The Lamb and the Conflict: Revelation 12:1 to 20:10 -
(Chapter12:1 through Chapter 14 is in this section)
In the light of all the evidence, it appears best to see this as an integral part of the whole message.
The seals lead to the trumpets.
These in turn culminate in the appearance of a little book which contains the truth
of judgment upon men.
This message is to be delivered by the prophet.
Here is the message.
The characters here are essentially the same.
The conflict is the same, but is presented under a different aspect.
The outcome is the same as been indicated in the beginning.
It is interesting to note that from here to the end of the book the action is
much faster than heretofore.
In climactic sequence, judgment on Rome is followed by a judgement on all evil.
Finally, the conflict emerges into a complete victory for God and the forces of righteousness.
The figures of this vision are not uniform as in some of the others such as the seven seals,
seven trumpets, and the seven bowls of wrath.
Neither are they distinctly set apart in the text.
They are often discussed in the same paragraph, but one or the other will dominate
the interest of that paragraph.
The issue of the conflict is the Radiant Woman and her children.
The dragon with his allies -- to the first beast and the second beast -- make every attempt
to destroy the woman and her children.
But the forces of God -- the Lamb and the sickle (judgment) -- are victorious.
As the conflict closes in chapter 20, we shall see the dragon and his allies consigned
to the lake of fire, never to bother the Lamb and his people.
This is the symbolism.
All these characters must be identified before we know the meaning.
When they have been identified and the action explained, the message of Revelation is clear.
The Issue: the Radiant Woman and Her Children (Israel, Christ, the Christians),
12:1-2, 5-6, 14-17
John saw a great sign in heaven.
The sign was that of a woman dressed with the radiance of the sun.
She had the moon for a pedestal and 12 stars for a crown.
She was with child and in travail of childbirth.
The child born to her was a manchild, destined to rule the nations.
He was caught up to heaven as a protective measure, and the woman fled to a place
of protection in the wilderness.
This was necessary because of the danger from the blood-red dragon which
threatened her and her child.
Scholars have differed in their views of the identity of the woman.
Some identify her as the " church," using the term in the sense
of the messianic community out of which Christ was born rather than in the true sense
of "church" since it is difficult to see the church producing Christ.
The general New Testament picture has Christ producing the church.
Others hold that the woman symbolizes Israel who, in the person of the virgin Mary, produced Christ.
The children of the woman are viewed in two sections of the chapter: the manchild (Christ), verse 5,
and "the rest of her seed" (Christians), verse 17.
The manchild is certainly symbolical of Christ.
Some scholars of the continuous-historical school deny this.
They view the woman as the church and the manchild as the sons and daughters
born of the travail of the church.
The sons and daughters become martyrs, but are caught up to heaven for eternal safety.
This sounds good, but it does not answer the need of those who first received the book.
John's readers did not need information about the outcome of the church of the Middle Ages.
They got what they needed -- a view of Christianity from its beginning
to the assurance of ultimate triumph.
From its very inception the Christian religion has been the object of satanic opposition,
but it is destined to triumph over every foe.
The "rest of her seed" of verse 17 must be a reference to the Christians.
Note that they are identified as those who "keep the commandments of God
and hold the testimony of Jesus."
This last is important.
The first part could be a reference to Jews only, but the second part definitely identifies
these people as Christians.
They, too, taste the frenzied opposition of Satan and his forces, but victory with Christ is their destiny.
The Forces At War
We turn now to the forces which are active in this war upon the woman and her seed.
A brief identification as a preface to what follows will be helpful.
The forces of evil are led by the dragon, who is identified as the devil.
His allies are the first beast (13:1), who symbolizes the emperor of Rome, Domitian,
and the second beast (13:11), who symbolizes the committee set up in Asia Minor
to enforce emperor worship.
The forces of good are led by God, who also has two allies:
the Lamb (14:1), who symbolizes the redeeming Christ,
and the sickle (14:14), which symbolizes eternal judgment.
The battle is one bitterly fought, but the victory goes to God with His redeeming Christ
and eternal judgment.
(1) The forces of evil are led by the dragon (12:3-4, 7-17).
He is described in ominous terms.
He is red in color, the color of blood.
He has seven heads, which symbolize great wisdom.
He has ten horns, which symbolize great power.
Upon his heads are seven diadems, such as are worn by royalty -- symbolizing great authority.
He is so large that with a lash of his tail he can knock down the stars from the heavens.
This huge, fierce, and powerful dragon stands before the pregnant woman ready
to devour her babe as soon as it is delivered.
What chance has a helpless woman and a newborn Child against such opposition?
It appears hopeless.
