Who will win: The woman and her child or the dragon and its beasts? (Rev. 12-13)

Publié le 13 octobre 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon preached by Pastor Samuel Niblack on 3rd October 2021

How was your week? Has it been easy or difficult to do what is right, just, and good? Has it been easy or difficult for you to maintain a Christian witness at work, or at home, or at school? Does the future ahead seem easy or difficult? Well, the text today shows why things are often difficult for us.

Let’s read Revelation ch. 12

« 1 Then a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and with the moon under her feet, and on her head was a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was screaming in labor pains, struggling to give birth. 3 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.

7 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. 10 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. 15 Then the serpent spouted water like a river out of his mouth after the woman in an attempt to sweep her away by a flood, 16 but the earth came to her rescue; the ground opened up and swallowed the river that the dragon had spewed from his mouth. 17 So the dragon became enraged at the woman and went away to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony about Jesus. And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore. »

« We are at war, » said Macron about the Covid-19 pandemic. This statement is even more appropriate to describe the history of humanity. According to the Bible, evil exists, Satan exists. Life is best explained when we know that there is a cosmic, spiritual war between good and evil (12v7, 13.7). Like all wars, it’s lasting longer than you first thought. And now, you’ve grown tired, and you have the desire to give up. You’ve had enough!

English writer G.K. Chesterton said, « …the one perfectly divine thing, the one glimpse of God’s paradise given on earth, is to fight a losing battle- and not lose it. » This morning, I would like to take you through this paradise. Many times, to be a Christian will seem like to fight a losing battle. But this book encourages us to hold on and persevere. 12v11, 17, 13.10b 

To begin with, I’d like to give two keys to understand the book of Revelation.  1) The style. 2) The time

The text we’ve just read is written in an apocalyptic style -a style very symbolic, dramatic, with dragons, monsters, eagles, and stars. You might be wondering, « What is it about? I don’t understand anything, I’m lost… » First, you need to know that the symbols used are either explained in the book (as in v9 with the symbol of the dragon that is « the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan ») or can be decoded with the rest of the Bible. Second, I can tell you that you actually understand more than you might think. Stories of dragons and monsters refer to a very evocative style. This is the most accessible style, even to children. If you are a fan of movies or fairy tales, you are not lost. Dragons, monsters, and wizards do exist! A child knows that from early childhood!

For example, ch. 12 could be « Star Wars », ch. 13 with the beasts could be « The Empire Strikes Back », and ch.14 and following with the return of the lamb and his army could be « The Return of the Jedi ». At any rate, Star Wars and fairy tales are not historical, yet they reflect something true because they are inspired by the big story, the real story, and they all use symbols and a symbolic style.
 
Now, what time is Revelation talking about? There are three schools of thinking, hence three ways of interpreting the book:

  1. Revelation mainly describes the events of the first generation of the church, especially in the face of the Roman Empire, with applications for future generations.
  2. Revelation is primarily a prophecy that describes the last generation of believers, with applications for all previous generations.
  3. Revelation primarily symbolizes the present and all generations (without necessarily describing specific historical events.)


All three interpretations have merit even if I personally prefer the second one. But the good news is that all three have the same application as far as we are concerned today –encourage Christians to persevere at all times in the face of evil. Let’s look at it! If the first generation of believers could keep the commandments and testimony of Christ, and if the last generation of saints will persevere, so will we. It seems to be an unwinnable war, but this morning, I can tell you that you will win! So hold on! 

  1. Let us not be afraid of the Dragon (ch.12)
  2. Let us not be seduced by the Beasts (ch.13)

1. Let us not be afraid of the Dragon (ch.12)

Chapter 12 gives us an image to understand the great history of the Bible. There’s a sign, and the sign is a woman with 12 stars (v1). She symbolizes the people of God, especially in the Old Testament (Israel and the 12 tribes). She symbolizes the story that begins with Eve in the Old Testament, and culminates with Mary in the New Testament who gives birth to a child, a son, and then this son is taken away from God. The whole story of Christmas and Easter is condensed in one verse, but this time it’s written in the apocalyptic style.

Then, we see a dragon fighting against a woman and a baby… That seems to be a losing battle. There’s no-one more vulnerable than a woman in labor. God’s people have often been weak and vulnerable, but the dragon and his stars « are not the strongest »! 

Jesus’ victory on the cross guarantees the ultimate fall of Satan. Ever since that specific moment, Satan’s been unable to accuse us before God. There is nothing Satan can say to God about you, there is nothing he can do to you that will take away your salvation. This does not mean he has disappeared from the radar. In fact, since that moment, Satan has known that he has little time, and that he is fighting a losing battle, but he continues to make war on the woman and his posterity. That is on you too (v11).

What represent the 1260 days, or 42 months, or 3 ½ years (v6, v14)?  The 1260 days in the book of Revelation can be linked to the book of Daniel. Daniel divides the history of salvation in periods of 7, and the last period of 7 is more important, as it represents the final chapter. This last period itself is divided into 2 times, 2 stages. Are these figures and numbers symbolic? In the context of the book of Revelation, they tend to be symbolic, but at some point symbolism reflects reality.

The chapter establishes a pattern that is repeated throughout history. Thus, the people of God, especially when they make the Dragon Slayer, Jesus, known to the world, are often threatened by evil. However, they are always protected by God. For example, they were « driven into the desert » by Pharaoh and all his armies in Egypt, the Jews were threatened when they were in exile in Babylon at the time of Esther, Hebrew babies were killed by Herod at the birth of Jesus, and the first Christians had to face Rome. Even French Christians were swallowed up by the dark soil in the caves in the Cevennes (you can learn more on their lives at the « Musée du Désert »). And this pattern could well be repeated in the final chapter (that is the last « week ») of the history of God’s people. 

