Signs in heaven and on earth

What an amazing view we see when we look into God’s temple in heaven and see the ark of His covenant. (Revelation 11:19) What a great reminder of why we are looking at this book of Revelation - the promise of a blessing for reading this challenging book. This is also an opportunity to enlarge our picture of our wonderful Father, the role of His Son and the leading of the Holy Spirit. We now turn to chapter twelve and John's opening words are about "a great sign" that appears in heaven. You may remember that John built his gospel around seven "signs" and, over the next few chapters, we shall see plenty more "signs". Some, like the woman and the dragon in this chapter, are figures in themselves whilst, in other places, he talks about the "signs" that are performed by different figures. In his gospel, John cited seven miracles performed by Jesus that were amazing in themselves, but also pointed to a greater underlying spiritual significance. In the same way, he now speaks of "signs" that are figures or events which are unusual in themselves, but represent something of particular spiritual significance.

The woman, the child and the dragon

Revelation 12:1-6

As we look at the first five verses of this chapter, we see two signs:

  1. a woman clothed with the sun, standing on the moon and with twelve stars on her head;
  2. a red dragon with with seven heads (each wearing a crown) and ten horns.

Opinions vary as to who the woman represents, but the sun, moon and twelve stars are a clear echo of Joseph's dream about his family. (Genesis 37:9) As such, it seems reasonable to conclude that the woman symbolises the people of Israel. The woman is in labour and about to give birth. She then gives birth to a male child, "who will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre". (Psalm 2:9) Psalm two describes the king that God will install "on Zion, my holy mountain" and goes on to quote God as saying: "You are my Son; today I have become your Father". (Psalm 2:6-7)

The red dragon also appears in heaven and the description of its terrifying appearance and ten horns remind us of Daniel's dream that we examined in study eighteen. John then describes how the dragon used its tail to sweep "a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to earth". (Revelation 12:4) Again, this is an echo of Jesus saying: "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven." (Luke 10:18) The dragon clearly represents none other than Satan. We then see Satan waiting to devour the child who is about to be born. If we needed any confirmation of how Satan stands behind so much of the evil that is done on earth, we have only to think back to King Herod's attempt to kill Jesus. (Matthew 2:13-16)

A look behind the scenes

We can see this entire chapter as a continuation of the "intermission" of the previous two chapters. The seventh angel has now sounded his trumpet but, before we see the next judgements being delivered, John is given a "behind-the-scenes" tour, which helps us to understand the enormity of the battle that has been going on for centuries on earth and why these awful judgements are so richly deserved. Following his rebellion and expulsion from heaven, Satan has consistently opposed God's work on earth and tried to bring it to nothing. After deceiving Adam and Eve and enticing them to break God's command, Satan is cursed and enmity between him and Eve's descendants is foretold. (Genesis 3:15) In Luke's gospel, we read the story of Mary, a Jewish girl descended from Eve. Mary is not deceived but finds favour with God and responds willingly to His call on her life. (Luke 1:38) She is the only woman in the Bible to be called "blessed". She received God’s word – literally and physically – allowing the saviour of the world to be brought into the world through her. "Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil His promises to her!" (Luke 1:45) This is a constant challenge to us: to acknowledge His promises and then hold onto them until they are seen in our life.

Satan failed to destroy Jesus as a child and, after His death and resurrection, Jesus was taken up into heaven. (When He returns, He shall "rule all the nations with an iron sceptre".) Having been thwarted over the child, Satan turns his attention to the woman - Israel. But, once again, he is unable to capture her and she escapes to "the wilderness" where God protects His people for the second half of the "tribulation". In study nineteen, we saw that Jesus Himself had warned His disciples about this time, saying that when they saw these events happening, they were to drop everything and run for the hills! (Matthew 24:15-16) When the Bible talks about "the wilderness", it is not just a desolate and dangerous place - although it can be that. God also uses "the wilderness" as a place of safety (for people like Moses and Elijah) and a place for discipline and testing. As with the "manna" and water from a rock, that He provided for the people of Israel as they travelled through the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt, He is also able to provide for His people, miraculously if necessary.

