A Place For Us – Revelation 12:1-6 02/28/21

A Place For Us – Revelation 12:1-6 02/21/21


Sometimes things simply do not turn out the way we expect. We, as Christians, face the very real possibility that life will not turn out the way we expected. Everyone faces uncertainty and, at some point, the likelihood of hardship, even suffering. Let’s face, aging and dying is no picnic. However… as Christians, we’re told suffering will certainly come. That is not necessarily what we planned for when we placed our faith in Jesus. Our text today addresses the very real possibility of intense persecution. It also explores the true source of that persecution. The passage is Revelation 12:1-6.


The passage opens with John seeing three “great signs” or “portents” in heaven.[1] This word is (σημεῖον),[2] and is used here for the first time in Revelation.[3] It’s function is to introduce the start of a new series of visions.[4] The term can be, and here is, used to refer to exceptional occurrences that provide forewarning of something that will happen in the future.[5] The first two portents appear in heaven one right after the other, and they mark out the conflict that John will develop through the remainder of the vision.[6]


The conflict is between Satan and the Church, and Satan works to distract us, to tempt us to compromise. If we don’t cooperate, he has resources to bring pressure on the Church. During His earthly ministry, Jesus warned His followers that they would be persecuted just as He was;[7] John 15:20. So we have an adversary, and he plays on our own propensity to sin. This one has been cast out of heaven, and knowing that his time is short, he turns on those who follow Jesus.[8] All persecution of the Church of Jesus Christ is demonically inspired and empowered; Ephesians 6:12.


Getting back to our text, John retells the story of the conflict, but in doing so he rewinds the clock, starting with Christ’s birth;[9] Revelation 12:1-2. It’s obvious this is symbolic language, John tells us this is the case, “a great sign in heaven.”[10] He’s also drawing on Old Testament imagery that saw the birth of the Messiah coming through the Jews,[11] one example is Micah 5:2.


The primary focus of the text is not on an individual, the focus is on the community of faith yielded to the King.[12] Remember, the context leading up to this has been dealing with the Church. So, initially we find emphasis on the Jewish nature of the woman, and then later we find her referred to in terms of the Church.[13] There are a number of indicators that suggest that the woman is to be understood in terms of Israel.[14] First we see that the woman has a crown of twelve stars, which is the traditional number for Israel.[15] Because of this, we can expect that John is continuing to draw from the Old Testament.[16] If we look at Genesis 37:9 we find some interesting parallels in imagery from a dream Joseph had.[17] The reference to the sun, moon, and stars all come from Joseph’s dream.[18]


However, it won’t take long before John begins referencing the woman in terms of the Church. The truth is, the people of God have always been a single people throughout redemptive history.[19] The result is that this woman is actually a picture of the faithful community of God’s people which existed both prior to and after the coming of Christ.[20] The criteria for acceptance by God has always been the same, salvation by faith, we see this with Abraham as probably the best example; Genesis 15:6.


And then, finally, her going into the wilderness draws heavily upon the story of the Exodus.[21] In fact, the reference to her being brought on the wings of the eagle appears to be a direct reference to Exodus 19:4.[22]


The vision quickly moves on to celestial conflict; Revelation 12:3-4. This is clearly not intended to be understood literally.[23] In fact, in verse 9 John will tell us that the dragon represents Satan;[24] Revelation 12:9. Here we find John drawing from a mosaic of Old Testament imagery to describe this man-eating monster; it is all imagery drawn from evil kingdoms who persecuted God’s people.[25] The designation, “Dragon,” (δράκων) is also used to describe evil sea monsters used in Scripture to symbolizes evil kingdoms that oppressed Israel.[26] Egypt was one such kingdom described using this emblem.[27] One example of this is found in Ezekiel 29:3.


John gives us details about the dragon, first is that he has “seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads”. [28] The horns and heads simply cannot be understood in a literal sense.[29] What the imagery does is give us a picture of the fullness of evil coupled with power.[30] The diadem was universally understood to be a symbol of royalty.[31] As used in Revelation, it’s initially used in connection with the dragon.[32] The seven diadems correspond to the seven heads of the dragon.[33] Again, the number seven is used to convey completeness, and its use here is probably intended to suggest the completeness of authority the dragon claims to possess.[34]


We next find the Church under attack; Revelation 12:4. The reference to only “one-third” probably points to the constraints God has placed in the dragon’s activities.[35] The dragon’s tail sweeping a third of the stars out of heaven and casting them to the earth is taken from Daniel 8:10.[36] Now, honestly, I had always read this to say that the one-third of the stars was a reference to fallen angels who joined in Satan’s rebellion. But in light of the Old Testament background of Daniel that cannot be correct. Satan tramples them. Therefore, this is almost certainly a reference to the persecuted saints rather than to fallen angels or defeated angels.[37] Remember, the context is still primarily with the Church. John’s focus is on the oppression of genuine saints explicitly called “the holy people” in Dan. 8:24.[38]


Finally, we find verse 6, which is filled with imagery from both the Old and New Testaments as well as early Christian writings;[39] Revelation 12:6. This time frame can hardly fail to remind us of the time the two witnesses (the Church) prophesy; 1,260 days.[40] It’s reasonable to infer that the time of the two witnesses’ ministry and the time the woman is nurtured in the wilderness are one and the same.[41] But… what does that mean?


