Bible says about this place. In the NT it appears as a prison for evil spirits (Luke 8:31, 2 Pet. 2:4, Jude 6) where the beast (11:7) and Satan (20:1–3) are confined for a time.

The locusts of Revelation 9 are demonic spirits from the abyss whose mission is to torment the unbelieving peoples of the earth, but not the believers who have the seal of God (9:4).

There are many ironies in Revelation. These who are seeking death find that it runs away from them by God’s command!

All the important things in life come from one person

It is hard to imagine a long period of time when one’s highest aspiration would be to die! Of course, these who desire death are the ones who have killed every Christian they can find. Only God can grant them what they want.

“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth.
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn; Truth has gone from my mouth, a word that will not be revoked:
Every knee will bow to me, every tongue will swear allegiance.”
(Isa. 45:2223, Christian Standard Bible).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 253.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 346-347.

[3] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 489.

[4] ESV Study Bible, notes for Revelation 9:1.

[5] Beale, Revelation, 493.

[6] W. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3d ed. Revised and edited by F. W. Danker, translated by W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich and F. W. Danker (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2000) abyssos, abyss, q.v.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 3:14–15

Genesis 3:14–15
The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the wild beasts and all the living creatures of the field! On your belly you will crawl and dust you will eat all the days of your life. 15 And I will put hostility between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; her offspring will attack your head, and you will attack her offspring’s heel.”
(NET Bible)

A Failure to Rule — A Resulting Curse

When someone is unexpectedly struck down, we call it being “blind-sided.” As the term suggests, being blind-sided happens when someone loses sight of a threat which should not have been ignored.

Many people have lost sight of God’s rulership over every aspect of our world and the fact that he appointed us to rule for him over the physical and animal world. The first threat arose from that unexpected quarter in the animal-human relationship. Simply put, humanity failed to “rule over” (Gen. 1:28) the animal population in that Eve was deceived by the serpent.

What long-term consequences resulted from our blind neglect? How does our danger of being blind-sided manifest itself today?

Older folks will recognize the childhood taunt: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” This saying is generally accurate except when God speaks a word against someone. That will hurt like fire and probably for a long time!

In the wake of deception and disobedience, the time for a reckoning has arrived, and the Lord will surely deliver it. He does so in inverse order of the sins named for those involved:

Sin of the man (Gen. 3:9-11)                        Judgment on the man (Gen. 3:17-19)

Sin of the woman (Gen. 3:12)                      Judgment on the woman (Gen. 3:16)

Sin of the serpent (Gen. 3:13)                     Judgment on the serpent (Gen. 3:14-15)[1]

This gives a literary order of ABCCBA (man=A, woman=B, serpent=C). Genesis is filled with such literary touches.

When God announces the consequences for what has happened, they have a consistent structure described by Hamilton: “To each of the trespassers God speaks a word which involves both a life function and a relationship. Thus the snake is cursed in his mode of locomotion, and his relationship with the woman and her seed is to be one of hostility.”[2] The way this structure works for the woman and the man will appear later in the study.

We are accustomed to the idea that one will experience consequences for actions, but in Genesis 3:14 it happens for the first time. God’s words purposely begin with the word “because” to emphasize the connection of consequences with sins. Cursing is the opposite of blessing. The shrewd serpent must now slither on its belly; the one who tempted the woman to eat must eat dust himself. Hamilton says: “Obviously, snakes do not eat dust, and no ancient writer ever thought they did. One has to take this passage symbolically, not literally. . . . The writer clearly intends these two facts to be expressions of humiliation and subjugation.”[3]

Genesis 3:15 contains a world of issues whose dimensions we may only outline here. It helps to remember the disrupted relationships (here the woman and the serpent, as also carried forward in their offspring). This section “is a curse on the serpent, not on mankind, and something less than a draw would be expected”[4] in the struggle between the serpent’s offspring and the woman’s offspring.

Next, it helps to see what stays the same in the verse and what changes. As to changes, the contrasts are “head” with “heel” and “her offspring” with “your offspring.” The hostile relationship between the woman and the serpent results in repeated attacks (carried on through the offspring), but the verb describing the attacks is the same in both cases. Most translations overtly retain this sameness (NET “attack . . . attack,” NASB “bruise . . . bruise”), but a few introduce an unwarranted variation (NIV 1984 and NIV 2011 “crush . . . strike”).

