August 23, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 20:20 in the audio file.
Or, Why Is All of This Happening?
Good liturgy does more than check the boxes of what someone has said is good to do at church. It’s more than well-arranged hooks to hang meat on, though it does give opportunity for content delivery. Good liturgy is like a recipe for making food that tastes good and fills you up, even though you usually don’t think about all of the individual ingredients while eating dinner.
Good preaching also does more than meet certain standards of public speaking with the additional concern of theological accuracy. Good preaching pleases God as God’s Word is proclaimed, good preaching feeds and equips the saints, it even rebukes and corrects. Good preaching consecrates the living sacrifices as it renews the minds of believers, and it should stimulate faith in the Word which promises blessing.
On an annual basis I take a break from whatever series I’m preaching through and focus on the subject of corporate worship and liturgy. Most of the time the liturgy just works on us, sometimes we attend to how it works on us.
I don’t remember the last time I got specific about why I preach the way that I do, and what I expect to come from it (interestingly enough, was probably during a message about where preaching fits in the liturgy). For sake of some of you who are new to the flock, or growing up in it, here are some of the things always dancing around my mind.
I love studying the Bible. One of my favorite things to do is diagram verses. I love to see the grammatical main point and the syntactical modifiers. I enjoy reading the Bible, reading books about the Bible and commentaries on specific parts of the Bible. I am fanatic about paragraphs, about context, and about considering as much as possible what the original readers would have understood before taking advantage of the larger context of all 66 books, a blessing we have, but one that belongs in its place.
I got to spend eight and a half years in Bible college and seminary, I have been preaching on a regular basis for over twenty years, I know that I have extra accountability as an elder and as a teacher (James 3:1), and I still want you to see the Scripture and understand the text and learn how to read it for yourself. I’m not abdicating my authority, I’m using my authority to get you to see that my authority is attached to the Word, and you can go straight to the Word, too.
Some of you have heard me talk about my attitude on this a lot, or at least a long time ago. Some of you are newish to the flock, and that’s great, and my goal is to affirm that I want you to get the Word, not get my word. It doesn’t mean that you have as much time, or interest, in studying it as I am blessed to do. But we’re only five hundred or so years into God’s people having their own copies. What an opportunity to read it, whenever you want, for yourself. I am responsible to teach, and you are responsible to see if what you’re being told is biblical (Acts 17:11).
When it comes to the book of Revelation, I’m trying to show my work. I’m not offering a special decoder key to understand it. In fact, apart from a dumb amount of reading on coronavirus and capitalism and constitutions, I’ve been spending most of my weeks reading a variety of options and interpretations to test my perspective, verse by paragraph by seal and trumpet and woe. When we come here together, I’m not sharing my opinion, I’m telling you my observations of the text, for sake of interpretation and application. This is true for Revelation, and it is a pattern for whatever you’re reading in the Bible.
I’m convinced that the prominent challenge comes from the fact that what John describes in Revelation has not happened like John describes. We’re either supposed to realize that his language expects a symbolic interpretation or his language expects a future fulfillment. I’m happy giving the benefit of the doubt that we’re all on the same side trying to figure that out, and what we share is a common enemy, who is our ancient and angry foe.
This foe is the dragon, the ancient serpent, the devil, Satan (Revelation 12:9). He’s an adversary who deceives the world and accuses God’s people. He desires their destruction, because beings who won’t accept their place before God desire to mess with everything God has put in place.
In Revelation 12 there are numerous parts to the battle. The dragon was swept out of heaven early, and tried to devour the male child who was prophesied to defeat him (Genesis 3:15). That didn’t work, so he went back to heaven and was decisively thrown down again (Revelation 12:7). He’s back to attack the woman, and this final paragraph shows not just that he’s furious, but that his efforts are futile. See for yourself.
Some people come to grips with a loss by moping in the corner. Others come to grips by looking for a scapegoat, for someone they can take their anger out on.
When the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to earth, when he had been defeated and bounced by superior power, he pursued the woman who fled into the wilderness.
We met the woman at the beginning of the chapter. John saw her with a crown of twelve stars, clothed with the sun and with the moon under her feet (12:1). She is a “sign” of Israel, the community that gave birth to the “male child” who would rule the nations (12:5). After the male child was born, she “fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God” (verse 6), and now we see more explicitly her escape. Initially the dragon targeted the woman to get to the Son, now he targets the woman instead of the Son. The word pursued often includes persecuted, as here.
