A message on Revelation 12 by Richard Keith on Sunday 30 April 2023
The Art of War is a book on military strategy written in China in about 500 BC. Each of its 13 chapters is devoted to a different aspect of warfare, planning, supply, field position and terrain and so forth. Among its many quotable quotes is this one that closes its third chapter on planning the attack.
If you know your enemy and yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. (He means you’ll win every time) If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. (You’ll only win half the time). If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. (You will lose every time)
Now you may think that you have no enemies, but you’d be wrong. Because you have at least one. Each of us, as a follower of Jesus Christ, has the same enemy, an enemy as cunning and powerful as they come, and if we do not know him, his strengths, his weaknesses, we will be powerless before him. At best we will only win half the time. At worst we will lose every time.
Fortunately, the prophet John made sure that he revealed the true nature of our enemy in his prophecy, the book of Revelation chapter 12. John wrote his book for God’s suffering people. They were followers of Christ living in the late first century AD and they were suffering persecution for their faith. The Roman Empire had declared war against them because they would not offer a sacrifice to Caesar. They claimed that Christ was their only King and worshipped only him. And so they were seen as a threat to the state, as traitors against their community. Their belongings could be taken from them. They could be thrown into prison. They could be thrown to the lions. Why, they must have wondered, are they being punished if they are doing the right thing? How could they have any hope if they were facing the full force of the Roman Empire?
God’s people down the ages have suffered. They have suffered from brutal regimes trying to put them down. They have suffered from leaders of the church who have been seduced by the ways of the world. They have suffered from being denied access to God’s word. They have suffered doubt and confusion and division. But in Revelation chapter 12 the prophet John revealed the true nature of our real enemy. It wasn’t Caesar. It wasn’t his governors or his generals or his soldiers. It wasn’t worldly popes or lying ministers. As the apostle Paul said in Ephesians chapter 6:
Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
And so in Revelation chapter 12 we get the chance to know our real enemy, Satan, the prince of demons, so that out of every hundred times we face him we can win every time.
There are three main characters in this chapter. A woman. Her son. And an enormous red dragon. Finding out who two of them is easy.
The dragon is, as verse 9 says, that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.
The woman’s son has to be Jesus. Although very little is said in this chapter about his life and nothing about his death, the male child who was born and snatched up to God must be the Lord Jesus who was born as a real human being, and who, after his resurrection, ascended to the right hand side of God his Father and has been appointed Lord of all nations.
But I don’t think the woman can be Mary, the mother of Jesus. She can’t be. Despite what the church down the road says, Mary of Nazareth is not the queen of heaven and yet John saw the woman clothed with the sun, standing upon the moon, crowned with twelve stars. Mary, however, was the peasant girl of Nazareth. The most blessed of all women to give birth to the saviour and to raise him, but an ordinary woman nonetheless.
But if the woman in this chapter isn’t Mary, then who is she? We are given three clues. Firstly, she wears a crown of twelve stars. Notice twelve. Not ten. Not fifteen. But twelve, the number of the tribes of Israel. The number of the disciples of Jesus. Secondly, she is pursued by the dragon and has to hide in the wilderness. Thirdly, her children are those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus. We are her children.
The most likely explanation is that the woman is not an individual, but she must represent the people of God, the nation of Israel under the old testament, and the church under the new testament. For each of us is not just the child of our parents, but we are also a child of our neighbourhood, of our community. We are a child of our country and a child of our times.
In the same way, the Lord Jesus was born not just as the son of an individual women, but also as the member of the family of king David, as a citizen of the nation of Israel, and as an heir of promises that God gave to Abraham. Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day. He was presented to the priests in the temple. He was educated in the synagogue. He participated in John the Baptist’s call for Israel to repent and was baptised. Jesus was as much a child of Israel as he was a child of Mary.
And through his life, death and resurrection, through his teaching and his example and the gift of His Spirit, Jesus founded a new people for God, his followers, who were members of his body, his church. We are not just children of our parents but we are the children of the church. We’ve been brought to faith through the message the church has about the Lord Jesus and we have grown in the faith through the church’s ministry. We are members of the same family, the people of God, faithful to him from all ages.
We may now know who the three main characters are in this vision. But what can we learn about our enemy apart from his name? This red dragon with seven heads and ten horns.
Well, we can learn at least four things. Firstly, we learn of his power. John sees him in his vision as a dragon, a massive and terrifying beast, who belches water from his mouth and sweeps stars from the sky with a flick of his tail. He has seven heads so no one ever knows where his attack is coming from. And each head has a crown because he calls himself a prince and demands obedience from those who follow him.
