Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 12:10–14

Revelation 12:10–14
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the ruling authority of his Christ, have now come, because the accuser of our brothers and sisters, the one who accuses them day and night before our God, has been thrown down. 11 But they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. 12 Therefore you heavens rejoice, and all who reside in them! But woe to the earth and the sea because the devil has come down to you! He is filled with terrible anger, for he knows that he only has a little time!”
13 Now when the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of a giant eagle so that she could fly out into the wilderness, to the place God prepared for her, where she is taken care of – away from the presence of the serpent – for a time, times, and half a time.
(NET Bible)

One awesome war!

Many a young man has stood in football gear, breathing hard after wind sprints, while his coach solemnly intones: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” If you had been watching and listening closely, you might have heard a smaller player in the back mutter between gasps, “Yeah, or they die!” [That may have been my  voice.]

In the midst of the great tribulation, the going gets very tough indeed. But those committed to Christ keep on obeying him and testifying about him. And, yes, many of them die.

It is not so clear when the war in heaven, whose outcome is celebrated in Rev. 12:10–12, took place. Presumably, we can say that if the timing were important to us, then we would have been told. Heartened by the defeat of Satan, believers will become overcomers “by the blood of the Lamb” (12:11), and they will demonstrate this by bearing witness to Christ even when it costs their lives.

Victory in heaven brings rejoicing there, but heaven’s gain comes at the cost of the earth which must mourn and bear the rage of the fallen devil (12:12). Grant Osborne says: “In the OT heaven and earth are normally called on to rejoice together (Ps. 96.11; Isa. 44:23; 49:13). Since the ‘earth’ has come under the control of evil powers, however, it must suffer the consequences.”[1]

Interpreting the section covered by 12:13–17 depends upon the identification of two entities: “the woman who had given birth to the male child” (12:13) and “the rest of her children” (12:17). The number of options does not permit me to examine all the interpretive choices. However, it is clear that in biblical history Satan has attacked both Israel, the children of Abraham, and the church, which is the assembly composed of people from every nation, tribe, and language who are committed to Jesus Christ.

My resolution of the two identities is that the woman represents Israel and “the rest of her children” (12:17) represents the church. Israel must survive the tribulation in order to fulfill the prophecies of Zechariah 12, which involve the national conversion of Israel at the second coming of Christ. That accounts for God’s protection of the woman since “a place had been prepared for her by God, so she could be taken care of for 1,260 days” (12:6, 14).

When I say “the rest of her children” (12:17) means people who belong to the church, some will object that the church will be taken out of the world prior to the terrors of the tribulation in keeping with 1 Thess. 4:16–17, an event known as the rapture of the church.[2] In my view, the rapture will occur before the tribulation, but many do not agree. No matter who is right, there will be people who trust in Jesus Christ during the tribulation, and they are just as surely part of the church as those of us who came to Christ before those terrible times come. So, no matter what position a person takes about the timing of the tribulation and the rapture, part of the church will endure Satan’s attacks when he cannot destroy the protected woman.

Although these times will be terrible, the believers “keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony about Jesus” (12:17).

What do you fear?

We do not know what the future holds for Christians. Some today wring their hands, predict dire developments and express outrage. But Christians described in the New Testament lived and thrived in a much more hostile cultural environment than we face. They did so by obeying the Lord’s commands and maintaining a vibrant witness about Jesus.

No matter how fierce the cultural winds become, Jesus defines our focus: “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before God’s angels.” (Luke 12:8).

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

[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 477.

[2] “Rapture” means snatching away or taking away, a translation of the Greek verb harpaz? in 1 Thess. 4:17.

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.