Wenham says, “Once admitted that the serpent symbolizes sin, death, and the power of evil, it becomes much more likely that the curse envisages a long struggle between good and evil, with mankind eventually triumphing.”[5]

From the revelation of the New Testament we know that the struggle will be won decisively and finally by Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews tells us, “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil),” (Heb. 2:14).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 196.

[2] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 196.

[3] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 196-197.

[4] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 80.

[5] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 80.

 

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 3:3–5

Genesis 3:3–5
3 “but concerning the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the orchard God said, ‘You must not eat from it, and you must not touch it, or else you will die.’”  4 The serpent said to the woman, “Surely you will not die,  5 for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil.”
(NET Bible)

Satan’s Deception Continues

The line of those who want to oppose what God has said grows longer every day. Whether we speak of Richard Dawkins penning shallow atheism, scientists scorning any questions about Darwinian evolution (but not answering them), or those who try to remove God from civil society, many are touting their own views as more worthy than God’s. Even worse, some want to distort God into their own deceptive image.

How can we recognize challenges to God’s words and ways? What do we make of the exaltation of human knowledge above God’s revelation? Are we as a culture becoming more like God’s representatives or more like God’s enemies?

As we saw in Genesis 3:1, the serpent mockingly distorted God’s commands. The woman, having foolishly chosen to deal with him alone, tried to restate those commands in a more accurate way (Gen. 3:2). As one carefully examines her answer from start to finish, the conclusion is that it moves from small errors to larger ones. Gordon Wenham says: “These slight alterations to God’s remarks suggest that the woman has already moved slightly away from God toward the serpent’s attitudes. The creator’s generosity is not being given its full due.”[1]

In case you are finding it difficult to see what is wrong, we will examine two examples. First, the words “and you must not touch it” are pure invention on the woman’s part. It is not the woman’s place to add to what God has said; to do so shows an assertion of independence that will soon explode in full form.

A second error in the woman’s description of God’s commands is a softening of the consequence of disobedience. The NET Bible Notes point out that the woman uses a grammatical form that means “in order that you not die.” That is less emphatic than the intensive form used by God when he said “you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17).[2] To take God’s warning lightly is like taking a group of toddlers for a walk down the narrow donkey-trail into the Grand Canyon.

The serpent next moves from provocative suggestion to outright rejection of God’s commands. The serpent opens with a direct attack on the words of God, and then he immediately offers a (false) motivation to support his position. Concerning Gen. 3:4, the NET Bible Notes say: “The response of the serpent [amounts to] a blatant negation equal to saying: ‘Not – you will surely die’ . . . . The serpent is a liar, denying that there is a penalty for sin (see John 8:44).”[3] More than that, he is directly contradicting God.

Though we will spend time analyzing the destructive nature of the serpent’s remarks, it is never our place as those created by the Lord God to entertain direct challenges to what he has said, as if they might contain something helpful. Ideas amounting to direct defiance of God must be totally rejected without stopping to analyze whether they might contain even a grain of truth. The serpent’s advice was pure poison; after taking it, one may live for a little while, but such an existence is neither pleasant nor lasting.

The woman, however, took the bait. We will see that tragedy another day.

The problem is not so much that the serpent lies about what will happen; the problem is what he does not say. What the serpent leaves out is that their eyes will be opened to a world of pain and suffering and that their children will have the same. He fails to affirm that they will indeed die in the course of time, a fate their children will share. Worse still, they will change from a life of closeness with God in Eden to one of separation from God in a world ruined by sin.

Then there is the matter of the man and woman becoming like one among the heavenly council (“divine beings”).[4] While there is some truth to that assertion by the serpent, some members of that council are headed for eternity in the lake of fire. Who is to say that the man and woman will not join them?

Such gross omissions and distortions are common tactics by the evil one. But he is more than a liar. Jesus said: “You people are from your father the devil, and you want to do what your father desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44, emphasis added).

To what does the italicized portion of Jesus’ words refer? New Testament scholar Craig Keener says, “Most interpreters associate the devil’s start as a murderer with the fall of humanity, an association supported by its link with the devil’s role as deceiver.”[5]

The devil murdered the man and the woman in the way of a disguised Halloween figure distributing candy-coated poison to the unwary. You must understand that this murderer is still at large!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 73.

