Bob's Sermon for Sunday, September 10, 2017

 

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“Did heaven ever have a dragon?”     

 

Revelation 12:1-17

 

     (Revelation 12:1 NIV) 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. (2) She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.

     (3) Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. (4) 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. (5) 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. (6) 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.

     (7) And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. (8) But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. (9) 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.

 

     Signs are significant to us. Symbols abound. Little icon symbols cluster our computer and phone screens. As we drive, signs assail us. In about 1947, my brother-in-law played his guitar and sang a tune with these lyrics:

 

“Headed down life’s dusty road

             Lots of things I never knowed

 And because of me not knowin’ I now pine

 Trouble got in the trail

            Spent the next five years in jail,
            Should have read that detour sign.”

 

(chorus)

 

“Detour, there's a muddy road ahead.
  Detour, paid no mind to what it said.

  Detour, all these bitter things I find.
  Should have-read that detour sign.”[1]

 

Though I have never spent a night in jail, I have made many mistakes because I did not pay attention to very clear signs.

 

     A chief reason the Book of Revelation confuses folks is they do not heed its signs. In a very confused, angry, anxious world Revelation’s symbols direct us to security. Sad to say, interpreters often miss two facts about the book’s signs and symbols. 

 

     1.)    Revelation uses several types of signs. We have discussed these before; let’s quickly review them now.

 

     In the first century Roman Empire, Christianity was an unlawful religion. It remained prohibited until the fourth century. Worshiping God in Christ was illegal. In many regions, no one enforced the law. But in certain parts of Turkey, which the Romans called Asia, preaching Jesus and his resurrection were strictly forbidden. Not only that, some Asian cities demanded emperor worship. Some Christians were executed for their belief and for refusing to bow to Caesar. As happens now, many fell away because the world’s lust and greed lured them. 

 

     Under those circumstances, Christians need boost and backup to stay faithful in Jesus. God’s Spirit helped the Apostle John write Revelation to seven churches in Asia-Turkey. Its purpose: encourage and warn believers. Because Christianity was illegal, this book we call Revelation presented special challenges. Revelation urges Christians to keep witnessing and not quit even when they are persecuted. It was vital that the letter be in code. Suppose government officials found this book in their homes or worship places. The Book of Revelation could be used as evidence in court to convict those believers.

 

     Let me reiterate: Christians did not protest government actions or try to overthrow the authorities, or even complain. They just kept meeting, cheering one another, and testifying that Jesus was raised from death. To protect the readers, the Holy Spirit inspired John to write Revelation, which contains numerous codes.

 

     Some of Revelation’s symbols were based on historical incidents covered in the Old Testament. Christians then were familiar with OT characters, prophecies, and phrases. The code also employed Jesus’ sayings and teachings which early Christians well knew. In addition, Revelation uses symbolic numbers such as three, four, seven, ten, and twelve.[2] Song lyrics from both Testaments appear, too. Christians knew those signs and symbols, but to outsiders they seemed poppycock. The codes baffled authorities, but they helped the early church survive brutal mistreatment.

  

     2.) Here is a second fact about signs. Everyone knows this, but somehow forgets it when attempting to decipher Revelation. Signs point us to the reality and sometimes warn us of it, but they are not the reality.

 

     Suppose you drive the Iowa countryside and see a yellow road sign that has a black image depicting a farmer on tractor.   

                                                                                 

The sign indicates that a farmer on a tractor might be on the road a short distance ahead. It is not the actual farmer and the tractor; it symbolizes what might see ahead of you. Everybody understands that except Revelation interpreters.

 

     To begin chapter 12, John saw a “great and wondrous” sign: What the NIV translates: “great and wondrous” is the single term “mega.” What can this possibly mean? It is like our “farmer-tractor” image suggesting an important reality we need to determine. “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.”

 

     Was this unusually dressed pregnant woman actually in heaven?Pardon the pun, but this is not the sort of thing most expect to see in heaven, is it? Or does the fact that John saw this sign in heaven tell that it is legitimate—from God? What is this pained, prenatal image?

