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Our heavenly Father, we come to You genuinely seeking Your help. We do not come and pray at the start of a sermon because it seems like that’s what we ought to do. We are prone to wander. Lord, we feel it. Even now there are some here in this room, are eager, ready, prayed up, want to hear from You. Others are distracted, others are thinking of what they have to do this afternoon, some are sleepy, some have children who are restless in the pew, others are sad, sick, others happy. Wherever we are, Lord, would You take these moments now to give us clarity of thought and heart and purpose that we may hear from You just what You want to say to us from Your Word. In Jesus we pray. Amen.
Our text is Revelation chapter 12. Turning to the second half of this book, the last book in the Bible, Revelation chapter 12. Yes, this week and next week are something of a Christmas message. Not many pulpits are probably preaching about the woman and the dragon on this Sunday, but as I said last week, everything in the Bible has to do with Jesus and Christmas has to do with Jesus, so everything connects to Christmas.
Follow along, the first six verses in Revelation chapter 12.
“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.”
Why do some churches die? Why do Christians die? Why do Christians go hungry, endure tragedy? Why do some get cancer, face persecution? Why do some pastors fall into great sin, cast shame upon their churches, disgrace upon the Gospel? Why does this happen? Why do some churches grow loveless and cold? Why do other churches forsake the truth of Scripture? Why do church members fight among themselves, sometimes over very silly things? Why do some Christian men attack each other? Why do some Christian women gossip or slander one another? Why are there so many hypocrites in the church? Why do things seem to go wrong for those people who are trying to do what is right? Why don’t you get the good things that you’re praying for? Why do some churches tolerate clear moral error or clear theological error? Why do some churches get bigger and flashier but they don’t get deeper and wiser? Why do other churches grow comfortable and complacent? Why do churches grow indifferent to evangelism and missions? Why do some churches care so little about the widow, the fatherless, the needy, the seemingly unlovely? Why are so many churches in such rough shape? Why is it so hard to be a Christian in our world?
There are at least four biblical answers to questions like that.
One. God is sovereign, for His own glory, the good of His people, our heavenly Father sends trials. He allows for suffering. That’s one reason.
Number two. We live in a fallen world. All of creation groans as in the pains of childbirth, so the way things are are not the way they’re supposed to be or the way they one day will be.
There’s a third reason, it should be obvious – we’re sinners. Every single one of us, on that side of the pulpit, on this side of the pulpit. So we sin. We sin against each other, we hurt each other. We break God’s laws, we pay the consequences of doing so. We have idolatries, adulteries, self-love, so we make our lives difficult for us and for those around us.
So there’s three good biblical explanations for why it is so hard to be the Church of Jesus Christ in the world. But I want to focus in this message on a fourth reason, which you will all affirm as true and yet it is easy to ignore. Perhaps you would come up with the other three – God’s sovereign, fallen world, we’re sinners – but here’s number four, why it is so hard to be the church and to be a Christian in our world.
Number four. Because the devil is hellbent on destroying the Church. Hellbent on destroying the Church. I don’t use that word in a cynical but in a literal, spiritual fashion. He is.
Revelation 12 is the literal center of the book. There’s 22 chapters, so we go from 11 to 12, this is right in the middle. And more importantly, it is the symbolic center of the entire book. For 11 chapters we’ve looked at churches that are tempted, struggling, suffering. We’ve seen judgments on the earth, we’ve seen conflict in the world, a call for God’s people to be overcomers and conquerors.
And now, as it were, pulling up from this earthly scene, the gaze in heaven pulls back the curtain to see, well, what is going on behind the scenes? What is the method behind this madness? Why is all of this struggle and suffering happening? What is behind this cosmic conflict? Why is there suffering? Why is there tragedy? Why is there persecution? Why is there hurt and struggle?
The answer is that the devil is hellbent on destroying the Church.