Father God always provides for His children, even in times of recession! He may use the government of the day as His instrument or any other company or organisation, whether commercial or voluntary, to supply our needs. God is able to use anything or anyone to provide whatever His children need and we should never forget to thank Him for "our daily bread". Indeed, we need to be attuned to the leading of the Holy Spirit constantly as we never know where the help that we need may come from. As King David said: "I have been young and now am old, yet have I not seen the uncompromisingly righteous forsaken or their seed begging bread." (Psalm 37:25) The letter to the Hebrews also says it well: "Let your character [or moral disposition] be free from love of money [including greed, avarice, lust, and craving for earthly possessions] and be satisfied with your present [circumstances and with what you have]; for He [God] Himself has said: 'I will not in any way fail you [nor give you up nor leave you without support]. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor [forsake nor let you down] relax My hold on you! [Assuredly not!]’" (Hebrews 13:5 - Amplified version) What a promise for any problems that arise in our lives! Even in human loneliness there is God’s fellowship at all times.

War in heaven

Revelation 12:7-9

In the New Testament writings, there are many warnings about the need to stand firm against our Enemy. The apostle, Peter, talks about him as "like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour". (1 Peter 5:8) Peter's advice is to, "Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings." (1 Peter 5:9) The apostle, Paul, describes Satan as "the prince of the power of the air, who leads the whole world astray". (Ephesians 2:1-2) Satan is dangerous, but only when we approach him in our own strength. When we deal with him in the power of the name of Jesus, based firmly on our faith in Him, Satan cannot overpower us. We need to use God's word against him, just as Jesus did in the wilderness. (Matthew 4:3-11) The dragon - Satan - has been active over the past two thousand years and knows that his time is short. We can see his implacable hatred against God's people in the never-ending attacks on Jewish people, both in the form of the present state of Israel, but also targeted against those of Jewish descent in every country around the world. This often illogical and unreasoning hatred is only likely to increase as the Day of Judgement draws ever nearer.

What a dramatic picture John describes next! War breaks out in heaven between the dragon and his forces and the angel, Michael, with his forces. Satan is defeated, cast out from heaven and banished to the earth to await final condemnation. In John's day, the authorities made much use of paid informers. The name for such people ("diabolos" in Greek or "delator" in Latin) is translated as "devil" in English and means "slanderer" or "accuser". "Devils" were everywhere and universally hated, so John's use of the word (as well as "dragon" and "satan") is very appropriate and would have resonated strongly with the people who first read the book of Revelation.

It seems almost unimaginable that there should ever be war in heaven. No wonder that God plans a new heaven and a new earth - Satan has polluted both of the original places! Previously, Satan had access to heaven and used it to make accusations against godly people such as Job. (Job 1:6-11) He has long used the same tactic here on earth as well, spreading lies and gossip within churches about leaders and believers. This is why a constant theme of Scripture is the need for forgiveness. "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Matthew 6:12) But, Satan loses this battle and, from this point on, the dragon and his forces will be limited to the earth until the time of final judgement.

Of course, we should not forget that we always have the privilege of access to heaven. Jesus has made it possible for us to go to God's throne at any time, through Him. He is there Himself, interceding for us, day and night. "Let us then fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace [the throne of God's unmerited favour to us sinners], that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find grace to help in good time for every need [appropriate help and well-timed help, coming just when we need it]." (Hebrews 4:16 - Amplified version)

Rejoicing in heaven

Revelation 12:10-12

John then hears "a loud voice in heaven" leading an outburst of praise and thanks for the defeat of the dragon and his forces. There is rejoicing because the "accuser" has been cast out and cannot continue to pour out his lies and accusations. But there is also rejoicing because, in no small part, the victory over the "Devil" is not due to some Hollywood-style battle between Good (represented by Michael) and Evil (represented by Satan); it is due to the very people who were being accused by the Devil. They "overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony". (Revelation 12:11) Jesus (the Lamb of God) has shed His blood for us so that we might be free from our sin - past, present and future. It is by faith in the blood of Jesus that we resist the Devil. We need to apply what Jesus has done for us every day of our lives, reminding our Enemy of it and not listening to his lies. We should use our testimony of what Jesus has done for us and how He has affected every part of our lives, when we speak to others. If they can see the difference that Jesus is making in our lives, day by day, they will also want to know Him. For the apostle, Paul, this was the most important reason for his life on earth:

