God and Satan In Conflict Through The Ages
The battle lines have been drawn. God and Satan are in conflict. The sphere of that conflict is Heaven and earth. The subjects of that conflict are angelic and human. The outcome of the conflict is certain. The origin, purpose and consummation of human history is intimately associated with this raging battle.
On earth the opening skirmish took place in the Garden of Eden. Satan, through the form of a beautiful serpent, tempted Adam and Eve. Created in the image of God and with the capability of choice, Adam and Eve succumbed bringing sin and death to this planet.
For his involvement, Adam and, through him, all men are being chastened. Physical death, a curse of the ground, and thorns and thistles are the result (Gen. 3:17-19).
For her involvement, Eve and, through her, all women are being chastened. Physical death, sorrow in child bearing and submission to the male mate are the result (Gen. 3:16).
For Satan’s involvement, he and all those who follow him have been judged and will one day be consigned to a place of eternal punishment (Gen. 3:14-15; Rev. 20:2-3).
Make no mistake about it, the gauntlet of challenge has been thrown down. God said to Satan, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).
Through God’s call of Abraham the miraculous nation of Israel came into existence, and from Israel came Christ – the promised Seed destined to one day bruise the serpent’s head. The righteous chain has three links: the source, God; the channel, Israel; the seed, Christ. Through Satan imperial Rome came into existence, and from Rome comes the Antichrist – the seed which is destined to bruise Christ’s heel. Again, the unrighteous chain has three links: the source, Satan; the channel, Rome; the seed, Antichrist.
The twelfth through fourteenth chapters of Revelation form a trilogy of thought. The unity of these three chapters and the principal truth they seek to convey have not been generally understood. These chapters interpret and expand on the supreme conflict of the ages which began for man in Genesis 3:15.
In chapter twelve the enmity is between the woman (Israel) and “the people of the prince that shall come” (the revived Roman empire) [Dan. 9:26].
In chapter thirteen a beast comes up out of the sea. The “sea” is repeatedly used in the Scriptures for the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean world was the sphere of Roman influence at her zenith of power in 117 A.D. The beast is the Antichrist who will arise out of this “revived” Roman empire. This chapter presents the activity of the Antichrist, during the second half or final three and one-half years of the Tribulation Period.
In chapter fourteen the reader is introduced to a lamb who is standing on Mount Zion. This lamb is the offspring of Israel, the Seed of the woman, the Son of the living God – the true Christ, the Redeemer of all who put their trust in Him. His activity during the final three and one-half years of the Tribulation Period now begins to be described.
To summarize, chapter twelve depicts the final conflict between Israel and Rome. Chapter thirteen depicts the activity of the Antichrist who emerges out of Rome. Chapter fourteen reveals the activity of the true Christ who emerges out of Israel.
This article will examine some of the salient features of Revelation twelve and the conflict between the woman, Israel, and “the people of the prince that shall come”, Rome.
The First Sign
“And there appeared a great wonder [SIGN] in heaven. . . ” (Rev. 12:1). The word “sign” appears more than seventy times in the New Testament; twice in Revelation twelve. It is invariably used to point to something unusual, the purpose of which is to identify or confirm someone or something as genuine.
To the shepherds abiding in the fields, the angel said, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a SIGN unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Lk. 2:11-12). A child born in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes was unusual. Its purpose was to be a sign to identify and confirm the birth of the long-awaited Messiah.
Repeatedly, the Jewish leadership came to Jesus requesting a sign (Mt. 16:1; Mk. 8:11). They said, “. . . Master, we would see a SIGN from thee” (Mt. 12:38). They were asking for something unusual, something that would identify and confirm His revolutionary teaching. “But he answered and said unto them. An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a SIGN, and there shall no SIGN be given to it, but the SIGN of the prophet, Jonah” (Mt 12:39). To their request for a sign, the Lord made two observations. First, they were an adulterous generation. Had they been faithful to their own Old Testament Scriptures, they would have known the source of His teaching and had no need for identification and confirmation through a sign. Second, no sign would be given during His life. Only after His death would a sign be given; and that, the greatest of all signs. As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the “great fish”, Jesus would remain in the earth for three days and nights. The sign to identify and confirm the source of His life and teaching would be His resurrection by the power of His heavenly Father.
