Books Of The Bible
Revelation Series • Revelation 12:1-17
St. Michael and All Angels, ABC
FIRST LESSON Revelation 12:1-17
Leader: “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
Congregation: She was pregnant and was crying out in birthpangs, in the agony of giving birth.
L: Then another sign appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads.
C: His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.
L: Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born.
C: And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron.
L: But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne;
C: And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days.
L: And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.
C: The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
L: Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.
C: But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.
L: Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!’
C: So when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.
L: But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.
C: Then from his mouth the serpent poured water like a river after the woman, to sweep her away with the flood.
L: But the earth came to the help of the woman; it opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth.
C: Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.
SECOND LESSON Ephesians 6:10-12
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
GOSPEL Mark 1:12
“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”
Patricia Marvenko Smith
Today continues our series of sermons on the Book of Revelation. Why Revelation? Because it is the Word of God. Why Revelation? Because God has always spoken through this book in centuries past and still speaks through this book today? Why Revelation? Because in the Book of Revelation, God invites us to understand the demonic power of evil around us, the demonic power which is more than the tempter’s voice within our minds and the instinctive drives within our bodies.
The title of the sermon for today is: The Dragon. The dragon of the Book of Revelation is the monster of all monsters. The serpent. The liar. The deceiver. The beast. The seven headed monster with his nasty angels here on earth.
One thing common to all of us in this room: we live with the seven-headed monster and his angels here on earth as this monster spreads his wrath on all people, especially on the people of God. The monster of all monsters is more than the voice of temptation in our minds, in our bodies and in our instincts that tempts us to do wrong.
We remember God’s word in Ephesians 6: “Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
The Book of Revelation graphically describes our struggle, not merely with the temptations within our minds, our bodies and our instincts which tempt us to do wrong, but our struggle is also with demonic political kings and blind religious rulers, with the cosmic powers of this present darkness, with the spiritual forces of evil that are all around us.
Other great geniuses of history have understood this cosmic evil such as the brilliant Goethe in FAUST, John Milton in PARADISE LOST, Dante in his INFERNO, and C.S. Lewis in his SCREWTAPE LETTERS.
Twenty four years ago, I told the following story about this text from Revelation. It was a story of two young refugees whom our church sponsored. Their names were Soom and Enta who were born in the midst of war in the land of Laos and lived their young lives with all the horrors of war. They were young and in love and Soom and Enta were married. With war going on all around them, they could not take care of their rice paddies. Their first baby was born but they were so poor, that their first baby died of starvation. Then their second baby. Then their third baby. Then their fourth baby. Then their fifth baby. Five babies died of starvation. It was beyond awful. It is beyond comprehension. They escaped to a refugee camp in Thailand. They came to the United States. In this movement of miracles, they arrived here at Grace Lutheran Church and lived with Jack and Marilyn Firestone. If you would have been in church twenty four years ago, you would have met their first baby who lived. Her name was Joy.
But years later, we still ask a fundamental question: Why? Why did Soom and Entra’s five infants starve to death in Laos? Why is there is so much evil in the world? Why is starvation so inevitable and so many million people die a year of food deprivation?
Why are there two million Sudanese refugees in camps that are facing starvation as we speak? Why do 45,000 people die of starvation every day? Why do 16,000,000 people die every year and 12,000,000 of them are children?
Why are there always wars? Why are wars so inevitable? Why do we move from one war to another war to another war throughout the history of humankind? Germany yesterday. Iraq today. Perhaps China tomorrow. Why. Why. Why. Why are there always wars and starvation on this earth of ours? Small wars. Big wars.
Why do our children see more than 10,000 murders on TV by the time they graduate from high school? Why is the 10:00 TV news filled with images of police cars and fire trucks? Why do high schools have to have metal detectors for guns and knives? Why. Why. Why. Why is there so much violence, war and starvation on our planet earth?
It is important for us to realize there is another alien evil power here at work in this world of ours. It is evil. It is mysterious. It is destructive. Call it the dragon. Call it the monster of monsters. Call it the serpent. Call it the devil. Call it the invisible cosmic powers of darkness. Call it the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places. Call it anything you want, but it is not a fantasy. It is not make believe. It is not some imaginary powers created by the film industry. No, this power is real and it is destructive. This power is the opposite of God and the purpose of this alien power is always the same: to kill, destroy, run, maim people, families, nations, cultures, the earth itself. The purpose of this evil power is to ruin your life, destroy your life, mess up your life.
We now turn to the Bible study for today. Please pull our your bulletin insert with Revelation, chapter 12 on it. Please pull out a pencil or pen and underline words and circle words simply to help you see those words more clearly. Our minds are so busy and move so quickly that a pencil, circling and underlining helps our minds to slow down just a bit.
A great sign appeared in heaven: A great sign appeared in heaven.