Now we’re going to work through these six verses in just a moment, but let me show you how this chapter fits in with the rest of the book. If you’ve been here for a number of months, you know that we’ve seen seven churches, even though I preached through that last year, seven churches, and then seven seals, like seals on a document that are broken, and then seven trumpets. In a few chapters we’ll pick up with this sequence of seven and we’ll have seven bowls, which really run parallel, a recapitulation, the same basic scenes shown from a different angle. Those seven bowls run parallel to the seven seals and the seven trumpets.
But here we have seven visions. Now they are not marked out in so clearly a way as the seven seals, they mark each one. Here’s one, two, three, all the way through seven. So the pattern’s not as clear or as definitive but I think it’s here. Let me show you what I mean.
Chapter 12 introduces two signs. Verse 1, there appeared in heaven a woman and she’s pregnant. So the first sign really is the woman and her son. Then the second sign, verse 3, another sign appeared in heaven, a great red dragon. So we have sign one, the woman and her son, sign two, a great red dragon. And chapter 12 is about the conflict. It’s all about the conflict. This sermon, next week’s sermon, all about the conflict between those two signs, the woman and her son in conflict with the dragon and the dragon with them.
Now following these two signs in this conflict there are seven visions which are going to unpack this conflict in more detail. You say, well, where are these seven visions, because they’re not numbered. Well, look real quickly. The seven visions are marked off by the recurring refrain, “and I saw” or “then I saw” or “then I looked.” Let me show you what I mean.
Chapter 13, verse 1 – “And I saw a beast rising out of the sea.” There’s the first.
Chapter 13, verse 11 – “Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth.”
Turn to chapter 14, verse 1 – “Then I looked and behold on Mount Zion stood the Lamb.”
Chapter 14, verse 6 – “Then I saw another angel.
Chapter 14, verse 14 – “Then I looked and behold a white cloud and seated on the cloud one like a Son of Man.”
Chapter 15, verse 1 – “Then I saw another sign in heaven, seven angels with seven plagues.”
15, verse 2 – “And I saw what appeared to a sea of glass mingled with fire.”
Now, actually, there’s one more of these if you look in verse 5 – “After this I looked and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was open and out of them came the seven angels with the seven plagues.”
So you could count these as eight visions, but I think we’re really meant to count them as seven. Why? Because chapter 15, verse 1 simply introduces the seven angels and the seven plagues, which we come back to in verse 5.
So I grant it’s not as clearly delineated as the seven seals and the seven bowls, but I think you can see there are seven different visions – “and I looked, and I saw, then I looked, then I saw” – that those visions are further explanation of the conflict that we see in chapter 12.
So go back to chapter 12. It is in one sense very easy to determine what this chapter or these verses are about. It’s about conflict, it’s about war between the woman and her son and the dragon. Verses 7 through 17 are going to give a more extended version of the conflict and we’ll get to that next week just in time for Christmas. These first six verses give an abbreviated version and what they really do, and you sort of think of how a staged theater production might work, that here in an opening scene, I know it’s really you might say act two, opening scene. You’re introducing the three main characters, so that’s what I want to do in our sermon. I want you to be introduced to the three main characters in this drama and then we’ll conclude with a few truths, a few points of application.
You can see very plainly there are three main characters – the dragon, the child, and the woman.
Let’s take them in that order because the first two are rather easy and the third one, the woman, is the more complicated one. So we’ll start with the dragon. He’s easy to identify. The dragon is Satan, or the devil. Look at chapter 12, verse 9 – “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent who is called the devil and Satan.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if all of Revelation worked like that? There it is, you just told us the dragon equals this.
Well, that ancient serpent. So we’re thinking back to the garden of Eden, of course, as there the devil slithers his way, tempts Adam and Eve, that ancient serpent, and here he’s likened as a dragon. He’s a liar. He’s good at it. He doesn’t contradict the Word of God, he twists it, he tells half-truths, he casts doubt on the Word of God. As we see from the very beginning, all throughout the Bible he does two things chiefly – he is a deceiver and he is an accuser.