 

     In the Old Testament, clues begin early. Genesis 37 tells of dreams that Joseph son of Jacob had about him and his family. Joseph had eleven brothers. He earlier told his family a dream about them binding sheaves of grain out in the field. Joseph’s sheaf stood and the sheaves gathered by all the others came and bowed to his. You don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to understand the dream’s meaning.  Most second graders could catch it.“Then he (Joseph) 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.’ (10) 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?’”[3]

 

     Not realizing that Joseph would one day be second in command of the most powerful nation on earth at the time, Jacob was upset by the implications of Joseph’s dream. Jacob, his wife Rachel, and Jacob’s twelve sons help us understand this heaven-sign. You can easily see how Jacob’s family is the background for this great Revelation 12 scene. Jacob’s sons are the twelve tribes of Israel who spent centuries looking for a solution to their mistakes and those of the entire world. The sun, moon and stars probably represent Israel as the people of God. They looked for someone who would rescue them, a Messiah who would rule justly.

 

     Israel’s wishes and prayers were not immediately answered. For centuries they waited and endured.  Jesus, the Messiah’s, arrival was painful. Mary dealt with the awkwardness of a pregnancy induced by the Holy Spirit. Joseph dealt with possible embarrassment.[4]

 

     When we Christians suffer persecution, we need to know we are part of God’s long-term plan to save all people. This Chapter 12 woman is a sign reminding us that we believers are part of God’s grand design. Our work is not meaningless and hopeless. God has involved us in His winning strategy that began in creation and ends when he finishes history. “(3) Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. (4) His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.” This is not the sort of thing you expect to see in heaven, either is it?

                       

    “Enormous” is the same as the English word mega.

 

     Remember the dragon is a sign, not the full reality. This is not to say that the devil is not real; this scene resembles a cartoon designed to convey a truth. The dragon has seven heads, but ten horns. John did not tell us where the dragon has all these horns. Sevens and tens are both complete numbers. Seven heads probably mean he is super-crafty. Ten horns signify his power throughout the course of human history.  The sweeping tail that fells stars likely shows his capability of bringing down nations.

                

      Red makes him frightening and ghastly. The dragon’s seven heads wear diadems. Only God or those pretending to be God wear diadems. Faithful Christians will receive victory crowns or wreaths; not kingly crowns.[5]  Verse 9 identifies the dragon, the serpent, the devil, Satan; he does not need government ID. All humans already know of Satan’s power. So far we have the woman representing the people of God waiting for the Messiah, and the dragon-devil opposing God’s plan.

 

     Many statements in verses 4-6 you understand: “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. (5) 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. (6) 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.”

 

     Due to government taxation, Joseph and Mary had to travel and were not home when Christ was born.  King Herod tried to kill their baby. Do not be misguided by verse 5’s brevity. A prophecy in Psalm 2 identified Jesus, the Messiah’s power. “He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have become your father. (8) Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. (9) You will break them with a rod of iron (iron scepter); you will dash them to pieces like pottery.’”[6]

 

      And in Revelation 12:5, do not let the word “snatched” fool you. Paul used the same word for the ascension to heaven of the godly at Jesus’ return.[7]  Luke tells us that when Jesus ascended to heaven he was “taken up,” carried into heaven. Ordinary people are not carried to a kingly throne; only the Son of God is. Verse five briefly summarizes Jesus’ birth and ascension to God’s throne.

 

     The woman (God’s people) spends 1260 days in the desert, i.e., half of seven years. Religious folks waste lots of precious time taking the 1260 days literally and trying to match them historical incidents. 1260 day=42 months=3½ years. Those 3½ years simply represent a portion of history God has determined. As with all time, this allotted period is completely under God’s control. Note who takes care of God’s people during the 1260 days. That is why we leave things in God’s hands and not become riled by Satan and world events. The Lord knows what he is doing.   Through the present “wilderness, we trustfully and faithfully follow His lead and testify to Jesus resurrection.”

