Weird Bible Stories, Part 2

The book of Revelation is one weird book, especially if you don’t understand it. And plenty of Christians don’t. Many preachers don’t understand it either, and they say it’s a waste of time to even bother with it, and they’ll tell you so. That’s really bad advice, however. Reading and trying to understand what Revelation has to say comes with a promised blessing. No other book of the Bible comes with that promise; only Revelation.

Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Revelation 1:3 | NIV84)

If you haven’t made an attempt to read Revelation and understand it, you’re robbing yourself of a tremendous blessing. So, because I want you to be blessed, I’ll give you a very brief thumbnail sketch of what Revelation is all about, but chapter 12 will be put under the microscope.

Simple outline

There are two very simple things you need to know if you want to grasp Revelation. First, there’s this:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw–that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1-2 | NIV84)

Some people call this book The Revelation of St. John, but verse one says it’s Jesus’ revelation, not John’s. Throughout the book, Jesus is showing John His revelation; the Son is showing the apostle what the Father has shown Him regarding the future. You may wonder why God the Father needed to show His Son the future. Here’s why:

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mark 13:32 | NIV84)

In the first 31 verses of Mark 13, our Lord was teaching His disciples about the future, and they wanted to know when the events He was talking about would be taking place. His answer was simply that nobody knows except the Father. That was Jesus before His death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven. Once back in Heaven, Mark 13:32 became obsolete. The revelation Jesus Christ shared with John was what He didn’t know back in Mark 13. God the Father revealed to the Son His plan for man, and the book of Revelation is simply a record of that plan written out by the apostle John.

In fact, the book of Revelation, as we call it, isn’t really a book at all! It’s a letter – a very long letter written to churches John knew needed to know this information.

John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne…. (Revelation 1:4 | NIV84)

In the first three chapters, John deals specifically with issues confronting these churches. All these churches were struggling with various things. Some were suffering, others were losing their grip on sound doctrine. John offers words of encouragement, warning, and admonition to these churches. So, the first three chapters of Revelation cover things happening in John’s day. Almost nobody has anything controversial to say about anything John wrote to these churches in these chapters.

With chapter four, everything changes. The scene changes from Earth to Heaven; from John’s day on Patmos and the things happening to the churches of his day, to Heaven and Jesus’ revelation of what the future holds for the world.

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. (Revelation 4:1-2 | NIV84)

That phrase, “after this” has a two-fold meaning. First, the obvious one: After what John did in the first three chapters – after he saw the short vision of Jesus and after he addressed the churches. The second meaning is: After the churches. In other words, the events of what John is about see in Heaven – the revelation of Jesus Christ concerning the future – will take place after the church age on Earth. We are living in “the church age,” or some people call it “the age of grace.” Whatever you call it, it will come to an end. It started with the birth of the Church in Acts and will end when the Tribulation begins. The Tribulation is “what must take place” after the churches.

Once “the church age,” or the “age of grace” is over, God’s pent-up wrath will be poured out over large swaths of the Earth. God’s wrath at the moment is being stayed or held back by the Church, but that’s going to come to an end, and this time of wrath is what we call “the Tribulation,” and it will last for seven years. It begins like this:

I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest. (Revelation 6:1-2 | NIV84)

You’ve probably heard of the infamous “four horsemen of the apocalypse,” well, this is the first one. All they represent are various aspects of God’s wrath: a political conqueror, war and violence, famine and hyperinflation, and finally death. All these things are symbolized by colored horses. The horses aren’t real. They’re symbolic. What they symbolize, however, will be real. And that goes for all the symbols found in Revelation. They symbolize real things or people or events to come. The symbols, like the horsemen, are figures that stand for something literal.  So this period of tribulation will be characterized by the conditions and people represented by the horses and their riders.

The Tribulation drags on for seven years, occupying the bulk of the chapters of Revelation. By chapter 19, the whole mess comes to an end with the armies of the Heaven led by Jesus Christ coming to subdue the Antichrist and the armies of man. It’s called Armageddon, but it’s really a non-event:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. (Revelation 19:11-14 | NIV84)

Then, after some judgments, the Millennial kingdom begins in Revelation 20. It lasts one thousand years, then when it’s over, Satan, who will be bound during the Millennium, will be released and finally judged:

And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Revelation 20:10 | NIV84)

When that’s over, the dead – all the dead from the beginning of time – will be raised and will stand before the throne of God.

