*May 18 - 24
The Child, the Church, and the Dragon: Revelation 12
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: Revelation 12.
MEMORY TEXT: "'They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them!' "(Revelation 12:11, 12, NIV).
BESIDES OUTLINING THE ATTACKS OF THE ENEMY against Christ and His church throughout the Christian Era, Revelation 12 appears to have several other purposes:
First, it introduces the protagonists in the controversy: the woman, the Child, the dragon, and the remnant. Second, it gives assurance of victory to God's people, because it emphasizes that Christ has, always, defeated the dragona victory in which all His followers share. Third, it introduces the final conflict, this time against God's remnant.
Revelation 12 begins with a description of a woman giving birth to a Child, followed by a dragon ready to attack both the woman and the Child. The chapter then ends when the dragon prepares to launch an attack on the remnant of the woman's offspring. The war against the Child, described in verses 2-4, is developed further in verses 7-12; the attack against the woman, introduced in verse 6, is discussed in verses 13-16.
Yet, even amid all the attacks, the struggles, and the battles, the words that cry out from the chapter are those of victory, Christ's victory, which is the victory of those who follow Him by faith, those who "overcame him [the dragon] by the blood of the Lamb" (vs. 11, NIV).
*(Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, May 25.)
Sunday May 19
What does the symbol of the woman in Revelation 12:1 represent?
The woman is dressed in the splendor of heaven; her garments reflect the light of the "Sun of Righteousness" (Mal. 4:2; Matt. 13:43; 17:2). The twelve stars are a symbol of the people of God whom she represents (see Dan. 12:3). Though celestial bodies, the sun and the moon, in particular, were used to identify the change of seasons (Gen. 1:14, 15); in this case, they may serve to announce the beginning of a new era through the birth of the Child.
The symbolism used in these texts seems also to have Messianic significance. Christ is the morning "star" (Num. 24:17), and the permanency of the sun and the moon could represent the permanency of the throne of David (Ps. 72:5; 89:35-37).
Who was the Child born to this woman? Isa. 7:14; 9:6, 7; Gal. 4:4.
The first good news found in the Bible is God's promise to send a Redeemer born of "the woman" (Gen. 3:15). Christ is the "seed" of the woman. He was to take our nature and to become one of us, all in order to save us from the deadly wound of sin. Indeed, because of this promise of salvation, first given to Adam and Eve, the human race was not permanently severed from God.
"The Son of God, undertaking to become the Redeemer of the race, placed Adam in a new relation to his Creator. He was still fallen; but a door of hope was opened to him. The wrath of God still hung over Adam, but the execution of the sentence of death was delayed, and the indignation of God was restrained, because Christ had entered upon the work of becoming man's Redeemer. . . . He became a refuge for man, and although man was indeed a criminal, deserving the wrath of God, yet he could by faith in Christ run into the refuge provided and be safe. In the midst of death there was life if man chose to accept it."Ellen G. White, "Redemption," Present Truth and Review and Herald Articles (February 24, 1874), vol. 1, p. 141.
|Jesus, the Lord, became a human being in order to save us from the ultimate results of sin. Hethe Creator of the universe (Col. 1:16, 17)became part of the creation in order to save the part of the creation who accepted His gift of salvation, extended to all humanity. Dwell on what these facts reveal about God's character and about His love for us.|
What are some of the characteristics of the dragon? Rev. 12:3, 4.
One characteristic of this dragon is its seven heads and ten horns (Rev. 12:3). According to Revelation 17:9, 10, the seven heads are the main kingdoms used by this power to oppress God's people. Ten horns appear in Daniel 7:24 as a symbol of a divided kingdom, a diversity of political powers. The same symbolism refers to the totality of the nations that will join God's end-time enemy (Rev. 17:12, 13). The dragon, clearly, has an earthly, even political, manifestation.
The dragon is said to draw "a third of the stars out of the sky [heaven]" (NIV) to the ground. What does that mean? See Isa. 14:12-15; Jude 6.
Revelation 12:4 says that this dragon attempted to kill the woman's Child, Christ, as soon as He was born. What reason would the dragon have for wanting to do this? See also verses 10, 11.
The attack of the dragon against the Child took place when Herod tried to kill Jesus (Matt. 2:13) and through the temptations to which Jesus was exposed during His ministry (Heb. 4:15). Though the dragon is a symbol of Satan (Rev. 12:9), he will use human instrumentalities when possible, just as he used pagan Rome (one of his seven heads).
In God's plan, what was the final destiny of the Child? Rev. 12:5.