 

     Revelation perplexes lots of folks, but gaining this understanding, reassures us, but also warns us. Here is an important secret to understanding Revelation: Pay attention to the lyrics of its music.[8] The NIV insets them so we can spot them: (10) Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. (11)They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. (12) Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them!  But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury because he knows that his time is short."

 

     Most of this is clearly stated, isn’t it?

 

     Folks spend valuable time arguing whether Satan was ever in heaven. Preachers quarrel for hours over the subject. Looking at birthday cards in a store, I noted one that began: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  “Nice”, I thought. When the birthday person opens the card it reads: “What was it like?” This scene about the devil-dragon being cast out of heaven is not about a pre-creation event. “Hurling Satan down” is not speaking about what happened before history began. It describes what happened to the devil when Jesus came to the planet on his rescue mission. We must cautiously draw conclusions about Revelation’s frequent symbolic passages.

                                                              

     This scene reminds us of the Messiah’s accomplishments in history—Jesus died on the cross and by his blood paid for the salvation of every person who has ever lived. While he was here, Jesus overcame the devil in every way. He withstood all Satan’s temptations (Matthew 4). As the Book of Hebrews tells us, Jesus met every test that you and I face:

(18) Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”[9]

  

     As I recently reviewed Revelation 12 in the original, a word that kept appearing caught my eye. It’s a Greek word pronounced eblāthā,[10] translated “hurled down” as underlined. It would have grabbed the attention of first century readers and listeners. (9) 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.10) Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ.  For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. Each time those listeners heard “eblāthā” it would be as if we heard: “He’s banished--out of here.” That word also appears in verse 13. (13) When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.

 

     What does chapter 12 teach us? Satan challenges us, but Jesus defeated him. Jesus mortally wounded the devil-dragon and he will finish him off when he returns in the Judgment. Though Satan furiously mugs the world, we can win, too. How can we overcome? Verse 11 tells us: They overcame (“nike” in Greek) him by the blood of the Lamb.

 

     We obey “God's commandments and” we hold “to the testimony of Jesus.” Unless we do God’s will and faithfully, lovingly state our Christ-commitment to those around us, we will not be on the winning side.   

 

     Events of the past week highlight human weakness in the face of earth’s power (hurricane effects on Texas, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Florida, etc., as well as earthquakes in Mexico, and forest fires in the Northwest U.S.). From time to time, God reminds us that he is in charge here, we are not. Not one scientist, philosopher, politician, sports hero, or military general can stand in the face of the storms and earthquakes on this puny little planet. It is time we repent of our pride and glorify our Creator through Jesus his son.

 

     He alone can help us escape the Judgment we all face. It will be far worse than anything we have seen in this life.  

 

     I pray that we shall all be ready in Christ.

 


[1] "Detour (There's a Muddy Road Ahead)" , a western swing ballad written by Paul  Westmoreland in 1945. The original version was by Jimmy Walker with Paul  Westmoreland and his Pecos River Boys, around the beginning of November 1945.

[2] Threes usually represent God or the godhead; fours, the earth; seven is a complete number respecting things God has established e.g., he set aside Sabbath on the seventh day; tens are complete numbers referring to human history; twelves usually refer to God’s covenants with his people. Sometimes multiples of tens and twelves appear, e.g. 10x10x10 = 1000; 12 x 12,000 = 144,000.  

[3] Genesis 37: 9, 10 NIV

[4] See Matthew 1:19 He did not want to publicly humiliate or disgrace Mary though her pregnancy caused by the Holy Spirit seemed to have no credibility to him.  

[5] These are “stephanoi” crowns-wreaths of the type awarded then to victorious athletes. 

[6] Psalm 2:7-9 NIV The entire psalm is instructive. The iron scepter reference also appears in Revelation 2:9 and 19:15. It was well known to early Christians.

[7] 1 Thessalonians 4:17 Note also Luke 24:51:  Jesus was carried--“taken up into heaven.”

[8] I refer to music as the lyrics in the poetic sections.

[9] Hebrews 2:18 NIV

[10] Accent is on the second syllable, ἐβλήθη.

 

Bob Blair

PO Box176

Cleghorn, IA 51014

 

 

 

 

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