The dragon is red because he’s fiery, he’s dangerous, he’s vengeful. He has seven heads, a sign of intelligence and cunning. He has ten horns, a sign of strength. And the seven crowns or seven diadems on his head indicate that he is a prince of sorts. Now his authority is a usurped authority but he is, as 2 Corinthians 4 tells us, he is the god of this age in one sense. He is the ruler of this age. Though he is under always the sovereignty of God, he is nevertheless the ruler over this age, meaning the worldly systems of this life. He’s the one in charge of those. He rules over the inhabitants of the earth so he falsely claims sovereignty and authority.
He is always in opposition to the true king, the true Lord, whose head is crowned with many crowns. It’s possible the description here of the dragon may also be an allusion to Rome, which was called the city of seven hills and by many accounts was divided into ten districts, so the seven and the ten may also be a way of saying this is Rome. But it’s not just about Rome. Rome later will become Babylon, other times Egypt. It’s a stand-in for the worldly systems of our age.
Then look at verse 4 – “His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky, cast them down to the earth, and the dragon stood before the woman.” Again, when we see a partial number, like a third, we know that we’re not at the end. All of these proportions are not to be taken literally. In fact, this is one of those chapters it’s very helpful to get our bearings about Revelation, because everyone knows we’re not talking about a literal red dragon, even though many little boys in here would think, “That would be really cool if there was a red dragon.” No, we’re obviously talking in prophetic imagery.
So we shouldn’t think that these are literal 1260 days, that this is a literal red dragon. These are signs which point to other things. Some of them more closely than others, some of them in a more metaphorical sense.
But here a third of the stars, meaning he’s waging war. Verse 4 comes from Daniel chapter 8, which says, “Out of one of them came another horn which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the beautiful land. It grew until it reached the host of the heavens and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them.”
This is not, this is not talking about that pre-historical angelic rebellion. Now there are hints of that in different parts of the Bible that Satan rebelled and he took with him some of the angels, but this I think is talking about what the devil is doing in our day and every day. Not sometime past where he rebelled and took a third of the angels, but rather being cast down is a fulfillment of what Daniel said in chapter 8.
Now Daniel’s prophecy, as we’ve seen before, had an initial fulfillment, that’s how prophecy usually works, there’s a near fulfillment and a farther, more cosmic fulfillment, that initial fulfillment was with Antiochus Epiphanes who polluted the Temple, oppressed the Jews. He was that horn. Now in Revelation we see who’s really behind, that Daniel’s prophecy, yes, it was most immediately about Antiochus Epiphanes, but now we see, you know, who is really pulling the strings behind someone like that. It was the devil himself. Satan was at work.
The point of this sign is simply that the devil is strong, fierce, and cruel, and he means to trample on the people of God.
So in this scene the first character is this dragon, and he’s meant to be large and fearsome and frightening, a red, fiery, demonic dragon.
Second character, the second player, is the male child. The son born of the woman, as you might have already deduced, is Jesus Christ. Verse 5, look at verse 5 – “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.”
This is a reference to Psalm 2. Psalm 2 we’ve seen many times referenced already in Revelation. Psalm 2 is a messianic psalm, it’s a prophecy about the Christ. Psalm 2 says, “You are my son, today I become your father, ask of me and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter. You will dash them to pieces like pottery.”
So we see an explicit reference there in verse 5, see it? He will rule the nations with a rod of iron. This is very deliberately an allusion to this messianic prophecy in Psalm 2. That’s how we know that this child is the Messiah, the Christ. We’ve seen Psalm 2 alluded to in Revelation 2:27, again last week in Revelation 11:18, and here again in chapter 12.
Now look at the second half of this verse, it says, “Her child was caught up to God and to his throne.”
This is a reference to Christ’s ascension and exultation. Now it’s not trying to avoid mentioning the resurrection, there’s no explicit mention there, but it’s just referring to all of this in its totality we’re meant to assume there, the death, the resurrection, the completed work of Christ, but here it’s depicted in His ascension and His exultation. So this child, though the devil wanted to conquer this child, this child is brought up to God and to His throne.
