“The Woman Persecuted”
Do you at times grow weak? Does it seem at times that you have no might? Do you grow faint and weary? Do you at times utterly fall? As you wrestle against principalities do you at times grow weak? As you wrestle against power, does it seem at times that you have no might? As you wrestle against the rulers of the darkness of this age do you at times grow faint and weary? As you wrestle against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places do you at times utterly fall?
Then Revelation 12:13–17 provide a word of encouragement for you. These verses focus on our present situation here on earth; they describe for us the experience of the church as she lives in the midst of this world in the time between Christ’s first coming and His return.
Our attention is focused upon the dragon and the woman, verse 13: “Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child.” We are reminded here that the dragon has been cast out of heaven. He can no longer attack Christ; he can no longer accuse the saints before the throne of God in heaven. He can bring no more accusations against you before the throne of God—every accusation has been answered by the crucified, risen, and ascended Christ. Because of the finished work of Jesus Christ, God will hear no more accusations against you. There are no more accusations to make. Christ has answered them all. Who can bring any charge against God’s elect?
Though Satan can no longer accuse us in heaven before the throne of God, nevertheless he continues his war against us. Satan is pictured as turning his attention to the woman, that woman whom we have identified as the church. Satan now persecutes the woman. Satan now pursues the woman. Satan persecutes the church. Satan pursues the church. Believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, that means you. Satan persecutes and pursues you. He has you in his sights!
Satan pursues the church because of her identity with Christ. Satan persecutes the church because of her union with Christ. Satan sees that union between the church and Christ, and he wants to destroy it. For a time he sought to tear Christ away from the church. In this he failed. Now he seeks to tear the church away from Christ.
Yet here is our comfort: though Satan may see the union between the church and Christ, he does not understand the nature of that union. He does not understand the inseparability of that union: Christ can never be separated from the church, nor can the church ever be separated from Christ. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
And even as Satan does not understand the inseparability of that union, neither does he understand the vitality of that union: the church draws its power and life from Christ its head. Christ, through His Word and Spirit, gathers, protects, and preserves the church. Christ said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.”
We see then the protection of the church from the attacks of the dragon, verse 14: “But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she mighty 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.”
The woman is given two wings of a great eagle that she might fly into the wilderness to her place. The imagery here comes from the Old Testament, specifically Exodus 19:4 and Deuteronomy 32:10–12. Shortly after the exodus from Egypt, and just before the giving of the Law, God says to the children of Israel: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.” This imagery is repeated in Deuteronomy 32:10–12, where Moses speaks of what the Lord God has done for Israel: “He found him in a desert land and in the wasteland, a howling wilderness; He encircled him, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye. As an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreading out its wings, taking them up, carrying them on its wings, so the Lord alone led him, and there was no foreign god with him.”
The imagery is beautiful indeed: what comfort there is in this picture of God hovering over His people. What comfort there is in this picture of God spreading out His wings over His people. What comfort there is in this picture of God taking up His people. What comfort there is in this picture of God carrying His people. And the imagery is most appropriate: the church is given two wings of a great eagle to protect her from the serpent, that great enemy of our souls. Why is the imagery so appropriate here? Where does an eagle soar, but in the skies? Where does a serpent slither, but in the dust of the ground? The eagle in the sky, the serpent in the dust: the two do not meet! Are you beginning to grasp the point? What can a serpent, cowering in the dust, do to a mighty eagle, soaring in the sky? What can Satan, this vanquished foe, do to the church, as she is united with Jesus Christ in His death, resurrection, and ascension?
Here then is our nourishment for our present wilderness existence. We are nourished for “a time, times, and half a time.” What are we to make of that? Certainly it is the same time period referred to in verse 6, where we read that the church is nourished by God for 1260 days. You take 1260 days, and it works out to 3½ years; you take 3½ years, and it works out to time, times, and half a time, where the word “time”equals a year, “times” equals two years, and “half a time” equals a half year. To put it simply, these time references, whether it be “time, times, and half a time,” “one thousand two hundred sixty days,” “three and half years,” or for that matter, “one thousand years,” are all referring to the same period of time: namely, the time between Christ’s first coming and His return. In other words, these time references are designating the time in which we presently live. Yes, we are living in the midst of the time, times, and half a time mentioned here in verse 14.
During this time—that is, the time between Christ’s first coming and His return—we remain in the wilderness, finding our nourishment from God Himself. We remain in this situation until Christ comes again. This means that we must leave behind the idea of a pre-tribulation rapture of the church. This means that we must not comfort ourselves with the Jewish dreams of a golden age for the church. We remain in the wilderness until Christ comes again, and our comfort is to be found in the nourishment Christ gives us.
How badly we need that nourishment, for though we are ultimately protected, the attacks of the serpent are fierce. Note verse 15: “So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman . . .” Here is a reference to the deception of Satan. It was with subtle words of deception that he deceived the woman into eating the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3. If you doubt whether the church is subject to the flood of Satan’s deception, you might remember the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2–3. The church in Ephesus had members who said they were apostles, but were not; they were in fact liars (2:2).
The church in Smyrna had those who were in reality the synagogue of Satan (2:9). The church in Pergamos had members who held to the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel (2:14). The church in Thyatira allowed that woman Jezebel, who called herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce the members to commit sexual immorality and to eat things sacrificed to idols (2:20). The church in Philadelphia had those who belonged to the synagogue of Satan (3:9).
