The Woman and the Dragon
“They overcame him by the Blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.”—Revelation 12:11
Notes of a message given by Pastor Alan Redpath in The Moody Church on Sunday, December 19, 1954.
Amidst the world-struggle for survival, it is important that we should understand the real nature of the battle in which we, as Christians, are engaged. Paul said in Ephesians 6:12, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” I am not sure if we have begun to understand the tremendous significance of that language. We are conscious of the sternness of the fight—of the enemy who attacks both from without and within, but we need to see behind the scenes if we would discover his real power, and learn the secret of overcoming. This is the theme of Revelation 12.
We need to realize its setting. John had been told (chapter 1:19) to write the things he had seen, the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter. He saw the Risen Lord, he revealed the course of church history in the seven letters to the churches, and then he described the judgments of God to be operative in the course of history. These are followed by the final judgments to take place at the return of Christ. Of these final judgments, there are seven, each of them inaugurated by the sounding of a trumpet. The seventh trumpet preparing for the last judgment has been sounded—Revelation 11:15, “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever.’”
At that dramatic moment the events described in chapter 12 take place. World history has seen its course, the judgment of God upon a Christ-rejecting world has reached its climax. Now we are to listen to the account of the final world-shaking movements which immediately precede and usher in the reign of our Lord. The language here is symbolic. John saw a “wonder” or a sign in heaven. That is a picture of something. Without question the picture is of the church of Christ, not only Israel in the Old Testament, but the whole ransomed church, in her final conflict and victory. When we look at her character, her condition, her conflict and her conquest, there can be no doubt about this interpretation.
1. The Character of the Church (verse 1). She is pictured in the form of a woman.
Magnificent in appearance. “Clothed with the sun.” The Lord Jesus said of His church, “Ye are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8). “He hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” said Paul (2 Corinthians 4:6). “We walk in the light” said John (1 John 1:7).
The church possesses light and radiates it, for we are the light of the world. The candlestick of God amidst world darkness.
Victorious in position (verse 1). The moon is under her feet. Just as the sun is in charge of the day, the moon guards the night. Here is the ruler of world darkness under our feet. This is not yet a picture of final victory. The church is still subject to persecution. But she has risen in rebellion against sin and bondage; lived on against fiercest struggles; the worst of disasters have been turned into triumph. Tyrants have oppressed her, tried to exterminate her, thought she was beaten—yet, though oft in weakness and in pain, the powers of darkness are helpless against her.
Royal in dignity (verse 1). Upon her head a crown of stars to the number of completeness. We are a royal priesthood. We have been made “kings and priests unto our God” (1 Peter 2:9). Men may look on her with contempt and scorn, but in so doing they despise the very authority which is charged with executing their own judgment.
2. The Condition of the Church (verse 2).
It is a picture of motherhood and of travail. This has been the characteristic of the church all through history. There is a visible church, composed of the whole body of professing Christians. Within the visible, is the invisible, the body of Christ, the true believer. The visible embraces many who are not real, who are not saved. But within the visible, the germs of a mighty birth are awaited. The invisible is brought to birth through the visible.
Such is the one task of the church. She is not here for show, but for fruitfulness; to beget children. “When Zion travails she bringeth forth her children” (Isaiah 66:8). “Little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).
The church is persecuted from without with a view to extermination. She anguishes within as she bears fruit. Persecution comes for her enemies; anguish from love and faith and hope of a great deliverance. What a picture of the condition of soul which should be the experience of every one of us. How much do we experience it?
3. The Conflict of the Church (verses 3 and 4).
There appears another sign in heaven, a dragon. There is no doubt about his identity (verse 9), “The old serpent, the devil, which deceiveth the whole world.” One of his favorite resorts is to persuade us that he isn’t real—that he is only a bad dream. Yet the very nature of moral government demands the existence of evil. God never made an evil creature. But in creating moral agents, there is clearly created the ability to do wrong as well as to do right. There is nothing more probable than that some have perverted their character, lost their standing before a holy God, and that they have a leader to inspire them.
Look at this mighty dragon—the leader—the “Prince of the Power of the Air.” At his tail are one-third of the stars of heaven (verse 4). Job tells us (chapter 38:4) that in creation “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” Satan was once one of them. Described in Isaiah 14:12 as Lucifer, the day-star of the morning—the most beautiful of all—Scripture tells us of a time when evil got among the heavenly host and the angels kept not their first estate. Satan was the cause of it. He dared to lift himself up against God, instituted a revolt against God’s majesty, and infected one-third of the heavenly host with him. “Thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, and will exalt my throne above the stars of God…I will be like the most high; yet thou shalt be brought down to hell” (Isaiah 14:13-14).