Based on what we’ve seen so far in the Revelation, I don’t think this escape should be understood to be literal escape from persecution and suffering.[42] The intent is to emphasize God’s sustaining acts on behalf of His people.[43] But in what way? Some have seen this fleeing into the wilderness as a historic reference to Christians fleeing Jerusalem at the start of the Roman siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 66. Others see this as a reference to a remnant of Christians being protected from the future Great Tribulation.[44] We’ve already seen that these events span the time from prior to Jesus’ birth through, and then past, the present to the future. Still others see the desert as being symbolic of the church in hiding under world-wide persecution.[45]


How does this flight into the wilderness play out? Is it literally fleeing into the wilderness, or is it purely symbolic?[46] The purpose of this vision is to assure those about to face martyrdom that God has prepared a place for them, a place of spiritual refuge that will enable them to persevere.[47] My conclusion is that the “place prepared” is nothing less than another metaphor for the measuring of the temple which told us God knows who are His in Revelation 11. This was a reference to the protection and sealing of the 144,000 noted in Revelation 9:4. And again, I read this as a reference to the sealing accomplished through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives; Ephesians 1:13-14.


Once again we are assured that God knows whose are His.[48] And, once again, we are assured that we’re not abandoned by Him, regardless of our circumstances. One of the purposes of this chapter is to reveals to Jesus’ followers that, behind their earthly persecutors, stands forces of spiritual evil, led by the devil himself.[49] Understanding this should result in a deeper motivation to persevere.[50] They would, and we should, come to know that our struggle is not physical, it is spiritual in nature;[51] Ephesians 6:12.


The Church needs to come to understand that, if we compromise, we aren’t merely compromising with the world, we are compromising with Satan himself[52] and are therefore furthering his plans on earth. With that in mind, the main point of chapter 12 is that God protects His people against Satan and his attacks, and we have the power to stand against him as we stand in Christ.

[1] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 115. [2]Kurt Aland et al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Interlinear with Morphology) (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993), Re 12:1. [3] Bruce Metzger, revised by David DeSilva, Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN.: 2019), 92. [4] Bruce Metzger, revised by David DeSilva, Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN.: 2019), 92. [5] David E. Aune, Revelation 6–16, vol. 52B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 679. [6] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 115. [7] Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation: Revised, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, gen. eds., Ned Stonehouse, F.F. Bruce, and Gordon Fee, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1977), 229. [8] Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation: Revised, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, gen. eds., Ned Stonehouse, F.F. Bruce, and Gordon Fee, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1977), 229. [9] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 623. [10] J. Vernon McGee, Through the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 988. [11] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 513. [12] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 628. [13] Bruce Metzger, revised by David DeSilva, Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN.: 2019), 93. [14] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 117. [15] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 117. [16] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 625. [17] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 625. [18] J. Vernon McGee, Through the Bible with J. Vernon McGee: Volume V, 1 Corinthians – Revelation, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN.: 1983), 987. [19] Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation: Revised, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, gen. eds., Ned Stonehouse, F.F. Bruce, and Gordon Fee, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1977), 232. [20] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 625. [21] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 117. [22] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 117. [23] Hank Hanegraaff, The Apocalypse Code: Find Out What the Bible Really Says About the End Times and Why it Matters Today, (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN.: 2007), 34. [24] Bruce Metzger, revised by David DeSilva, Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN.: 2019), 92. [25] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 632. [26] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 632. [27] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 632. [28] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 118. [29] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 515. [30] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 515. [31] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 118. [32] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 118. [33] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 118. [34] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 118. [35] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 119. [36] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 635. [37] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 515. [38] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 636. [39] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 642. [40] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 116–117. [41] Joseph L. Trafton, Reading Revelation: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Rev. ed., Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 116–117. [42] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 642. [43] Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation: Revised, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, gen. eds., Ned Stonehouse, F.F. Bruce, and Gordon Fee, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1977), 234. [44] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 642. [45] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 516. [46] Alan Johnson, Revelation, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 12, Hebrews – Revelation, gen. ed., Frank Gaebelein, assoc. ed., J.D. Douglas, NT eds., James Boice and Merrill Tenney, manuscript eds., Richard Polcyn and Gerard Terpstra, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1981), 515. [47] Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation: Revised, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, gen. eds., Ned Stonehouse, F.F. Bruce, and Gordon Fee, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.: 1977), 234. [48] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 642. [49] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 623. [50] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 623. [51] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 623. [52] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 623.

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