John tells us in verse 5 that this Child is destined to rule the world.
When the Child was born, the dragon made his effort to destroy it, but God's protective care
was exercised and the Child was caught up to heaven and safety.
Thus in a brief statement we see the providential care which attended Christ during the days
of His sojourn upon the earth.
From the early days of His childhood, the devil tried to destroy Him.
Through the years of His ministry those efforts continued.
At the last the devil appeared to be the victor when Christ was nailed to the cross and placed in the tomb.
But the power of God was able to give Him the victory even over death.
He was raised from the grave and caught up to the very throne of God.
The devil lost the first battle in the conflict.
This is apocalyptic imagery.
The battle is raging.
The scene shifts from earth to heaven, then back to earth in the course of affairs.
So in the pageantry we see the devil, unsuccessful in his efforts to destroy the Christ on the earth,
as he tries even to invade heaven to destroy the child.
In verses 7-12 we see there is war in heaven.
As the devil tries to invade heaven to destroy the Christ, he is met by Michael and his angels.
Michael is the fighting angel.
He has a sword in his hand.
So fierce is their defense that the devil and his forces are unable to get even a foothold in heaven.
They are cast down to the earth.
Heavenly voices proclaim the victory of the people of God over all the efforts of the devil.
They are victorious because of their loyalty to the redeeming Lamb; even if it meant death,
they were loyal.
This paragraph must be interpreted in its context in Revelation rather than in relation
to obscure Old Testament passages or Milton's Paradise Lost.
This is not a historical account of the original state of the devil and his fall from that state.
This is apocalyptic imagery to present the picture of the devil's efforts to destroy the Christ and His people.
Thus the devil has lost two battles in the conflict.
He was unable to destroy the Christ on the earth.
He was unsuccessful in his efforts to invade heaven to destroy the Christ.
Now he turns to a third part of his campaign.
He will exercise his wrath on the woman who produced the Christ.
In verse 6, the woman was seen as she took her flight into the wilderness.
She is fleeing the wrath of the dragon.
She will be protected for 1,260 days or, roughly speaking three and one-half years.
This same idea is repeated in verse 14 in the symbol "a time, times, and half a time,"
or three and one-half times.
Remember in Jewish apocalyptic writings this was a number which symbolized
indefiniteness, turmoil, and trouble.
The woman, Israel, is given eagle wings with which she may flee the pursuing dragon,
who has doubled his efforts in the realization of the limited time which is his. (verse 12)
In his efforts to destroy her, the devil spits out a river to engulf her,
but the earth swallow as it up, and she is safe.
The dragon is unable to destroy her.
Here again is apocalyptic imagery.
Some interpreters find in this a symbol of the national disintegration of Israel.
The climax of that disintegration came with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Even though Israel is scattered throughout the world, she has been able to preserve her racial integration.
All efforts to destroy her as a race have failed.
This is an interesting view, and it may be the thing symbolized here.
Many inferences of a doubtful nature have been drawn from this idea.
It is safe to keep in mind that here in Revelation, as elsewhere in New Testament prophecy,
the center of God's plan and purpose is Jesus, not the Jews.
The main purpose of this imagery is not to show the destiny of the Jews,
but to show the efforts of the devil in his raging conflict.
This is the third battle which he has lost.
He now turns for a fourth battle.
This one as seen in verse 17 is directed against the Christians, and he finds some allies
ready to help them in the battle.
(a) The First Beast: Roman Emperor, 13:1-10, 18.
In league with the devil to destroy the Christians is a foreboding beast, a jungle brute.
He has 10 horns -- symbolizing great power.
He has seven heads -- symbolizing great wisdom; or from verse 3, it appears
that this may symbolize great durability.
Even when one of his heads receive aid death stroke, it continued to live.
The beast has 10 diadems -- symbolizing great authority.
Upon his heads are names of reviling and blasphemy.
He is a vicious fighter partaking of the nature of a leopard, a bear, a lion,
and exercising the power given to him by the dragon.
One of his seven heads bears the marks of a death stroke, but it goes on living.
The inhabited earth -- except the Christians (verse 8b), worships the beast and the dragon
which gives him his power.
He has authority to rule forty-two months (three and one-half years); he utters blasphemies
against the name of God.
He is victorious, temporarily, over the Christians but is destined for destruction. (verse 10)
He can be identified by these marks, plus the symbolical number " 666" of verse 18.
Of the many debated portions of the book of Revelation, this one has probably received
the most varied treatment; perhaps mistreatment is a better word for it.
It is known that speculation as to the identity of this beast began as far back as Irenaeus
A multitude of cryptic methods has been used to determine his identity by determining
the meaning of his number has given in the 18th verse "666."