And so we ignore him at our peril. Because the devil is not a little red man with horns and a tail. He is not a cartoon character who is just an object of fun and amusement. Many people say they don’t believe in the devil, when what they really mean is that they don’t believe in the silly little man dressed in red tights. Don’t you believe in that devil either. Because you can’t afford to underestimate someone who wants to make your life a living hell. Millions of people serve him. He can dominate the heart of a government leader or of an army general and rule a whole nation. He makes promises of wealth and fame and security but no one can hold him accountable to ever keep them.
Firstly the devil has power. Secondly, it is not a power for good. Because many people have power. Police officers have power to bring criminals to justice and they carry a gun to enforce their will. Ambulance drivers have power to make you stop your car and pull over and let them through. Doctors have the power to make you well. Politicians have power to make laws. In different ways they have power to do good. But those same powers can be used by other people to cause harm.
Our enemy Satan uses his power only for evil. We see that in Revelation chapter 12. With a sweep of his tail he destroys the stars in the sky. He waits to eat the woman’s son. He makes war against the angels of heaven. He chases the woman to kill her and fights against her children.
Legend says that the devil was once an angel. Lucifer, the bright morning star, but his heart has turned black and given over to hatred and destruction. His purpose is to break whatever is good.
In fact, that is the true nature of evil. Evil is not something in itself. It is simply something that is good that has been broken or twisted out of its true nature. The devil can’t create anything for himself. He can only take God’s good creation and use it for his own ends. He seduces angels and makes them his demons. He corrupts people and makes them his servants. People invent money as a means to an end, an exchange for trade, and the devil makes us think that money is an end in itself, a way of keeping score. A way to tell who’s winning.
We find pleasure in the world God has made and the devil distracts us with them from loving God above all. His purpose, as verse 9 tells us, is to lead the world astray. Which reminds us that although Satan is real, life isn’t a horror movie. The devil’s chief weapons aren’t axes and chainsaws. His purpose isn’t to terrify us and to horrify us but to divert us from the path of following Christ so that we never reach the end of our journey in the kingdom of God’s blessing. Satan is quite happy for us to be happy and content and not afraid at all, he doesn’t even need us to believe in him, as long as he can make us waste our lives on ourselves and fall short of living a life that is pleasing to God.
Thirdly, we learn that although he is powerful he is not powerful enough. Ultimately, he is powerless. He waited to devour the woman’s child, but the child was snatched up to heaven. He attacked the woman but she fled into the desert. He waged war against heaven’s angels but he was not strong enough and he and his servants lost their place. And he was thrown out of heaven and hurled down to earth.
For he may be like a powerful dragon a force for evil, a power applied to destruction. But he is not a god. He cannot be in more than one place at a time. He cannot read your thoughts. He cannot make you do what you don’t want to do. He can only suggest. He can only deceive you with lies. He fights against God’s people, but he fights a losing battle. For there may be two powers in the universe, one for good and one for evil. But they are not two equal powers. This is God’s world. His victory is sure. We are safe in his hands. Yes, we should know our enemy. We should be aware of Satan’s power and purpose. But he only has the power over us that we give to him. For ultimately, the final victory belongs to our Lord Jesus.
Fourthly, the devil is driven by revenge. He knows he fights a losing battle, so his only purpose is to take down as many with him as he can. This is important. The devil is not the prince of hell. Hell is a prison for those who rebel against God and the devil is its chief inmate. He is not the warden. His promises are lies because he cannot deliver on them. His attacks, even if they hurt our bodies cannot snatch us out of our saviour’s hands. But he will do what he can to take us with him and to destroy the things we love.
To wind things up, you have to admit that this is not the whole gospel, is it? I mean, if it was, we’d be talking about the devil all the time. But it’s an important part of the gospel. Evil is real. It is all around us. It tries to destroy all that we love and to corrupt all that is good. It seems to be all powerful. But the true victory belongs to God who sent his Son Jesus to find what had been lost and he will return one day to put right what has gone wrong.
Know your enemy. Our struggle is not physical or political or economic but spiritual. Satan is real and he is powerful. But Jesus is powerfuller. And so we can never say that the devil made us do it. Because he only has the power over us that we give him. Renounce him. Give your heart to Jesus and you will be safe in his hands against all the devil’s schemes.