There’s a war on! Revelation 12

Revelation 12 was not written to try to convince comfortable Christians that there is a spiritual war on. The Christians reading the Book of Revelation at the end of the first century didn’t need any persuading. Revelation 12 was written to persecuted Christians to explain to them why their brothers and sisters were being brutally persecuted, imprisoned and even martyred for their faith. The imagery of battle and warfare may seem remote or even irrelevant to us – but that’s just because our Christian lives are easy!
Actually we can glimpse signs of the spiritual battle even in North Springfield. So many of our neighbours are closed to the gospel. Behind closed doors there are social and financial and moral problems we are scarcely aware of. And the battle against the world and the flesh and the devil is real for everyone who seeks to follow Jesus in this world which is running away from God faster and faster.
Revelation 12 reveals what is going on behind the scenes of this fallen world. It reveals the battle between the Dragon, the Child, and the Woman.
Revelation 12:1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who ‘will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre.’ And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.
This is all symbolic language, apocalyptic language and we need to interpret the symbols. Throughout the Bible and other Jewish literature of the period the Dragon is a picture of the devil or Satan. He will appear again, particularly in Revelation chapter 20. The dragon is the devil, Satan. Verses 3 and 4 and then 7 to 9 describe for us how the devil and one third of the angels rebelled against God and were cast out of heaven.
3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth
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 he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient snake called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
So the devil was exiled to earth. And those one third of the stars swept out of the sky were angelic beings who we know now as evil spirits or demons. The devil and the demons were hurled to the earth.
There are other parts of the Bible which are understood to say similar things about the origin of the devil. In particular there is a prophecy in Ezekiel 28 which talks about the King of Tyre but contains elements which clearly refer to more than a human king and instead to some kind of angelic being.
Ezekiel 28 11 The word of the LORD came to me: 12 ‘Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: “This is what the Sovereign LORD says:
‘ “You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: carnelian, chrysolite and emerald, topaz, onyx and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.
Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared.
14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones.
15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you.
16 Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub,
from among the fiery stones.
17 Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom
because of your splendour.So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings.

We find similar echoes in Isaiah chapter 14
12 How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!
13 You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.
14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit.

So here in Ezekiel and in Isaiah we find the background to the idea in Revelation 12 that the devil was an angel who was cast out of heaven because of pride.
9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient snake called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. …
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. …
But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you!

Now they have been cast out of heaven and hurled to earth the devil and all his demons continue to wage war against the woman and the child. The woman could symbolise the nation of Israel, or the church, the community of faith. Or the woman could represent the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. But the child clearly has only one meaning. The child is a symbol for Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Revelation 12 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who ‘will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre.’ And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.
The child is the one who will rule all the nations. The woman’s other children are those who put their trust in Jesus. And the devil continues his war with the woman and all her children. That is the battle which is going on behind the scenes even today – the war against the dragon.
17 Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.

I wrote about this in our Newsletter this month. We enjoyed a lovely week staying a log cabin in the woods, but two things in South Wales caught my eye. The first was the dragons. Some were red, some were green: dragons on road signs, pottery dragons, carved dragons, slate dragons, the symbol of Celtic Wales is everywhere. We were staying very close to a Wildlife Park, a Dinosaur Park and an “activities park”. And the signposts you had to follow to these attractions were all marked with the logo of the dragon. I remember seeing years ago a disused church where the stained glass windows had been replaced by a striking mosaic of a dragon, `The Dragon Theatre’. The dragon had driven out the church.
And that was the second thing that struck me - the number of disused churches and chapels. Turned into an antiques shop, a “bargain basement” shop, a theatre and a couple of homes. Buildings sold off with no `live’ church among them. Everywhere church buildings have been converted to houses or flats or shops. It was a deeply depressing reminder of how far the churches have declined since the days of Methodism or of the Welsh Revival. Driving around London the picture is even more gloomy – church buildings which are now places of worship for Moslems or Hindus or Sikhs as well as other which have become temples to those great gods of Money and Entertainment.
This is the battle which `The great dragon …. that ancient serpent, called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray’ is waging against `those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus’ (see Revelation 12). In many places the enemy appears already to have won - the church has been extinguished.
So there’s a war on! The battle against the dragon, the devil and all his demons. But the Book of Revelation is all about the victory of the Lamb who was slain. The lamb has defeated the dragon! But what do Christians need to do to share in that victory? Three very challenging things – all in verse 11.
Revelation 12 11 They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
THEY OVERCAME HIM BY THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB
Evelation 5:9 And they sang a new song, saying:
‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’

We are victorious because of the lamb who was slain. The devil is a very powerful enemy. He has sneaky ways of attacking us: greed and pride and anger and lust and apathy and complacency. None of us can stand against the devil in our own strength. But the devil has been defeated by the blood of the Lamb. Jesus’s death on the cross did not only deal with the problem of our sin by making the way for us to be forgiven. By his sacrifice on the cross, Jesus the Lamb of God also completely defeated the devil and all the powers of evil.
1 John 3 8 The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
Hebrews 2 14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Colossians 2 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
The devil and all the powers of evil have been defeated by Christ’s death on the cross. Our task is to live out our lives depending on Christ’s victory and Christ’s strength.
THEY OVERCAME HIM BY THE WORD OF THEIR TESTIMONY
The Book of Revelation was written to encourage Christians to stand firm in the face of fierce persecution, and be bold in their testimony about Jesus. Every time we bear witness to the victory of Christ on the cross and to the difference Jesus has made in our lives is a victory over the devil. Every time we tell people that we are Christians and that they need Jesus too, the devil is driven back. But every time we remain silent, the devil wins. It’s as simple as that. Thousands of people in North Springfield already belong to the devil – they are already doomed. The devil doesn’t need us to fail as Christians or for us to fall into great sins. The devil knows he can never get us back. All he wants is for us to stay silent about Jesus and he’s already won.
17 Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.
All we need to do is keep God’s commands and hold fast to our testimony about Jesus. There is the battleground. Speak out and we win and Jesus wins. Stay silent and we lose and the devil wins.

THEY DID NOT LOVE THEIR LIVES SO MUCH AS TO SHRINK FROM DEATH
Nothing is won without sacrifice. People who say the Christian life is easy haven’t read their Bibles. Following Jesus Christ is costly. It costs our money and our possessions. It costs time and effort, in prayer and in witnessing and in loving other people. Living as a Christian means sacrifice and footwashing, taking up our cross daily and following Jesus. This is not an optional extra for super-keen Christians. This is the basic starting point for disciples of Jesus.Doing what God wants us to do instead of what we want to do.
And if God wants us to lay down our lives for Him, as Jesus did, then that is what we must do. That is our victory over the devil. I remember a discussion I had with clergy from other denominations. We were considering whether whether baptism is actually necessary for salvation? The Roman Catholic priest said it is. “Except of course for the Martyrs.” It doesn’t matter if the martyrs had been baptised in water or not. They were considered to have been baptised in their own blood. Are we ready and willing to be baptised in our own blood? They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
Remember the examples of the Christians in Smyrna.
Revelation 2 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Remember the example of Christians who are enduring persecution around the world even today. There’s a war on, a spiritual battle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)
And we have our part to play. To live in the victory of the Lamb who was slain. To overcome by the blood of the lamb, by the word of our testimony. By being prepared to die!
Revelation 12 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
11 They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

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