Welcome to the Revelation of Jesus. We are continuing our series on Revelation chapters 12-14, the Cosmic Conflict, and looking into the identity of the remnant.
Chapter 12 takes a step back from the Revelation timeline to give us an overview of the behind-the-scenes events that lead up to the climax of the cosmic conflict between God and Satan.
In the previous video we saw how Satan, who is pictured in chapter 12 as a fiery red dragon, laid his trap to permanently capture the world for himself by destroying the Son of God when He came to this earth on His mission to rescue the human race. “The dragon stood before the woman… to devour her child as soon as it was born” (Revelation 12:4).
Even as a newborn baby Jesus was under attack as Satan incited King Herod to kill all the babies in Jerusalem in order to take out the One who threatened his kingdom. For His whole time on earth, Jesus’ life was in constant danger, and Satan thought he had finally achieved success when he was able to incite the Jewish religious leaders to have Him crucified. But Jesus “was caught up to God and His throne” (Revelation 12:5)—after defeating death He ascended to heaven where He is enthroned with the Father.
But Satan was not ready to give up. He lost the “war [that] broke out in heaven” and was “cast to the earth” so that he no longer had access to the heavenly courts, but he could still get to Jesus by attacking His followers. That’s where we pick up the story in Revelation 12:13:
“When the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who had given birth to the male Child”.
In the previous video we saw that the woman symbolized the Jewish nation, God’s chosen representatives during the Old Testament times. God gave birth to the Messiah through the line of Abraham. However, Jesus in the parable of the vinedressers clearly told the Jewish leaders that He was transferring the title, privileges, and responsibilities from the Jews to the church—“The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (Matthew 21:43).
As the apostle Paul put it, “God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church” (Ephesians 1:22). This means that after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension the woman symbolizes those who believe in and follow Jesus.
John compresses the history of the early church into two verses. “The dragon… persecuted the woman… but the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent” (Revelation 12:14,15).
Satan tried various strategies to defeat the church. The first persecutions were by the Jews following the stoning of Stephen, but this plan totally backfired: “At that time a great persecution arose against the church… and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria… therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:1,4).
Satan then incited the Romans to persecute the Christians, starting with Nero in AD 64, but the more they were persecuted the more the believer shared the gospel. As the early church theologian Tertullian wrote to the Romans, “We spring up in greater numbers the more you mow us down. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”.
Finally, Satan hit upon a more successful plan: corrupting the church from the inside. With the emperor Constantine’s acceptance of Christianity in AD 312 the stage was set for the persecution of the Christian Church by the Christian Church.
We looked at this history in the series on the Seven Churches. After Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire, unconverted unbelievers flooded into the church, bringing their idolatry with them. Since everyone was supposedly a Christian and the emperor was also the head of the church, religion and politics mixed together into a toxic stew.
Satan’s strategy was perfected in western Europe during the dark ages. By this time the emperor of the Roman Empire was too far away in Constantinople to have any influence over the political affairs of the west, so the papacy filled the vacuum, holding together the fractious European nations with a common Christian culture. In video 9 we saw that the idolatry and coercion of the dragon-inspired union of church and state became so intolerable that faithful believers had to go underground.
This reality is mentioned twice in Revelation 12:
- “The dragon stood before the woman… then the woman fled into the wilderness where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days” (Revelation 12:4-6).
- “The dragon… persecuted the woman… but the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent” (Revelation 12:13,14).
These verses use the Bible’s favorite prophetic time period. You can review video 34, in which we studied “one thousand two hundred and sixty days,” “a time and times and half a time,” and the equivalent “forty-two months.” These all refer to the more than 1000 years of brutal oppression by the medieval union of church and state.
Notice all the other places this time period appears. In Daniel 7 the wicked horn “persecutes the saints of the Most High, and tries to change [God’s] times and law… for a time and times and half a time” (Daniel 7:24,25).