But the Jewish leadership were not alone in asking for a sign. The disciples also requested a sign from Jesus. Their request, however, was a legitimate question for an appropriate purpose. They inquired , “. . . And what shall be the SIGN of thy coming, and of the end of the age?” (Mt. 24:3). The Lord graciously told them what the sign of the end of the age would be. His answer is recorded in Matthew twenty-four and twenty-five. The sign can be summed up in one word – tribulation, unequaled, unprecedented tribulation. Tribulation of such severity that “except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved.” Teaching to the contrary notwithstanding, Matthew twenty-four and twenty-five have absolutely nothing whatever to do with events of this Church age. These chapters are to be a sign of the return of the Lord and the end of the age to those living in the Tribulation Period (a seven-year time span which begins following the Rapture of the Church).
The two signs given in Revelation 12:1 and 3 are intended to identify and confirm the woman (Israel), who gives birth to the righteous Seed, and “the people of the prince that shall come” (Rome), who gives “birth” to the Antichrist, the unrighteous seed.
The first sign given is that of a woman. There is nothing unusual about a woman. More than two billion of them presently live on the planet Earth. What makes this woman unique, however, is the way in which she is adorned. It is her attire that sets her apart from all other women. She is (1) clothed with the sun, (2) the moon is under her feet and (3) she has on her head a crown of twelve stars (Rev. 12:1). Who is the woman, and what is the significance of her attire?
On the fourth day of creation God said, “. . . Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for SIGNS, and for seasons, and for days, and years; And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth” (Gen. 1:14-17).
Two points are germane to this discussion. First, the sun, moon and stars were created by God to give light upon the earth. Second, they were divinely intended to be for signs, seasons, days and years.
Was God correct in His creative purpose? First, the earth’s seasons are the result of the earth’s rotation around the sun. Second, the earth’s days are determined by the rotation of the earth on its axis every twenty-four hours. Third, the earth’s years are governed by its own orbit around the sun once every three hundred and sixty-five days. The sun, moon and stars are clearly responsible for our seasons, days and years precisely as God said. But He also said they were to be for signs. Are they?
The sun which gives light and life to the earth is a sign of the Son of God. In the fullness of time, God sent His Son into the world (Gal. 4:4). “In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness overcame it not” (Jn. 1:4-5). When Jesus appeared, it was the noon hour of human history. The planet Earth was ablaze with the Son’s light. He manifested forth perfectly the glory of His Father (Heb. 1:3).
The moon is a sign of the true Church. In and of itself, the moon is a dead body. It has neither light nor life. But when it is in proper relationship to the sun, the moon can reflect the sun’s light to the earth. The parallel is clear – the Church has no light or life of its own. But when the Church is in “proper relationship” to the Son, it can reflect His light to the earth. Today, the Son is beyond the horizon. There can be no direct view of Him. Only through the Church acting as reflectors can His light be seen on the earth. The Lord had this reflective process in mind when he suggested that men might see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven (Mt. 5:16).
The stars are a direct sign of Israel. In addition to being light bearers, the stars are a standard for navigation and the telling of time.
In the sovereign purpose of God, the nation Israel was brought into existence to give men the light of the one true God, to point the way to Him through the Bible which they penned, and to be the center of the sundial revealing to men where we are in the divine chronology of redemption. In other words, Israel is to give light, direction and time on the earth.
That Israel is the woman of Revelation 12 is clearly revealed in Scripture. In the interpretation of Joseph’s dream of the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing down to him, Jacob (his father) is the sun, Rachael (his mother) is the moon, and his brothers are the eleven stars (Gen. 37:9-10). This fact is the more striking if it is remembered that God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and the Jewish nation traces its genealogy through Jacob and his twelve sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel.
It was God himself who gave the formula for those who would try to destroy the Jewish race. He said that if you can destroy the sun, moon and stars, then Israel will cease to be a nation before Him forever (Jer. 31:36). But as long as they endure, Israel will continue to exist. The placing of Israel’s continued existence alongside the sun, moon and stars was not coincidental. Those heavenly bodies were created to give physical light upon the earth. Israel was brought into existence by God to be the source of all spiritual light. Therefore, what God is saying is, to snuff out the spiritual light on the earth, you must first be able to destroy the sources of all physical light.
The great sign God gives is a woman, clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. The woman is Israel. She is clothed with the sun – that is the Son of God. Israel’s inception and preservation – her whole history – revolved around the Messiah to whom she would one day give birth. Messianic expectation was at the core of her very existence. Clearly, she is clothed with the “sun”. The moon is under her feet. The reference is to the true Church. That she is under Israel’s feet does not speak of subjection but origination. Every blessing that the Church enjoys has its source in the Abrahamic Covenant and the divine promise to the patriarch that, “. . . in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). The twelve stars symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel reunited and giving light during the Millennial Kingdom.