We will consider some of these.
The safest method of determining the identity of this beast is to study the symbolism in the day
in which the book was written.
The first beast is frequently called " Antichrist" because he appears as a rival deity to Christ.
The term is not used in the book of Revelation.
The futurist expect to find him in some exceedingly wicked ruler at the end of the age
just before the second coming of Christ.
Such a system calls for a restoration of the Jewish nation, the rebuilding of the Temple,
the restoration of sacrificial worship, and then, the breaking of the Antichrist's covenant with the Jews.
Summers did not give space to this as he said, "Space cannot be given here to refutation
of this bizarre system which is at opposites to the New Testament teaching.
Such a presentation would have been meaningless and, hence, comfortless to John's readers.
In 12:17, John saw the dragon go and stand on the sands beside the sea.
As he watched the turbulent water, he saw a strange beast come forth.
The word used for beast is a wild, savage, jungle brute.
Such a beast in Jewish apocalyptic work symbolizes a ruler or his government (compare Daniel 7:2-8).
The marks which identify this beast are facts known historically about Domitian,
the Roman emperor in John's day.
He blasphemed God, the name of God, and the sanctuary of God. (verse 6)
Domitian appropriated to himself the titles of deity.
He demanded that he be addressed as " Supreme Lord and God."
He refused to receive correspondence directed to him unless it used this salutation.
From the Christian's viewpoint such was blasphemy of God and the name of God.
He exercised supremacy over the known world. (verse 7)
To the Romans, the Roman world was the " inhabited earth."
They even named their sea to indicate this -- " middle of the earth," Mediterranean.
He was worshiped by all except the Christians. (verse 8)
Even the Jews compromise by praying to their God for the emperor and demonstrated
their loyalty to the emperor.
Only the Christians refused to do such homage.
Images were set up to make worship of the emperor easier. (verse 14)
This is a well-known fact in Roman history in the time of Domitian.
When Trajan came to be emperor, he had many of the golden images melted
and turned to better purposes.
People who refused to worship the emperor Domitian were refused the privileges
of buying and selling in the marketplaces.
This is reflected in verse 17.
Those who did worship him received a mark upon their hand or forehead to indicate,
according to the custom of some of the pagan cults, that the individual was
an adherent of the particular deity.
The mark was the name of the emperor.
John presents the name in the symbolic number "666."
A pathetic loss of time and thought and mathematical ingenuity has marked the labor
of an endless number of men who have tried to solve the riddle of this mystic number
and assigned it to some contemporary.
The number, and not the name, is the significant thing.
Doubtless the name was one which, taken by itself, would be portentous,
but the number is the real portent.
The number "6" awakened a feeling of dread in the breast of the Oriental
who felt the significance of numbers.
It fell short of the sacred "7" and was an evil number.
To the Oriental there was doom in the number "6" when it stood alone.
Raise it to a series -- "666" -- and there is the representation
of a potency of evil than which there can be no greater, a direfulness of fate
than which there can be no greater.
By symbol the number "666" is evil raised to its highest power.
The beast to whom John gave the number represented the combination of malignant work
embodied in political power and false religion.
The name expresses the inner nature of the one to whom it is applied.
This string of sixes represented to the Christians everything that was distasteful, evil, terrible, and brutal.
The persecuting Roman emperor with his forced diabolical emperor worship was that very evil.
He was the ally of the devil in an attempt to destroy the Christians.
If the number is to be applied to one man, it appears that Domitian, monster of sin,
cruelty, and degradation fulfilled that role.
(b) The second beast: Committee to enforce emperor worship, 13:11-17
In league with the dragon (devil) and the first beast (emperor) to destroy
the Christians is the second beast.
The same word for beast is used in his case as that of the first beast.
He, too, is an unusual beast.
He has two horns like a lamb, but when he speaks, it is the dragon's voice which is heard.
He exercises the power of the first beast which he, the first beast, received from the dragon.
The office work of this second beast was to enforce the worship of the first beast,
even making the image, which was set up for people to worship, appear to talk.
He places a mark, the name of the first beast or the number of his name,
on every person who worships the beast.
All who refuse to worship the beast and receive the mark of identification are
forbidden the right to buy or sell in the markets.
Such is the symbolism of this third member of the forces of evil.
There are four characteristics which help to identify this second beast.
He has two horns like a lamb which indicates an outward religious appearance.
The lamb was a religious symbol.
His having only two horns may symbolize his limited power as over against
the seven horns of the Lamb of God. (5: 6)
The voice of a dragon indicates that he spoke with the diabolical authority of Satan.
He exercise the power of the first beast; his power was derive from the Roman State or the emperor.
