David Campbell - The Turning Point of History
Full sermon notes - The Turning Point of History
- And 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.
- She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.
- And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems.
- His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.
- She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne,
- and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. (ESV)
Christians have always recognized that the resurrection of Christ is at the very heart of our faith. From earliest times, we have understood with Paul that if Christ was not raised from the dead, our faith is in vain, for we have based our lives on a lie (1 Cor. 15:12-19). The resurrection is critical to Christianity because it indicates God’s acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. But there is another feature of the resurrection which is just as important. It is through the resurrection that the power of God is released into the world to bring about the advancement of His kingdom. The early believers did not speak simply of salvation through the cross; they preached the kingdom of God – that God has come to rule amongst His people and, ultimately, over all the nations of the earth. They also lived in the reality of this kingdom, whether by working signs and wonders, by enduring persecution or by sharing Christ’s love with those around them. We need this supernatural power if the church in our culture (or any other) is to fulfil the commission Jesus gave it to preach the gospel and disciple the nations. Jesus announced that the kingdom of God was near, about to arrive (Mark 1:15). The resurrection and its direct consequence, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, signalled the arrival of this kingdom in power. It was through His resurrection from the dead that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power (Rom. 1:4). When as a direct result of the resurrection, the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost, the disciples received power (Acts 1:8). Paul understood that the kingdom of God was not a matter of talk but of power (1 Cor. 4:20). And after the casting out of Satan from heaven, the angelic voice declared, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ” (Rev. 12:10).
This brings us to our text. The vision (or visions) John received in Revelation describe a panorama of events, both on earth and in heaven, from before the time of Christ until His final return. In many ways, Revelation 12 is a key to understanding what the whole book is about, and what it shows is that the resurrection of Christ is the turning point of history, the critical hinge on which the door of history turns. Now let’s look at the text more closely.
According to verse 1, the woman represents the community of faith both before and after Christ’s coming. This is illustrated by various Old Testament texts. In Gen. 37:9, the sun, moon and stars represent Jacob, his wife and the tribes of Israel. Is. 62:5 prophesies that restored Israel will be as a bride wearing a crown. In Isaiah a woman often represents the picture of the restored Israel of the end-times (52:2, 54:1-6, 61:10, 62:1-5, etc.). In Revelation, crowns represent the share of the saints in the kingship of Christ (2:10, 3:11, 4:4, 10, 14:14) and their reward for the persecution they have suffered. The brightness of her appearance (clothed with the sun) reflects the same brightness in the face of Christ (1:16). Her glory is the reflected glory of Christ. That the woman represents both the old and new covenant communities becomes clear in verses 11-17, where her seed or offspring is not only Christ but also the entire community of Christ’s followers.
The woman is in labour and about to give birth (verse 2). In the pain of labour, she is “tormented”. This latter word is not connected elsewhere in the Bible with childbirth, but refers rather to the suffering and trial that come from persecution. The meaning is that the spiritual childbirth of the woman will lead to persecution and suffering. In John 16:21, Jesus compares his disciples, representing the community of faith, to a mother about to give birth, who will suffer grief in the birth process but who will subsequently rejoice once the child is born. Both Rev.12:2 and John 16:21 refer to the prophecies in Isaiah 26 and 66 of Israel as a woman in labour bringing forth a reborn last-days people for God. But the ultimate source of John’s vision here is the prophetic word given in Gen. 3:14-16, that after Eve’s pain in childbirth, her seed would bruise the head of the serpent. The woman, representing God’s covenant people, gives birth to the One who will take back what was lost in the Garden. Isaiah also speaks of Sarah, who gave birth in pain to God’s covenant community, which God will restore and make like Eden (Is. 51:2-3, 9-11). Is. 26:17-27:1 speaks of unfaithful Israel as a woman who has failed to give birth, but even though Israel failed, God has a plan: in the last days, he will restore His people and slay the dragon, who is also identified as the serpent. All this lies in the background of the vision John sees of the woman giving birth.
This same dragon (verse 3) now appears in John’s vision. The dragon is the ancient serpent, Satan himself. He is the evil force behind all human kingdoms which persecute the church. His seven horns and ten heads indicate the completeness of his power and its worldwide effect (the numbers seven and ten Biblically referring to fullness or completion). His red colour is the same as that of the harlot and the beast, which in 17:3-6 are linked with the fact the harlot is drunk with the blood of the saints. The crowns on his head show that he works through earthly kingdoms. They are also a blasphemous and rebellious imitation of Christ’s true kingship.
The picture of the dragon’s tail sweeping away a third of the stars (verse 4) is an allusion to the prophecy of Daniel 8:10, in which, in times to come, an enemy of God will throw down some of the stars to the earth. The stars represent angels, who in turn represent God’s faithful people this prophesied enemy is oppressing (see Dan. 8:22-25). The dragon’s attack wounds some of the faithful, as represented by their guardian angels. The battle in heaven mirrors the battle on earth. When the saints are being persecuted, their angels and God Himself are pictured as being attacked. The dragon stands before the woman as she is about to give birth, so that when she bears the child he might devour it. The intention of the dragon is not only to attack God’s people, but to destroy the Messiah Himself once the woman gives birth. Here we find a reference to all the ways in which the devil tried to destroy Jesus during the time of His earthly ministry, as Jesus’ earthly lifetime is telescoped into a single phrase.
