Revelation chapter 12 tells the story of the woman (the true Church) and the dragon (Satan). Satan “persecuted the woman… for a time and times and half a time” (Revelation 12:13,14). This represents the 1260 years of oppression that God’s people suffered at the hands of the Papacy during the Middle Ages.
As this period drew to a close, the discovery of the Western Hemisphere provided a place of refuge for believers, and the Protestant Reformation along with the violent revolutionary movements of the 18th and 19th century severely limited the ability of the papal church to control governments and persecute “heretics”.
But Satan did not give up. “The dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the Remnant of her Seed, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17).
The concept of a “Remnant“ is found throughout the scriptures. In the Old Testament the remnant referred to the small number of God’s people who remained after destructive judgments had come upon them because of their unfaithfulness. Examples include Noah and his family, Abraham, the remnant of the Children of Israel who finally entered the Promised Land, the remnant who returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity and the remnant of the Jewish people who accepted Jesus as the Messiah.
Many passages of scripture mention the remnant. “For thus says the Lord God: ‘How much more it shall be when I send My four severe judgments on Jerusalem —the sword and famine and wild beasts and pestilence—to cut off man and beast from it? Yet behold there shall be left in it a remnant who will be brought out…” (Ezekiel 14:21,22). The remnant people refuse to compromise with the enemy, depending wholly on the Lord: “The remnant of Israel, and such as have escaped of the house of Jacob, will never again depend on him who defeated them, but will depend on the Lord, the Holy one of Israel, in truth. The remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the Mighty God. (Isaiah 10:20-22).
The apostle Paul called those of Israel who accepted the Messiah a remnant: “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved” (Romans 9:27). Joel prophesied that there would be a remnant at the end of time: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh… and I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth… there shall be deliverance, as the Lord has said, among the remnant whom the Lord calls” (Joel 2:28-32).
During the Middle Ages Satan had corrupted the majority of the Church, but he was not satisfied as long as there was a remnant that could grow and threaten his kingdom. Revelation 12:17 shows that “the dragon was enraged” and began to lay plans to defeat the final Remnant, “who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17).
This Remnant “keep the commandments of God”, not as a means of salvation, but as a demonstration of their love for their Savior. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep My commandments” John 14:15. Our love for others, expressed in the keeping of God’s commandments, proves our love for God: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:2,3).
Satan, on the other hand, has a particular hatred of God’s law because it condemns his aspirations. The first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) is in direct opposition to his expressed goal, “I will be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13,14). The second commandment, forbidding the worship of idols, forbids the chief means that he uses to trick people into worshiping him. The fourth (Sabbath) commandment is based on the fact that “in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them” (v. 11), a claim that Satan can never make. The commandments not to murder and lie condemn his primary means of achieving his goals. The tenth commandment not to covet strikes at the heart of what he wants most: a position that he has not been appointed to (“I will exalt my throne above the stars of God” Isaiah 14:13).
The remnant people are particularly dangerous to Satan because they “have the testimony of Jesus Christ”. In Revelation 19:10 the “testimony of Jesus” is defined as “the Spirit of prophecy”.
A prophet does not necessarily tell the future—“He who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men” (1 Corinthians 14:3). The prophet has a specific message from God for individuals or for the Church. “If all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed: and so falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you” (vs. 24,25).
Through prophecy people can become aware of the strongholds of Satan in their lives and escape from them, and this is why Satan is enraged with the remnant who have “the spirit of prophecy”.
Paul makes it clear that not all will be prophets (1 Corinthians 12:29), but a clear mark of God’s remnant people in the last days is that the prophetic gift (“the testimony of Jesus”) is active in their midst. Moreover, the Spirit that filled the prophets should be present in every born-again believer who is a part of God’s remnant.
No denomination can claim that it is the Remnant, because it is individuals, not organizations, who “keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ”. On the other hand, many denominations have institutionalized the rejection of some of God’s commandments, and others reject the idea that there could be prophets in the Church today. Believers will need to come out of these churches in order to be a part of the Remnant.
For more details and scriptural support see section 12:17 The Remnant in The Book.