The Child goes through three experiences. First, as promised by God, He was born of a woman; in other words, He was human. Second, He experienced the attacks of the dragon but defeated him and overcame his attacks. Third, He ascended to heaven, to the throne of God. The movement is from humiliation to glorification and enthronement. He will rule the nations of the earth as Judge and King. The phrase "rule ... with an iron scepter" (Rev. 12:5, NIV) refers to His judicial function. His judgment is based on unbending truth.
|In what ways does our own experience, as Christians, faintly reflect the three phases of "the Child"? Keep in mind the saying, "No cross, no crown."|
What does Revelation 12:7, 8 teach about the nonearthly origins of sin? This is important to understand, because it shows that sin, and the problems raised by sin, have implications that extend beyond the earth.
John combines the two encounters between Christ and Satan to emphasize Christ's total victory over the devil at the Cross. The first encounter was in heaven, when Lucifer rebelled against the government of God (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:12-17). He wanted a throne in heaven in order to be "like the Most High" (Isa. 14:13, 14), but he was expelled (vs. 12; Ezek. 28:14, 16) and, thenafter being totally defeated in his heavenly rebellionSatan was cast to the earth.
The second encounter climaxed in Gethsemane and at the Cross. The proclamation of salvation recorded in Revelation 12:10 came about only because of the Cross, when Christ died (see also, Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 761). Christ and Satan faced each other as never before and, again, Christ came out victorious. Satan was then permanently "driven out" from heaven (John 12:31, NIV). Jesus said that Satan fell like lightning from heaven (Luke 10:18). John uses the language of the war in heaven to illustrate what happened at the Cross (see also Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14).
How did celestial beings react to Christ's victory? What, in contrast, was Satan's response? Rev. 12:10-12.
Christ's victory means that, first, no one in heaven is accusing us; Heaven is not searching for reasons to keep us out (Rev. 12:10). Second, we are victorious through the blood of the Lamb. Some have shed their blood for the Lord, but even these are saved only by the blood of Jesus (vs. 11). Third, our redemption is heading toward its consummation. The final fate of Satan is already decided; his time, he knows, is short (vs. 12).
"All heaven triumphed in the Saviour's victory. Satan was defeated, and knew that his kingdom was lost. To the angels and the unfallen worlds the cry, 'It is finished,' had a deep significance. It was for them as well as for us that the great work of redemption had been accomplished."Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 758.
|If Christ won the victory over Satan, and Christ's victory is ours, why do we still fall into sin?|
Why did the dragon pursue the woman and for how long? Rev. 12:13, 15.
The woman who gave birth to the Child now becomes the object of the dragon's attack, which suggests that she represents the people of God in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Satan could not defeat Christ, so he goes after the next-best thingthe people who are supposed to represent Him on earth.
Twice in Revelation 12 a prophetic time period is given (vs. 6 and vs. 14). What does that time period symbolize? What happened during this time, and how long does the event last? See also Daniel 7:23-25; make sure you can see the parallel between those verses in Daniel and what is happening in Revelation 12:6, 14.
In what ways was God involved with the church during the time period depicted in Revelation 12:6, 14, 16?
While Daniel put the emphasis on the persecution and its effect on the people of God, John puts the emphasis on God's protective care for His people. An image taken from the Exodus out of Egypt expresses that protection: God has once more carried His people on "eagles' wings" to the wilderness (Exod. 19:4). Though the church is under attack, God is providing for it anyway. Damage will be done to the church; Daniel makes that clear (see Dan. 7:25), but the church, in the end, will not be destroyed, because Christ will not allow that to happen.
The idea of persecution is also expressed through the symbol of water, like a river, coming out of the mouth of the dragon. Providentially, the earth helps the woman by swallowing it. The Egyptian armies persecuted the Israelites, but the Lord stretched out His arm and "the earth swallowed them" (Exod. 15:12). Here, again, God does not allow the enemy to destroy His people.
|However intense and (at times) discouraging the battle against Satan can be (often manifested as a battle against sin and self), it is not often that we engage in a struggle in which we know the outcome from the start. How does the knowledge that Christ, our King, has defeated the foe help us press on ahead, in faith, despite even the most discouraging circumstances?|
Revelation 12 describes the attack of the dragon against Jesus (Rev. 12:4, 7) and against the church during the 1,260 years (vs. 13). At the end of the chapter, another group is introduced: "the rest of her offspring [lit., the remnant of her seed]" (vs. 17, NIV). Scripture is explicit: The dragon will make war against these people, the remnant (vs. 17), who appear after the 1,260-year period prophetically represented in verse 6 and verse 14 (after 1798).
