FOCUS ON REVELATION - LESSON 14

Conspiracy to Murder
Revelation 12

In photographs that remain of them from the little town of Tobolsk back in 1918, they could be mistaken for any close-knit family on vacation: two affectionate parents, an energetic young son, and four lovely daughters.

Nicholas and Alexandra had always surrounded their children with love. But now they were surrounded by Bolshevik guards in remotest Siberia. This devoted father happened to be Nicholas Romanov, "Czar of all the Russias" who'd just been forced to abdicate by communist revolutionaries. The long line of monarchs ruling over that vast land had come to an end.

But abdication wasn't enough for communist officials. They were intent on consolidating their power. They wanted no possible rival who could challenge their absolute control over Russia's millions. And so one night in July the guards roused this family from their beds and marched them down to a cellar by torchlight. Parents and children were seated in a row of chairs against a wall. The guards pointed revolvers. The father stepped forward to speak. He was shot through the head. A volley of gunfire followed. Soon the blood of Nicholas, Alexandra, Alexei, Olga, Maria, Tatiana, and Anastasia mingled on the cold floor.

The assassination of the Romanovs was one of the more shocking crimes of the twentieth century. Revelation 12 shows us who really lies behind all the crime and cruelty in our world. And it does so by exposing an assassination attempt—directed at a heavenly family. The would-be assassin is Satan, a rebel who was once cast out of heaven and is now seeking hellish vengeance. He knows that his only chance to consolidate his power in this world is to destroy Jesus, the Messiah, the only One who can save mankind. Revelation 12 lays out his plot in symbolic language.

First we see a mother projected up into the sky as on a giant movie screen. The sun, moon, and stars surround her, reflecting the light of her beauty. She is crying out in labor, about to give birth. Satan appears, disguised as a seven-headed dragon. He hopes to play midwife at this all-important birth so he can snuff out the life of the child.

The baby is born. Miraculously, the child is snatched from the clutches of the dragon and carried to God's throne and His protection. Satan is furious and attacks the mother. She finds a place of safety prepared for her by God. But then Satan goes after her remaining children. Some survive his attacks; others are wounded or killed. In the end, however, the mother and her surviving children spend eternity with Jesus.

Let's look at the main players in the scenario:

• The woman (mother) represents the pure church of God (2 Corinthians 11:2).
• The baby represents Jesus (Matthew 1, 2).
• The dragon represents Satan (Revelation 12:9).
• The children who are left represent the followers of Jesus (Revelation 12:17).

Throughout the centuries, Satan has harassed and persecuted God's people. His attacks are really part of a cosmic conflict, a great controversy, between Jesus and Satan. Revelation 12 brings this conflict out on center stage. It spotlights four dramatic encounters in the history of the great controversy. Let's study them.

BATTLE NUMBER ONE: Introduction to Satan's murderous tactics—Jesus attacked!

Read Revelation 12:1-6.

Have you ever wondered how sin entered this world of ours? These verses tell you. They summarize the cosmic battle with sin. Let's look at the details.

1. How was the woman that John saw in vision dressed? (Revelation 12:1.)
  
She was clothed with twelve stars; she had the sun under her feet; and there was a
         garland of moonbeams on her head.

  
She was clothed with the sun; she had the moon under her feet; and there was a garland
         of twelve stars on her head.
   She was clothed with the moon; she had twelve stars under her feet; and there was a
         garland of sunbeams on her head.

What do you think the light represents?

Light is the clothing that God wears (Psalm 104:2). Jesus is called the "light of the world" and the "sun of righteousness" (John 8:12, Malachi 4:2). Christians are called "sons of light" (Luke 16:8). This woman, clothed with light, represents God's church at its very best, filled with God's power.

2. The great red dragon that John saw in this vision had: (Revelation 12:3.)
  
seven heads, ten horns, and seven diadems (crowns) on his heads.
  
ten heads; seven horns, and ten diadems (crowns) on his heads.
  
ten heads, ten horns, and ten diadems (crowns) on his heads.

3. How many stars did the dragon's tail throw down to the earth? (Revelation 12:4.)
  
One half.
  
One fourth.
  
One third.

In this verse the angels in heaven are referred to as stars. Verse 9 tells us that when Satan was cast out of heaven, the angels who joined him in the rebellion were cast out too.

