I have this way of sharing the gospel with people where I simply read and explain to them the sermon on the mount. I’ve done this with numerous people, yet when I was in China, there was always a phrase that people stumbled over. Westerners – we tend to stumble over the lust one, but my Chinese students invariably stumbled over this section Matthew 5:38-39 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” One student simply said, “I could never do that.”
We have a deep need for vindication and justice. I believe it is grades two-four that this need is expressed most through the whining of “Its not fair!” We feel this need even after attempts to educate us out of it. The most ardent moral pluralist, who denies any absolute right and wrong, gets upset when someone takes their seat. No father, no matter how tolerant and relativistic they may be in their own philosophy will sit by and allow his daughter to be raped. We live in a culture that denies absolutes, but gets absolutely infuriated when we feel as though we have been wronged.
Some fight back. Take matters into their own hands. Arguments turn into fights, turn into skirmishes, skirmishes turn into battles and battles turn into wars. Retribution leads to escalation leads to devastation. It’s true for you personal relationships, its true for nations. I get my sermon title today from the old Bugs Bunny cartoon, when after getting hit with a blueberry pie to the face, he turns to the camera and says, “Of course you realize, this means war.”
When’s the last time you were wronged? How did you respond?
We have framed this entire year of preaching around the book of Ephesians. In chapter 1 the Holy Spirit reveals that God has had a plan from the beginning, before the foundation of the world to redeem a people to himself and unite all things in heaven an earth in Christ. Ephesians 2-5 speak of the community of saints that God is creating – the church – and how we are to be a family of families, striving together in one mission. Yet Ephesians closes in Chapter 6 with the theme of spiritual warfare and God’s urging us to stand firm against the evil day. We spent all summer wrestling with this idea of spiritual warfare. When we come to Christ we become citizens of his kingdom through our adoption as his children. However, we also learned that to be a citizen of heaven was to be a citizen of a kingdom at war – that Satan and his legions are set against our God and will stop at nothing to see his people defeated.
We’ve already learned that this spiritual warfare started in the Garden of Eden, when Satan led our first parents into sin. Indeed, the very first promise of the gospel speaks to the reality of this spiritual warfare. In Genesis 3:15 God declares to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Although Satan had deceived the woman to lead her and her husband into sin, by God’s grace she would bear a son who would crush Satan. That is why her husband named her “Eve”, for she would become the mother of all the living. This promise was not to Eve alone, but was passed on to her daughters. Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Tamar, Rahab, Naomi, Ruth, Bathsheba, Mary. This is what we remember during the advent season – that for eons, humanity had waited for the son of the daughter of Eve to come and crush Satan.
Revelation 12 begins with a picture in heaven that takes us back to this promise. John has been witnessing everything from the perspective of the throne room of the Lamb. Now, its as if he’s got a huge video screen in the sky and he’s watching a movie played out in front of him.
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.
In a very concise picture, John sees all of human history played out visually. The allusion to Genesis 3:15 is unmistakable. The enmity between the woman and her children and the serpent become the focus of the next few chapters of Revelation. Over these chapters we will see that Satan employs two main strategies to stop God’s plan. However, we will also see that his attempts to pick a fight with god will ultimately lead to his destruction.
Satan’s Plan “A”: Kill the Son
We read in verse 4: “and the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child, he would devour it.” Satan has used this strategy from the first generation after the promise was given. He used Cain to murder Abel, thinking that he was the Son of God’s pleasure. After Jacob stole the blessing from Esau, he had to flee for his life from his brother’s rage. Satan inspired the Pharaoh who knew not Joseph, to drown the Hebrew babies in the Nile River. Similarly, Haman petitioned the King of Persia to cut down every Jew. Most remembered at this time of year, we read of King Herod, who upon being outsmarted by the wise men, in his devilish rage killed every baby in Bethlehem. Yet Satan was outmaneuvered by Joseph, who having been warned in a dream, took the baby Jesus to Egypt, where he was safe from Herod’s grasp.