That is to say, the Messiah was born, He triumphed, and then He ascended to heaven to reign with Him who sits on the throne.
So far, so good. The dragon is the devil, probably would have deduced that. The Son is Jesus Christ.
Now what about the woman? As you might imagine, and maybe some of you grew up with this background, Roman Catholics have tended to see that the woman is Mary. You can understand why. It’s not farfetched. You have who is the woman who gives birth to the Son? Who gives birth to the Christ child? Well, it’s Mary. Then you have verse 6, the woman fled into the wilderness. Well, didn’t Mary and Joseph have to flee from the wicked King Herod, who wanted to kill the baby boys and they went off into Egypt? So might this be Mary?
And Isaiah 7 says a sign will appear and a virgin will give birth.
So many Catholic commentators argue this is obviously Mary. In fact, in much Marian iconography, that just means statues and paintings, you will see Roman Catholics depicting Mary with these kinds of signs.
Look up at verse 1. You go Google some of these later, famous artistic renderings of Mary who’s clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet, her head a crown of 12 stars. That Mary is depicted as something like the queen of heaven, as Catholics will sometimes call her.
Now I am going to argue that there is a better way to explain this than to think that this woman is Mary. Let me say as a quick aside Mary may be a kind of type or a kind of personification of the woman, it’s not that there might not be any sort of layer of meaning here. We know that the images in Revelation often have muscle layers. But the most immediate, definitive reference is not to Mary but to what we might call Mother Israel, or to put it a different way, the woman is symbolic of God’s people.
Now go back to verse 6 and we get hints of this. The woman fled into the wilderness. Now in verses 5 and 6, when does the woman flee into the wilderness? After the son ascends and is exalted. Well, if this was a reference to Mary, the virgin Mary, Christ’s literal mother, then the chronology is all wrong because they would have fled and then he would have ascended in his exaltation. So already we have hints here we’re talking about someone and something bigger and different, because Mary didn’t flee into the wilderness after Christ’s exaltation. No, we’re talking about this woman as a symbol for God’s people.
What are some reasons for that? You shouldn’t just take my word for it, or say, well, that’s good, that sounds like what I would expect a Protestant pastor to say.
There are some good reasons for this. So think again at the very beginning, Genesis 3:15 – God says I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers. He will crush your head, you will strike His heel.
That first prediction of conflict and of the Gospel. God predicted from the very beginning there would be conflict between those two seeds and we see that played out, between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. So there are two lineages which are often in conflict with each other in the book of Genesis, Cain versus Abel, Ishmael versus Isaac, Esau versus Jacob, Edom versus Israel.
The hope, ever since being kicked out of Eden, was for this promised seed from Eve to come and crush the serpent’s head. This very conflict that is spoken of here in Revelation 12.
Now Mary, you might say, in one sense is a kind of Eve and in another sense it was every child of Eve was awaiting the Deliverer. When it says the seed from the woman, it isn’t literally that Eve is reincarnated or comes back down to heaven to give birth, but rather Eve as a symbol for God’s people, that God’s people are waiting for a Messiah, for a Deliverer, to come. The woman is Zion, God’s holy people, who have finally given birth to their redeemer.
Here’s some passages. Isaiah 66 – Before she goes into labor, she gives birth, before the pains some upon her, she delivers a son. Who has ever heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children. Did you hear the language there? It depicts Zion, that is, God’s people, collectively as being in labor, as yearning for this Messiah child to be born from their midst. So that’s just one example, lest you think, well, yeah, it’s sort of playing fast and loose here. No, there are a number of times in the Old Testament God’s people are depicted as a woman collectively to give birth to the Christ.