Events surrounding the actual birth of Jesus fit the symbols in Revelation 12. Verse 5 states that this male child was caught up to the throne of God. The only child born into this world and taken up to God's throne is the Man, Christ Jesus.

When the virgin Mary was about to be delivered of the Christ child, the Roman king Herod plotted to have this rival to his throne killed quietly. But God foiled his plan. Through a dream He warned the wise men, who'd just paid homage to Jesus in Bethlehem, to tell Herod nothing about the location of the baby. Herod panicked and ordered every baby boy under two years of age in Bethlehem to be murdered. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus escaped into Egypt (Matthew 2:1-15). Behind this terrible atrocity we can see Satan's fury against his rival, Christ.

Thirty-three years later Satan was still at it. Another Roman ruler, Pontius Pilate, ordered Jesus nailed to the cross on the hill Calvary. Centuries later, the official church itself, which had become powerful in Rome, acted on behalf of the great red dragon mercilessly persecuting some of Christ's most devoted followers.

4. What is the Child who is born of the woman destined to do? (Revelation 12:5.)
  
Rule all nations.
   Be devoured by the dragon.
   Destroy the commandments of God.

5. Where does the woman-God's true church-flee when she is persecuted by the dragon? (Revelation 12:6.)
   To the north and south.
   To the cities of the Roman Empire.
   To the wilderness.

The church entered a 1,260-day wilderness period which we learned is 1,260 years in prophetic time (see Daniel 7:25, Revelation 11:2, 3). As we've seen, this period falls between A.D. 538 and 1798. During this time, the Roman church persecuted those believers who did not accept her authority and doctrines. It was a great time of trial. But many testimonies from those years show us that God had His arms of love around His faithful followers during their wilderness experience. God still cared.

Have you ever had what you would call a wilderness experience, a time when it seemed the ruthless red dragon, Satan, was trying to destroy you or mess up your life? If so, how did you react?

The bottom line of this dramatic story is that Jesus won the battle with Satan! Jesus died on the cross, but then He rose from the grave and ascended to heaven. He is ministering on behalf of each one of us in those heavenly courts to this very day. He ends up ruling the nations. That means there is victory for you and me!

BATTLE NUMBER TWO: War in heaven

Read Revelation 12:7-12.

The conflict we just read about in verses 1–6 actually stretches back further in time than the birth of Jesus. The reason there is war on Earth is because there was first war in heaven. Long ago, a glorious angel named Lucifer openly rebelled against God. He'd been given the power of choice just like all of God's perfectly created beings. The power of choice includes the power to make bad choices. Lucifer's tragic choice was the seed that grew into all the cruelty and suffering that surround us. God would not force Lucifer to obey Him because love just can't be forced. It has to be offered freely.

6. Who were the participants in the war that took place in heaven? (Revelation 12:7.)
   God the Father fought against false teachings and misinformation.
   Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels.
  
The dragon fought against people from other worlds in the universe.

7. What other names does the Bible give for Satan? (Revelation 12:9, 10.)
     "Dragon," "serpent," "the Devil," "the accuser of our brethren."
     "the one who is cursed," "the Wicked Servant," "Beelzebub," "the Angel of Light."
     "Lucifer," "Armageddon," "the adversary," "the Bright and Morning Star."

8. What have Satan and his angels been doing on earth since they were cast down here from
     heaven? (Revelation 12:9.)
   Trying to get back into God's favor.
   Making plans to attack other worlds in the universe.
   Trying to deceive the whole world.

Deception! That's it in a nutshell. That's why everyone in the world struggles with temptation. It may be the urge to lie, steal, seek revenge, cheat on a spouse, etc. Many times pastors hear confessions from individuals: "I don't know why I did it. I knew I shouldn't, but the urge was so overpowering."

Maybe you wonder why your children behave the way they do after you've spent years doing your best in raising them. Verse 9 reveals the basic reason—deception by Satan. He is trying desperately to pull the wool over everyone's eyes. He doesn't want them to see how wonderful God's way is. He doesn't want them to see how self-destructive his way is.