And two wings of a great eagle were given to the woman in order to fly into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. (verse 14)
The dragon hunts her and God delivers her. Given is one of the most common words in Revelation, a divine passive, meaning that this happens by God’s effort. She isn’t carried by a great eagle (not Gwaihir or Landroval, this isn’t The Hobbit), she is given two wings. What are the wings? The Historicist typically takes these as the division of the early church into the east and west. Some take the earth swallowing up the flood in the following verses as a reference to Constantine’s conversion and inclusion of Christianity. More likely, the wings are a “yet undisclosed supernatural means for her deliverance” (Thomas).
It reminds us of God’s message to Moses in the third month after their flight from Egypt.
You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ (Exodus 19:4–6 ESV)
The wilderness is a place out of the way, a place under the radar, a place of refuge. No one wants to go there unless they are trying to escape. But this is her place, a “place prepared by God” (verse 6). And she is nourished, she is fed and kept away from the serpent for three and a half years.
A time is a year, times is two years, and half a time is half a year, equalling 42 months, connecting with Daniel 7:25.
Think also of the great encouragement in Isaiah 40:28-31, with wings like eagles (verse 31), and various unfulfilled promises to Israel (Isaiah 40:27), here fulfilled.
Answered in these two verses are Who? When? Where? What? It’s Israel, during the second half of the Great Tribulation (not the entire church age), taken away (from Jerusalem), for sake of keeping her/them safe from the rage of the dragon.
It looks like she got away, and the serpent isn’t satisfied. The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood.
I didn’t realize there was a self-contained (Greek) adjective for “swept away/swallowed up by a river” (ποταμοφόρητος, potamoforetos). The serpent wants the adjective to describe the woman; he wants to drown her drowned.
What about this flood from his mouth? Does the flood of water seem to be liquid, or a flood of lies? Is it H2O, or is it dry, as in, deception? There is an apparent connection with flood and falsehood (Psalm 144:7-8). Other commentators think the flood symbolizes an army. If this was the only description we had for the image, it would be easier to take it mainly in a metaphorical sense.
But note how the woman is delivered. And the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from its mouth. It’s a picture, but if the water part of the picture is of lies, then the earth part of the picture is what? In what way is the earth a symbol of intervention that keeps God’s people from being overwhelmed by deception?
Why not interpret the water as aqua/agua? Why not the earth opened its mouth as a crack in the surface? Why not understand it as a physical threat, with physical deliverance?
The earth swallowing the water reminds us of the earth swallowing Korah and his fussy followers (Numbers 16:30-32).
Either way, physical or figurative, the serpent is frustrated again. His devouring fury is drained. He can’t win for losing. He can’t get his hate on the woman like he so desperately tries to do.
In this chapter the dragon was mad at the woman, desired to devour her child, was angry with the woman again, and now he targets her other offspring.
And the dragon became furious with the woman and he went off to make war with the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold on to the testimony of Jesus.
If he can’t get to the woman, maybe he can hurt her by getting to her kids. Which brings up a necessary observation/interpretation question: if the woman is a community, and a generational community at that, who gave birth to the Messiah, including generations after the child ascended to heaven (since the dragon attacks her post ascension), then who are her offspring? Is there a certain generation when a generational community starts being considered separately?
It’s possible that the rest of her offspring are Gentiles. It’s possible that the offspring are the sealed 144k Jews mentioned in chapter 7. Some think the woman is the “church” but the offspring are individual Christians.
That he “made war with” connects the prophecy in Daniel 7:19-28, an end time persecution of Israel.
If the woman is Israel (and I believe she is), and Israel is delivered in the wilderness, then these offspring are somehow not protected, but accessible to the dragon as a target of attack. To me, it fits to understand these offspring primarily as a reference to the sealed, but that also includes any who repent and turn to the Lamb during the Tribulation. They didn’t make it to the wilderness refuge, but they do keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
Most English translations include the final phrase as verse 17, though the RSV counts a verse 18, and the NASB moves it to the start of chapter 13. And he stood on the sand of the sea, meaning the dragon is seen positioning himself for another wave of attack, especially as he prepares to call the beast from the sea (13:1).
Observations from this paragraph point to a future fulfillment. Application from this paragraph points to presently having no reason to be intimidated.
Amidst false teaching and false accusations, amidst trouble, we are comforted that the dragon doesn’t win. The dragon is a sore loser. The only thing shorter than his time is his temper. But our refuge is in God and His Son. Even if we don’t get the exact same wings as the woman, we can believe the promise for those who wait on the Lord.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall
renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
(Isaiah 40:30–31, ESV)
The same power that throws down the dragon is the power that has raised you up to walk in newness of life. The only thing you must do is believe in the immeasurable greatness of His power, and then live in it. Of course, even your faith and obedience are by His power. Praise be to His name!
[May you know] what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:19–23, ESV)