Here’s another one, Jeremiah 4:31 – “I hear a cry as of a woman in labor, a groan as of one bearing her first child, the cry of the daughter of Zion, gasping for breath, stretching out her hands, and saying, ‘Alas, I am fainting. My life is given over to murderers.'” There again Jeremiah depicts God’s people as collectively a woman in labor.
In the New Testament, similarly, God’s people are compared to a woman, you know this, the bride of Christ in Ephesians 5, the bride that we’ll see later with the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19, and even, yes, as a woman in labor.
John 16 – a woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come, but when her baby is born, she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you, now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice and no one will take away your joy.
Now there Jesus is speaking to His disciples, awaiting not the first Advent but the second Advent. Again, God’s people collectively describes as a kind of woman waiting to give birth to this deliverer.
One more passage that I think makes this connection clearly, that while there may be some resemblance to Mary, and Mary, we never want to denigrate Mary, she is blessed, she is the one chosen by God to give birth to the Son, yet the picture of the woman here is not so much Mary as the totality of God’s people.
There’s one more verse that I want to show you to make this connection. So keep your finger in Revelation 12. Go back to the first book in the Bible, to Genesis 37, because here we’re going to have this exact same imagery. Genesis 37. Remember what Revelation 12 says, a sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of 12 stars.
Well, look at chapter 37 in Genesis, verse 9. This is Joseph’s dream. “Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, ‘Behold, i have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and 11 stars were bowing down to me.’ But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brother, indeed, come to bow ourselves to the ground before you? And his brothers were jealous of him but his father kept the saying in mind.”
Notice the imagery here. He dreamed a dream, the sun, the moon, and the 11 stars, and immediately they understand he’s talking about their fairly. Now, 11 stars, not 12, because he’s the 12th star. He would be the son, or Benjamin is yet to be born. So 11 stars. So this image here in Genesis 37, sun, moon, stars, is clearly, and they understand it immediately, to be a picture of the family, of God’s people.
So when this woman in chapter 12 appears, clothed with the sun, with the moon on under her feet and on her head a crown of 12 stars, 12 all throughout the book of Revelation is that symbolic representation for God’s people, makes sense, 12 sons of Israel, 12 tribes, 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. So in other words, this is a picture of the Church, or we might say more broadly, God’s people in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Depicts their royal status.
The sun in Genesis is Jacob, Rachel is the moon, the 11 stars are Jacob’s brother and Jacob, and you have 12, or Benjamin, and you have 12. Same image used to describe the woman in Revelation 12. Not a literal woman, but a symbol for, again I give the name Mother Israel, or God’s people, giving birth to the Messiah.
Now look at chapter 12. There’s one other confirmation for this. Look at chapter 12 verse 17. We didn’t read that this morning. “Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring.”
Now if the woman is supposed to be literally Mary, verse 17 doesn’t make a lot of sense, that the dragon is going off hellbent on destroying the few brothers or sisters that Jesus had, the rest of Mary’s literal offspring.
No, all of the commentators understand instinctively well, no, this is talking about the rest of God’s people. That the dragon was at war not only with the Christ child but with all those who were counted among His people.
So verse 17 suggests to us that this woman is not to be understood literally as Mary but collectively as God’s holy people.
So let me summarize what’s going on here. The Messiah is about to come forth in this passage from the people of Israel. Through the person of Mary individually, but through the people collectively. They were like an expectant mother, waiting for the Messiah to come. Meanwhile, the devil stands ready to devour the Christ as soon as He arrives. That’s true with Herod and that’s true with His life of suffering and death and crucifixion.
But instead of destroying the child, you see what happens? The child destroys him. The Son is born, He lives, He triumphs, He ascends into heaven, He is seated at the right hand of God. He is given to rule over the nations with a rod of iron. But after the Son leaves, ascends, the people of God, that is the woman, Israel, Old Testament, New Testament, are under attack and so they seek refuge in the wilderness. The wilderness in both Testaments is always the place of protection and of trial. It’s the place of suffering and also the place of protection. She goes there to be nourished.
