The End of the World: “Signs of the Times” – Revelation 12

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The End of the World: “Signs of the Times” – Revelation 12

It was a nice afternoon that January 29, 2012, and a businessman was returning to his south Florida home after a week away. He was traveling at about seventy miles an hour. Trees were flying by on both sides of the car, and he was humming, because he was making great time. “I-75 is often one of the most boring parts of the journey, but at least I am nearer to home”, he thought. Coming down that long stretch of straight highway south of Gainesville, he noticed his acceleration – this was a hill. It was slight… it was a Florida hill. He could barely see it, but he could feel it. The engine was pulling back. As he was briefly gazed at his radio tuner that seemed to have been phasing in and out of reception, his eye caught a flash and he immediately snapped into driver mode, watching the flashing signs ahead. “Oh, man!” he said to himself. The road was blocked. There were no less than dozens of vehicles with lights flashing on top. His first thought was about how long this was going to take. His second was to change the channel of his radio. It was then he heard the story. A dozen were believed dead in the road just ahead of him. Suddenly, the inconvenience was pushed back in his mind, and he gained an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the flashing lights and signs that were strewn across the highway. He was, after all, safe. The signs slowed him down, and the lights brought him to a stop. In the end, the warnings helped him to know that danger was ahead, and that he could prepare for it.

In a very real sense, Revelation 12 is a series of signs that flash and tell us of what is ahead. It is not a pretty picture for many, but understanding it will help us navigate in the present….By the mid point of the cyclical letter that John wrote to be distributed to the seven churches of Asia Minor, the forward progress of the flowing story of Tribulation slowed to a sweeping view of the context of what God was doing in human history. It is as though God slowed down John’s advance to show him the BIG PICTURE of the Tribulation.

Key Principle: The signs tell the story – but we have to learn to look at them and understand both the blessing of their warning and the truth of their message!

The BIG PICTURE has always fascinated me – and in the Bible the scenes and sayings must always be set in to it. God is at work telling His story – and all of that story harmonizes to share His person and His purpose. In other words, to understand the Bible’s message to you, you have to understand the Bible’s big story. I have told it often to my students – because all the details of God’s Word are consistent with the BIG STORY He is telling through the library of books and hall of writers He has used to record and compile His Holy Word. Let’s review it again: What is the Bible’s big story?

The Bible is a romance book. It is a relationship book. The center of the story of the Bible is a story of two marriages. Let’s step back and look at the whole landscape of the story…In the beginning God created a world of angelic beings. One of those beings rose up in mutiny, and took with him a third of the angelic kingdom. God’s strategy was not to simply wipe out His creation – for He is a relational being. His choice was to be creative a second time, and craft a story before the angelic world of a second world – a physical world we call our universe. In that universe, God would show Who He is – and the angels would understand His true glory.

He made man and woman and placed them in a beautiful garden. He allowed the enemy access to them, and they joined in mutiny against their creator – just as that third of the angelic host had before them. Angels that followed God gasped as God allowed a stolen world to corrupt the whole of His once beautiful creation. Without missing a beat, God promised a Redeemer – a Son that would make his entry through the womb of a woman. The enemy tried to corrupt the race of men and woman and ruin the blood lines. God fired back in protection and flooded the world, saving a family with clean blood, and started anew – penalizing permanently any fallen angels that wanted to try to ruin the race. Time passed and men grew in numbers. Eventually God separated their attempts to unify and they became ethnic groups, language groups, and even nations.

God chose from among the nations one that He would offer a special relationship… and He declared that nation to be His wife. He wrote her love sonnets, cards and poetry – but she was not faithful. His love was ever promised, and hers was fickle. She cheated on Him. Then she cheated again. Then again. He wept over her, but declared that divorce was necessary for her to learn what she needed to know. What wasn’t learned in His warm arms would have to be learned in a cold and cruel world. She was put out – but not until she was pregnant.

The woman bore a Son of the Father. He was one of her nation – but His Father was the One in Heaven. The Son grew up, and the estranged wife of His Father caused some of the deepest wounds to His heart. The Son visited her and cried over her. –but she wasn’t ready to listen. The Son grew up.