The child who is born is the One prophesied in Ps. 2:9 to “rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (verse 5). The context in the Psalm shows this to be a clear reference to Christ. The destructive efforts of the dragon culminated in the cross, the very point it appeared he had succeeded in his evil plans. Yet now something surprising happened. Rather than being destroyed by the dragon’s attack, the child was “caught up” to God and to His throne. This is a clear reference to Christ’s resurrection. According to Rev. 2:27, it is the resurrected and ascended Christ who has received this “rod of iron” prophesied in the Psalm. It was at the very point of the resurrection and ascension, not some date in the distant future, that Christ received the “rod of iron” prophesied in Ps. 2:9 and took up His kingdom rule. Now, seated at the right hand of the Father’s throne, He has begun to exercise His authority over the nations of the world.
The woman, representing the church, flees into the wilderness (verse 6), which in the Bible represents the place of refuge or protection, the place where God sheltered the Israelites from the wrath of the Egyptians, where He met Elijah, where He hid David, where He encountered John the Baptist and Jesus. This protection lasts for one thousand two hundred and sixty days. This time period is the same as the forty-two months of Rev. 11:1-2, and it refers to the time period of the church age from the resurrection of Christ to His return. The number alludes to the wandering of the children of Israel in the desert, which included forty-two encampments, and may have taken forty-two years if, as some scholars think, there was a period of two years in the desert before the Israelites refused to follow Joshua and Caleb’s call to enter the Promised Land. Following these forty-two months, the church will be ushered into the heavenly kingdom in the same way the children of Israel eventually entered the earthly Promised Land.
Now we find (verses 7-12) a fuller description of the warfare that occurred in heaven, a war which accompanied the war being fought on earth. Michael, who represents God’s covenant community (Dan. 12:1), fought in heaven even as Christ was fighting on earth. The moment Christ was resurrected from the dead, Michael and his angels became too strong for the devil and his forces (verse 8), and they were thrown down to earth (verse 9), there to persecute the church until the Lord’s return (verse 12). The devil, as chapter 13 unfolds, enlists the aid of the beast (the evil spirit behind wicked world governments) and the false prophet (the evil spirit behind false religion), but is ultimately defeated as God causes his saints to triumph (chapter 14). John records that the beast “was given” whatever authority he had (Rev. 13:5,7). The phrase “was given” is used in Scripture always to refer to the sovereign activity of God. The enemy exercises power only at the discretion of God, who ultimately turns it to His own purposes. And from the moment Satan is cast out of heaven – the moment of the resurrection, not some date in the far-off future – the voice from heaven proclaims, “Now have come the salvation and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ. For the accuser of our brothers... has been hurled down” (verse 10).
The outcome of this battle of the ages is determined by one thing: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection is the turning point of all human history. It represents the moment at which the power of the enemy in heaven was crushed and his kingdom came crashing down to earth. Even though the enemy may appear to have great power, his authority is now limited. God’s people may physically suffer or even be killed, but their ultimate victory is assured, as much as was Christ’s when He was dying on the cross. And in the midst of our battle on earth, we now have all the resources of heaven open to us, the same resources which hurled the enemy down to earth in the first place. John’s vision of the resurrection of Christ as the critical moment at which the power of the kingdom was released into the earth is confirmed by Paul: “I pray also... that you may know... His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given...” (Eph. 1:18-20). That is why Paul prayed: “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection...” (Phil. 2:9-10, 3:10). To “know”, according to the Bible, means to know experientially, not just to possess intellectual understanding. Paul wants us to experience and be convinced of the power of the resurrection. The resurrection is the decisive event which turned the battle in the unseen world and released the power of the kingdom into the seen world.
Often the church in our culture understands the saving work of Christ on the cross and the need to receive forgiveness and be born again, yet we do not appreciate the power of the resurrection. Put another way, we have Good Friday without Easter Sunday. As Christians, we are placed into a battle in the seen world, but this battle will drag us down unless we tap into the power of the unseen world and claim it for ourselves. Why? Because we are ultimately fighting an enemy with access to supernatural power, albeit a lesser power than that of God (and indeed a power exercised only with God’s permission). We are like soldiers going into battle without weapons, or farmers going out to the fields without tractors. Faith releases the power of the resurrection into our lives. It releases the power of the unseen into the seen. But even faith itself is a gift of God. Faith is not an intellectual commodity or a certainty which we must possess in order to please God, or by which we feel we can force or manipulate God into giving us what we want. Faith is simply the cry the Holy Spirit has planted into the hearts of believers for the Father to equip them with what they need in order to fight the battle. We are not asking for possessions, material wealth or personal advancement, but for the supernatural power which alone equips us to stand against the powers of darkness in boldness and courage, and to persevere in the battle as long as it takes to win. No matter what frame of emotion or mind we are in when we ask, or how fearful we may feel, God will answer if we call out to Him. After all, the disciples did nothing to deserve receiving the power of the resurrection, or even to have Jesus appear to them in all their unbelief and human weakness.
Every Sunday and every day for us is Easter, because Easter is the celebration of the resurrection. The resurrection is not only the historical foundation of our faith, it is the source of the power we need to fight our own battles against the dragon and his agents today. The battle may be fierce and casualties will occur, but victory is assured. For Christ is only the firstfruits of the dead. We also shall follow Him, on that day when we will all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, when the dead will be raised imperishable, when the mortal will put on immortality. On that day we will declare, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55-57). The resurrection, and the resurrection alone, is the reason that Paul can then say to you and to me, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:59).
The Lamb who was slain has begun to reign – Hallelujah!
Updated on 2015-02-01 by David Campbell