Look at the end of verse 6 – for 1260 days. This is another indication of what we saw a couple weeks ago that the 42 months, the 3-1/2 years, the time, times, half a time, the 1260 days. Remember, those are all the same number. 42 months, 3-1/2 years, 1260 days, different ways of saying the same thing, is a symbolic representation for the Church age, not if we were to take this all strictly literally that the woman, maybe Mary, flees for 3-1/2 years into the wilderness. When I say we’re not taking it literally, don’t hear me say we’re not taking it truly, but we’re taking it as Revelation is meant to be understood, as a book of verbal pictures, a book of showing.
So the desert is a place of trial, and also safety. Moses fled to the desert after killing the Egyptian. The Israelites wandered in the desert. Elijah fled to the desert from Jezebel. Jesus went into the desert to be tempted. So the desert, or the wilderness, is the place where God’s people simultaneously under attack, under protection.
That’s what’s representative of the Church until the end, that the church of Jesus Christ is simultaneously under attack and under protection. 1260 days, 42 months, 3-1/2 years, time, time, half a time. This is the period when the Church is kept safe and also trampled. We’ll see this in more detail next week, but these six verses give us a brief introductory scene to this conflict between the seed of the woman and the ancient serpent, the devil.
You’ve got the devil, you’ve got God’s people, and you have the Messiah.
So what does it all mean? What difference? You say, well, that was interesting. I get it. Can we leave 10 minutes early? No, you cannot. Let me finish with three crucial truths from this passage.
Number one. Remember you and I are in the midst of a cosmic conflict that is profoundly and irreducibly spiritual.
Now that doesn’t mean that when you lose your keys the devil hid them, or when you get sick the devil was playing with your red blood cells or something. But it does mean, more than we realize, let’s be honest, this is not how most of us as Presbyterians tend to think about the world, but we want to be thoroughly biblical, and behind the curtain of the drama of your life, here’s what you need to know. If you’re a Christian, you pull back the curtain of all of your dramatic life. There stands a victorious King who loves you, who died for you, who wants what is good for you and for His glory.
There is also, if you could see what’s really happening in the heavenly places, there is a liar and a deceiver and a destroyer, and he hates the King and he hates you. And the destroyer wants the Church to compromise the truth of the Gospel. He wants Christians to backbite, slander one another. He wants us to be cowardly. He wants your pastors to be arrogant or compromised. He wants leaders to spend little time in prayer. He wants notable Christians to be impure or ethically compromised or theologically indifferent. He wants students to stop coming to know the Lord Jesus. He wants college students convinced that to drink or to party or to be caught up in your own academic career and self-absorption is what really matters in life. He wants to convince our children that surely they ought to rebel because that’s what you do. He wants to use sex and money and everything else to ruin your marriage.
There is a cosmic battle going on. As Paul says in Ephesians, “We do not wrestle ultimately against flesh and blood.” And even, and perhaps especially in those moments when your life seems trivial, mundane, ordinary… You’re saying, “Pastor, maybe your life is really this exciting all the time, but mine’s pretty boring. You know what this week looks like? Well, this week is crazy and I need to get a bazillion Christmas presents, but other than that, it turns out that if you have nine kids, the multiplier works, I mean, really, really quickly with how many presents there needs to be.
Most of our lives, mine included, seems ordinary, mundane, another week, another meal, another day at the office, another test to study for, another year, another decade. But do not be mistaken. You and I are a part of this cosmic battle and behind the scenes in this world, there is a real personal devil who is hellbent on dethroning Jesus Christ in your life and defiling His bride, His woman the Church. We are in the midst of a cosmic battle and it is profoundly spiritual.
Too often we only see things, what’s going on in our world. Well, there’s politics, the media, academics. We think in terms of legislation, or websites, or if we could just get a movement or do this in the media or get this kind of movie, and don’t mistake what I’m saying. All of those things matter and we want Christians engaged in all of those areas, and yet it would be a mistake to think that’s it, that’s how we win the prize, that’s how we overcome, and not realize that there is something much more powerful and there’s a battle every bit as real and more consequential, and it is this cosmic battle between the dragon and the woman and the child.