The great sign is given to identify and confirm Israel as the woman of Genesis 3:15 and in the divine scheme of things the channel of all spiritual light and life on the earth. Therefore, she is the mortal enemy of Satan and the sons of darkness. It is for that reason that God said to Abraham, “. . . I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee. . .” (Gen. 12:3). And even during this period of Israel’s national rejection of her Messiah, God is still using her to perfectly fulfill His purposes through the Church which was brought into existence through Israel’s temporary fall (Rom. 11:11).
“And she, being with child, cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered” (Rev. 12:2). Pregnancy is normally nine months’ duration from conception to birth. But Israel would carry her child in her womb for two thousand years.
To Abraham God said, “. . . in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). The Seed to which God referred was Christ (Gal. 4:4). This promised Seed would come through Isaac, not Ishmael (Gen. 21:12), through Jacob, not Esau (Gen. 25:23), through Judah, not the other eleven tribes of Israel (Gen. 49:10), and through the family of David (2 Sam. 7:12, 16).
Over the centuries Israel would know wars and captivities, but still she travailed in pain; there would be groanings and toil, but still she travailed in pain; there would be prophets, priests and kings – men of faith and men of failure, but still she travailed in pain; there would be unexplained ceremonies, unfulfilled prophecies and unsatisfied longings and still she travailed in pain; there would be times of darkness when her very life hung in the balance, when everything human, logical and pragmatic argued for death before delivery, but somehow inexplicably, miraculously she hung on, and still she continued to travail in birth, paining to be delivered.
The Old Testament is the record of that unique and transcending pregnancy which in the end would clothe the eternal God in human flesh.
The Second Sign
“And there appeared another wonder [SIGN] in heaven. . . ” (Rev. 12:3). This time the sign is not of a woman but of a great red dragon. The very word “dragon” suggests cruelty. That it was red suggests its bloodthirsty character.
The woman was identified by the way she was adorned. The dragon is also identified by its adornment. The dragon is described as “having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads” (Rev. 12:3). To students of the Word of God the identification should be clear and precise – the adornment points to the revived Roman empire. It must be remembered that in Scripture, references to a king and his kingdom are often used interchangeably, so that King Nebuchadnezzar is referred to as “the head of gold” (Dan. 2:38) – that is, the Babylonian kingdom. In the chapter under discussion the term “serpent” sometimes has reference to Satan and sometimes his kingdom, the Roman empire. A comparison of Daniel 2:40-43; 7:7-8 and Revelation 13:1 in context reveals that the revived Roman empire will be composed of a confederation of ten nations that will arise in the latter days. The Antichrist will emerge from within the revived Roman empire and defeat three of the ten nations (Dan. 7:7, 8, 24). He will rule over the entire confederation.
The dragon adorned with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns identify it as Rome just as the sun, moon and stars identify the woman as Israel.
The two signs given in Revelation twelve are to identify and confirm the channels through which God and Satan are working and through which the true Christ and Antichrist are to come.
Frustrated in his attempt to destroy the woman (Israel), Satan set his attention to the task of devouring her child as soon as it was born (Rev. 12:4).
At the time of the birth of Jesus, Herod the Great was ruling over Israel. Herod was not a Jew; he was an Edomite. He was placed in power and kept in power by Rome. Herod was a brilliant administrator and a genius as a builder. But Herod was also characterized by exceptional wickedness and was hated by most of his Jewish subjects. Not without reason a Roman emperor said of him, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than to be his son.” So insanely jealous was he of his throne and any imagined or real danger to it that he killed his wife and two sons.
The visit of the wisemen to Jerusalem in search of the Christ child now takes on new meaning. On arrival they inquired, “. . . Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him” (Mt. 2:2). Herod was a usurper to that throne. He was not a son of Abraham, of the tribe of Judah, of the family of David. He had no legal right to rule over Israel. And the wisemen were searching for the one “born King of the Jews”.
With Satanic deceit Herod requested of the wisemen that when they find the child they bring him word so that he could worship the newborn king (Mt. 2:8).
The divine preservation of the Seed of the woman is unmistakable. God warned the wisemen not to return to Herod, and “they departed into their own country another way” (Mt. 2:12).
And then God instructed Joseph to take the young child and Mary to Egypt because Herod would seek the young child to destroy Him (Mt. 2:13).