What is important in this war is that our mission is to keep God’s commandments and hold on to the testimony of Jesus. As a child, one of my favorite hymns was « Hold the Fort ». As it is in C, it was easy to play! 

« Ho, my comrades, see the signal, waving in the sky! 

Reinforcements now appearing, victory is nigh.

Refrain:

« Hold the fort, for I am coming, » Jesus signals still;

Wave the answer back to Heaven, « By Thy grace we will. »

See the mighty host advancing, Satan leading on;

Mighty ones around us falling, courage almost gone!

See the glorious banner waving! Hear the trumpet blow!

In our Leader’s Name we triumph over every foe.

Fierce and long the battle rages, but our help is near;

Onward comes our great Commander, cheer, my comrades, cheer! »

2. Let us not be seduced by beasts

Often, in a war, things get worse before they get better. For his last offensive, the dragon brings out two fierce weapons –two beasts. In the movies, there is a moment when the villain pulls out his secret weapon that takes away all hope. Ch. 13 is that moment. 

Scripture Reading: 13

« 13 Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, and on its horns were ten diadem crowns, and on its heads a blasphemous name. 2 Now the beast that I saw was like a leopard, but its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. The dragon gave the beast his power, his throne, and great authority to rule. 3 One of the beast’s heads appeared to have been killed, but the lethal wound had been healed. And the whole world followed the beast in amazement; 4 they worshiped the dragon because he had given ruling authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast too, saying: “Who is like the beast?” and “Who is able to make war against him?” 5 The beast was given a mouth speaking proud words and blasphemies, and he was permitted to exercise ruling authority for forty-two months. 6 So the beast opened his mouth to blaspheme against God—to blaspheme both his name and his dwelling place, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 The beast was permitted to go to war against the saints and conquer them. He was given ruling authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation, 8 and all those who live on the earth will worship the beast, everyone whose name has not been written since the foundation of the world in the book of life belonging to the Lamb who was killed. 9 If anyone has an ear, he had better listen!

10 If anyone is meant for captivity,

into captivity he will go.

If anyone is to be killed by the sword,

then by the sword he must be killed.

This requires steadfast endurance and faith from the saints.

11 Then I saw another beast coming up from the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but was speaking like a dragon. 12 He exercised all the ruling authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and those who inhabit it worship the first beast, the one whose lethal wound had been healed. 13 He performed momentous signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people 14 and, by the signs he was permitted to perform on behalf of the beast, he deceived those who live on the earth. He told those who live on the earth to make an image to the beast who had been wounded by the sword, but still lived. 15 The second beast was empowered to give life to the image of the first beast so that it could speak, and could cause all those who did not worship the image of the beast to be killed. 16 He also caused everyone (small and great, rich and poor, free and slave) to obtain a mark on their right hand or on their forehead. 17 Thus no one was allowed to buy or sell things unless he bore the mark of the beast—that is, his name or his number. 18 This calls for wisdom: Let the one who has insight calculate the beast’s number, for it is man’s number, and his number is 666. »

Thanks to Daniel’s decoder, we know that the beasts presented as ferocious animals, these monsters are political powers, governments with someone at the head.  That reminds us of Nebuchadnezzar who forced everyone to worship a statue of himself. It also reminds us of the Roman Empire, and of Rome with its 7 hills. It can remind us of the succession of 10 persecuting emperors who uttered blasphemies by taking themselves for God and who forced people to worship them. Already at that time, the people of God refused to do it at the cost of their lives.   

The beast could also be considered as the last outburst of evil. It could be seen as the last incarnation of evil in a global political leader –the Anti-Christ. For example, a political leader who would rise to built up lasting peace in the Middle East. That might seem alarmist or unrealistic, yet bear in mind that, not very long ago, Hitler seduced people for a while. He was adored by a whole generation, and he set up a totalitarian regime. Here, the beast introduces itself as an admirable messiah. It is going to simulate a resurrection: v3, « One of the beast’s heads appeared to have been killed, but the lethal wound had been healed. And the whole world followed the beast in amazement ». Is it symbolic of a revival of power? Or is it a type of media manipulation? v7, « It was given to him to make war on the saints and conquer them. » There will be moments when people may feel they fight a losing battle.

Then there’s a second beast that looks like a lamb, but talks like a dragon. It looks a little bit like Jesus, but talks like Satan. This beast seems to represent a religious power, a false prophet, or it could be a propaganda agency that pushes the new religion. It’s an anti-God system where political, economic and spiritual power unite, and where there’s a false trinity: dragon, and the two beasts.  

The chapter ends with the famous mark of the beast, and the beast’s number, 666. We can notice that this mark is an imitation of Christ who marks his own with a seal (ch.14.1, 7.4). This parallel between the two marks leads us to consider the mark as symbolic, as a spiritual belonging. More importantly, it also implies that it’s impossible that a true believer will ever receive this mark, since he/she is already marked. Finally, these marks also remind us that there’s no neutrality.

Someone might say: These beasts are only for the believers of the very end. But they show us the typical methods of Satan in all ages: he imitates a savior, proposes a false salvation, pushes for mass worship, one-track thinking, encourages totalitarian governments, and persecutes believers. 

Conclusion: 

The British war film « 1917 » takes place during World War I. The plot is that two soldiers are given the mission to deliver an important message to call off a scheduled attack that would jeopardize the lives of hundreds of men, including the brother of one of them. The film was shot in long takes to capture the nightmare of war, giving the impression that the mission will never end. It’s endless and the characters seem to fight a losing battle. However, they hang on, and don’t give up, and even though one of them gets killed, the other one eventually manages to deliver the message. He’s fulfilled his mission.

In the same way, Christians are called to persevere and deliver the message even faced with opposition.