Review Revelation 12. What three things are objects of Satan's attack, and in what order do they appear?
What is the first characteristic of the remnant? Rev. 12:17.
In the book of Revelation, the first four commandments seem to be of extreme importance in a book whose central theme is worship: Who should be the true object of worship? Neither the dragon nor the beast, to be sure (Rev. 13:4; 14:9)but God alone (vs. 7). Worship of the image of the beast is also condemned (vss. 9, 10). Among the reasons given to worship God is the recognition that He " 'made the heavens, the earth, the sea' "(vs. 7, NIV), a phrase taken from Exodus 20:11, the Sabbath commandment.
Read Exodus 20:1-11 and compare it to the issues mentioned above until you can see clearly how the first four commandments are involved in what Revelation says will happen in the last days.
Another characteristic of the remnant is that they have "the testimony of Jesus," a phrase clarified in Revelation 19:10: "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." The expression "spirit of prophecy" was used in the time of John to designate the gift of prophecy. John says that the prophetic gift will still be active in God's end-time remnant.
|What justification do we have as Seventh-day Adventists to name ourselves as this remnant?|
FURTHER STUDY: Ellen G. White, "Calvary," pp. 741-757, and "It Is Finished," pp. 758-767, The Desire of Ages; C. Mervyn Maxwell, God Cares, vol. 2, pp. 315-324, 403-407.
Reflect on the following points in conclusion to this week's study:
Jesus and Michael. Michael is called the "Archangel" (Jude 9), suggesting that he is an angel, the commander of the angels (Rev. 12:7). The word angel designates the function of heavenly beings; they are "messengers." They are created beings, except for one of them: the Angel (Messenger) of the Lord. The fact that this Being is equated with God (see Exod. 3:2, 4; Judg. 6:12, 14) has led many Christians to identify Him with the preincarnated Christ. In Him the Sender and the Messenger are the same Person.
Michael is described as the Prince of Israel (Dan. 10:13, 21), who protects Israel as Warrior and Judge (vs. 1). Most probably, He is the Prince of the "host of heaven" mentioned in Daniel 8:10, who, as Priest, is performing the daily services in the heavenly sanctuary. In Joshua 5:14 that same heavenly being is equated with the Lord Himself (vs. 2). It is this same Being who will come again "with the voice of the archangel," bringing life and final victory over evil powers (1 Thess. 4:16). There is enough biblical information to warrant the conclusion that Michael and Christ are the same Person.
SUMMARY: Though the dragon was defeated by Christ in heaven and at the Cross, and though he was, and still is, unable to destroy the church, he is, nevertheless, preparing his last attack against God's remnant people. God's loving providence provided for the needs of the church in the past and will in the future. Our victory is assured.
J. H. Zachary
It was a challenging assignment: raise up a new church in a remote Muslim community in Gambia. But Peter Mensah accepted the assignment, and for six years he and his wife lived among the Muslim people. They adopted the food, clothing, and customs of the villagers.
Mensah joined the young men who milked the village cows. He went with them to herd cattle all day. When the herders could not beat the cattle to the only watering hole, they were forced to drink muddy water. And Mensah drank the water with the others. This made a deep impression on his hosts. Because of his actions, the villagers accepted the couple as part of their community.
In the evening after the herders drove the cattle home for the night, Mensah gathered the villagers together and taught them English, reading, writing, basic arithmetic, and told them Bible stories. When the villagers were able to read some, Mensah traveled to a distant city and bought 50 Bibles to use as textbooks. The villagers were thrilled.
One boy commented on the similarities between the Koran and the Bible, and Mensah replied, "Yes, this book [the Bible] is the senior brother of the Koran."
One day the head irnam (religious teacher) called him to his home. The leader took hold of the hands of his two sons and told Mensah, "I have never seen anyone who has helped our village as you have. I have two sons. The son on my right hand will become the new imam of this village: the son on my left is for you; make him a Christian."
When Peter arrived in Gambia there were only eight Adventists in the entire country. As a result of his work in this area, the majority of the villagers became Adventist Christians. And several years later, Peter met one of the imam's sons. He had become an Adventist pastor.
Mensah credits his success in that area to the methods that Jesus used. He mingled with the people, loved them, lived with them, and helped them. As friendships developed, the people accepted the message of the Bible. The methods used by Jesus still work today.
J. H. Zachary is coordinator of international evangelism for The Quiet Hour and a special consultant for the General Conference Ministerial Association.
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