Monday, October 4, 2021

47. The Revelation: The War on Earth (Revelation 12:13-17)


THE WAR ON EARTH (12:13–17)

This passage describes three attacks that Satan’s forces will mount against Israel during the tribulation.

The First Attack

"And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent." (Rev. 12:13–14)

Following his defeat by Michael and the holy angels, the dragon (Satan) “was thrown down to the earth.” Enraged by his ejection from heaven, the dragon furiously “persecuted the woman (Israel; 12:1) who gave birth to the male child” (Christ; 12:5). The Greek verb translated “persecuted” means “to pursue” or “to hunt.” It is used in the New Testament of pursuit with hostile intent (Matthew 23:34; Acts 26:11). Here it describes Satan’s hostile pursuit and persecution of the Jews as they flee into the wilderness (12:6; cf. 13:4–7).

Israel’s situation when the storm of Antichrist’s persecution breaks upon them during the tribulation will be terrifying and tragic. The Jews will be in desperate need of any assistance they can get, and, in God’s providence, there will be some people who will help them (Matthew 25:31–40).

In the Jews’ time of peril and flight they will receive help from individual Gentiles. Those Gentiles will demonstrate their faith in Christ by their willingness to help the persecuted Jews at the risk of their own lives.

Not only will God providentially use believing Gentiles to aid the Jewish people, but He will also intervene directly on their behalf. John saw in his vision that “the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent.” This is figurative language that symbolically depicts Israel’s escape from Satan. The striking imagery of the two wings of the great eagle is taken from Exodus 19:4: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself.” God will bring Israel to safety, just as He delivered the nation from Egypt.

“Wings” symbolize strength (Isaiah 40:31) and speed (2 Samuel 22:11; Psalms 18:10; 104:3), but most commonly speak of protection (Deuteronomy 32:9–11; Psalms 17:8; 57:1). “Eagle” here can also refer to a vulture (Matthew 24:28; Luke 17:37). These large birds with enormous wing spans serve as a fitting symbol for God’s protection for Israel.

The location of the place where the Jews will flee is not revealed. Some have suggested Petra, an ancient city carved into the rocky cliffs of Edom between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. Approachable only through a narrow gorge, Petra was easy to defend in ancient times. The term “wilderness” does not reveal the exact location of Israel’s place of refuge, since that term is a general one. Jesus’ warning to flee to the mountains (Matthew 24:15–16) suggests that the place of refuge will not be in the coastal plain to the west of Jerusalem, or the relatively flat Negev (desert region) to the south. More likely, it will be in the mountainous region east of Jerusalem. Daniel 11:41 provides further evidence: “[Antichrist] will also enter the Beautiful Land, and many countries will fall; but these will be rescued out of his hand: Edom, Moab and the foremost of the sons of Ammon.” Perhaps God will spare Edom, Moab, and Ammon, ancient countries to the east of Israel, to provide a refuge for His people.

In refuge, Israel will be supernaturally fed by God. Cut off from the world system, and unable in any case to buy and sell (13:17), the Jews will need outside help to survive. In a time of devastating miraculous judgments, God will miraculously supply provisions for His people, just as he provided their ancestors with manna and quail in the wilderness (Exodus 16:12ff.).

The duration of Israel’s hiding and God’s provision is defined as “a time and times and half a time.” That phrase, drawn from Daniel 7:25 and 12:7, refers to the second half of the tribulation. This period will mark the overtly evil career of Antichrist. During that time God will protect Israel from the presence of the serpent. Although Satan may know where the Jews are hiding, he will be unable to defeat them because of divine protection. Frustrated by this defeat of his first assault on the Jewish people, the Devil will launch a second attack.

The Second Attack

"And the serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, so that he might cause her to be swept away with the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and drank up the river which the dragon poured out of his mouth." (Rev. 12:15–16)

Thwarted in his initial attempt to massacre the Jewish people, Satan will resort to long-range tactics. Since the serpent is not an actual snake but a symbolic representation of Satan, the water he spews like a river out of his mouth is likely symbolic as well. In the Old Testament, floods symbolize trouble in general (2 Samuel 22:17; Job 27:20) and an invading, destroying army (Jeremiah 46:8; 47:2; Daniel 11:26). Satan’s attacking force will sweep toward the Jews’ hiding place like a great flood.

Yet in dramatic fashion, the earth will help the woman; “it opened its mouth and drank up the river which the dragon poured out of his mouth.” The imagery is reminiscent of Moses’ description in Exodus 15:12: “You stretched out Your right hand, the earth swallowed them.” It may be that one of the frequent earthquakes during the tribulation (6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18; Matthew 24:7) will cause the ground to split open and swallow Satan’s forces. Whatever this symbolic language pictures, it marks the destruction of the attacking army and the end of Satan’s second assault.

The Third Attack

"So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus." (Rev. 12:17).

Frustrated, the dragon (Satan) will turn his fury toward new targets. Some have identified “the rest of her children with whom Satan will make war” as the 144,000 (7:2–8; 14:1–5). Others see them as believing Gentile tribulation saints (7:9–14), who are sons of Abraham by faith (Galatians 3:7). It seems best to take this as an all-inclusive phrase, referring to all those who name the name of Jesus Christ.

They are further described as “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” The word translated here as “commandments” is a word used frequently in John’s writings to refer to New Testament commands (14:12; John 14:15, 21; 15:10, 12; 1 John 2:3–4; 3:22–24; 5:2–3). “The testimony of Jesus” is not testimony about Him, but the truths He taught that are revealed in the New Testament. These persecuted believers will give further evidence that their salvation is real by their obedience to Scripture.

Like his first two attacks directed against Israel, Satan’s third attack on God’s people will also fail. All of Satan’s efforts to prevent Christ’s kingdom from being established are doomed. The Lord Jesus Christ will triumph.