We live in the age of fantasy stories. I sometimes get the impression the filmmakers are enjoying themselves even more than their audiences, who travel into magical and mysterious worlds with life-like characters appearing real. The discussions around the latest idiosyncrasies of authors and directors, sound bizarre and outlandish. It is a weird world created in the imagination and realized on film or in books.
Revelation, as a sequence of events in metaphor and symbols, could be classified into this genre of fabulous fantasies. No filmmaker, however, has even come close to endeavour a version of this ready-made script. The four horses of the apocalypse have found their way into some film adaptations, but not recently. Scary horses are part of so many stories – just think of the blood-sweating horses of the black riders in The Lord of the Rings. The four horses are only the first four seals of the seven seals mentioned in Revelation. What about the action of the trumpets and the bowls?
While reading on into the more intimidating and daunting code, we should once again keep our goal in mind. This study is an introduction into the “secret language”, if I may call it that, of the first century Christian message, delivered into a hostile and risky environment of the Roman Empire desperately clinging to the glory it once had, with all the inglorious means it could muster.
In this atmosphere of power play at the highest level, the first Christmas is celebrated. A baby is born to a very ordinary couple, caught in the administration of an Empire, much bigger than the parents themselves could ever care to think about. Whatever one believes about the century-old Christmas story and how many “mistakes” are made in our narrative and nativity scenes, including the date, circumstances or people involved, this event was noticed in the highest circles of government, eventually precipitating the worst trial in recorded Jewish history and the nastiest of execution-styles of the ancient world. Many Jewish scholars have written about the gross miscarriage of justice of the Sanhedrin that fateful night of the trial of Jesus and their sly scheming to bring on the execution by the Romans by whom the Jews were legally forbidden to perform a death penalty. We know the story. It is written in the Gospels. We hang the golden balls to celebrate the season – rightly so.
Let us look deeper as the Word of God always calls us to do.
Our Christmas story is what happened in the physical realm. A baby in a cave or manger – you can choose; an angel choir appearing to shepherds watching over the lambs being prepared for slaughter at the Passover, who rush to witness the arrival; wise men brought to the place by a miraculous star; wide-eyed parents who marvel at the wonder of the truth of prophecy and a mad king who slays babies to calm his own uncertainties – quite a story!
Walk with me into the miraculous scene of Revelation 12 as John uses all the signs of divinity and beauty to describe the spiritual images of the first Christmas.
The sun and moon are often used in divine descriptions. God’s garment is light as described in Psalm 104:2. In Malachi 4:2 Jesus is named the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings. The Song of Solomon’s loved ones is fair as the moon and clear as the sun (Song 6:10). In this dramatic description of the woman of heaven, John also added something the pagans would understand – she is crowned with a garland of the 12 signs of the Zodiac.
We must always remember, whatever heavenly bodies of the universe paganism or false religions may use, the symbols and signs of the universe belongs to God. Nothing in this earthly realm, used in whatever distortion and deception, could be hijacked from us as the children of the Creator.
The woman is the Messianic community from whom the Messiah is born. She is in labour, symbolizing the pain of their oppression and the expectant lingering for the Promise to be fulfilled.
Women in the Old Testament were often the symbol of the bride of God.
For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name; (Isaiah 54:5)
Jeremiah talks about the harlot being unfaithful in Jeremiah 3:6-10 and Hosea with his unfaithful wife, is a life lived in the metaphor of God as the lover of Israel and the people’s betrayal of that love. God promises betrothal (Hosea 2:19-20) with all the joyful expectancy of a wedding feast with the protection and provision implied in such a union.
Revelation tells of the marriage of the Bride of the Lamb (19:7, 21:9) and Paul writes that we are betrothed (promised) to God as pure.
For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2)
The church is now the community from whom the Messiah is proclaimed. The church is always referred to as female. Jerusalem is also female. The old Jerusalem has literally fallen and failed the purposes of God. The new Jerusalem is the church and carries the purposes of God spiritually. The forces of destruction – evil and human – are resolute to destroy this community, but it is under God’s protection and cannot be destroyed.
The great fiery red dragon is a well-known symbol of Babylonian mythology, which depicts a red-gleaming serpent. The image appears in the Old Testament as Rahab in Isaiah 51:9: Are You not the arm that cut Rahab apart, and wounded the serpent?
The dragon had seven heads and ten horns and seven royal diadems, which all depict mighty power over the kingdoms of the earth as opposed to the kingdom of God. There are two players in the struggle for mankind. Evil is trying to destroy all that God made good. The struggle culminates in the Cross.
The Child, who will rule with an iron rod, is Jesus. The Child is snatched up to heaven out of reach. This is the protection God guaranteed for the fulfillment of His purpose. Satan, in the shape of the dragon, may have a plan of destruction, but God will protect what is His. Heaven is not the far away place, somewhere in the vastness of the universe. It is the Presence of the Father. It is the secret place of the Most High and the shadow of the Almighty. It is the ultimate place of safety.