The Father told the Son to take a wife of His own. He was not to choose a nation, but rather a PEOPLE, defined by love to Him, and not by any ethnicity or national ties. The Son took a bride and engaged her – leaving to His Father’s house until the Father called for the wedding to take place. The bride was left to prepare herself for the wedding to come, and to offer example and comfort to the estranged bride of the Father.

One day the Father blew the trumpet for the wedding to come. The bride of the Son was swept into glory, and the estranged wife of the Father was not invited to the feast. In fact, in one last and giant effort to get her away from her addiction to others, the Father punished her suitors and caused them to show her their real disdain for her. When she saw they did not truly love her, and that she could only count on her ex-Husband, she cried out to Him. He sent His Son to call her back home. When she saw the Son, she recognized Him as one she wounded, and she wept a mixture of tears of joy for her rescue and sorrow for the pains she inflicted on the Son. When the family was all joined together – the story concluded with God remaking the universe and restoring things to His original design  for them. The angels nodded – they got the message. God isn’t fickle, and the original relationship failure, in spite of the rumors spread by the Deceiver – wasn’t God’s fault.

One of the places we can really grasp the story well is in Hosea. Another is in Revelation 12, and that is what I want us to look at in this lesson together. The passage is a story of:

THREE SIGNS THAT REVEAL THE UNSEEN STORY

These three signs are PEOPLE whose description and actions explain both God’s program and the enemy’s response – by “pulling back the curtain” of the spiritual world that is often unseen by people on earth.

Sign #1: There is a Woman at the center of the story.

Revelation 12:1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars…5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations ….6 Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

If you look closely at the description of the woman in the verse, it is clear that God the Father is speaking of His chosen and estranged wife. The events of the chapter hinge on our understanding of the identity of the woman! How can we identify her? We look closely at her description and compare that to the Scriptures for a match.

First, note the sign was formed in Heaven: The picture of what God was doing in the Book of Revelation can be seen in SIGNS formed in the Heavens. These signs were a device to help John move the story ahead. Note that this sign – like the others of the book – was a DIVINE thing – not simply happenstance on earth.

  • The Bible shows God as the MAKER of the nation, not someone looking around the nations that happened to notice her existence. God didn’t choose a wife by showing up at a party of the nations and noticing her in the corner of the room – He crafted her upbringing. God created a nation – and God chose her as a groom chooses a bride. The case for God’s marriage to Israel is not a difficult one to make- for God poetically made it Himself in Scripture as we shall see in a few moments.
  • One of the reasons I believe so strongly in the LITERAL understanding of God’s Word is the sign He provided in the nation of Israel. If you watch closely what Jesus said about the last days before His return to earth, they are filled with the promises to Israel that people would increasingly despise her and wish her destroyed. Right in the middle of Jesus’ sending speech to the twelve disciples in Matthew 10, He jumped off to a future time before His return in a prophetic statement. It I s always a struggle in the Master’s teaching to know when He is speaking of believers in general (which the disciples could represent) or Jewish people (the disciples were also all Jews). To know, you have to look closely at His words:

Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 “But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; 18 and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 “But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. 20 “For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. 21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. 23 “But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.

Jesus mentioned specifically synagogue persecution – meaning persecution by other Jews. He mentioned persecution by Gentiles – insinuating the persecuted are Jews. He ended with the return of the Son of Man – meaning it was NOT simply about the twelve, but future followers of His. Jesus said men around the globe would increasingly HATE THE JEWISH PEOPLE –even if they didn’t actually KNOW the Jewish people first hand. The rise of such irrational hatred can be seen on the internet, the TV, and National Public Radio. This past week I heard a commentary by a man who argued – and his entire panel of learned Americans agreed – that Israel is to blame for the Iranian threats, because Iran is only making a nuclear weapon because Israel is so threatening to them. I can only say it defies logic and history to think this way – and is a demonstration of the growing DECEPTION that is befalling people in circles all around the globe. Israel’s leadership is not always rightbut they did not threaten the annihilation of Iran – leaders of Iran have threatened them. It has been public, vicious, and repeated. I don’t believe most Iranians want this said by their leaders – but it is reprehensible to pin it back on Israel that such things are happening.

For those who think I am playing politics, let me say this: Whatever happens to Israel in the future will involve the whole world. You will be involved and so will your children. Her nation was formed in the heavens and God is telling His story through her – if the Bible is to be believed.