In Daniel 12, during the same “time, times and half a time, the power of the holy people shall be completely shattered” (Daniel 12:7). In Revelation 11 “The gentiles tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months,“ while the “two witnesses… prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth” (Revelation 11:2,3). And in Revelation 13 “the beast [who] rises out of the sea… speaks haughty and blasphemous words for forty-two months,… makes war with the saints and… has authority over every tribe, tongue, and nation” (Revelation 13:5-7).
We also saw in video 3 that the wicked horn that creates the abomination of desolation in Daniel 8, and the medieval king of the north in Daniel 11 describe the same oppressive power.
But God protected His faithful followers. “The woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness… from the presence of the serpent” (Revelation 12:13,14).
The reference to the wilderness and eagles’ wings is an allusion to the experience of God’s people when they fled from slavery in Egypt during the time of Moses. After they escaped from Egypt they “camped in the wilderness…” at Mt. Sinai “and the Lord said to them, ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself” (Exodus 19:2-4).
Thus eagle’s wings symbolize divine protection and deliverance. God provided the faithful underground church of medieval Europe with “eagles’ wings,” giving many of them a place to hide in the mountainous wilderness during the “time, times, and half a time” of persecution.
You may wonder why the books of Daniel and Revelation seem to have an obsessive focus on a bad period that happened a long time ago. This will become clear when we get to Revelation chapter 13. There “[John] saw a beast rising up out of the sea… he continued for forty-two months… making war with the saints and overcoming them” (Revelation 13:1-7). This beast is the same medieval church and state union that persecutes the woman in chapter 12.
But after the 1,260 years are over another beast arises out of the earth. It creates an image or likeness of the beast from the sea, in other words, a modern union of church and state, and uses it to impose the mark of the beast. The history from past ages that is presented in chapter 12 prepares us to recognize and respond to the final crisis.
We learn from history that faithful believers such as the Waldensians were able to find refuge in the Alps and other remote areas. There they were “nourished” by the holy scriptures and slowly emerged from the doctrinal confusion and pervasive toxic culture that had permeated European Christendom. Eventually, with the Protestant Reformation, they began to effectively protest the abuses of the papacy.
But Satan came up with another scheme. “The serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood” (Revelation 12:15). In Revelation 17 we learn that the flood of water that Satan spewed forth to destroy the followers of Jesus symbolizes a flood of people.
John saw an immoral woman riding on a scarlet beast that looks a lot like the dragon of chapter 12, “sitting on many waters” (Revelation 17:1-3). An angel explains to John that “the waters which you saw… are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (Revelation 17:15). The population of the world grew very slowly throughout human history; by 1492 when Columbus sailed for America it had only reached about half a billion.
Satan has used wars and epidemics of disease to snuff out people’s lives before they have a chance to repent. But as the underground church became more effective in spreading the gospel, and the Protestant Reformation gathered momentum and spread in Europe, there also began a dramatic increase in the human population. This put pressure on God’s faithful followers, making it more difficult for them to find “wilderness” places where they could avoid being targets of persecution.
But God was watching over His children and He provided a way of escape. “The earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth” (Revelation 12;16). As we saw in video 10, the flood of intolerance and persecution spread even to protestant countries, and in Catholic countries the inquisition raged on, threatening to exterminate those who sought to be faithful to the scriptures.
But with the discovery of the western hemisphere, there was a mass movement of people, including those seeking religious freedom. The American principles of separation of church and state and religious liberty had a strong influence on the European countries as well, and by the end of the 1,260 years, in the late 18th century, most of the persecution of Christians by the “Christian” church had come to an end.
Now Satan was getting desperate. When he was cast out of heaven, a voice announced, “The devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has but a short time” (Revelation 12:12). The shorter the time gets, the more his wrath increases. When “the earth helped the woman… the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:16,17).