"I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me." (Philippians 1:20-26)

What a challenge for us: to copy Paul's example and be willing to lose our lives for Jesus' sake! (Matthew 10:39; John 12:25) We have been given the power that is in the name of Jesus with which to resist him - and we will! We also have the almighty, powerful Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead living in our mortal bodies so that we are empowered to choose victory at every temptation. (1 Corinthians 10:13) Shall we draw a "line in the sand" and say to Satan: "Thus far and no further! You will never again have our families, or our friends and relatives, or even our workmates. Enough is enough!" We need to understand that he is an enemy who never gives up. The closer we draw to the Day of Judgement, the more he will seek to oppose us, because he knows that his time is short. Do we understand that his time (and ours) may now be very short? When he accuses us, we should remind him of what Jesus did and what that has guaranteed for our future - and his!

Frustration and rage on earth

Revelation 12:13-17

There are some interesting parallels between this flight of Jewish people from Jerusalem in the future and the exodus of the "Children of Israel" from Egypt (recorded in the book of Exodus) way back in the past. In both cases, their flight takes them from a centre of civilisation to "the wilderness". Both were then described in terms of God carrying the people on the wings of an eagle. (Exodus 19:4; Revelation 12:14) In both cases, their rescue is assisted by water. After the exodus from Egypt, the waters of a sea were held back by God supernaturally so that the children of Israel could pass through "on dry land". In the future, the dragon will produce a vast flow of water himself to create a flood, but the danger will be averted when the earth opens up and swallows the water.

Various suggestions have been made as to where the Jewish people fleeing from Jerusalem might go. Petra (in what is now Jordan) is an attractive candidate, but the actual location is probably not important (or John would have been told about it specifically). When the dragon is thwarted in his pursuit of the people of Israel, he will turn back to wage war on anyone else he can find who still keeps God's commandments and puts faith in Jesus. This will be a time of terror for the Jewish people, such as they have never seen before - even during the darkest days of the Holocaust. One of the dragon's targets will undoubtedly be the one hundred and forty-four thousand Jewish evangelists, about whom we learned in study seventeen. [study17] However, they will have been "sealed" with God's protection.

Stand firm

Meanwhile, what about us? Well, we can also be victorious throughout the remainder of our lives and stand against the attacks of the Devil. The apostle, Paul, talks about this at the end of his letter to the Ephesians. "Be strong in the Lord [be empowered through your union with Him]; draw your strength from Him [that strength which His boundless might provides]. Put on God's whole armour [the armour of a heavy-armed soldier which God supplies], that you may be able successfully to stand up against [all] the strategies and the deceits of the devil. For we are not wrestling with flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the despotisms, against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly [supernatural] sphere. Therefore put on God's complete armour, that you may be able to resist and stand your ground on the evil day [of danger], and, having done all [the crisis demands], to stand [firmly in your place]." (Ephesians 6:10-13 - Amplified version]

Again, Paul is not talking about some Hollywood myth of redemptive violence - the influential belief that justice has to be upheld by superior skill in martial arts, coupled with sheer grit and determination. No, Paul declared elsewhere: "When I am weak, then am I strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10) Jesus used the God-given power of the Holy Spirit to have victory in every temptation and Paul knew that he was only strong when he was "in Christ". He lived by this truth and this is how Jesus expects us to live. Through Christ we are more than conquerors. (Romans 8:37) Greater is Jesus in us than Satan who is in the world. (1 John 4:4) We do not need physical armour such as we see in comic book heroes. We need God's spiritual armour and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives to resist the Devil and hold our ground in the face of his relentless attacks.

Click on the button below to load the QUESTIONS for this study in a new browser tab. You can opt to print the question sheet or simply follow the questions and write down your answers in a notebook or a separate file on a computing device, such as a laptop or mobile 'phone.