A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. In Revelation, language is fully symbolic and it is not easy to figure out the meaning of the symbolism. But that is the purpose of our Biblical studies: we try to figure out what the Word of God is saying and what the Word of God means, even when obscure symbolic language is used. We want to understand as much as possible the meaning of the symbolism in the Book of Revelation.
We know that this woman is going to give birth to the Messiah, to Jesus. Circle the word, “woman,” write “magnificent mother of the Messiah.” Write triple, capital Ms, like MMM, a triple MacDonald’s arch. This woman is symbolic of Mary the mother of Jesus, the Old Testament Church, the New Testament Church, all of whom gave birth to the Messiah. Simply think: mother of the Messiah.
The clothing of the mother of the Messiah is magnificent: the sun. She is dressed in pure light. The moon is under her feet. She has a crown of twelve stars. The number twelve represents the true believers of the twelve Old Testament tribes and/or the true believers that follow the twelve apostles. This is a great symbolic vision of the mother of the Messiah. Write down, “magnificent mother of the Messiah.” It is a triple MMM.
She was pregnant and was crying out in birthpangs, in the agony of giving birth. Mary was pregnant and she experienced the moment of birth, with all of its pains. Any woman who is a mother and gave birth to a child knows first hand the pain of child birth, the intensity of pain and the sharpness of pain.
Then another sign appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. Here is a second vision. If the first vision is a magnificent vision of the mother of the Messiah, the second vision is of a monster, the monster of all monsters, with seven heads. A great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his head. We will discover that this monster of all monsters, the dragon, is Satan, the devil, the liar, the accuser, the ancient serpent in the Garden of Eden. Near the word, “dragon,” write the word “Satan. The monster of all monster.” Write down double M negative e.g. MM-.
Two visions: the magnificent mother and the malignant monster. Write those words down: magnificent mother and malignant monster. The visions are a clash of two realities. The Beauty and the Beast but it is not a movie and it is not fairyland and nor is it make believe. Chapter twelve of Revelation is about this clash, this struggle, this battle between these two realities. The book of Ephesians said, “We don’t merely struggle with flesh and blood but with principalities and powers and cosmic evil in the dark places.”
In next week’s sermon, we will see the monster of all monsters transformed and become the beast that comes out of the sea. We will learn the specific historical meaning of the seven heads which represent seven Roman emperors and the ten horns which represent the ten lesser kings of the Parthian empire. Near the words, “seven heads,” write “7 Roman emperors,” and near the “ten horns,” write the words, “ten lesser kings.” The point is: there are historical background references that help us to understand the symbolism in the books of Revelation and Daniel such as the “seven heads” and the “ten horns.”
In the Old Testament, the monster of all monsters was the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes when 80,000 Jews were killed and martyred by that bloody Antiochus Epiphanes. The persecutions by Antiochus Epiphanes were the focus on the Book of Daniel and Daniel 7. In the New Testament and the Book of Revelation, the monster of all monsters was Emperor Nero.
The following are three classic images of this scene from Revelation 12. Notice the contrast of the magnificent mother whose body is the sun and the moon is at her feet and diamonds in her hair. What a vivid contrast she is to the seven-headed monster of all monsters which is behind the evil disasters of war, starvation, and cosmic evil. Take a moment and carefully examine the details of the next painting.
Blake’s painting gives us the sense of clash and tension between the Monster and the Mother of the Messiah. You can see the fear in the mother’s face, that her abdomen is clearly pregnant and that the monster wants to engulf her. The monster is in the form of a man, with powerful arms and legs and wings of an angel, a fallen angel, and he has a serpent’s tail that spins out into eternity.
In the following etching by Durer, a person can see that the monster has been thrown out of heaven and that God is in heaven with his cherubim and sense of peace. There is no evil any longer in heaven. Rather, the serpent is on earth and wants to devour the woman as his prey. The crowns of the seven-headed monsters are clearly apparent. There has to be someplace in the universe where there is no evil, and that place is named “heaven.”
His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. This monster begins to create pain and disasters here on earth.
Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. The power of evil, the demonic, wanted to kill Jesus as he was born. We recall King Herod who wanted to kill the Christchild as he was born. King Herod was a monster, a beast, a brute. King Herod would have been one of the angels/agents of the monster.
And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. Above the phrase, “male child,” write the word, “Jesus.” This is a quotation from Psalm 2:9 that Messiah will rule the nations with an iron hand.
But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; By the words, “her child,” write the word, “Jesus.” We then hear nothing about the earthly life of Jesus, his teachings, his miracles, his death, his resurrection here on earth. Rather, we hear only about Jesus’ ascension and his being snatched up to heaven to be on his throne.
And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days. Circle the word, “wilderness.” In is in the wilderness, away from the hubbub of life, where we often find God. The focus is not on the newborn Son but on the woman who gave birth to that Son.
