Bible Prophecy in Chronology series (post #13)
Our studies in Bible prophecy have now brought us to the turning point of the coming tribulation period. This turning point will occur at the period’s midway point, three-and-a-half years into the seven years. Actually, though, the trigger for the shift occurs in heaven rather than upon the earth, and it involves angelic happenings rather than human ones.
Revelation 12:1-5 gives us a brief, symbolic overview of the war that Satan has waged against Israel and her Messiah Jesus for thousands of years. As we interpret the symbolism, we first learn that Israel is the “woman” whom John sees in heaven (Revelation 12:1). She is clothed with the sun, has the moon under her feet, and wears on her head a garland of twelve stars. This description hearkens back to a prophetic dream that Joseph once had (Genesis 37:9-11). In the dream, Joseph saw his father Jacob (whom God had previously renamed “Israel,” Genesis 35:10) represented as the sun, his mother represented as the moon, and he and his eleven brothers represented as stars. You see, at the time Joseph had that dream he and his family were the entirety of the nation of Israel.
Second, John sees that Israel has a “baby” in her womb (Revelation 12:2). This baby will be born a “male Child” who will “rule all nations with a rod of iron” (Revelation 12:5). This “baby” is Jesus, who was born a Jew, and will one day establish His 1,000 year reign over the earth. As for the birth pangs, they are the centuries of Jewish history that led up to the time when Jesus was born into this world. The fact that John says the Child “was caught up to God and His throne” is a reference to Jesus’ ascension back up to heaven following His birth, life, death, and resurrection.
Third, the “great, fiery red dragon” is Satan (Revelation 12:3). Keep in mind that this is a symbolic description of him rather than a literal one. The word “great” speaks of how powerful he is. The color “fiery red” speaks of all the bloodshed he has caused down through the course of history. Finally, him being represented as a “dragon” illustrates the fear that he induces.
The hard part in the description of Satan is trying to rightly understand the seven heads, seven diadems on his heads, and ten horns. Various interpretations have been set forth, but I think the best one ties it all in with Revelation 17:3’s description of the Antichrist as a “scarlet beast” with seven heads and ten horns. (I’ll say more about all that in a later post). This tie-in shows that Satan will be the power behind the throne for the Antichrist. Just as Jesus did God the Father’s will, the Antichrist will do Satan’s will.
Fourth, the “third of the stars of heaven” are the other fallen angels who have been banished from heaven along with Satan (Revelation 12:4). If you recall, Satan himself is described as a “star” in Revelation 9:1. But what does John mean when he says the tail of the “dragon” (Satan) “drew” them out and “threw them to the earth”? This imagery describes what happened in heaven long ago when Satan convinced one-third of all the angels to join him in a rebellious coup to attempt to overthrow God (Isaiah 14:12-14, Ezekiel 28:11-17, Luke 10:18). When that coup failed, Satan and the other rebellious angels were cast out of heaven, were thrown down to the earth, and thus became “fallen” angels (demons).
In the wake of this humiliating and debilitating defeat, Satan and his army of fallen angels immediately went to work on earth to mess up what God was trying to do (1 Peter 5:8, Ephesians 6:10-17). There is no consensus among Bible scholars as to the exact time when Satan and his angels fell, but I tend to believe it happened between the last verse of Genesis chapter 2 and the first verse of Genesis chapter 3. Think about it: At the close of chapter 2 everything in Eden is perfect, but then chapter 3 opens up with a serpent that can talk and tempt! It seems clear to me that something big happened in that white space between those two chapters.
Ultimately, Satan’s most important goal for messing up God’s plan involved his attempt to get Jesus killed before Jesus could go to the cross and die His sacrificial death for the sins of the human race. John describes this attempt by saying, “And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born” (Revelation 12:4). If you know your New Testament, you can guess the story that matches up with these words. It’s the story of how Herod the Great tried to kill the young Jesus (Matthew 2:1-15). Of course Satan’s attempt didn’t work, and Jesus did eventually fulfill His mission by dying on the cross for the sins of the world.
Okay, now that we understand Revelation 12:1-5, let’s ask the question, “Why is John giving us this history lesson concerning the longstanding war that Satan has waged against Israel and her Messiah Jesus? The answer is: He’s doing it because this war serves as the backdrop for what is about to happen in the tribulation period. Revelation 12:6 talks about Israel fleeing into the wilderness to a God-prepared place and spending 1,260 days there. On a prophetic calendar of 360 days per year, 1,260 days equals three-and-a-half years exactly. These 1,260 days will be the last half of the tribulation period. But why will Israel need to go into hiding for the last half of the tribulation period? We’re about to find out.