Which leads to the second truth. Remember the story that we see in Revelation 12 is the story first of all about the Church. There are three players in this drama. You say, well, there’s lots of other things in life. That’s true. There’s presidents and parliaments and congress and institutions and universities and books and lots of other things. But do you notice the three players in this drama – the devil, the Messiah, and the Church.
Why do I underscore that? Because again it’s easy for us to be mistaken. What is the main thing? We’re liable to think it’s the United States of America. I love the United States of America. I pray for the United States of America. I am proud to be an American, I won’t sing the song, but I am.
But that’s not the main story going on in the universe. What happens to the United States or what happens to Great Britain or what happens to any other nation or country or empire, the main thing going on is what happens to the Church. The Church of Jesus Christ. These are the three players – the devil, Christ, and the Church.
So if you want your life to count, give your life to the Church, invest in the Church. It is the only institution that Jesus Himself promised He would build. He didn’t promise to build anything else. He promised to build the Church and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it.
I know you’re not, most of you aren’t going to be pastors, you’re not going to be full-time vocationally in the church, and that’s wonderful. We need lots of vocations. But with all the things that we’re doing, make sure you are living a church-centric life that is centered on what God and Christ are doing to build the Church.
Here’s the final point. Truth number three. Remember the battle belongs to the Lord.
We are called, remember the language throughout Revelation, we are called to be overcomers. We are exhorted to be strong, courageous, fight the good fight, but I want you to notice something. We are not called to be dragon slayers. You’re like, “Oh, man, I was going to get all the stuff on. I was getting ready to make a video game.” Somebody probably already did.
Why is that important? Think about Ephesians chapter 6, spiritual warfare. One offensive weapon, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, so our words, the rest of it defensive. And what is the central command that Paul gives to the Ephesians? Over and over, stand, stand, stand, stand.
Why does that matter? Because it tells us the work has been accomplished. The work has been accomplished. Our job is to stand, is to overcome.
You know who defeated the devil? Not you. Not me. The child. The one born of the woman. He defeated the works of the devil in His death and resurrection. The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and of His Christ are coming and will come soon.
So don’t think when there’s an exhortation to fight that somehow the battle hasn’t been decided, or the fate of the universe rests on your shoulders. It does not. We are called to overcome. How do we overcome? Well, preview to next week, look at verse 11 – “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.”
You say how do I it? I want to be a dragon slayer. You don’t have to be a dragon slayer. You need to stand. You need to overcome. How do you conquer? You bear witness and you don’t give in. You conquer by the word of your mouth, for they loved not their lives, even unto death.
You say, “The worst you can do is kill me, or kill the people I love, but you cannot conquer the Church of Jesus Christ. We have nothing to lose but our lives.”
Likely few of us will be asked to make that sacrifice. But all of us will have the opportunity to give our lives, one boring day after another, for the sake of the Gospel. Knowing that the battle belongs to the Lord, that God will bless you and keep you, that God will make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. Life will feel like a wilderness at times, it will be a place of tempting and trial and testing, but it is also the place in the wilderness where God will take care of you and He will send ravens like He did to Elijah to feed you. He will send angels to minister to you like He did to Christ in the wilderness.
So He calls us to fight not because the outcome of the war is in doubt, but because He has already won the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel is the nuclear weapon, the atomic bomb, that has exploded on all of Satan’s plans. The dragon does not end the child’s life, not for good. No, the child ends the reign of the dragon, and now seated in heaven, empowered and equipped by His Holy Spirit, nourished in the wilderness during this Church age, He calls us to be more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, give us the strength according to Your Word and Your Spirit that we might be the Church, strong, at times suffering, weak, but ultimately triumphant, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. May we not falter or fail. In His name we pray. Amen.