Was there danger? Was the young child in jeopardy? Or was the problem more imagined than real? Hear the inspired penman: “Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceedingly angry, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all its borders, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men” (Mt. 2:16).
The strategy of Satan through his Roman puppet king was to devour the woman’s child as soon as it was born.
But Satan’s best was not good enough. The child who is to rule all nations survived, grew to manhood, died a substitutionary death, rose the third day from the grave and “. . . was caught up unto God, and to his throne” (Rev. 12:5).
Almost two thousand years of history are passed over in silence between verses five and six of Revelation twelve. Verse five ends with the ascension of Christ to His heavenly Father. Verse six begins with a remnant of saved Jews fleeing Jerusalem in the middle of the Tribulation Period. The entire Church age, already more than nineteen hundred years long, is passed over without reference. What causes the believing Jewish remnant to flee Jerusalem in the middle of the Tribulation Period is the abomination of desolation referred to by the Lord Jesus in His Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24:15).
The Antichrist will command the Jewish people to bow down and worship a life-like image which he will erect in the rebuilt Temple (Rev. 13:15). This event was foreshadowed in 168 B.C. when Antiochus Epiphanes, ruler of Syria, killed a pig on the altar of the Temple in Jerusalem. His purpose was first to desecrate the Temple and then to substitute his deity as the object of Jewish worship.
The place to which the Jews will flee is the ancient rock city of Petra located about seventy miles southeast of the Dead Sea, in modern-day Jordan.
The approach into Petra is by way of a gorge which runs for a mile and a quarter through a massive rock formation. The gorge ranges from twelve to forty feet wide, and its side walls are one hundred to one hundred and sixty feet high. Inside this amazing rock formation are caves and temples; remnants of Old Testament civilizations. To this naturally fortified city believing Jews will flee from the wrath of the Antichrist, imperial ruler of the revived Roman empire.
Two momentous events occur simultaneously in the middle of the Tribulation Period. The first, mentioned above, is the abomination of desolation and the flight of believing Jews from Jerusalem to Petra. The second, is a staggering intensification of anti-Semitism and worldwide chaos; destruction and death of a magnitude hitherto unknown. What causes these staggering events to transpire on earth? The answer is clear – war in Heaven.
“And there was war in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan, who deceiveth the whole world; he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Rev. 12:7-9).
The four titles given to the dragon should not be overlooked or minimized. They identify his major characteristics. Dragon speaks of his cruelty; serpent suggests his craftiness; Devil describes him as a slanderer; and Satan reveals him as the adversary. And only a fool blinded by humanism will deny his existence.
The defeat and expulsion of Satan from the presence of God, where he was the accuser of the believer, brings joy in Heaven (Rev. 12:10-12a). But a woe is pronounced “to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! For the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time” (Rev. 12:12).
It is the expulsion of Satan from Heaven to earth, where he will empower the Antichrist, ruler of the Roman empire, that will trigger the catastrophic events of the Great Tribulation (Rev. 13:4-6).
And what will be the chief target of Satan when he is cast to the earth? Will it be the world capitals of Washington, Moscow, Peking, Paris, Bonn and London? No. His attention will be focused on Israel. It is Israel, the woman who gave birth to the man child (Christ). “And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman who brought forth the male child” (Rev. 12:13).
It is deeply touching to realize that our Lord himself in His Olivet Discourse gives warning to these His Jewish brethren for this precise moment in history. And it is this warning which will prompt this believing remnant to flee.
Hear the urgent words of the Lord to that remnant for a still future day: “When ye, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whosoever readeth, let him understand), Then let them who are in Judaea flee into the mountains; Let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house; Neither let him who is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto those who are with child, and to those who nurse children in those days! But pray that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day; For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Mt. 24:15-22).
Unable to get at the Jewish believers who fled from Israel to the safety of the rock fortress of Petra, the dragon will begin his “search and destroy” operation of Hebrew Christians throughout the world (Rev. 12:14-17).
If Satan can destroy the Jew in the brief three and one-half years left to him at that time, he will succeed in snuffing out the Source of Light on earth. For the return of Jesus to the earth is not as a usurper of another’s kingdom but contingent upon His legal right to the throne of David. His return demands the existence of a people called the Jew, a land called Israel, a capital called Jerusalem and the throne of David upon which to sit.
Put succinctly, Israel must survive for her Seed to “bruise the serpent’s head” (Rev. 5:5; 20:10). It is this supreme conflict which is behind the momentous days in which we are privileged to live and serve to the glory of our eternal God.