Here are the great opponents of God’s purposes going about seeking whom they may devour, reserved for judgment. How great is Satan! His appearance, with seven heads and seven crowns is that of complete earthly power. Jesus called him, “The Prince of this world.” Indeed there are only two powers in all the created universe—the power of God and the power of Satan, who has dared to attempt to wrest creation from its maker and to become lord of all the universe. One-third have succumbed to his authority, and among them God’s appointed sovereign of the earth. Man, made in His likeness, has betrayed his trust, fallen to the subtle approach of the enemy, and all Earth’s children are born his slaves. What a harvest has been reaped! Never a tear is shed or a heart broken, never a murder is committed, never death invades our homes, or sin our hearts, but Satan is at the bottom of it all. None could shake his hold until the Eternal Son of God took up the challenge. For Him it meant resigning His place in God’s heart; a birth in a manger in the form of a baby; a body put into death and a grave!
Satan is not finished yet. See his attitude to the church here (verse 4). He stands before the woman, to devour her child as soon as it is born—waiting to devour God’s elect. He was there at creation when Adam fell to his subtlety. He was there through Old Testament times, spoiling the Jewish Nation! He was there at Bethlehem inciting Herod to kill every new-born child! He was there in the wilderness, but met his match! He was there at the Cross in the howling rage of the mob, the treachery of Judas, the flight of the disciples, the spear driven into the Lord’s body. He has deluged the Earth with the blood of the martyrs. Still he lies coiled in our path, with his pretended superior science, false philosophy, perverted gospel. Now he waits his final fling, to devour the whole body of the elect at the very moment of her deliverance.
4. The Conquest of the Church (verse 5).
She brought forth a man child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. You observe it is not the woman, but the child that Satan is attacking. Not professing Christians, but the regenerate man, the true believer. What happens? At the birth of the child he is caught up to God and to His throne. What a picture! Satan waiting to devour, but the Lord is just too quick for him! This is the whole story of the New Testament.
1 Corinthians 15:52. “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” Then is brought to pass the saying, “death is swallowed up in victory.”
1 Thessalonians 4:16. “The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout…with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”
Matthew 24:31. “He shall send forth His angels with a sound of a great trumpet and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds.”
Revelation 2:26. “He that overcometh…to him will I give power over the nations and he shall rule them with a rod of iron.”
What a victory! Yet the battle is not over, for verse 7 tells us there is war in heaven! What a fighter is Satan! Now I don’t wish to advance theory here, but I must just say this. Broadly speaking, the divergence of view between Evangelical Scholarship and that of some liberal schools of thought in relation to the Lord’s return centers around the millennium. Evangelical scholarship is united in conviction that the Lord’s return is Pre-millenial. There is, however, sharp divergence on another matter. All Evangelicals believe the Bible teaches that the world is to pass through a period known as the great tribulation, lasting seven years. Some hold the view that the church goes through this. Others believe it does not, and that the next event in God’s plan is the return of the Lord for His people to be followed seven years later by His return to rule with them. I do not believe it is wise to be dogmatic on this. But I just point out, in passing, that the woman—the professing Christian—is, in verse 6, described as fleeing to a wilderness for 3 ½ years. That war takes place in heaven, Satan is cast out and persecutes the woman on Earth for a further three and one-half years (verse 14). So that this chapter is a strong argument for the pre-tribulation return of our Lord.
But I am more interested at the moment in this war in heaven: The devil’s stubborn resistance to the triumph of redemption. This is not a war of guns and bombs. It is a war of words and of master minds. Satan is the accuser of the brethren (verse 10). He sneered at Job and told God that if He allowed him to suffer He would find him only a hypocrite. Now he accuses the brethren day and night before God (verse 11). Can we not imagine his weapons? How can God be true to His Nature, and yet receive to His throne men who through sin have forfeited every right to His mercy. They are not fit for such an honour. God is denying His holiness, casting dishonor on His throne by doing this. Can you not hear the thunder of his guns—the hiss of the serpent, as he hurls accusation after accusation upon us. With all the energy of hell his artillery belches forth in a last desperate bid to thwart our redemption. But “they overcame him by the Blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.” They are not caught up to God’s throne without cause. Atonement has been made. A Lamb has been slain, whose blood covers every deficiency, and cleanses away every record of sin. Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again (Romans 8:33-34).
Right to the end, in the last mighty crisis of this eternal war, the Blood of Jesus remains the impregnable fortress of His people. By the word of their testimony! Will you and I take Christ’s side on that day? Will we not say how He kept us? As He defends us by His Blood, surely we will speak for Him and tell how “through all the changing scenes of life in trouble and in joy, the praises of our God shall still our tongue and heart employ.”
I do not ask you to tell me which side of this conflict you are on now. The Word of God settles that! If you have not enlisted under the Banner of Emmanuel and sworn allegiance to Him, you are under the standard of the Dragon, doing his will, and on the way to sharing his destiny. Thank God it is not impossible to change sides. But it must be done quickly, if ever. Then remember, “They loved not their lives unto death” (verse 11). Look at the uniting energy of hell bent on our destruction. He stops for no losses, succumbs to no adversities, desists for no hindrances, turns back from no encounters, surrenders not even to God’s judgments. He fights on till he is cast out and put in chains.
Brethren, dare we live as if no necessity laid upon us, as if there is no hell to escape, no heaven to win? Let us resist Satan as intensely as he attacks us, and loving not our lives unto death, remember that even the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church of Christ. Hallelujah!