Second, the image was that of a woman. That is entirely consistent with Scripture’s view of Israel – since her major prophecies of love, failure, divorce and restoration are all as a bride of the Father in Heaven.

  • God often described His relationship to Israel as a husband. Hosea 2:16It will come about in that day,” declares the LORD, “That you will call Me Ishi (my husband, literally “my man”) And will no longer call Me Baali (my Master). That wasn’t new. God used the terminology many times: Isaiah 54:5 For your Maker is your husband–the LORD Almighty is his name–the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; He is called the God of all the earth. There are many more we could cite.
  • The marriage between Israel and God was depicted as a “rocky one” because of Israel’s unfaithfulness. The early verses of Hosea 2 describe a painful divorce by God, because of Israel’s unfaithfulness, and follows that description with the coming of a chastising that is severe – leading to the restoration of her marriage. In her unfaithfulness, God wrote Israel a certificate of divorce.

Compare that to Romans 11:28 and her enmity at the time before her eventual restoration: Romans 11:28 “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Israel is depicted in the Epistles of the Christian Scriptures as the divorced wife of God that is awaiting her restoration to Him in a future time that will come about because of a terrible Tribulation.

She will one day be broken by God’s chastising, and only then see her Messiah as Zechariah foretold: Zechariah 12:10 “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.”

Third, the woman has a stunning wardrobe. The relationship of her clothing  -the sun and moon under her feet – is also completely consistent with the covenant God made with her. What does the sun, moon and stars have to do with Israel?

  • Jeremiah 31:31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, … “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. …35 Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The LORD of hosts is His name: 36 “If this fixed order departs from before Me,” declares the LORD, “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever.” 37 Thus says the LORD, “If the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,” declares the LORD. 38 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when the city will be rebuilt for the LORD …(it) shall be holy to the LORD; it will not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.” God promised that Israel’s existence and security was the wrap of the sun moon and stars. Her promise to continue in His sight is her garment.

Fourth. the woman was crowned with twelve stars. Again, it is nearly impossible to miss the connection with Israel, that was known through the ages as “the twelve tribes of Israel”. In the dreams of young Joseph in Genesis 37:9 Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

Fifth, the woman gave birth to a Son. This child was born of a NATION and for a NATION– but He was not a mere child… He was a Divinely appointed RULER. As God’s appointed ruler, he HAD to be born of that nation – for Israel was forbidden to appoint one of another nation over themselves (Dt. 17).

Sixth, God prepared an escape hideaway for the woman. There came a period of 3 and one half years when Israel only survived the attacks against her, because of the protective hand of God over her. She found her estranged husband her protector against her illicit lover – and life became very strange for her. Jesus warned concerning the Tribulation period: Matthew 24: “So when you see standing in the holy place “the abomination that causes desolation,” spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress [great tribulation], unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again (Matthew 24:15-21).

The first sign was Israel as a woman estranged from her God. Having birthed a child of her former husband and having been promised His love for all the ages, she was finding protection from Him while the nations and their false gods and value systems no longer tolerated her.

Sign #2: The Child of the woman is set for great things.

Revelation 12:2 “and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth… 5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne.

Three descriptions of the child and His work help identify Him:

First, He was ruler appointed by God. God’s specific promises to David through Nathan the prophet in 2 Samuel 7 (later summarized in 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 and 2 Chronicles 6:16) represent an unconditional covenant in which God promised Israel that first, He would not withdraw His hand from the Davidic line regardless of the performance of the kings in that line, and second, that the Messiah would eventually come from the line of David and establish a kingdom that would endure forever (2 Samuel 7:10-13).

2 Samuel 7:10 “I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly … 12 “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. … 16 “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”’

Second, He would come FROM Israel, but RULE ALL THE NATIONS one day. This seems in keeping with what we saw in the last lesson: Revelation 11:15 Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” The rod of iron with which He would rule is identical in wording to Revelation 19:15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

Third, He would be caught up to God’s throne room. Certainly, no Bible student could miss that description so common to John and the other Apostles. Did not the book begin with a vision of the Risen Christ in the throne room of God in chapter 1? Did not Acts 1 show Jesus being “taken up to Heaven”?

The second sign was the Messiah that had been born of Judah in the line of David, but was caught up to God until the time of the end, when He would return to rule all nations.