Upon his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, Jesus reclaimed the position of authority, being seated at the right hand of God. Most people view verses 7-13 as pointing to Christ’s ascension. In verse 8, Satan and his angels were “defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” Again, notice that the Lamb has been granted authority on the basis of his having been slain for the sins of mankind. Satan’s plan “A” – to cut off the Son before he could make atonement for the sins of humanity – failed completely and ended in his being cast out of heaven. Yet being cast out of heaven, he hatched a new plan:
Satan’s Plan “B”: Kill the Saints
In verses 13-17, Satan turns his fury toward the woman and her children, “those who keep the commandments of God and hold on to the testimony of Jesus.” The chronology is a bit fuzzy here. Many interpreters connect to flight of the woman with the flight of those in Judea who are told to head for the hills in Matthew 24 after the Abomination of Desolation. The time, times and a half a time of verse 14, or the 1260 days of verse 6 are literally the last three and a half years before the return of Christ. Others argue that the context implies that these numbers are symbolic, encompassing the entire church age.
In either case, nearly everyone agrees that the intensity of the warfare Satan wages against the saints, ramps up as the time of the end draws near. Chapters 13 and 14 refer to that period that Jesus referred to as the great tribulation. During this time there is organized, intense, persecution of those who follow Jesus. The persecution is so intense that both chapters include the phrase, “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints.”
The primary instruments of Satan’s strategic plan are government and religion. These are symbolized by two beasts which emerge out of the sea of humanity. The first beast represents a powerful political leader to whom is given great power and authority by the dragon. People are so captivated by the power this leader possesses that they worship him, saying in verse 4, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” This leader exercises his authority throughout the time of Satan’s attack and he wields power of the sword over all nations: (13:7-8) Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation,and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.
The second beast, seems to be a sort of spiritual leader, a false prophet, who again seems to be demonically empowered to make the inhabitants of the earth worship the political leader. Somehow, the religious and political systems are melded together, so that every aspect of society is tied together into the worship of the anti-Christ. This will be a time of suffering for the saints, as they will be forced underground and unable to participate in the economic systems of the day.
This is Satan’s strategy. He has employed it before in this world, and he will employ it again before the end. If he cannot kill the son, he will attempt to kill his servants. He will literally declare war on the saints of God and seek to eradicate them through political and religious means.
Again, in the chapters to follow, we see the same framework unfold that we looked at last week. In revelation 14-20 we get the same basic outline – we’ve talked about the great tribulation, but in Chapter 14 we see Jesus calling for his saints to endure, before he comes in the clouds to harvest his elect from the earth before pouring out his wrath. Finally in chapter 20 he ushers in his kingdom. While it is the same basic timeline, the perspective changes each time. Mathew focuses on the signs that will precede his coming. Revelation 6-11 focus on the events from the perspective of the throne room of God. Now in this section, we are seeing the events from the perspective of earth and spiritual warfare, so the focus is on the tribulation, wrath, and kingdom.
Whereas last week, the perspective in heaven was as a king being heralded as he comes into his kingdom, in chapters 15 and 16 God’s wrath is pictured as being stored up in seven bowls that are poured out upon the world – upon those who have worshipped the beast. The theme of the next few chapters is retribution.
Rev 16:5-6: And I heard the angel in charge of the waters say,
“Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, the Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.”
Rev 18:6: Pay her back as she herself has paid back others, and repay her double for her deeds;mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed.
Rev 19:1-3 After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for his judgments are true and just;for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality,and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”
As we will look at more closely next week, Jesus will return, conquer the dragon and his two beasts and begin his reign. He will repay those who have waged war against him and against his sons and daughters.
What does this all mean?
1) Spiritual warfare is more tangible than you once thought. We talked this summer about how we struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil. For most of us the struggle in inward – battling the temptation of the world while metaphorically putting the flesh to death. However, the spiritual warfare talked about in the book of revelation is direct and deadly. Being a follower of Jesus is not some sort of game, or some sort of lifestyle choice in which you can go halfway in. During times of warfare, you’re either all in or you’re out.
2) The Saints are called to endure and to wait, NOT to fight. There are to be no Christian terrorists or freedom fighters. Spiritual warfare, even of the direct persecution type, is not fought with weapons of flesh and blood.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.