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Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 12 to 15
Timothy J. Westendorf
Seven churches. Seven seals. Seven trumpets. The next grouping is comprised of seven mini-visions. They are recorded in Revelation chapters 12–15. We’ll cover the first three this month.
The red dragon
The first mini-vision plays out in three distinct but interconnected scenes. We see a woman, glorious, “clothed with the sun” and reigning “with the moon under her feet.” The 12 stars in her crown tell us that she represents the church, the bride of Christ, gloriously dressed in the shining righteousness of Jesus, living and ruling with him. Satan, the enormous red dragon, ferociously tried but could not defeat Jesus or derail God’s salvation plan. So the dragon, hurled to the earth, turns his murderous attention to ruining the church, the offspring of the woman.
The church seems anything but glorious and influential as she flees into the wilderness. It might even appear that she is abandoned by the Bridegroom and left to fend for herself. But no. She is taken care of by God in that place.
How? The next scene beautifully reminds us. The accusing dragon is powerless against the works and Word of Jesus. God’s people are shielded from Satan’s rage by the power of the Spirit in the gospel of forgiveness. While he has time during the New Testament age (42 months), the devil will try his worst, but, armed with the gospel, the church will prevail.
The two beasts
The second and third visions remind us of Satan’s two powerful allies. They are represented by a pair of strange-looking beasts. The first emerges from the sea. There is unmistakable parallel between it and a vision seen by the prophet in Daniel chapter 7. This beast from the sea has characteristics of Daniel’s four beasts, whom we’re told represent four kingdoms of the earth. So we identify the first beast as representative of ungodly, anti-Christian government during the New Testament age.
All human government derives its ultimate authority from God. However, the prince of this world seeks to use God’s gift for his own wicked purposes. Human governments often fall under Satan’s evil influence, sometimes even using their authority to wage war against God and his church.
The second beast comes from the earth. It is lamb-like in appearance but dragon-like in speech. This second beast is closely connected to the first. It usurps and wields the power of the first beast; it works wonders to deceive the earth’s inhabitants into worshiping the first beast and its image rather than God. Its infamous number is 666. This number seems to represent a counterfeit covenant, seeking to replace Christ and his Word but always falling short of his perfect covenant of grace.
This beast is deceptive and represents false religions that claim a way to God through works not Christ. It includes groups that claim to follow Christ but show a beastly character by teaching other than what Christ has taught. This beast includes the visible Christian churches that teach a false gospel based on human effort or righteousness. The preeminent example would be the Roman Catholic papacy, which claims to possess Christ’s authority over all Christians. The beast appears innocent but points people to their own goodness and works for salvation. Ultimately the message of this beast drives people away from trust in Christ alone.
Reflect on Revelation chapters 12–13
- Why do you suppose 12:10a is used in communion liturgy (Christian Worship, p. 34)?As Christians we confront opposition regularly, and it sometimes appears that the church, that is, the believers, are not only under attack but in retreat. Citing this passage reminds us that we are protected by the Lord of all. Christ has come and said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Our salvation is assured, and the sacrament we receive together as believers is our assurance in the doubt and confusion of life here in this world.In addition, the Lord Jesus has given us his body and blood with the bread and wine. That is a miracle that defies our understanding. It depends on the words of institution that have come from the Savior on Maundy Thursday. He has the power and authority to do exactly what he said: “This is my body.” No scientific examination or proof can verify the miracle in the sacrament. We depend on the words, which come to us by “the authority of his Christ (Messiah).”
- How does chapter 13 help us better understand the past, present, and future when it comes to human governments and religious institutions?Government was instituted by God (Romans chapter 13) to commend those who do right and to punish the wrongdoer. Yet government does not see spiritual things clearly. At times governmental policies have supported teachings that are contrary to God’s truth, and at times governments even initiate state-sponsored persecution of Christians. These things have happened before, and they will happen again. We are encouraged to show patient endurance during these abuses of power and to recognize that the Lord is in control and has allowed such things to happen for his own purposes. In the end he will destroy those who oppose him and will take us to heaven to live with him in safety and joy.Visible churches do not always remain true to the Scriptures but instead teach doctrines that are nothing but the commandments of men (Matthew 15:9). Faithful believers will test the teachings of all on the basis of Scripture, will warn of their false teachings, and will avoid being entangled in them (Romans 16:17). Jesus has warned us, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
This is the sixth article in as 12-part series on the book of Revelation. Find the article and answers online after May 5.
Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019