His work was to enforce emperor worship.
All these characteristics seem to identify the second beasts as the "Commune"
or "Concilia" set up in Asia Minor to enforce the state religion.
This was an official body which had charge of the state religion and had as its duty
to force all to do homage to the image of the emperor.
Christ had His prophets to carry on His religion.
The Antichrist, too, had prophets, pseudo prophets, to carry on his work.
Christ's prophets used miracles.
The pseudo prophets of the Antichrist used pseudo miracles.
John and his readers knew what the imperial cult meant since it was better organized
and enforced in Asia Minor than in any other part of the Roman Empire.
It was composed of deputies whose duty was to build images of Domitian, altars at the images,
and legislate in any way they considered best to enforce the state religion.
Worshiping the emperor was a test at every phase of life.
Christians were boycotted in the market for refusal to bear the mark of the emperor.
Marriage settlements, wills, transfers of property -- none of these were legal without the stamp of the emperor.
Such innocent usage came to have a repulsive religious significance with the Christians.
It was like brands used in heathen religions to mark the adherents of the religion.
This custom seemed to be used symbolically by Paul,
" I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." (Galatians 6:17)
All these things heaped up the difficulties and increased the power of their persecutors.
Thus, we find three members of the forces of evil as they are engaged in battle
with the forces of righteousness.
First, the dragon who is identified as the devil with all his cunning power, and evil.
Second, the first beast which is identified as the wicked emperor, Domitian,
who receives his power from the devil.
Third, the second beast which is identified as the Roman Concilia, an organization,
outwardly religious but internally devilish, for the enforcing of emperor worship
and the punishing of all who refused to take part in the ceremonies of the state religion.
Clearly, they represent the ultimate in ferocity and malignancy as they set themselves
against the people of God.
They appear invincible, but John turns from this scene in the pageant, a seem hopelessly dark,
to present a radiant scene which shows the forces of righteousness
which will ultimately overcome the forces of evil.
(2) The forces of righteousness led by God. (14: 1-20)
The scene just closed in the pageant of redemption was a fearsome vision,
one which gave little hope to the Christians.
There was, of course, the assurance that the success of this unholy three was temporary
-- it was to last only three and one-half years, symbolically -- but that reassuring suggestion
fell short of making the picture hopeful.
For this reason, there was mercifully given to the Christians another scene
for their comfort and assurance.
This one was as bright and glorious as the past one was dark and portentous.
The last scene showed the outlook from the vantage point of the Christians.
This scene shows the outlook from the vantage point of God and a heavenly hosts.
It leaves no doubt as to the outcome.
he devil has two instruments to use in battle: the first beast and the second beast.
God also has two instruments to use: the Lamb -- Christ, and the sickle -- God's judgment.
(a) The Lamb standing on Mount Zion (14: 1-13)
is the first of the forces of righteousness, which God uses.
There is no question as to the meaning of this symbol.
It refers to the triumphant Christ.
Following the dark and threatening scene of the last two chapters, the curtain is drawn aside
to reveal the Lamb, safe on Mount Zion, with a perfect number (144,000) of His redeemed with Him.
These bear a mark of identity just as the adherents of the devil-emperor worship bore.
The mark on their forehead is not an evil one but " His name (the Lamb's) and the name of his Father."
This triumphant picture was one calculated to cause the hearts of the Christians to leap for joy.
Their Redeemer-Lamb as their champion is marshaling a complete army of righteousness
about the crest of Mount Zion.
Those with the Lamb sing a song, a new victory song, the meaning of which can be known
only by the redeemed with the Lamb.
They are with Him and victorious because they had kept themselves undefiled " with women,"
symbolical of freedom from the spiritual fornication of idol worship.
" They follow the Lamb wherever he goes" -- they have been and are absolutely loyal to Him.
" In their mouths was found no lie" -- no denial of the supremacy of Christ.
There can be no doubt about the outcome of the battle when the Lamb is thus pictured safe on Zion
with a perfect number of the redeemed with Him -- they shall not fail; with Him, they are victorious.
Aside from this assurance of victory there is given another symbol of the victorious campaign of the Lamb.
Verses 6 and 7 picture an angel flying through the heavens with the announcement
of " eternal good tidings."
These tidings are proclaimed to all who dwell on the earth.
It is the " good tidings" or " eternal gospel" of God's victory,
and is followed by a call to all men to " fear God, and give him glory."
He is the Almighty Creator who made heaven and earth and sea and fresh waters.
More than this, " the hour of his judgment is at hand."
All this indicates that the victory of the Lamb is so certain that an angel messenger announces
the triumph and victory before the battle is fought.
