Monday, May 22, 2017

A Call for Endurance

Rev 12:1-13:18                       A Call for Endurance
5/21/17            D. Marion Clark


When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:15-17).

John is opening our eyes in these chapters for us to see the real battle, the real armies at war over the church of Christ and over our souls.

The Real War

The outline of Revelation that we have been following runs like this: Chapters 1-3 present the introduction and letters to the churches. They are being warned of the persecutions to come and called to stay the course, to overcome attacks without and pressures within. Chapters 4-7 present the seven seals, six of which are broken by the Lamb who alone is worthy. We see all types of disasters unleased on the earth with the overall message that they are under the control of God who uses them as judgment and yet restrains them so that people will repent and for the sake of his covenant people whom he preserves. Chapters 8-11 depict the results of breaking the seventh seal, which leads to the seven trumpets, again presenting scenes of judgment.

We begin a new section that covers chapters 12-14. This section unveils for us the real war that is taking place – the battle for supremacy over God’s creation, specifically over us. It is a conflict begun with our very creation, the first battle waged in Eden and that resulted in our Fall. It is depicted in Genesis 3:15:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.

Our opening verses portray that enmity.

12:1-6              The Dragon’s Intent

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.

The woman is Eve whose offspring will be at enmity with the serpent. She is Mother Israel or Mother Jerusalem who through generations of labor gives birth to the Lord’s Anointed of Psalm 2, the begotten of the Lord who bears the “rod of iron.” She is Mother Church, for true Israel is the church and the true church is the continuing covenant community of God.

The dragon seeks to devour the child who is his great enemy, the Promised One destined to crush his head. He has tried again and again to destroy this child’s seed line, and now he is desperate to devour him before the child fulfills his calling to take the government of God’s kingdom upon his shoulder and rule on the throne of David forever (cf. Isa. 9:6-7).

But the dragon fails, for the child completes his mission on the cross and through the resurrection ascends on high to God’s right hand in heaven. We have seen this Lamb who was slain in the throne room of heaven in chapter 5. The church, however, must remain upon this wilderness earth.

12:7-17            The Dragon’s Wrath

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

13 And when the dragon saw 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 the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. 15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. 16 But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.

Again, the defeat of the dragon is depicted. Note the following particulars. The dragon is identified in verse 9. He is the devil, Satan. He is defeated; he is cast down from heaven. But he is cast down to earth where he still vents his rage. He attacks the woman and the rest of her offspring – the church and her people. But though his attack is relentless and at times seems like he will sweep her away, she is always saved, always protected, whether carried on the wings of an eagle (the same way God in Exod. 19:4 describes how he delivered Israel from Egypt) or by opening the earth to swallow the dragon’s flood. God will save his church.

13:1-10            The First Beast

Chapter 13 depicts how Satan attacks God’s people. The last line of chapter 12 has Satan standing on the sand of the sea. What does he do? He calls forth his champions, his two beasts.

And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear's, and its mouth was like a lion's mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”

And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear:

10 If anyone is to be taken captive,
    to captivity he goes;
if anyone is to be slain with the sword,
    with the sword must he be slain.

Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

How do we understand the beast? He is powerful, able to rule the world. He is blasphemous, directly challenging and even imitating God. By his power and because of his blasphemy he attacks and seems to conquer the church, i.e. to successfully persecute and turn the world against it, as the world now worships the beast. Even so, those whose name have been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain, remain faithful. Their rights and even lives may be conquered, but not their faith.

Then rises the second beast.

13:11-18          The Second Beast

Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.

This second beast is the counterfeit lamb. It carries out the dragon’s battle not by fighting with power but through deception. It performs counterfeit miracles and leads people astray to worshipping the first beast. It presents the system of marking, sealing, the beast worshippers so that economic sanctions can be forced upon those who remain faithful to the true Lamb. However one may wish to specifically apply the 666, it could never had been 777 or 888, both of which signifying purity or perfection. Just as the beast is a counterfeit god, so his mark is a counterfeit.

And so the battle of Satan against the church began and continues to the present day. No doubt the early Christians applied the message being read in their churches to Rome with its emperors who demanded obedience and worship. It would be applied in successive generations and in different parts of the world to the regimes that openly war against the church and to the cultures that compete with the church through their religions or atheism, through their worldly values. Satan may have lost the war, but as did Hitler after D-Day, he will battle on and strive to do as much damage as he can against God’s people.

Call to Endurance

And so, in the midst of describing the works of these beasts, is the clarion call to God’s people: “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

What do we do in the face of such dire prophecy? We endure; we keep the faith. That was the message to each of the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3. To the one who conquers (overcomes) is the reward. To the one who is not led astray by deception, who stays the course despite persecution. This is the message of Revelation. Whatever comes – and every type of persecution and deception will come – remain faithful to your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

And you can remain faithful because he remains faithful to you. Your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life where it was recorded before the foundation of the world. It cannot be erased. You have been sealed with the true seal of the true God.

But above all know this, however mighty the dragon with his beasts may seem, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God” (12:10). “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (11:15). Jesus Christ sits upon the throne. He sat upon the throne when he ascended on high; he sat upon the throne over Rome and over all kingdoms of the world. He sits upon the throne now.

This is what I like about this particular understanding of Revelation – that the book reveals the true “cosmic conflict” (D. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb) that is being carried out throughout the ages. It takes us from the beginning of the world to the birth of Christ and on through the ages to his return still to come. We are not mere historians reading about what once took place; nor are we futurists speculating what will happen, with every generation trying to interpret the signs to fit whatever is going on in their time. We are in the midst of the battle with the beasts. And we are given the same message, the same call of endurance and faith.


Revelation gives us insight into similar admonitions in the rest of the New Testament. Consider Ephesians.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm (6:10-13).

We hear so much about how important it is to identify the enemy. The enemy is Satan, the great dragon and his beasts. We hear about how important it is to have a strategy. The strategy is to stand firm, to endure, to remain faithful because such traits are exactly what the enemy is trying to break. He is trying to break our spirit – our spirit of trust and confidence in our Lord; our spirit of devotion to our Savior. And so with one beast he will lash out against us with earthly enemies who literally seek to kill us. Or with others who may try to outlaw us. And so we give way to fear and unable to endure. With another beast he will try to deceive us or to tempt us so that we compromise our faith.

But there is one tactic that he can no longer take. He can no longer be our accuser. He cannot go before God, as he did against Job or another time against Joshua in Zechariah, chapter 3, and make accusation that we should not be accepted by God. That we are guilty in our sins. No, no. Our accuser, who accused us night and day, has been thrown down. God will not hear him. Judgment was rendered at the cross. Our guilt was laid upon the Lamb who was slain. He has born our sins; he has taken away our guilt. And so such glorious words as in Romans 8 may be declared:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Brothers and sisters, to use the language of Ephesians, no rulers, no authorities, no cosmic powers over this present darkness, no spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places can overcome us because they cannot overcome our King, our Lord, our Savior. And as all true believers know, the battle belongs to the Lord. We are sent out into the world to serve, even to battle for God’s kingdom, but even then we do so by testifying to the battle won for us on the cross and for any who would turn to our Champion. We testify through our words of faith. We testify to the reality of that faith through our endurance. Heed the call of endurance and of faith.

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