This woman fled into the wilderness where she was nourished by God for 1,260 days. We will see this symbolic number often in the Book of Revelation. Three and a half years. Or a time, two times and a half of time. We will gradually discover that you and I are living in these days, these 1,260 days. The 1260 days are a time of intensive evil.
Where does the symbolic number of 1,260 come from? From the Book of Daniel, especially chapters 7 and 12. The Book of Daniel and its symbolism is very prominent in the Book of Revelation. In the Book of Daniel, chapter 7, there is a beast with seven heads and ten horns. This beast in Daniel is a reference to the time of Antichus Epiphanes, the seven Roman rulers and the ten lesser kings. In the Book of Daniel, three and a half years or 1,260 days is a coming time of intense persecution. The ten-horned beast shall “speak out against God and wear down the saints” (Daniel 7:25) for “a time, two times, and a half of time.” We also hear this symbolic number (1,260) in Daniel 8:14, 9:27; 12:7, 11, 12.
This was a time of intensive persecution that lasted for three and a half years under the Roman leader Antiochus Epiphanes who killed and executed 80,000 Jews in 1260 days or three and a half years, from 168-165 BCE. This evil epoch is the historical event behind the symbolism of the seven-headed monster (Antiochus Epiphanes) and the three and a half years (when 80,000 Jews were killed.) A Jewish family would be executed for simply having their child circumcised.
In the Old Testament and Daniel, the agent of the monster of all monsters was Antichus Epiphanes. In the New Testament and the Book of Revelation, the agent of the monster of all monsters will be Emperor Nero.
A time, two times and a half time or three and a half years or 1,260 days is symbolic of a time of intense persecution.
All these historical details are the background which helps us understand the symbolism found in Daniel 7 and 12.
And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. We change scenes. The Book of Revelation wants to tell us the history of Satan, the story of Satan, the Saga of Satan. It is as if the Book of Revelation gives us the saga of Satan in three chapters. Chapter 1 was in heaven where Satan was embattled by the archangel Michael who threw Satan out of heaven. Chapter 2 is the monster’s raging about here on earth. Chapter 3 is that the monster is defeated and burned in a lake of fire (Revelation 21).
It is interesting also that the war angel, Michael, became the patron saint of the land of Germany in 933 CE. There are numerous stories about the archangel Michael in German literature.
Look carefully at the following etching by Albrecht Durer. See the symbolism in his etching. Notice the central figure of the archangel Michael and his throwing Satan out of heaven. A long slender staff is against the neck of Satan, pushing Satan out of heaven. Notice the other three angels there in that battle, with their weapons of war, driving the legions of Satan and his angels out of heaven. Notice the Earth at the bottom of the etching, the Earth which is so unsuspecting of the evil that will soon be coming down to it.
The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. This is the issue of the story: that evil monster Satan was thrown out of heaven and down to earth. That great dragon is the ancient serpent from the Book of Genesis, chapter three. Underline, “ancient serpent,” and write “Genesis 3, the snake in the Garden.” The devil is primarily a deceiver. He has been thrown down to earth. This is the second chapter in the story called the History of the Dragon. Not only was Satan thrown down to earth, but also his angels. Near the word, “angels” write the word, “agents.” We know about Satan’s agents in our lives, those monster people who are an embodiment of evil e.g. King Herod, the killer of babies at the time of Jesus. In this century, we think of Satan’s political agents as being Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, and a host of other cruel political dictators. The history of the human race is full of legacies of the angels/agents of Satan.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. The mood of this first sentence is joy. This verse and the previous verses have a note of triumphant that Satan has been thrown out of heaven. Satan is not only known as the deceiver but also the accuser who accuses our consciences night and day before God. Circle the word, “accuser,” and hear the devil in your conscience always “accusing” you for your many little failures. Satan is forever accusing us before God. You don’t have to have a Norwegian guilt complex to hear the accuser’s voice accusing you of little faults and inadequacies. All human beings have this voice that persistently accuses us of our mistakes.
There has to be one place in the universe that is free from evil and that place is named “heaven.”
But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death. The “they” is the martyrs. They have conquered Satan by the blood of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world and by their testimony about Jesus Christ. Importantly, they did not cling to life even in the face of death. We remember the martyrs from last week, the martyrs who endured the tyrannies of Roman emperors Nero and Domitian.
Circle the word, “conquered,” and remember that there were people in the past who conquered Satan. We also have the same powers of conquer Satan who lives in and around us.
Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!’ The heavens and all those who live in the heavens rejoice, but the earth and the sea is filled with the wrath of Satan. Satan has great wrath because he knows his time is short, three and a half years. There is great joy in our hearts because we know that heaven has been swept clean of that malignant monster, the power of evil. But there is great sorrow because those of us living on earth are going to have to deal with this evil monster and his angels, his messengers of pain and doom.