Revelation 12:7 is written in a very jolting way as John bluntly says, “And war broke out in heaven.” In this war, John sees Michael (God’s archangel, Jude verse 9) and his angels fight against the dragon (Satan) and his angels. Make no mistake, what we are dealing with here is a second war in heaven as Satan and the other fallen angels make another run at the place. Perhaps Satan’s newfound boldness to try again will have something to do with the recent release of his fallen angels from the bottomless pit (Revelation 9:1-12) and the Euphrates river (Revelation 9:13-15).
You ask, “But if Satan and his cohorts were banished from heaven, how could they get back up there?” Well, it’s clear that the banishment, as bad as it is, doesn’t prevent them from visiting heaven in some limited way. I say this because in the book of Job we read about two different occasions in which Satan comes in with the unfallen angels when they present themselves before the Lord. (In the Old Testament, the term “the sons of God” refers to angels: Genesis 6:1-4, Job 1:6, Job 2:1).
And so what will be the outcome of this second war in heaven? It will be the same as the first outcome. Satan and his angels will not prevail and will be cast down to the earth again (Revelation 12:8-9). What will be different this time is that the casting down will serve as the trigger that changes things for the worse in the tribulation period. That’s why John hears a loud voice in heaven immediately afterward that says, “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.” That “short time” will be the last three-and-a-half years of the tribulation period. Surely it isn’t mere coincidence that Revelation 12:9 is the exact middle verse of the book of The Revelation!
Now take a guess as to who Satan will immediately focus his wrath toward once he is cast back down to the earth. If you guessed his old enemy – the “woman” Israel – you win the prize. John says in Revelation 12:13, “Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child” (Revelation 12:13). This explains why Israel will have to go into hiding in “the wilderness” where she will be “nourished for a time and times and a half time, from the presence of the serpent” (Revelation 12:14). That phrase “a time and times and a half time” is another way of saying “three-and-a-half years.”
Let me remind you that at the beginning of the tribulation period Israel will sign a treaty with the Antichrist and his revived Roman empire (Daniel 9:27). The Jews living in and around Jerusalem at that time will also be worshiping in a temple (Revelation 11:1-2) that will be built either just prior to the Rapture of just after it. The point is, by the middle of the tribulation period they will be feeling safe in covenant alliance with the Antichrist and ecstatic over being able to worship in their beautiful temple. It is precisely at this time, though, that Satan will come after them. You’ll notice that Revelation chapter 12 doesn’t offer any specifics as to exactly how he will persecute Israel in that day, but those specifics will be given in the next chapter, and I’ll cover them in my next post.
As far as the exact “wilderness” area in which the Jews of that day will hide out and be nourished by God, many prophecy experts point to the region of ancient Edom, Moab, and Ammon. This region is located east of Israel and is now a part of the country of Jordan. But why do the experts single out this region? It’s because Daniel 11:41 says that the people of Edom, Moab, and Ammon will escape from the hand of the Antichrist when he enters into the land of Israel. If you want to try to really narrow things down, the ancient Edomite city of Petra, which is built out of rock, is often named as the singular site where the Jews will hide out during the last half of the tribulation period.
John says that Satan “spewed water out of his mouth like a flood” in his efforts to catch Israel as she fled out of Jerusalem, but “the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood” (Revelation 12:16). While some commentators have attempted to explain this scene in a very literal way involving literal water, my take is that it’s just more figurative language in a chapter filled with such language. I understand it to mean that no matter what Satan tries to do to keep Israel from escaping to God’s appointed place in the wilderness, those Jews will arrive there safely.
And how will Satan respond to this missed attack on Israel? John says, “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” (Revelation 12:17). That last part of the description lets us know that in this instance John is talking about Jews who have believed in Jesus as their Messiah and gotten saved during the first half of the tribulation period. This group will probably include not only the 144,000 Jewish evangelists themselves but also their Jewish converts. Unfortunately for these Jews, many of them will become martyrs in the last half of the tribulation period. If there is one thing that Satan hates worse than a Jew, it’s a Jewish Christian.
This then is where we’ll leave off the story for now. In the next post, we’ll jump right back into the fray and pick things up from here. We’ll read about the Antichrist surviving an assassination attempt on his life. We’ll read about him turning bad. We’ll read about the work he does with his false prophet. We’ll read about the image he has erected to himself. And we’ll read about his “mark of the beast.” Believe me, The Revelation doesn’t call this guy “the beast” for nothing, and in our next study he’s going to start acting downright beastly.