Indeed, Satan spews out of his mouth his flood of deception, and his intent is clear: “that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood.” Satan wants nothing more than to deceive the church. He loves heresy in the church. He loves schism in the church. He loves division in the church. He loves to take the eyes of the church off from her Savior Jesus Christ. And he will pull out all the stops to do so. He will spare no punches. He will not relent. He will not tire. He will not stop. He is ever fomenting deception from his mouth with the intent to carry the church away from Christ.
As we are confronted with such deception where do we find help? We find it from a most unexpected source, verse 16, “But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.” Though this vile world is no friend to grace, nevertheless, we are reminded here of that which Paul writes in Romans 8, where the creation itself groans and labors with birth pangs, eagerly waiting for the revealing of the sons of God. The point is this: the world itself remains under the control of God; it has not been given over entirely to Satan. The earth is under God’s counsel and providence. When God sent the flood upon the earth, the earth itself opened up the fountains of the great deep to send forth waters upon the earth. But now when Satan seeks to send forth his flood, the earth opens its mouth to devour those waters. Satan is not in control. God is. The world itself is under the control of God, and it serves His purposes.
All of this leads us to verse 17, where we read, “And 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.” Satan is enraged with the woman—he is enraged with the church—and he goes to make war with the rest of her offspring—he makes war with the offspring of the woman, the offspring of the church, with individual Christians. Thus, in view here are the individual members of the church.
Satan attacks the members of the church, and he often does so through the very things that God uses to nourish us.
The Lord’s Day, the Christian Sabbath, is one of the principle means by which God nourishes His people. Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man (Mark 2:27). The Lord’s Day is the day in which we are called to rest from our labors, the day above all days in which we are to set our minds on things above, the day above all days in which our souls are nourished and refreshed unto life eternal, the day that is to be of the all the week the best—an emblem of eternal rest! Yet what has Satan done to this day? He has worked very hard to make this day anything but a delight. For some it has become a day of legalism—a long day with a long list of “do’s” and “don’ts”—no longer a “market day of the soul,” but a day of hard law-keeping work. For others it has become a day of antinomianism—an all too brief day of vacation—no longer a “market day of the soul,” but a “market day of the flesh.” As the late Rev. Charles Krahe once remarked, “One of Satan’s greatest victories in the past century has been the desecration of the Lord’s Day!” Satan cares not how it is desecrated—whether by legalism or antinomianism—he only cares that it is desecrated. Satan concentrates his attacks upon the very things by which God has chosen to nourish us.
And what about worship? This is to be the feast of God’s people, our joy and our delight. With gladness in our souls we should hear the call to go up to God’s house. Here we gather morning and evening, Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, to meet with our risen Savior Jesus Christ and to worship Him. What could be more glorious than that? Yet what has Satan done to worship? He has made it a mess. Need I even mention the worship wars that have arisen in the last decades? At times the church has become so engulfed in the issues surrounding worship—the members of the church so entrenched in their own positions—that when we come to church we do not worship; instead we sit in the pew and we think only about what we like or dislike. We’ve become more concerned with pleasing ourselves in worship than we have with pleasing God in worship. In worship, far too often, Satan has won a victory. Satan concentrates his attacks upon the very things by which God has chosen to nourish us.
And what about preaching? God has ordained the preaching of His Word as the very means by which He creates faith in our hearts. Yet what have we done with preaching? Some think the sermons are too long; others think they are not long enough; some think the sermons are too deep; others think they are not deep enough; some think the sermons are too serious; others think they are not serious enough; some think the sermons are devoid of doctrine; others think there is not enough doctrine. And how many members of the congregation still have “preacher roast” every Sunday for dinner? Even in preaching, Satan has won a victory. Satan concentrates his attacks upon the very things by which God has chosen to nourish us.
And what about the sacraments? God has ordained the sacraments as the means by which He strengthens faith in our hearts. Yet some of the bitterest divisions in the church have occurred over the sacraments: infant baptism or believer’s baptism? Sprinkling or immersion? Transubstantiation, consubstantiation, memorial feast, or spiritual presence? Open, close, or closed communion? The sacraments, intended to strengthen our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, have become tools of division. Satan has won a victory. Satan concentrates his attacks upon the very things by which God has chosen to nourish us!
And what about the church itself? What witness does the church give to the world when the members themselves cannot get along? Jesus said, “By this they will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The communion of the saints is intended to build one another up in the faith, thereby giving witness to the world. When we fail in that, Satan has won a victory. Satan concentrates his attacks upon the very things by which God has chosen to nourish us!
What then is the remedy for these things? It is found in verse 17b, “the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Keeping the commandments of God is linked here with the testimony of Jesus Christ. To put it simply, our remedy in all these things is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and on His glorious gospel! In our observation of the Lord’s Day, the focus is to be on Christ! In our worship, the focus is to be on Christ! In our preaching, the focus is to be on Christ! In the sacraments, the focus is to be on Christ! In the communion of the saints, the focus is to be on Christ! It is Christ that we need in this present wilderness existence as we live between His first coming and His return. Faith in Him is our shield and our defense against all the fiery attacks of the evil one. Do you at times grow weak? Does it seem at times that you have no might? Do you grow faint and weary? Do you at times utterly fall? As you wrestle against principalities do you at times grow weak? As you wrestle against power, does it seem at times that you have no might? As you wrestle against the rulers of the darkness of this age do you at times grow fain and weary? As you wrestle against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places do you at times utterly fall?
Then here is a word of encouragement for you. Look to the Lord Jesus Christ and place your faith and trust in Him alone, “For those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Rev. Brian Vos is the pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Caledonia, Michigan