Sign #3: The dragon wants to kill both the woman and the Son.

Revelation 12:3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. 4 And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.

There are four descriptions, but we will look more at them in the next lesson. Just touch the description lightly for now:

First, he is a great red dragon. Ha-satan occurs 13 times in the Masoretic Text, in two books of the Hebrew Bible, including Job 1–2 (10x) and in Zechariah 3:1–2 (3x). Biblically, he was behind the attempts at Israel’s destruction in Haman’s plot, and his fingerprints were on Herod’s killing spree of the babies of Bethlehem.

Second, he took a third of the stars and threw them to the earth. When Satan rebelled, something changed about his characteristic lodging in heaven, because we read: “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!” (Isaiah 14:12). Jesus made a glancing reference to it when He said: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). It could even be that the STAR that fell to earth in Revelation 9:1 was that of Satan himself – though that is not certain. We are told that an “innumerable company of angels” was created by God (Hebrews 12:22), and here one third of them chose to rebel with him.

Third, he had seven heads and ten horns. If you follow the pattern of Daniel’s visions, like that of Daniel 7, a head was a national kingdom, and a horn was a ruler of that kingdom. This dragon is the “backer of nations and rulers” that will become more a part of the story in the next chapter. Satan built a national coalition through human surrogates – but it is nevertheless HIM behind it all!

Fourth, he stood before the woman to devour the child. A good reference point could be simply Matthew 2:13, where God thwarted the attempt of Herod to kill the baby Jesus.

The third sign was Satan and his harassment of the woman before the Messiah’s birth – as he tried to stop God’s program. He attempted to destroy the child, but God intervened and whisked the infant to safety in Egypt.

Stop for a second and think…

The remainder of the chapter is about Heaven’s victory over the dragon in a cosmic battle that cast Satan to earth in the midst of the Tribulation – and the havoc he brings when he gets to earth. He has been “an accuser of the brethren day and night” in Heaven, and his voice is no longer welcome there. Michael, the “guardian of the Jewish people” in Scripture (as revealed in Daniel 10), is given the cue to help him to the exit (12:10):

Revelation 12:7 And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, 8 and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. 11 “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. 12 “For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”

Michael is clearly an archangel that apparently got his name from the dispute that Satan caused. In Hebrew, Michael means “who is like God”  - a rhetorical question, that stood in opposition to Satan’s attempt to show himself to be exactly that – like God (see Ezekiel 28). Satan will be put out, and the earth will face a shock wave of new BLOOD LUST and POWER CRAZE. Satan is running out of time by the mid point of the Great Tribulation. But, if you listen closely… you can already hear him getting stirred – and the nations that puppet his deception are already speaking out.

We will come back to the scene, but let’s not exit without making clear why God took the time to pull the curtain back for us to see this scene.

God has an ultimate plan for both the believers of the church age and the Jewish people – the people of Israel. God’s future for Israel does not guarantee that all they do in their current unregenerate state is acceptable behavior, but we must wise up to the rise of an increasing wave of ANTI ISRAEL thinking that is putting even churches in opposition to any future for that people. Replacement theology and Arab Liberation theology – both which hold that the church is the new Israel – is reaching into churches and denominations and moving them to enmity with Israel and any future plan of God specifically for them.

  • I dream of a church that will uphold a literal view of God’s Word  – and will not bow to networks, nations or religious leaders that will preach hatred and destruction to the Jewish people.
  • I dream of a church that will support Israel’s self development – by helping them to care for all their people – both Arab and Jewish – to the end of producing the best society that unregenerate man can… because God is working a plan in them.
  • I dream of a church that will form its ethics FROM the Word of God, and not reinterpret the Bible in some liberation theology that saddles its own sense of ethical boundaries on the people of God.
  • I dream of a church that will not be backed into a corner called “politics” when God’s Word and its understanding are at issue, thwarting her ability to speak out on behalf of the apple of God’s eye.

I dream of that church, because that is the church Jesus began. That is the one that should be awaiting His trumpet call. The estranged bride of the Father should feel our love and learn of the God she has drifted from because of our living witness. If she does not, we are not fulfilling an essential role left to us. God made it clear… The signs tell the story – but we have to learn to look at them and understand both the blessing of their warning and the truth of their message!