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.

Interpreting the Book of Revelation — Part 2

If you have not already done so, it is vital to read Part 1 of this Introduction to the coming posts about the Book of Revelation.

Interpreting the Symbolic Language of Revelation

To provide the reader an example of Revelation’s symbolic language, consider Revelation 5:6, which says: “Then I saw standing in the middle of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the middle of the elders, a Lamb that appeared to have been killed. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (Rev. 5:6).

Are we to believe that John saw an actual young sheep on the throne? No, the thoughtful reader knows the Lamb is Jesus, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29b). Notice too that the seven horns are not interpreted by John, but John does explain the seven eyes as representing the “seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Rev. 5:6b). So, we also find that some symbols in Revelation are immediately interpreted by the author and some are not.

Keener describes the first source for interpreting the symbols:

But the clear and primary background against which to read the book’s prophecies, a background shared with other Jewish apocalyptic works, is the Old Testament. Revelation, like the Fourth Gospel, is full of implicit allusions to the Old Testament; indeed, it contains more biblical allusions than any other early Christian work, which some estimate appear in nearly 70 percent of Revelation’s verses.[1]

The Bible shows its God-given authenticity by its self-referential nature. In other words, Scripture is an interlocking whole, and the best source for interpreting a difficult biblical text may be the remainder of God’s revelation.

So, we who sail above the landscape of Revelation are not free to go wherever our imagination takes us; rather we must navigate by the landmarks provided by the Old Testament prophets and the conceptual world of the original readers. Even still, the landscape will not be totally clear to our understanding.

The Intended Effect on Readers

Why would God use so many symbols in communicating this vision to John? While we can only speculate, Osborne cites some convincing arguments from previous scholars: “The symbols have a special communicative function in addressing the social world of the original readers, thus opening up a new symbolic world for them.”[2] Their social world was apparently one of persecution and conflict with an unbelieving society. So, how would a new symbolic world help these early Christians reframe their experiences?

Osborne answers:

The visions guide readers into a [surpassing] reality that takes precedence over the current situation and encourages readers to persevere in the midst of their trials.  The visions reverse normal experience by making the heavenly mysteries the real world and depicting the present crisis as a temporary, illusory situation.[3]

So, God is shaping our thinking through glimpses into his awesome and frightening plans for judging a world in rebellion and replacing it with an amazing new creation designed for those who trust in Jesus Christ, the King of the Ages.

Two Views of the Future

Any discussion of the Apocalypse will bring out some terminology that is familiar to prophecy fanatics and baffling to the uninitiated. Four events are involved: (1) the thousand-year reign of Christ known as the Millennium (Rev. 20:4); (2) the seven-year period known as the Tribulation (Matt. 24:21); (3) the second coming of Christ to the earth (Rev. 19 and Matt. 24:30); and (4) the snatching away of the church to Jesus in an event known as the rapture (1 Thess. 4:16–17).

The first two events may reliably be put in sequence with the tribulation coming before the Millennium; that is the sequence found in both Matthew 24 and Revelation 4–19. The best question to ask next is where to place the second coming of Christ in relation to the tribulation-Millennium pair. Those who place the second coming of Christ before the Millennium and after the tribulation are called premillennialists. This premillennial view is the most commonly known and accepted position among Protestant evangelicals, and it is the view adopted in this series of posts.

The only other view worth mention believes that the second coming of Christ takes place at the end of the Millennium; those conservative Christians who hold this view are called amillennialists. The word amillennial means “no millennium,” and those who hold this view accept no future Millennium since they believe it is occurring right now. In other words, they believe our current experience as Christians is the kingdom of God promised in Scripture. I do not agree!

The sequence I accept is rapture — tribulation — second coming — Millennium. The rapture is the hardest event to sequence, and my positioning makes me pretribulational.

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) 33.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 15.

[3] Osborne, Revelation, 14.