[2] NET Bible Notes for Gen. 3:3.

[3] NET Bible Notes for Gen. 3:4.

[4] See the NET Bible Notes on Gen. 3:5 for a more detailed discussion of the interpretational options; the heavenly council is their choice.

[5] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003) 760.

 

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 3:1–2

Genesis 3:1–2
1 Now the serpent was more shrewd than any of the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Is it really true that God said, ‘You must not eat from any tree of the orchard’?”  2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit from the trees of the orchard;”
(NET Bible)

Off to a Bad Start

Satan’s question “Is it really true that God said . . .?” has vexed humanity down to this very day. Satan took on a poorly informed opponent and dealt humanity a mortal blow. His servants today question whether the great story of God redeeming humanity through Jesus Christ might simply be a story told by those who want to hold religious power over others.

How do we know what is true? If we pick the wrong answer to that question, how serious will the consequences be?

The literary creativity in Genesis is great, and nowhere more so than in Genesis 3:1. In the previous verse, Genesis 2:25, the word for “naked” is ‘arom, and in Genesis 3:1 the word for “shrewd” is ‘arom. Yes, the two words are spelled the same and sound identical, a situation that sometimes occurs in English. Gordon Wenham cleverly reproduces this play on words in English: “They [the man and his wife] will seek themselves to be shrewd (cf. 3:6) but will discover that they are ‘nude’ (3:7, 10).”[1]

Before going further into the details, let us take a moment to review a few points. First, the man was explicitly given the duty to guard the garden (Gen. 2:15). Yet, here is a dire threat confronting his mate! A great deal of blame has been placed on the woman in these events, but one must wonder whether the failure was shared. Second, consider that when the serpent approaches, the woman is alone. Did not God say that being alone was “not good” (Gen. 2:18)? While we are not given full details of this scene, what we do see is disturbing.

While we are making general observations, consider that in Gen. 1:2 we found the earth in a negative condition, a dark and formless waste of water. Now we see that evil incarnate has invaded Eden in the form of the serpent. Genesis says nothing about the origin of evil, but its fell presence is seen all too clearly. In spite of this danger, no harm need come to the man and woman if only they obey what God has said.

The serpent in Eden was not the same as those we have today. In time we will see that the serpent currently crawls on the ground as a curse from God beyond the curse that has fallen on all of creation due to sin (Gen. 3:14). Perhaps the serpent was formerly a possessor of the attractiveness that draws interest; think how we react to a puppy or the graceful strength of a dolphin. We simply do not know, so we should not assume too much about the world before sin ruined it.

The choice of the word “shrewd” (Hebrew: ‘arom) to describe the serpent may be because a similar word means “to practice divination,” a distinctly demonic activity that God forbids (Deut. 18:10). The word ‘arom refers to a characteristic that can be either a virtue or a vice. Wenham says, “On the one hand it is a virtue the wise should cultivate (Prov. 12:16; 13:16), but misused it becomes wiliness and guile (Job 5:12; 15:5; cf. Exod. 21:14; Josh. 9:4).”[2] Satan always distorts a virtue into a vice.

The first voice to speak to humanity other than God’s is that of the serpent. Satan’s strategy of deception against humanity begins in the most unlikely place, Eden. Victor Hamilton offers a slightly different translation to bring out the fact that the serpent’s “first words should not be construed as a question but as an expression of [feigned] shock and surprise.”[3]

Genesis 3:1b (Hamilton) says: “Indeed! To think that God said you are not to eat of any tree of the garden!”[4] This provocative comment is designed to engage the woman and start a conversation. It works! But a moment’s reflection leads to questions. Wenham says: “But how, the narrator expects us to ask, did the snake know anything about God’s command? If he heard that command, why has he so grossly distorted it?”[5]

Eve does not express any questions or show any sense of danger. After the narrator’s dramatic declaration that the man and woman are “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24, ESV), we find the woman taking action independent of her mate. She begins (Genesis 3:2) by approximately expressing the general rule God had given the man (Gen. 2:16), but we will see tomorrow that she had a less accurate grasp of the one, specific exception (Gen. 2:17).

The Lord God had given Adam the truth about the garden, but, by failing to know it accurately, the woman quickly moved toward trouble. Ignorance was not bliss in Eden.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 72.

[2] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 72.

[3] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 188.

[4] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 186.

[5] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 73.