So please don't blame God for moral failures. He did not create planet Earth as the dumping ground of the universe. He made it as a perfect world. But, as Genesis 1–3 shows us, God gave Adam and Eve the same choices He gave Satan and the angels. They could freely love and obey Him and receive eternal life, or they could turn away from Him, slide down Satan's path, and receive eternal death. Satan may be very active in our world, but God is active as well. Everyone has the same choice to make—to follow God or to follow Satan.

Remember, don't get bogged down in the details of the cosmic conflict between good and evil. Especially don't focus on all the terrible things Satan is doing or might be doing. Most of the phrases in this section describe Christ's victory over Satan and his angels. We read words such as "salvation," "strength," "power," "overcame," and "rejoice." These are key concepts for those of us who follow Jesus. Satan, "the accuser," may harass us, but Someone else has the last word.

9. How can Jesus' followers gain the victory over Satan? (Revelation 12:11.)
  
By the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.
  
By resisting Satan's temptations and obeying God's commandments.
  
By prayer and will power.

What does the phrase "they did not love their lives to the death" mean to you?

According to verses 11 and 12, since Christ defeated Satan at the cross, the Devil has a short time left to work havoc in the world. Aren't you glad about that? However, the Devil has been tormenting men and women for thousands of years. That doesn't sound like a small span of time does it? "Short" is a relative term. When you compare a few thousand years to eternity, it is a short time. And that's the point. Satan's time to tempt will not go on forever. It will end. This is something to keep in mind when your problems and trials seem endless. In Christ, you are offered a truly endless life of joy, peace, and love. So please remember, your worst trial is very short when compared to an eternity with God. And you can be an overcomer by the blood of the Lamb and the word of your testimony. You will always overcome when you place your faith in the victory and power of Jesus Christ!

BATTLE NUMBER THREE: Satan attacks God's people

Read verses 13-16.

After the death of Jesus, Satan attempted to destroy God's church through pagan Roman emperors and their fierce persecution. Christians were burned at the stake. They were thrown to the lions. They were beaten, imprisoned, and tortured. Historians estimate that millions of Christians were martyred during this time. But in spite of this cruel oppression, the Christian church grew and flourished.

So Satan changed his tactics. He decided to infiltrate the church itself. He introduced doctrinal heresies and a spirit of intolerance. He worked behind the scenes to unite religious authority with civil power in the Roman Empire. Power corrupted the church. This union of church and state caused such a nightmare that the period is known as the Dark Ages. Simple believers, who wanted nothing more than to live their lives according to the teachings of Jesus, had to flee for their lives. Some in England decided to make a completely new start on a new continent. The Pilgrims who came to America founded a country that guaranteed religious freedom, and their descendants wrote a constitution that decrees a separation of church and state.

In summary, these verses describe events that took place during the 1,260-year period mentioned in verses 6 and 14, when the Christian church of the Roman Empire persecuted believers who refused to follow the teachings of the church. The 1,260 years (A.D. 538-1798) are called "a time, times, and half a time" in verse 14. The date A.D. 538 is significant because that's when the Roman Church leaders received civil as well as religious authority from the Roman emperor. The pope was a major force in Europe for 1,260 years until the overthrow of the papal dominion by Napoleon's general, Berthier, in 1798.

10. How did God rescue the woman (His church) from the dragon? (Revelation 12:14, 16.)
   He destroyed the dragon as soon as he began to persecute His church.
   He enabled the woman to fly into the wilderness on eagle's wings, and He caused the earth to
         swallow up the flood that the dragon sent to engulf the woman.
  
He focused the dragon's attention on other issues so that he forgot about persecuting the woman.

In referring to Israel's escape from slavery in Egypt, Moses said God had carried them on "eagles' wings" (Exodus 19:4).

Noah's family was protected from the waters of the Flood in the ark. In these verses God causes the earth itself to swallow up the flood that threatens His people.

The waters may rise, the flood may seem wide, but always remember that God's arms of love and caring are wider still.

BATTLE NUMBER FOUR: God's last-day people—His remnant

Read Revelation 12:17.

Following the Dark Ages, Satan still couldn't win the war against God's people. He couldn't wipe out faith in Jesus.

11. In his anger and frustration at not being able to destroy the woman, whom does Satan
     attack? (Revelation 12:17.)
    The rest of the woman's offspring.
   The angels of heaven.
   God the Father.