So when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. Jesus is in heaven. The devil is on earth. Since the devil cannot pursue the Christ who is in heaven, Satan will pursue the woman who gave birth to Christ. Is that woman, Mary the mother of Jesus? Or is “the woman” also a symbolic person, symbolic of the church, the true Israel.
But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. Where is this wilderness that the woman was taken to. God, like with the wings of an eagle, came down and flew her into a place of safety where she could be nourished for three and a half years. We think of the Biblical passage from Isaiah 40:31, “They that wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles.” Circle the word, “wilderness.” It is in the wilderness of life that we often find the protection of God. Historically, we think of Mary and Joseph being lead by God to the safety that was in Egypt. E agle (REV. 12:14)
Patricia Marvenko Smith
Then from his mouth the serpent poured water like a river after the woman, to sweep her away with the flood. I don’t know what this verse means. I read several interpretations of this verse, and those interpretations did not ring true to me.
But the earth came to the help of the woman; it opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. Likewise, I don’t know what this verse means. None of the commentaries offered reasonable explanations as to the meaning of these two sentences.
Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus. Underline the phrase, “make war on the rest of her children.” That is us; you and me and our friends in Christ. That is, the power of evil wants to make war here on earth, literally figuratively. Satan wants to make war on the faithful people of God.
What do we do? What do we do as Satan makes war on our lives? We are to keep the commandments of God or the commandments of Jesus. What is the commandment of Jesus in the Gospel of John: “Love one another as I have loved you.” We hold fast to the testimony of Jesus. We are to hold on to all the truth that Jesus has taught us about God, himself, love, life, the abundant life, believing. We Christians hold on to the testimony of Jesus. The testimony of Jesus is the summary of everything he said and did.
This ends our Bible study for today. Next week, we will focus on Revelation 13. The dragon becomes the beast from the sea, who wears the number 666, which is the symbolic number which represents the Roman emperor, Nero.
So, how do we apply the teachings about the Monster, the Beast to our lives today?
First, this power of evil is no longer in heaven. That is good news. That is great news. There needs to be someplace in the universe where there is no evil, and that place the Bible calls “heaven.” Last week in the sermon, we heard that there was no hunger, no thirst and no tears in heaven. This week we hear that there is no more evil at all in heaven. When we die and our loved ones die, we and they go to paradise, a place of perfection.
Twenty four years ago, as I preached on this text, a young mother’s child had died of leukemia that week. Kathy, the mother, asked me to take her young child’s stuffed animals and give them to the other children in other rooms of the hospital. And then she said to me, “I know that my child is with God and with Grandpa. And I know that there is no leukemia in heaven.” Young Kathy, the young mother, knew the power of the dragon and its angels here on earth but she knew that there were no dragons in heaven. Knowing that deeply in her heart, that helped her to live with the dragons here on this earth. We all need to learn her lesson.
Second, we are keenly aware of this invisible power of evil which is raging about here on this earth. This monstrous power of evil is more than the inner temptations of the mind, the body, and the instincts. Yes, we deal with our inner temptations of our mind, our bodies and our instincts, but we also struggle against the cosmic power of evil in this world. Just like there are the powers of God around us, there are also the powers of the demonic around us. There are agents of the demonic here on earth such as the Roman emperor Antiochus Epiphanes who killed 80,000 Jews from the year 168-165 BCE. Another agent of the demonic was Nero and his vile persecutions and executions of Christians. And the agents of the demonic are part of our world today. That is what will be the focus on next week’s sermon about the Beast whose number of 666.
Third, this power of evil is everywhere and penetrates everything here on earth. It is all around us and in us, in each and all of us, and there is no place that we can go to escape it. Twenty-four years ago, Mount Helens exploded and there was volcanic ash everywhere. My sermon from twenty-four years ago tells of people who were in the pathway of the ash, that a film of ash was everywhere. In your nose, your contacts, your hair, your homes, your cars, your car engines. It was absolutely awful and everywhere. People had to learn to live with this ash and to overcome it. So it is with the power of evil It is all around us, everywhere, and penetrates everything we do here on earth. And we are called to overcome that evil in and around us.
Fourth, don’t blame God for evil. Unfortunately, many people blame God for this evil in the world. People see five children die of starvation in a war torn Laos or two million people in the war torn nation of the Sudan and they intuitively blame God, thinking to themselves, “If God is so good, how come God allows all this evil to exist?” Such people who ask these questions seem to be unaware of the monster of all monsters, the dragon, the devil, the diabolical powers that are part of this world of ours.
Don’t blame God for what is happening in the refugee camps in the Sudan. Don’t blame God for the 45,000 people who die everyday from starvation. Don’t blame God for the 16,000,000 who starve to death every year. There is the monster of all monsters here on this earth.
Revelation, Sermon Number Eight. Amen.
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