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. (Revelation 20:12 | NIV84)

This is the great separation – the separation of the sheep and goats. Those who are born again will enter into their eternal state, and those who never accepted Christ during their lives will be judged according to how they lived, and then sentenced. They have no chance for heaven. Theirs will be an eternity separated from all that is good and righteous.

Then in chapter 21, we read about the New Jerusalem and we get the smallest glimpse into the eternal state, and then finally, with the last chapter, we read a kind of summary and some encouraging words to John, the man who saw what Jesus saw:

Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near.” (Revelation 22:10 | NIV84)

Chapter 12

So how does chapter 12 fit into all this? By the time we get to chapter 12, John has seen what will be happening during the first part of the Tribulation. That’s a lot for a human being to digest, so chapter 12 is a kind of pause; a break in the action. Yet, it’s a little more than that. It’s an explanation of some of the things John saw in the preceding chapters and it’s a way to remind him of certain things. Everything we see in this chapter is symbolic of something, or someone, else. The easiest way to break down what’s happening in chapter 12 is to identify the various symbols.

A great and wondrous 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. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. (Revelation 12:1-2 | NIV84)

The identification of the woman is essential if you want to get this right. Key in understanding who this woman represents is knowing what the 12 stars symbolize, and Genesis 37:9, 10 gives us this information:

Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” (Genesis 37:9-10 | NIV84)

So the stars represent Rachel, Jacob, and Joseph’s brothers (the 12 tribes of Israel). The woman is just a symbol, remember, and the symbol is seen giving birth to a child. It would help if you knew Isaiah 9:6 in connection with this symbol:

For to us a child is born,to us a son is given,and the government will be on his shoulders.And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 | NIV84)

The “us” of Isaiah is the “woman” of the sign and she represents the nation of Israel. Israel gave birth to a son, Jesus Christ. So what John is witnessing in Heaven is a very brief moment of historical fact: The Messiah came from Israel.

Why did John need to be reminded of this fact? It’s because of the rest of what he saw in this vision filled with symbols.

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His 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 he might devour her child the moment it was born. (Revelation 12:3-4 | NIV84)

The red dragon is, as you might have guessed, Satan. Verse 9 says as much:

The great dragon was hurled down–that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. (Revelation 12:9 | NIV84)

John is witnessing, in symbolic fashion, a little more history. He is being reminded of where Satan came from and how powerful he is. He has always stood in opposition to Jesus Christ, from the moment of His birth. He’s been on the earth for thousands of years, and he’ll be on the earth during the Tribulation, leading the whole world astray, and he has the help of the fallen angels.

She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. (Revelation 12:5 | NIV84)

A little more history for John to be reminded of. This verse speaks of what will happen when Christ returns: He will rule the nations. John probably needed to be reminded of this; Jesus had told His apostles He would but with all John had been witnessing, he needed to be reminded. The second sentence refers to our Lord’s ascension. So in spite of the fact that Satan hounded Christ while He was alive on earth, the Heavenly Father took Him back home after His earthly ministry was accomplished.

The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1 ,260 days. (Revelation 12:6 | NIV84)

Here’s a verse of explanation for John. He’s been witnessing the future and it will get very bleak for Israel. This verse explains that no matter what Satan and the antichrist have in store for Israel, and no matter how powerful Satan may be, Israel will be supernaturally protected During the worst part – the second half – of the Tribulation. This was meant to comfort the apostle.

Not only will there be great distress on earth for seven years, things will get a bit rowdy in Heaven, too. Satan and his angels will once and forever be expelled from Heaven. A lot of people find it hard to believe that Satan is in Heaven. The book of Job makes it clear that Satan has no choice but to report to God, and to submit to Him. But at some point during the Tribulation on earth, Satan and his angels will be completely cut off from God and hurled from Heaven.

When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. (Revelation 12:13 | NIV84)

Angered by his treatment, Satan will strike out even more vehemently at Israel. No wonder she will be supernaturally protected! But because he can’t have his way with Israel, Satan will turn his attention to all believers.

Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring–those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:17 | NIV84)

In extremely brief fashion, this is the essence of what chapter 12 of Revelation is all about. It’s not about signs in the heavens for us today, rather it’s all about what the Lord showed John in heaven, to remind of him of his own nation’s history and to comfort him about its future.  When dealing with Bible prophecy, it’s best to let it interpret itself.  They Bible is not a mystery, full of hidden messages and codes.  It was written for every person to understand, with the help of the Holy Spirit.  When you read crazy things about Bible prophecy being fulfilled by planetary alignments or bad weather, you’d best keep your wits about you and remember these verses:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.  For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.  (2 Peter 1:20, 21 | TNIV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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