Satan knows that “the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world so that all nations will hear it, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). He knows that when this happens it will be his end as well, so as we approach the time of the end, he focuses his rage on the group that is the greatest threat to his survival: “the rest of her offspring” or as the literal translation of the King James version puts it, “the remnant of her seed” (Revelation 12:17).
The concept of a remnant weaves through both the Old and the New Testaments. Here is a sampling of the many scriptures that mention a remnant:
- After vicious attacks “the remnant who have escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward” (2 Kings 19:30).
- “The remnant of Israel… will never again depend on him who defeated them, but will depend on the Lord” (Isaiah 10:20).
- “Listen to me, all the remnant of the house of Israel… I have made you, and I will bear you; even I will carry you and will deliver you” (Isaiah 46:3,4).
- The apostle Paul called those of Israel who accepted the Messiah a remnant: “Though the people of Israel are as numerous as the sand of the seashore, only a 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, among the remnant whom the Lord calls” (Joel 2:28-32).
- In Revelation 12, after the long history of persecution and oppression that we have outlined in this video, the dragon is more “enraged” than ever with “the woman” and especially with “the remnant of her seed” because they “keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 12:17).
The remnant “keep the commandments of God,” as a demonstration of their love for Jesus. He said, ‘If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Love for God results in love for His children: “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)
Keeping God’s commandments is not the same as legalism. Salvation is 100% by grace, received as a gift by faith. When Revelation says that remnant people keep God’s commandments, that doesn’t mean that people who love Jesus will never sin or succumb to temptation; the apostle John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
But in the same letter he writes, “whoever abides in Him does not sin… He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning” (1 John 3:4-8). This seems like a contradiction, but the bottom line is that when we abide in Christ we will continue to “confess our sins” and He will continue to be “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1John 1:9). “[God] who has begun a good work in us will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
All of this is Salvation 101, but it comes up here because of Satan’s continual challenge to God’s law. It is not that the devil can’t help himself and succumbs to temptation; he rejects the law altogether. In 2 Thessalonians 2 the apostle Paul calls the final manifestation of Satan “the lawless one”. Satan hates God’s law because it condemns his aspirations:
- The first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) forbids his number one goal: “I will be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13,14).
- The second commandment forbids the worship of idols, the chief means that he uses to trick people into worshiping him.
- The fourth Sabbath commandment states that “in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth” (Exodus 20:11), a claim that Satan cannot make.
- The commandments not to murder, steal, and lie condemn his primary means of achieving his goals.
- And the tenth commandment not to covet strikes at the heart of what he wants most—“I will exalt my throne above the stars of God” (Isaiah 14:13).
When remnant people keep the commandments of God they reject Satan’s lawless worldview and become living examples that God’s ways are the best.
The remnant are also a threat to Satan’s hold upon the world because they “have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17). The “testimony of Jesus” is actually defined in Revelation as “the Spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10).
“Prophecy” does not necessarily mean telling the future—“Those who prophesy speak edification and exhortation and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3).
Prophesy communicates 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 so falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you” (1Corinthians 14:24,25).
Paul wrote that we should all “desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1).
These verses make it clear that not all Christians will be prophets, but a clear mark of God’s church is that the spirit of prophecy is active in it. And even if many Christians are not prophets themselves, the “spirit of prophecy,” in other words, the Spirit that filled the prophets, should be present in every born-again believer.
Having special messages from God should not be the exclusive domain of a few super Christians, but should be characteristic of all of Jesus’ followers as we learn to hear His voice and share what He inspires us to say.
Being a part of the remnant is not the same as being a member of a specific church. It is individual Christians who love God with all their heart, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, keep the commandments of God and share the testimony that Jesus has given them with those around them.
As we will see in the next couple of videos, Satan has a well-laid plan to try to force the remnant to break God’s commandments, and to silence their testimony. Now is the time for us to seek the Holy Spirit as never before in order to be ready for the momentous times that are just ahead. It’s going to be a pretty rough patch of road. But we can be sure that Jesus has our back. He says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Isaiah 43:2)
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