It has been observed that John uses this method often in revelation.
Following the angelic announcement of God's triumph,glory, and judgment,
there is a second angel who flies along announcing the doom of imperial Rome. (verse 8)
Babylon, which represented the evil and repulsive to the Jews, is here used to symbolize Rome.
Because of her enforcing spiritual fornication, idol worship, she has fallen.
The aorist used is the constative aorist, which looks upon the entire process of Rome's fall
as one momentary act of falling.
So certain is the fall in the mind and purpose of God that it is looked upon as already having taken place.
In verses 9-12 is pictured by the announcement of a third angel the destruction of those
who have worship the emperor.
This is a reflection of the first century Christian horror of emperor worship.
The one who has worshipped the beast or his image or receive his mark, that one shall taste
the undiluted wrath of God -- " drink of the wrath of God, which is prepared unmixed
in a cup of his anger."
This tasting of the undiluted wrath of God consist of torment with fire and burning sulphur.
This is not a torment which soon will be over -- " the smoke of their torment goeth up forever and ever;
and they have no rest day and night."
This is a terrible punishment in contrast to that received by the martyrs.
The Christian martyr was burned at the stake; but that was over in a few minutes,
and he found himself possessed of eternal life in fellowship with God.
Those who worship the emperor fell before God's judgment and found a life of eternal burning
in the sulphurous fumes.
Verse 12: " Here is the patience of the saints, they keep the commandments of God [not the Roman Concilia],
and the faith of Jesus [not Domitian]," is a praise and an encouragement
to the becoming endurance of the Christians.
Verse 13 presents one of John's frequent contrasts inserted for vividness.
" A voice from heaven," one with divine authority, gave the commandment to write
the beatitude given here.
It was God statement, not just John's.
" Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit,
that they may rest from their labors; for their works follow with them."
Blessings are pronounced, not upon all those who die, but upon the Christians who die.
From the moment of their death, they are blessed by a twofold blessing.
First, they " rest from their labors."
The Greek word for rest, literally means " they shall be refreshed."
The Greek word word for labors, literally means "toil under great adversity."
They are thus refreshed after great toil.
Jesus pictured this in His teachings when He said, " Come unto me, all ye that labor
and all are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)
The Christian finds death and entrance to a home where he is refreshed after his labor in this world.
Second, " their works follow with them."
Their efforts make up a part of the grand train of achievement which leads to ultimate victory.
This is true, but It appears that more than this is involved in this passage.
The Christian who dies triumphantly in the Lord finds that he has not lost his works;
he is not saved so as by fire.
He makes an abundant entrance with all his genuine works for the Lord.
He does not go empty-handed as a one-talent servant but as one who has used every opportunity
to invest himself profitably for the Lord.
(b) The sickle (14:14-20) is the second force of righteousness
which God has in opposition to the forces of evil.
The statements are such as to leave little doubt as to that symbolized by the sickle.
It is divine judgment.
The sickle is used elsewhere in the Bible to suggest this idea. (Joel 3:13; Matthew 13:39)
Christ appears as King (He wears a golden crown) and Judge (He has a sickle in His hand).
When the divine is given, He thrusts in the sickle to reap the harvest of grain
which was ripe and ready for harvesting.
At a second signal, He thrusts in the sickle to reap the clusters of ripe grapes.
The grapes were gathered into the wine press of God's wrath.
When they were trodden in the wine press, blood came out in a stream 200 miles long
and deep enough to reach to the bridles of horses.
There is general agreement that this represents judgment.
There is disagreement over the two symbols.
Some hold that the harvest of grain symbolizes the judgment of on the righteous,
and that the gathering of the vintage of grapes symbolizes judgment on the wicked.
Others hold that no such differentiation is to be understood and that both symbols picture
the fact of judgment in the hands of God as an instrument of defeat for the forces of evil.
There are evidences on both sides of the question.
The context appears to favor the later view -- judgment as an instrument of defeat for the forces of evil.
None of the authorities cited as holding the view which differentiates between the two symbols
holds the view that this Scripture teaches two separate judgments.
That is what the futurist do.
They delight in finding numerous judgments.
The terror of it is reflected in the immense stream of blood picture in verse 20.
The futurist and restorationists have trouble here with their literalism.
They cannot find room in Palestine for a river 200 miles long, whether of blood or water!
Some of them try.
The forces of evil are strong: the devil and his two allies, Antichrist and Roman Concilia.
But the forces of righteousness are stronger:
God with His two allies, the Victorious Christ and Divine Judgment.
As the curtains close on this scene, there is rejoicing in the hearts of those who watched the pageant.
Next: Exultation of the Redeemed, 15: 1-8