He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.” (Psalm 91:1,2)
The word used for snatch is the same as used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and 2 Corinthians 12:2 to describe the action to be caught up in heaven. John’s emphasis is on the heavenly Jesus, not His earthly life. It is all about the exalted Christ. In the greater time calculation of God, Jesus’ earthly life was just a flash. Even so, the event had eternal consequences.
They escape to the desert, which is a place of safety and nourishment. For Elijah, as for us, it was a place of divine provision. (1 Kings 17:1-7 and 19:1-8) Shortly after the birth Jesus and his parents had to flee (Matthew 2:13.)
During the evil times of Antiochus Epiphanes, the priests kept the law in secret in the wilderness. Again, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, they fled to the mountains, into wilderness-like paces to be safe.
The church today finds solitude and provision in the wilderness. It is there where the table is spread, right there in the shadow of the valley of death. It is a place of provision and communion. Jesus knocks at the door of our heart to sit down for the evening meal, the relaxed chat over good food, which restores our sick and weary souls. (Revelation 3:20)
Satan is the enemy of God. He is in war with God and the saints. It is symbolic of the war in heaven when a third of the angels went against God (Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28). Lucifer was the morning star, the leader of worship. The Pharaoh declared himself the morning and the evening star. Music is still infiltrated with evil and very much on the agenda of deception. At the same time there is an explosion of worship music all across the world, to sing the praises of God and draw people to God.
Lucifer fell because of pride. The saints are warned against pride (1Timothy 3:6).
Satan still has access to the Presence of God as illustrated in- Job 1:6-9 and 2:1-6, Zechariah 3:1,2. Satan means adversary. Balaam (Numbers 22) can be called a satan against the angel. He is always the accuser, for Job; also for Joshua in Zechariah 3.
Be aware of the raspy voice of the accuser in contrast to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit spoken in perfect love in you inner being.
In Greek Satan is diabolos, which means slanderer. In the New Testament satan is called the devil or the tempter. Matthew 4, Mark 1 and Luke 4 describe him where the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is recorded.
We find good examples of Satan’s work throughout the Bible. Remember, he is not creative. He cannot think of new strategies. He will always go back to age-old methods and invoke them craftily to snare the saints.
Since this is so, we find Satan engaged in certain nefarious purposes in the New Testament.
- He seeks to seduce Jesus in his temptations.
- He puts the terrible scheme of betrayal into Judas’ mind (John 13:2, 27, Luke 22:3).
- He is out to make Peter fall Luke 22:31.
- He persuades Ananias to keep back part of the price of the possession he had sold (Acts 5).
- He is the cause of illness and pain (Luke 13:16, Acts 10:38, 2 Corinthians 12:7).
- He hinders the work of the gospel by sowing the tares, which choke the good seed (Matthew 13:39), and by snatching away the seed of the word from the human heart before it can gain an entry (Mark 4:15; Luke 8:12).
- He uses every wile (Ephesians 6:11) and every device (2 Corinthians 2:11) to achieve his seducing
Jesus taught us to pray against him in the Lord’s prayer – deliver us from the Evil One – Matthew 6:13.
He is the ruler of this world.
I will not speak with you much longer, for the ruler of the world (Satan) is coming. And he has no claim on Me [no power over Me nor anything that he can use against Me]; (John 14:30) Also John 12:31,16:11.
Satan’s history is tragedy – once great, now fallen. His future is defeat.
His definition: “the malevolent critic of creation, the sleepless vigilance of evil against good.”
The victory of the saints will be his downfall. Our choice for the true life is his defeat. Our victory is the Blood of the Lamb. There is no condemnation for those in Christ; therefore the accuser has no power over us.
He will always try to injure Christ through the church. When Paul was cruelly determined to wipe out the followers of Jesus, he heard the voice on the road to Damascus. Jesus directly identified with His church and asked Paul:
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting and oppressing Me? (Acts 9:4)
The woman escapes with eagles’ wings.
You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. (Exodus 19:4)
The image of eagles’ wings has always been a spiritual pillar of support.
“As an eagle that protects its nest, that flutters over its young,
He spread out His wings and took them, He carried them on His pinions. (Deuteronomy 32: 11-12)
But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] will gain new strength and renew their power;
They will lift up their wings [and rise up close to God] like eagles [rising toward the sun]; they will run and not become weary,
They will walk and not grow tired. (Isaiah 40:31)
The wings of an eagle are symbolized in the outstretched arms of Jesus on the Cross. It is always inclusive and welcoming to all.
The serpent is enraged by the escape of the woman. He invokes the flood to destroy, but the waters will not destroy the woman. The earth opens to swallow the river. In God’s hands Nature is used to save, rather than destroy. Water in Asia Minor often went underground to reappear later.
The promise to the saints stands firm. God controls the flood. (Psalm 42:7, 124:4, 32:6.)
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you.
When you walk through fire, you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you. (Isaiah 43:2)
God promises that the flood will not prevail against you. You will be victorious.