12. What characteristics identify the rest of the woman's offspring? (Revelation 12:17.)
   They understand Bible prophecy and have been baptized in the name of Jesus.
   They keep God's commandments and have the testimony of Jesus.
  
They refuse to have anything to do with Satan, and they study God's Word every day.

What are the "commandments of God?"

13. What is the "testimony of Jesus"? (Revelation 19:10.)
   The words that Jesus said when He was on earth.
   The Old Testament predictions about Jesus.
  
The spirit of prophecy.

Frantic with frustration for failing to destroy the church during the 1,260 years of the Dark Ages, Satan now attacks "the rest of the offspring" of the church. This refers to Christians living in the last days of Earth's history. Another accurate translation of the words for "rest of the offspring" is "remnant."

In biblical times, tribes and nations frequently faced the threat of extinction from an invading army or a famine. They found comfort in knowing that, if a remnant survived, that group might be able to restore their tribe or rebuild their national identity. Noah and his family of seven, for example, survived the Flood and therefore prevented the entire human race from being obliterated. The Jewish exiles who returned from captivity in Babylon were a remnant who restored the temple and reclaimed their Jewish heritage. In the Bible, the remnant, those who are left, take on special significance.

The remnant of Revelation 12 are believers who, in these last days of earth's history, remain faithful to their love relationship with Jesus Christ. They obey His Ten Commandments; their lives testify that they belong to Jesus. They are saved by the gospel of Jesus Christ, and they are guided by the Holy Spirit who reveals God's messages through His chosen prophets. There is a remnant, above all, because God still cares.

In summary, before the Dark Ages began there was one Christian church. Because Rome was the ruling empire, the offical church was the Roman Catholic Church. From A.D. 538-1798 (the time of the 1,260-year prophecy), the church lost sight of many of the truths of Scripture. Eventually, courageous Bible students and church leaders spoke out against the non-biblical positions being taught. These individuals were called "protestors" or "protestants." They were the catalysts for the Protestant Reformation. The 1,260-year period began with only one Christian church in existence—the Roman Catholic Church—but it ended with many different Christian denominations teaching different messages from the Bible. God, however, has only one truth in Scripture. Before Jesus returns to Earth, a "remnant" will return to the pure truths of the Scriptures and preach a final message for those living upon the Earth.

REMNANT: RECOVERING SOMETHING THAT WAS LOST

In the fourteenth century an Oxford scholar named John Wycliffe heard the call to be a part of God's remnant, to recover something that had been lost. The church of his day had grown powerful and overbearing. He began calling for reform, to follow the pattern of the church described in the New Testament. Wycliffe declared that tithes should be withheld from priests who neglected their duties. In this he was taking a stand against his own self-interest as a clergyman. But all around him friars were growing fat and monasteries wealthy in parishes where a whole family might have only a small wheat cake to feed all its members for a day. In one typical sermon Wycliffe declared, "A cup of cold water given with kindness and warm love is a greater gift than all the lands and kingdoms of the church."

Wycliffe dedicated his life to translating the Bible, then available only in Latin, into the language of the people. Though condemned as a heretic, he continued to champion the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. Wycliffe's English Bible would help create a spiritual revolution in England as God's essential truths were rediscovered.

The courageous stand of that one man affected an entire nation. Each one of us is called to take a stand today. Each one of us can make an impact in our world for God. It's our privilege to be part of God's last-day remnant people. God is appealing to you right now. He wants you to be one who overcomes by the blood of the Lamb. He wants you to be part of His remnant church. When you respond and unite with God, the vast resources of heaven will back you up. You have access to the heart of heaven through prayer. You have access to the wisdom of God. You have access to His ministering angels. Best of all you have a place reserved at the foot of the cross. The blood of the Lamb is still powerful today against all strongholds. Satan still shrinks before "the word of their testimony" about Jesus.

If there's a step God wants you to make today, please don't put it off. Please accept the gracious invitation of the Lord who cares for you more deeply than you can understand.

Prayer

Father, I choose to be part of Your remnant church and commit my life fully and completely to You. I accept Your Ten Commandments into my life, asking for the Holy Spirit to help me follow You each day. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. I ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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